Associations are constantly communicating with their internally curated audiences: members, customers, lapsed members and nonmembers. Whether your association is striving to grow its membership, increase publication sales or conference attendance, much of your success lies in reaching the right people. At the same time, this is also where most of the challenge lies.
In an ideal scenario, your marketing constantly reaches and brings in new audiences resulting in the growth of membership, conference registrations, sales and more.
But we all know it isn’t that easy.
For many associations, the audience is unintentionally one of the last pieces of the puzzle when putting together a campaign. By not taking the time to strategically build new audiences, associations inevitably hit a wall when it comes to generating new engagement.
By asking and answering four simple questions, your association can foster stronger connections with new groups of individuals who have the potential to be a part of and support your association long term.
Who is your current audience?
To begin building your audience, you must first understand the foundation of what you have already built by examining and thoroughly analyzing your current audience. What are their interests? Where are they from? How did they find your association? And how do they engage with you?
Take the time to get to know them and why they are members. Start by analyzing the data you have about them and compare it with their engagement on specific communications channels. Tapping into member mindsets by conducting longitudinal research can give strategic insight into not only what your members appreciate, but how their needs might shift as time goes on.
From here, you can prepare and plan for the future by taking advantage of all of the member information and opportunities you have at your fingertips – from conference evaluations to member surveys and focus groups. Understanding more about your current audience and the value they see in membership is essential to understanding how to identify and reach potential members.
Who is in your universe but not part of your audience?
Once you have a solid understanding of your current members, set your sights on identifying the individuals who are regularly engaging in content that relates to your organization’s mission – whether that’s your area of expertise or a competitor in your industry. One of the best ways to access this universe is by developing and implementing a social listening strategy.
Social listening has the power to serve as a virtual focus group made up of potential members who have been consistently engaging with your industry or products like yours in their own time. To get started, you will need to put together a list of keywords, companies and people to track that relate to your organization or your area of focus. Choose an automated tool that works best for you – check out Sprout Social or Meltwater, as well as more affordable or free solutions like IFTTT, HootSuite or Google Alerts, to name a few. Once you get started, compile your data and begin to regularly monitor results, adjusting your tracking accordingly.
By “listening” in on social media, you will not only gain insight into who is saying what about organizations or brands like yours, but also on what social media platforms they are saying it. Identifying the platforms they are using and the brands and organizations they are following will help you pinpoint key information you can track and, eventually, lead you to the audiences you can begin to target.
You have the building blocks, but how do you start to build?
With the knowledge gathered from evaluating your current audience and others in your universe, you now have enough information to build a profile of the audience you want to target through organic engagement and paid advertising.
A multi-channel approach will garner the best results, but this doesn’t mean you need to produce content for every platform. You should instead use the collected data to narrow down the platforms that will be most valuable for reaching your target audience. Were most members of your new target audience engaging on Twitter? Direct your focus there.
This gives you the opportunity to organically engage with your audience in the places that they are already engaging. When you select those platforms, take advantage of the tools available on each to target audiences through demographic data, interests and keywords.
Keep in mind while creating your content and planning your advertising approach that you don’t want to silo your potential audience members by predetermining their interests and how they will engage with you. Instead, you want to put your relevant content, services and products out into their world and see how they choose to engage with it.
How can you optimize engagement?
Once you begin running your campaigns, you will want to closely monitor engagement to gain additional insight and alter or change course as needed. Engaging with new audiences is about bringing them into the fold and letting them decide their path from there.
Remember that no matter how targeted your approach may be, there will be unforeseen elements that you won’t have control over. Someone who fits the perfect profile of your ideal conference attendee may turn out to be more interested in a digital content subscription. Someone who checks every box on the profile of who should access your latest learning product may want to download a white paper instead.
Let them choose.
The goal of an audience-building initiative isn’t gaining new members, increasing registration numbers or achieving another specific business goal. It’s about presenting opportunities for new individuals to engage with you and letting them choose how they do so – whether that’s through membership, education, training, meetings, publication sales, conference attendance and so on. Once they choose, it’s up to you to nurture that relationship and create ongoing engagement.