Social Media 101 for Professional Associations


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I frequently get invited to speak on social media for professional associations, and when I do it often seems as if the clocks in the room have been turned back 10 years since before the advent of social media. Although there are always some savvy users of social media in the room when I present, the associations themselves are usually using the same antiquated medium to promote themselves, both internally and externally: a pre-historic website and email newsletter blasts.

I always say that social media is about the convergence of information and communication. Isn’t this the mission of every professional association: To inform their members and communicate regularly to increase the networking (and business) opportunities for their members? Then why don’t more professional associations embrace and strategically leverage all that social media has to offer, and in doing so also help increase association membership while retaining existing members?

The answer to this is that, based on my own experience, most associations are 1) either managed by executives who themselves aren’t frequent users of social media and/or haven’t implemented social in their own business or 2) outsource their marketing and other management affairs to companies or firms that who do not understand social media themselves.

For a 101 primer on some easy ways that professional associations can maximize their social presence, here’s a list of 6 checklist items for your association to confirm your current state vis a vis social media:

1. Create and Encourage Engagement in a Robust LinkedIn Group

With a closed LinkedIn Group that is moderated and only open to association members, you can achieve what you do at your in-person events 24/7 online and without local boundaries. Many associations have LinkedIn Groups but haven’t really encouraged engagement inside them. It is the perfect place to share information, generate discussions, and even share job openings that your company might have. If there is any social media website made for associations, it is undoubtedly LinkedIn. Take advantage of it and leverage it as an important supplement for everything that your association does at your in-person events.

2. Sharing Your Information with the World through Blogging

Sharing information encourages current members to keep informed as well as helps introduce your association to potential new members through the power of your content. Instead of taking a walled garden approach to protecting your content to only be accessible to members, strategically summarize your internal information for the outside world to showcase your leadership within your industry and encourage others to join. Blogging has the additional benefit of aiding your professional association’s website to ensure greater search engine optimization (SEO) benefits as well.

3. Social Media Promotion of Your Association Events

Obviously, social as a promotional channel is well known by most associations. But how many associations actually go through the hassle of not only creating a LinkedIn Event or even a Facebook Event for each meeting they have – but also encouraging members to RSVP through these social media channels to help spread the word about the event? The viral nature of social media will only work for the benefit of your promotion if you get your members to spend a few seconds to actually RSVP in social media to help spread the word to their networks. For that reason, point #5 below regarding social media education is equally important.

4. Social Media Promotion During Your Association Events

Anyone who has gone to any professional event is probably familiar with the notion that there are always one or two people in the audience who are updating their Twitter followers through tweeting out quotes and other information shared at the event. Why aren’t more professional associations proactively doing this? By sharing quotes, information, photos and even video from your events, it will go a long way to help promote your association – and inform those members who couldn’t make it to the event. Even if you don’t use Twitter, you can do this from your social presence on other platforms.

5. Teach Your Association Members Social Media

I speak to associations for this very reason: Social is a tool that is beginning to permeate every discipline within an organization and transcend every industry that exists. Most association members are asking their leadership for more information about social media because they need it for their own workplace. More importantly, teaching your members about social media will not only ensure that your association members will become better equipped to handle social media-related issues at their own company, but it will also make them more willing participants in everything your association does with regards to social media. It is the “secret sauce” that will ensure positive ROI in your social efforts – and a more satisfied and engaged community of association members.

6. Rebrand Your Presence from an Analog, Static one to a Digital, Social One

Just as adopting social will undoubtedly change the culture of companies as they slowly evolve into a “social brand,” the same will happen to your professional association. The information sharing and communication that occurs will become much more dynamic and social, and it will be seen in very short time that your own branding on your digital properties needs to be revised to better reflect this. Becoming a digital and truly social professional association will require you to look and potentially revise many visual elements that are associated with your association – including your website – as well as beckon you to include more social elements into your digital presence in a creative way to help further foster dialogue and community.

For many professional associations who have fallen behind the times, all of the things you can, and should, do vis a vis social can seem overwhelming. A great place to start is to contact me and let me help get you started on the right path.


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