Crickets. An enjoyable sound if you’re out camping for the night, but not what members want to hear from an association that they paid money to be a part of.
People join associations to get value, often in the form of member benefits such as access to networking, content, and professional development. They want to be engaged and involved, and they want to hear from the organization about changes in the industry and new engagement opportunities. All of that requires communication.
Communication is one of the most important elements of growing and maintaining your organization, not to mention building strong relationships with members. The quantity and quality of your content is crucial to providing value.
However, many associations start strong and fall off over time or communicate much more effectively during only certain times of year. An effective communication schedule will ensure content reaches your membership in an organized, thoughtful, and timely manner.
Your ultimate goals?
- Keeping your members engaged and actively participating month after month and year after year.
- Creating a sustainable member communication plan.
Follow these four simple steps to create an effective communication schedule today.
4 Steps to Creating a Communication Schedule
Step #1) Create a Template
An effective communication schedule starts with an organized template that includes key content, date, and distribution information. The purpose of this template is to identify the information you’ll need to make your communication schedule effective, such as the tools you need to create content that members are interested in and the distribution methods that reach the most members.
When creating a communication schedule template, include space to lay out all of the different content and channels on a timeline. Pinpoint the dates of upcoming communication events in your organization, such as publishing a blog, and the people who will be responsible for providing content.
Below are some helpful columns you can include in your template:
- Proof Due Date
- Projected Release Date
- Communication Channel(s)
- Category / Department
- Title / Description
- Content Author
- Dispatch Date
There are numerous programs that you can use to create a communication schedule template. Many organizations prefer to keep things simple by using Excel, but the best program will be the one you’re most comfortable with.
Step #2) Identify Your Communication Channels
Most organizations divide their communication into several different channels (also known as communication forms) such as blogs, forums, and emails. Decide on the forms you’ll be using, keeping in mind the importance of sending your content through multiple channels. Research your members and test different channels to find out which work best and provide you with the most reach for your effort.
Ultimately, the communication channels you choose should be based on the age and demographic of your target audience, so spend some time researching the methods your members prefer and be sure to include them. For instance, a widely reported study from Fractl and Buzzstream, found that while most generations enjoy blogs, there are some key differences in content preference. Millennials like audiobooks and podcasts, generation x prefers case studies, and baby boomers want reviews, for example.
Here are a few of the most popular channels we recommend:
- Targeted Emails
- Social Media
Step #3) Build Content
Create content that you can distribute through various communication channels. Start by gathering your organization’s most important information in terms of resources, events, and member news. If you have an online community, browse through popular forum discussions and blog articles to see what topics your members are most interested in, and use that to determine future content topics.
Format your topics for different content channels. Include not only blogs, but ebooks, images, newsletters, and other content formats to keep your members interested. Use these examples as building blocks and ideas for ways to format content differently:
- Executive Communications
- Tips & Tricks
- Sponsorship / Vendors
- Conference Dates and Reminders
- Call for presentations
- Hotel & travel
- Special events
- Conference App
- Know Before You Go
Step #4) Set Release Dates
Review your communication release dates and set a standard for the frequency of your communication. The goal here is to prevent interfering communications, and to avoid inundating your members with messages.
For each group of members, you reach out to, try to limit your messages to one or two per week. If needed, you can combine similar communications into a single message, or if you're looking for more content, create something a little more ‘fun’ for your members to engage with. Fun content could be a career aptitude test, opinion survey, or even just a striking image that relates to your organization.
In our busy day and age, always respect how precious a commodity time is. Therefore, treat your list as one of your greatest assets. Your messages should be timely, relevant, and not too frequent. If you bombard your members with too many emails, especially general emails, it will likely cause them to ignore you, and potentially even unsubscribe.
Member Communication Schedule Takeaway
Your communication schedule is your guide not only to distributing content at the right time, but also creating content on the subjects that interest members the most. Include different content forms and communication channels, along with an appropriate communication frequency, to ensure that your members enjoy your messages.
Through the entire process, try to narrow in on the subjects and type of content that your members want most and respond to. Targeted, personalized content that comes just often enough to be interesting and valuable, but not often enough to be tiring and turn into background noise, is your sweet spot.