Making the Case for Social Media
How one association proved the power of its social channels to engage with members, drive revenue, and advance the mission.
This is the seventh in a series of Q&A's with speakers at the Folio: Association Media Summit on May 3rd in Washington, D.C.
Since evolving from a fun side-component to a core part of the communications strategy, social media has tested the ability of associations to integrate and harness such a new, different, and powerful tool for connecting with members.
Many have navigated that challenge successfully, but the path has been bumpy. While the challenges that faced early adopters have receded, ramping up a social media component in organizations accustomed to controlling the message isn’t without obstacles.
Part of the trick is to meld multiple goals into the effort: engagement, top-down messaging, listening, and, to a degree, selling. That’s the course social media has taken at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) since 2012, and one that Lauren Jonas, the association’s assistant executive director–marketing, helped chart.
As a panelist for the "Developing a Customized Social Strategy" session at the Folio: Association Media Summit in Washington, D.C., she’ll talk about the NSTA's embrace of social media and the lessons learned. Here, enjoy a preview of some of those insights.
Folio: How are you using social media at the NSTA?
Lauren Jonas: We use it a lot as a listening tool. We’re watching what others are talking about—teachers, school districts, conference speakers, book authors—and also to hear what people say they need. That’s where it can help with something like product innovation. If you hear people talking about wishing they had a materials list for something, for instance, that’s when you know that maybe you need to write a book or article about that topic, or maybe develop a webinar. That’s one of the ways it can align with your business goals in terms of product innovation.
Overall, it’s much more about joining the discussion already out there and learning from it; what are our members talking about, what do they need us to do, or maybe adding value to the conversation.
Folio: How has its use evolved at the association?
Jonas: We were using it a bit ad hoc, where people in different departments were using Facebook, say, but there was no centralized person providing guidelines or making goals and having measurements.
We started developing guidelines and goals for it and gathering metrics. Initially we just used it as an engagement tool, which is really important. But to get it to a more sophisticated level where we could show the executive director why we should invest in it and get a full time person for it, we had to show how it would align with our business goals and answer the question of how are we going to make money off of it.
Folio: How is it meeting that test?
Jonas: I was able to show my executive director how much traffic social media was sending to our website. We used Google Analytics, and showed that social media was the number one referrer for traffic to the site. And that’s important because that’s where people buy our products, sign up for conferences and become members. As we got more sophisticated I started putting promo codes that were social media only, and then we could prove that buying, or registering or becoming members based on what they were seeing on social channels. It gave additional proof that it was worth investing in.
And people expect you to respond on Twitter almost in real time. So that’s another argument for the c-suite, that you can alleviate a little of the burden that’s on your call center if you use it properly. People might say I didn’t get my confirmation or registration, or my journal. Now you can answer using Twitter, by saying I’ll check into that. But in the meantime, "Did you know you also have access to them online?" And that also helps with member retention, too. If you’re getting back to people right away and answering questions publicly, people really see your organization is committed to helping them.