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Here are ten quick ideas to help Associations leverage social media to engage their leadership, membership and the public. Associations have long struggled with the “engagement” factor. It’s easy to offer a full plate of events, workshops and services on the calendar. It’s another thing to have members actually show up in conference  and classrooms. Getting new members involved, and keeping existing members included over the long haul, has traditionally meant massive marketing efforts – frequently beyond the staffing, budgeting and capacity levels of most Associations.

That’s why leveraging social media is a critical to the modern Association’s member-engagement plan. Here are ten simple ways to leverage these super tools.

  1. Focus on engagement, not advertising. The more you get members involved with their feedback, voting, sharing and quoting your content, the more likely it will be for members to help “spread the word.”
  2. Make it last. Blogging offers big advantages over e-mailing content in newsletters or announcements because the content is automatically stored online – forever. This lets members go back later to search and find helpful content they might have otherwise deleted as an email.
  3. Understand your audiences. Associations have three audiences: Committee leaders, general members and the public. Be sure to develop content and activities – text, video, polls, etc – that are focused on each audience separately. Vary your content development to engage each audience on a rotating basis.
  4. Empower audiences. Make sure anything you share with members or the public can be quickly – and completely – shared with their personal sphere of influence. Eliminate any firewalls or restricted-access limitations to your engagement content. If you need to keep certain Association information private, it’s not appropriate for social sharing in the first place.
  5. Make it mobile friendly. Be sure anything you share – from a blog, on Facebook, linked to another website – can be seen easily and quickly on a mobile device. Avoid content that must be downloaded or requires a plug-in to view.
  6. Spread the news. Most memberships are constantly looking for news they can use with their clients, so constantly scan news sources friendly to your industry and share stories, research and content every day. Members will become used to looking at your Facebook page, group or blog as their “first stop” in their personal social networking efforts every day.
  7. Tell your side of the story. It’s harder to get traditional media to cover your side of the story than it is to simply tell your side directly to your audience. So create a process of monitoring media coverage of your industry, then creating a blog or video response that directly answers the story. Your social media strategy will allow your members to pick up your perspectives and make sure it’s delivered directly to the people who matter most.
  8. Listen and learn. Turn the megaphone around and use social media to listen to members and the public. Keep an eye on members’ engagement and comments to your content; search public content for key words pertaining to your industry. You can learn a lot if you look and listen more than you speak in social nets.
  9. Interconnect your media. If you’re still producing print media, use QR Codes to push paper-reading members to your web content. If you’re producing pamphlets for the public, do the same for the public. Be sure email includes links, likes and sharing tools that empower recipients to push content from their inbox to their social networks easily, too.
  10. Bring social media into the boardroom and classroom. Empower members at meetings and workshops to post real-time updates, comments and feedback to the web while they’re together in person. Create a Twitter hashtag for classes, encourage smartphone users to post to the Association Facebook page during a meeting, and turn monthly meetings into Tweetups with contests and games. Integrate social media into the “live” networking to extend the event into the “virtual” networking space for members who cannot attend.

From better PR to constant engagement, social networking tools can transform the ways in which Associations keep their members informed and integrated in the work of the group. Most of the tools are already familiar – to staff, members and the public – so all it takes is change in thinking to create connected communities that bring your Association’s membership to whole new levels.