Margaux Rundstadler, Association Manager at Kellen, argues that, if going digital has become a prerequisite for associations, it also means it should be carefully planned and reviewed.
Embracing a digital mindset has become an essential and a daily feature of how associations communicate, persuade and inform, i.e. advocate. A successful (digital) advocacy is when the message you try to get across is well received, understood and acted upon by your intended audience. Going digital is key in order to remain competitive towards other associations and stakeholders. However, is going all digital the best strategy? How to be sure it brings added value? What are the pros and cons of digital advocacy?
The pros of digital tools
One of the main benefits of digital tools is allowing the ‘360 degrees approach’, thanks to the various channels. These can be paid channels (e.g. social media advertising), earned (e.g. press coverage), shared (social media) and owned media (website). Integrating the four media types can drive messages in a very consistent manner and help establish a certain authority. The various channels also allow tailored communication through a very granular and detailed audience segmentation.
Then, comes the significant roles played by measurement and reporting tools. Thanks to free tools such as Google and Twitter Analytics, it is now possible to measure whether an online communication strategy has had the intended outcome. Today, one can study whether the targeted audience has been reached, how many times an infographic or a white paper has been downloaded, how often a linked has been clicked on… It gives clear outcomes as well as concrete figures when reporting to the association’s staff and board members, while increasing credibility and respect for the communication function.
Another real pro of digital advocacy is the ‘democratic’ aspect of it. Prices are often cost-friendly, tools can even be free, which is the case for newsletters, surveys, online invitation, etc. They do not require significant investment and are often flexible and easy to adjust, therefore accessible by anyone.
Overall, digital tools can constitute a real differentiator towards certain competitors on the market and they are an added benefit for the association through the rapid spread of information they allow. Yet, this opens up to a potential con of digital communication, namely ‘digital fatigue’.
One of the main issues of digital communication is the increasing ‘digitalfatigue’, which is due to the rise in social media channels to follow. It therefore also makes it more difficult to stand out from others and fight for the attention of a target audience, especially as associations often target the same audiences, be they policy makers, prospect members or stakeholders. Communication styles tend to be more and more aggressive, increasing the difficulty for users to differentiate between false and true information.
However, the main challenge, or mistake, when it comes to digital communication in particular, is the lack of a concrete strategy. As digital tools are often accessible by anyone, they can be perceived as being easy to use and one could be tempted to manage as many channels as possible. This misconception can result in an excessive use of the different channels, without a defined strategy —online, as off-line channels, do require a strategy.
In addition, a solid governance and an operational planning are crucial. The more channels you use, the more difficult it is to update them all. For social media especially, there is a need for constant content feed. Hence, the strategy is key to a successful advocacy or member growth.
How to remain competitive?
Digital mindset and digital readiness go hand in hand. However, as there exists two types of generations, the digital-savvy and the reluctant ones, it is important to consider to what extent the members of an association are open to digital tools. Some audiences remain sensitive to more off-line communication styles. It is therefore important to combine on and off-line tools, in order to have a real added value for members.
The fact that digital tools allow the information to be spread quickly among the members of your target audience constitutes a real added value. To always remain competitive, it is also key to monitor the competition as well as those organisations that you work with. Keeping informed of the market is part of the digital mindset and necessary for improvements.
A best practice example
This past year, in view of the EU elections, one of Kellen’s largest associations launched an advocacy campaign to reach out to policy makers. In February, a manifesto was released, aiming at conveying the ‘wish list’ of the industry towards newly elected or re-elected Members of the European Parliament. To maximise its impact, a high-level event was organised in Brussels, for which relevant digital tools were used: e-blast of invitations, promotion of the event via social media channels, information on the website of the association, live tweets during the event, to name a few.
Following the event, a press release was issued, the manifesto went online and links were shared via promoted tweets. The association measured the number of times the manifesto was downloaded via Google Analytics as well as the number of people reached by promoted posts via Twitter Analytics. Here, the ‘360 degrees’ approach was achieved, because on- and off-line tools were used as the result of a pre-defined strategy with set goals.
The question is therefore not whether going digital is necessary to remain competitive; it has become a prerequisite. Digital tools have clear benefits especially in terms of reporting, evaluating and measuring KPIs, which are easier to do with online rather than off-line tools. It increases the efficiency of a communication strategy as well as the ability to remain ‘in the game’. With digital tools, it is easier to evaluate whether the expected outcome has been reached, whereas in the past it was more difficult. It is equally clear that an all–digital strategy without careful review and revision might be insufficient because of the risk of ‘digital fatigue’.It is therefore crucial to find the right balance between on and off-line advocacy tools.
Margaux Rundstadler is Association Manager at Kellen, a global association management and communications company born to help build stronger not-for-profit organizations, so they can make the greatest impact (kellencompany.com). The right to use this article has to be granted by the Publisher.