With everything from Netflix to news websites fighting for a few precious minutes of our attention, membership organisations could be forgiven for thinking that their messages will never get through. 

But, what membership organisations have that all brands and commercial publishers desperately crave is a specialist community that wants to hear from them. That’s the hardest part solved, right there.

So, what can membership communications professionals learn from those commercial publishers about the content that helps them build their communities? When I was hosting a stage at the 2022 PPA Festival (the UK’s largest festival for publishers and media organisations), I asked them. Here’s what they told me.

Take a positive view

If you think scaremongering, creating urgency or instilling fear in your audience will create loyalty and advocacy, think again. Research from top media organisation Hearst UK proves that creating a positive environment through content delivers high levels of engagement and a positive feeling towards your organisation.

Plus, positive-minded people are more likely to take positive action (like attending more of your learning webinars). That’s not to say you can’t also be a critical friend, but you must pick your timing and prioritise positivity at all costs.

Be Yoda

How does industry-leading online magazine, The Athletic, get people to pay for content? They get the top commentators to strive to write the best football content on the planet.

There is so much written (and spoken, for that matter), you have to produce trusted, exceptional content if you want to stand out. And, you have to make sure that content reaches the right eyeballs. The Athletic ask people for their favourite club when they sign up, so they know exactly what content to serve – and when. Are you the Yoda of your industry? If not, why not?

Get into your community

No more designing at the white board and guessing what people want to know. An audience-first approach is vital.

Listen to what your community is telling you. And, if they aren’t telling you enough, ask. Yes, you could convene an editorial advisory board and include member voices. But, what about taking a leaf out of Farmers Weekly’s book and actually getting into the community. They work with a group of farmers on a regular basis to understand their business objectives and support them in driving their businesses forward. Farmers Weekly get high-quality, relevant content and the farmers get a shed load of great ‘free’ advice (and they commercialise it too). Win, win. Why not take it one step further and have members working for your organisation?

Flood the zone

How many times have you turned a great idea into one piece of content and moved on?

The content provider Insider deploys a technique of flooding the zone around a subject if they know it is of particular interest to their audience. This might seem counter-intuitive to those organisations looking to achieve a real breadth across subjects. But why not give it a go?

Choose a high-performing subject that is of genuine interest to your members and write about it more times than you feel comfortable. It will pay off and members will thank you for it.

Be an agent for change

Members want to feel like they belong, and they also want you to stand up for what they believe in.

During the pandemic, Farmers Weekly had great success with their campaigning work, which was designed to both highlight the important role played by farmers in feeding the nation as well as the labour crisis triggered by Brexit. They stood up for farmers and farmers stood by them as a result.

What matters most to your members? Are you doing enough about it?

Educate, don’t just publish

Ask any publisher what they want to do more of in 2023, and they’ll tell you it’s to educate and capitalise on audience need for learning and growth. Membership organisations are well-placed when it comes to this, but how often do you see your content as a chance to educate?

Insider always include definitions around subjects they feel people would be too scared to admit they don’t fully understand. The result? More people read their articles because they understand them. Never assume that your audience knows what you are talking about and you might find you pick up quite a few more readers (and members). And critically, you can do it without there being a feeling you are dumbing down.

Ask yourself: is the content you are creating useful? If the answer is no, change it.

Data isn’t the answer – it just helps you ask the right question

Data is a word mentioned in every second sentence by commercial publishers and membership organisations alike. By employing data champions within their organisations, some publishers are finding intelligent ways to interrogate data and use it to inform the content creation process.

This isn’t about vanity metrics. This is about using data to spot trends that can help you prioritise what works and dial down what doesn’t. Data champions need to exist across your business, and they need to change the conversation around data so it’s used more to drive performance, rather than highlight concerns.

Never settle

How easy it is to fall into the trap of producing a regular drumbeat of content that never quite hits the mark?

To rid yourself of the hamster wheel of content creation, stop, take a step back, and think about the themes and issues that you need to be talking about both now and in the future.

How can you innovate? How can you deliver in a campaign that grabs the attention of all who see it? How can you do less and make what you do more impactful than ever before?

Get in touch

Member organisations are among the richest content sources around, packed with expertise and trusted authoritative information. Turning that into a rich seam of content marketing to help drive acquisition, engagement and retention is a craft – and it’s one we love to work on every single day.

To find out more about how content can transform your organisation, get in touch today.

While we can’t switch off Netflix, we can generate interesting, useful, trustworthy, meaningful, audience-first, relatable and positive content that can genuinely change lives. We’d love to help you.

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