More than 40 percent of association members consider industry information a top benefit of belonging, according to a 2016 study conducted by Abila. This ranks ahead of every other benefit except providing a code of ethics.
Associations have long been the purveyors of authoritative content about the professions and industries they serve, but the ways in which this information is distributed to members has changed dramatically in the past 20 years.
According to the same study by Abila, millennials, who are now the largest generation in the workforce, want the most communication out of four generations surveyed. They want every piece of information available! Gen Xers and baby boomers prefer regular updates, but mature workers (those born before 1945) only want to know the big news. These different demands require multiple mediums.
In this installment of the Making it Easier series, we spoke to Kim Howard of Write Communications, LLC, an experienced and award-winning association magazine publisher, about the transformation of association communications from print to digital.
Just how profound is the transition from print to digital? Can you cite any stats that quantify the shift?
The shift from print to digital is staggering. The Internet and news delivery has changed the way citizens of the world consume their information. Some of the stats on the prevalence of digital communications are mind-boggling. Globally, more people own a cell phone than a toothbrush. Ninety-one percent of all Americans have their smartphones within reach 24/7. The average text message is replied to within 90 seconds. Your members’ expectations are now instant access. Associations who do not get on the digital bandwagon are leaving their readers behind.
What’s the impact of mobile, both from a web and native mobile app perspective, on digital media?
According to Hub, to date, there are roughly 2 billion smartphone users in the world, with 184 million in the United States. A Nielsen company audience report from 2016 revealed that adults in the United States devote about 10 hours each day to consuming media, which included tablets, smartphones and personal computers. The impact of mobile in our daily lives is obvious. But, I still have clients asking: “Do we really need a mobile-friendly format?” The answer is yes.
How can an association balance print and digital?
Honestly, associations should be giving their members a choice by offering them both print and digital options. Let your member tell you what he or she wants and how they want to consume their information from you.
What role does print still play? What benefit do you see it having?
Print still has a valuable role to play. We sometimes forget that it’s extremely easy to delete an email or close a browser or an app. But, it’s not that easy to toss an unread magazine or newspaper. There is no doubt that more people consume information digitally today than ever before because our technology has made quick access easy. However, many consumers also still like that paper product you produce. They enjoy reading this way. But, it’s up to associations to continue to gauge their reader’s habits. Make sure that you are surveying them on a regular basis and then acting on that. You certainly don’t have to do this quarterly, but an annual timeframe is something to consider. You can’t create your content strategy without knowing what your audience values ̶ and what it doesn’t.
Given the rise of digital, what recommendations do you make to your clients on their print projects?
I recommend that publishing teams tap into the expertise their printers can provide regarding ideas such as gatefold covers, barn door covers, inserts, etc. Association publishers must remain open to ideas that sell ad revenue. If you offer something unique, there is likely an advertiser willing to pay for that opportunity.
Where should associations start as they bring print and digital together to meet a strategic goal or to serve their members better?
Start with your content strategy. Find out what your user needs or what they desire. Understand your association business drivers/strategic goals and what is important to the internal team. Know what your technological capabilities are and what is possible. When you merge those three areas together, you can create a concrete content strategy that works toward strategic goals and serves your members.
About Kim Howard, CAE: Kim is the president of Write Communications, LLC, where she helps clients create mission-aligned content for every channel for measurable results. She has more than 20 years of award-winning experience in association publishing, strategic communications, marketing, social media and management. An established leader in the publishing industry, she has held senior-level management positions for national and international trade associations, serving as the editor-in-chief or publisher of seven magazines. A skilled communicator, she has provided commentary and insight for industry trade magazines, consumer publications and online forums.