The Difficulties of Convincing Associations there is Value in Social Media Marketing
As anyone in the social media marketing biz will tell you, there are some pretty harsh obstacles to bypass when it comes to convincing small- or medium-sized businesses, or associations and other not-for-profits they are missing much of the potential found in digital marketing content, including social media. To many organizations, social media resources remain an afterthought -- secondary tools to cover all the bases rather than a direct channel to their audience. Even this late in the game, many influencers and decision makers in the sector still have no idea how effective social media marketing works, or what it requires.
But why are the efforts of so many associations still lacking in this regard?
Why do they risk missing out on the many opportunities and possibilities proper social media marketing can deliver?
Not Enough Funds for Proper Social Media Marketing
Few would bother to dispute that not-for-profits typically have difficulty supporting everything it wants to do, no matter the benefits. There are limited funds, so there is a constant balancing act of trying to do a bit of everything suboptimally instead of doing a few things to their best ability at the expense of doing nothing in other areas. For associations, this means social media marketing is usually limited to finding volunteers or staff who have the time, if not the expertise, to handle the organization's social media accounts in an unfocused fashion.
Unfortunate Outsourcing Experience
For those with the money to do so, some associations have tried handing off their social media to consulting companies. In my experience, doing so often sours the client on the entire experience and can negatively influence them on the potential of social media marketing as a whole.
While working as a social media marketing freelancer in the business world, I frequently encountered ill-will because many companies had bad experiences with professional content producers. For those businesses that gave these Search Engine Marketing (SEM) consultants a shot, dissatisfaction was a common outcome. More times than not, they paid money for little or no real increase in their business.
The most common cause for disappointment is the very limited scope of what these consulting companies do for their clients. They make money by spending as little time on each client as possible so they can increase the number of clients they have. This means they prefer methods that make extensive use of templates and automation to output as much content for as few work-hours as possible. This often results in poorly constructed and researched articles and blogs without much substance and style at best -- "fluff pieces" that are all about drawing attention but creating very little value. Frequently, such consultants do little more than lazy link building, creating Google Adwords, and pushing content out on social media without much direction or appropriately researched targeting.
Many such companies survive on their clients' social media, SEO (search engine optimization), and SEM (search engine marketing) ignorance, allowing them to show they are doing work even though it is not very effective. So, almost inevitably, when the client sees little in the way of improvement, the consultant is cut loose and easily moves on to the next client.
Of course, not all social media and content consultants are like this, but there is a tendency towards negative experiences among the providers that fall within the price range typically accessible by not-for-profits. Feeling they have wasted their time and money, it is not difficult to understand why an association would bring the process back in-house and put it in the hands of someone who may not know what they are doing but is willing to give it their best.
Moving Forward Towards a Solution
Effective SEO, SEM, and social media marketing efforts require a lot more than "a one size fits all" approach employed by someone to whom you are but one of many clients. Similarly, you are not going to get the job done if you hand it off to someone in-house selected merely because they have the time to spare. Foremost, effective social media marketing requires a strategy or plan, and that means examining the organization and its existing digital content. Key elements of such a strategy include:
- Identifying your principal (e.g., your membership) and broad (e.g., potential stakeholders) audience segments; know what isolates the former's interests within the scope of the latter (beyond membership dues alone, naturally.) This allows you to both aim wide on your bigger audience and focus tightly on vital components within.
- Identify who in the target audience you are communicating with specifically, especially if your endgame is to monetize your content (e.g., expand membership, solicit donations.) Are you aiming your content at the IT department? Subject matter experts (SMEs) among the volunteers? The CEO? The board? Knowing who is the gatekeeper to your content meeting its objectives will help you set the right tone and voice for your social media marketing content.
- Know which social media platforms are best for your target market. Pinterest may be great if your potential audience is visual-oriented, for example, and Twitter may be of no use. On the other hand, if you are targeting board members that tend to be of an older demographic, Instagram and Pinterest are unlikely to be ideal social media channels for your needs. Also consider that if there are gatekeepers between you and your target demographic (e.g., staff stopping you from communicating directly with boards), you need to appeal to both segments to get the former to pass your content along.
- Conceive, create, and clarify your messaging. It may seem like a no-brainer, but too many organizations jump right into social media marketing without putting much thought into what they are saying and how they are saying it. You need compelling content your audience will value -- it needs to stand out because it is both engaging and delivers critical information. People need to come to you because you impress them with what you have to say, so don't post things just for the sake of making a weekly quota or the like.
- One of my favourite phrases regarding effective social media marketing is "it is about the leads, not the likes." Your social media channels are the means to your ends; they are not the ends themselves. This means your social media should be pushing your audience to do something beyond looking at your social media and following you. It should drive them towards your events, products, education sessions, membership registration, and so on. If your audience stays on your Facebook page, for example, having a discussion there or only leaving a "like" without any follow-up, then they are not meeting your goals. At best, you can hope they follow you and keep coming back so you have further opportunities to put messages in front of them, but you should always drive towards an objective beyond social media itself.
Social Media Marketing is a Long-Term Investment
Don't fool yourself: effective social media marketing is a long-haul endeavour. It is a longitudinal investment if you expect results that last. Sure, your first steps can lead to immediate benefits but plan on things tapering off as initial interest begins to wane. You need to keep the momentum going.
If you want your audience to keep coming back, you need to build a basis of trust. Your audience has to believe what you tell them and trust in where your social media is trying to send them. This means all the end points of your social media marketing efforts have to be substantial and worthwhile. If all you do is use social media to make one sales pitch after another, your audience will dismiss you as noise and unfollow you. Have a solid strategy in place and don't let this happen to you.
As the manager, content for the Canadian Society of Association Executives, Steven Trustrum spends his days finding ways to provide valuable content to CSAE's varied audience. This includes reinvigorating the organization's social media marketing processes. If you want to learn more, he will be at Table 2 of the Round Table Idea Exchange during CSAE National Conference 2017 on Friday, Oct. 27th, delivering his Stepping Outside the Box: Creative Content session. Don't miss out!
Also, Steven has prepared a CSAE newsletter guide that is available to both members and non-members as a free download. It is designed to help organizations make the most out of their e-newsletters.
By looking at the CSAE BoardREADY Card Deck for guidance, four cards jump out as appropriate. No two organizations (and thus no two audiences) are alike, so what works for one will not necessarily work for another.
Looking at both an association board's perspective and beyond to an operational level, associations have to plan for social media marketing to be a learning process. An important aspect of this is looking beyond the organization's own membership to determine what value can be derived from thus far undiscovered stakeholders and influencers. This means using social media channels to create value that will draw a broader audience's attention without affixing a price tag to everything. It also means developing the strategies and processes to get the best effect on social media while investing the least amount of time and effort.
Click a Card to See its Content