New Social Media Realities Require Strategy Changes
By Dan O’Brien, President, Tech Image

Community is one of the most compelling benefits of association membership, and because of this, social media marketing is crucial to associations. Social media channels, when well-managed, provide a natural gathering place where members know they can find relevant information about their industry, meet other members, or share information about upcoming events and training.

In fact, compared with businesses, associations have a real advantage when it comes to leveraging social media. The social media programs of businesses are focused largely on selling and recruiting. On associations’ social media channels, however, members aren’t necessarily seeking to learn about or buy products, but instead hoping to interact with others and find deeper value in their memberships. There is great power in that fact.

Given these advantages, it is important for association boards to understand at a high level some important technology changes in the social media landscape and, in turn, be able to ask their staffs the right questions.

The New Reality

In the past year or so, sharing posts through social media platforms to reach your audience has become less effective. The largest social media networks, namely Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, have strangled free, organic distribution with new exposure algorithms — the rule-setting code that governs how many people are able to see your content for free.

For example, if you post something on your association’s Facebook page intending to reach all 100,000 of your followers, only a fraction of them will actually see it. Upon posting, you will see a prompt from Facebook asking if you want to “reach more people.” Only by paying to promote the content will it become visible across your entire network and hit prospective followers as well. This means that the optimal way to reach your full network (and beyond) is by sponsoring the content — in other words, spending money.

This, of course, is not welcome news to nonprofit associations. But don’t despair. While the changes implemented by Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have rendered organic posting somewhat obsolete and given rise to sponsored content, those major channels have also made advertising to wider audiences more accessible and effective.

For a relatively nominal amount, you can get high-impact results. But it’s important to ensure that your association has a knowledgeable team in place to help you spend and create efficiencies that maximize impact per dollar. They can also help you react promptly to future algorithmic changes.

A second dynamic may also call for a change in strategy. Traditionally, social media managers for associations have been tasked with finding digital influencers. These influencers have a strong social media presence, meaning they post actively and engage a wide audience of followers. They typically work in an industry pertinent to the association, and/or regularly discuss new products and happenings in that industry. Social media managers develop relationships with these influencers by commenting on their posts and initiating intelligent online conversations in an effort to build credibility as a thought leader.

These high-effort approaches are increasingly being viewed as inefficient. Despite the best of intentions, many social media managers are only able to generate low engagement with, and through, digital influencers. Therefore, focusing on techniques that accelerate impact will deliver a much better social media return-on-investment.

These changes call for a strategic reassessment of association social media programming. Here are three key areas to consider:

Landing Pages

While still part of a parent website, landing pages are stand-alone webpages that give readers a broader platform to learn more about specific content and can be easily created without updating the entire association website. So, when you post content or advertise your annual event through social media, you can link to a landing page; individuals might also visit these pages by clicking on an ad or other content hyperlink.

The measurement options afforded by landing pages also help determine the value of social posts or thought leadership. Landing pages allow the association hosting the page to see who is visiting it, how long they are staying, and even where they were online before hitting the landing page. They also help focus visitors on pertinent information and isolate what’s important to your audience, as well as present a chance to ask people to get more engaged with your organization.

Social Media Filters
Social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest have adopted increasingly sophisticated targeting filters that allow you to promote content to people who are most relevant to your association. For example, Facebook has partnerships with the leading databases used to target profiles by demographics such as geographical locations, industries, job titles, ages, or even skills, hobbies and preferences.

This targeting capability is highly focused and increases the effectiveness of your posts in ways that free, organic posting never could. With sponsored content on LinkedIn, for example, your association can customize a budget with cost-per-click options, track leads while attracting new followers, and reach increasingly specific audiences by creating individual personas that will grow engagement and membership.

Videos and GIFs
Video and other rich media formats like animated GIFs (Graphical Interchange Formats) are often underrated assets that can be leveraged by associations to accomplish a wide variety of goals, including promoting conferences, increasing member engagement and debuting new products. According to HubSpot, featuring video on a landing page can increase conversion by 80 percent, and 92 percent of mobile video consumers share videos with others.
While videos can be shared through social media, if they are not marketed effectively, they won’t receive many views. Almost any video can be turned into an engaging animated GIF that will increase reach and interaction and improve the user experience. Animated GIFs have proven to increase click-throughs 167 percent more than messages with just images, according to SEO Land.

Association Examples

These three techniques — landing pages, social media filters and video/GIFs — can be combined for effective initiatives like those in the following examples:
  • The Mopria Alliance — a membership organization formed by leading global technology companies with the goal of providing simple wireless printing from smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices — focused on a narrow audience that included just consumers in locations where their products were marketed in the United States and Japan. They designed a LinkedIn persona to target those in the telecommunications or mobile printing industries that were in the designated locations, with a vice president or senior title, within the age group of 35 to 55+, and with certain skills that relate to mobile printing. The Alliance created promotional videos which were viewed by the targeted prospects more than 58,000 times in one month, dramatically increasing awareness of the Mopria mobile printing app.
  • Similarly, the SD Association — a global ecosystem of companies setting industry-leading memory card standards — created a series of short videos to demonstrate the need for more memory in mobile devices. Through humorous scenes targeted to specific groups, the SD Association appealed to those who have experienced the frustration of running out of memory on their cell phones, tablets or computers. More than 100,000 highly relevant viewers were reached.
When you consider these examples and recent changes in the social media arena, it’s not difficult to understand how many associations have achieved success by working with a social media manager who has a mastery of the quickly evolving social media marketplace.

At the same time, association boards can play a critical role by asking the right questions and setting strategy. In particular, don’t fall victim to the common misconception that the most junior members of your organizations can best handle social media efforts. Growing up using Facebook and Twitter doesn’t ensure that someone is equipped to effectively maximize social media resources and ultimately help members enjoy the community that is central to every successful association.

  Dan O’Brien serves as president of Tech Image, a national, award-winning digital public relations firm that serves associations and companies in both B2B and B2C industries. O’Brien is responsible for guiding client branding and strategic message development. In addition, he provides strategic counsel, including PR and social media marketing best practices, to Tech Image’s clients to help them accelerate awareness and achieve their strategic business objectives.

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