How Associations Can Successfully Institute Content Marketing

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present to the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives about Content Marketing for Associations. It was a topic that I had constantly had conversations with association executives about over the past few years, so I thought I’d put together a presentation explaining the ins and outs of not only content marketing itself, but how associations and nonprofits can successfully institute a content marketing strategy of their own. The presentation was very well received, to my delight, so I wanted to share the main points with as many others as I could.

Here are the main points I covered:

  • What is content marketing?
  • Defining GREAT content
  • Creating effective content strategies
  • Member-generated content
  • Search engine optimization 101
  • Measuring ROI

What is content marketing

Joe Pulzzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “the marketing and business practice for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” The main part to focus on in that definition is “creating and distributing relevant and valuable content.” The entire point and basis of any content marketing plan for an association is to create unique content that educates and engages current or potential members. This goes hand-in-hand with why associations are created in the first place; for the sole purpose of educating industry and association members

Defining GREAT content

Creating content for the sole purpose of creating content is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ve heard the effects of a good content marketing for associations strategy that can make a positive impact your organization, so you just crank out a bunch of content just for the fun of it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that. You must be able to create great content to separate yourself from other associations in your industry. Here’s 5 things each piece of content should accomplish:

  1. It must be unique: You may have heard that content is king. Well, that’s simply not true. Unique content it king.
  2. Be timely: Is the topic you’re writing about timely? Does it relate to things happening right now or in-season? People want to know the here and now, not the there and then.
  3. Take a position, and back it up with facts: Don’t be afraid to take a stance on an issue within your industry. Maybe some controversial legislation just passed that will negatively affect your industry. Write a blog about how you think it will negatively impact your colleagues and industry as a whole, but make sure you back your stance up with facts and statistics. No one likes a “facebook expert.” You know, those people who have very strong opinions on things with little to no verifiable information to back it up.
  4. Provoke conversation: When you’re writing material, always remember to think to yourself, “Could I have a conversation about this at an association meeting?” It’s a great way to determine the “who cares” factor. Don’t waste your time developing material that no one cares about.
  5. Make people smile: Don’t be afraid to be light-hearted and make people smile. Show that your organization and it’s employees are people with a sense of humor. Showing your organization has a human side is a great way to keep people engaged.

Creating an Effective Content Marketing for Associations Strategy

Creating a strategy in order to make sure you create and distribute that content correctly is also extremely important. Without a good strategy, you’re simply writing random content with no plan. You must have a plan!

  1. Know your audience: As an association, this one is pretty easy. You already have a very clear and concise target market for your future members and your know the specifics of what they like to look at. This is a huge benefit to get started.
  2. Mission statement & goals: By knowing your organizational mission statement and goals, you can coincide your content creation and dispersal along with it. Use percentages to give yourself an idea of what kind of content you should be creating for what channel. For example, if you’re looking to build brand awareness as an annual goal, a great way to do that is by creating visual content such as videos or infographics for social media. Weigh the amount of content like this you’ll create by how important brand awareness is to your organization to meet your annual goals.
  3. Stay up-to-date: Use the tools that are out there to stay up-to-date on the latest things going on in your industry. Google Alerts is a great way to have the latest information and media on a certain topic sent directly to your inbox each day. Use that information for topic ideas, or to simply share what’s going on in the industry.
  4. Create an editorial calendar: One of the best things that we’ve personally done at Omnipress is to create an editorial calendar. Each month we meet to discuss the next two months of content and plan what we’ll be writing, where we’ll be distributing it and how else we can leverage our content. It helps everyone stay on task and not fall behind. When I come in each morning, all I have to do is look and see if I’m responsible for writing or posting anything that day. I then complete that task and I’m on to other essential duties for the day. It’s a great way to stick to your content marketing plan.
  5. Track your work: I’m a firm believer that you might as well not create any kind of content unless you have a reliable way to track it. Track things like when you post, how you post and the success of the post to paint a clear picture for yourself (and your boss) of what’s working and what’s not. This will help when you’re planning future content and need to decide what to spend your precious time on.

Member-generated content

One of the other great things about using content marketing for associations is the fact that you’re able to have contact with a lot of great minds in your industry. The tough part is getting those minds to contribute to your organization in the form of content. Members respect other members so it’s incredibly important to enable them to share their experiences and their expertise. You can do so by offering incentives like committee titles, a little PR, or even a shiny new title to show off on their resume or LinkedIn profile. Enable your members to be part of what makes your association great.

Search engine 101

Search engine optimizationSearch engine optimization doesn’t have to be a big, bad, scary thing. It truly is something that everyone can do. Yes, there are very high-level things that you need a little HTML experience to conduct, but the basics are all things we can help with.

  1. Meta tags: Make sure all of your metadata is completed on all the pages of your site and blog. This means completing the title tags, description, and keywords within your content management system. There’s a lot of debate about whether or not these things have any bearing on search engine ranking anymore, but my motto has always been “it’s better to be safe than sorry.” This takes you very little time to complete each time you create new content, so why not take it to complete this task.
  2. Headline and body: The most important thing you can do with a headline or the body of the content is to write naturally. What I mean is to write like you would if you were speaking with someone in person. Don’t simply throw the keyword you’re trying to rank for in your content 100 times and think it will help you rank better. As a matter of fact, if it’s used too many times, and not in a natural, conversational tone, the search engines will actually penalize you. Use your keywords naturally!
  3. User-friendly URLs: This is a little bit more advanced, but something we can still all impact. Instead of keeping your URLs filled with random numbers and letters like this:, reformat your URLs to easy-to-read keywords like:

*These are obviously three, high-level SEO tips. There are MANY other factors that go into search engine rankings, but these will help get you started with content marketing for associations.

Measuring Return-on-Investment

As an business, everything you do must be able to be tied back to some sort of ROI. Since your resources are even more limited in an association, you must really make sure your getting revenue back from your content marketing for associations efforts. Here’s a few things to keep in mind to do just that:

  1. Clearly define your objectives and goals (short and long-term): In order to measure success, you must be able to have a baseline of what success means to your organization. Using the SMART practice, you can come up with effective measurements to determine success. SMART – Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.
  2. Key performance indicators: There are typically some KPIs that your organization can pay attention to on your website and blog to measure content effectiveness. Here’s a short list
    1. Unique visits: A unique visit is the amount of individual visits you have to certain pages. For example, if you have 10 people come to your site, that’s 10 unique visits. If those same 10 people visit your page 100 times, that’s 100 visits. See the difference?
    2. Geography: This is a great indicator, especially for state or regional associations to determine if their content is reaching the right geographic area.
    3. Bounce rate: A bounce is when someone goes to a certain piece of content (page, post, etc.) and leaves without looking at any other piece of content. You want your content to encourage people to stay on your site, so the more pages they visit the better. The lower your bounce rate, the better.
    4. Session Duration: How long are people spending on your site, and the content on it? This is a great indicator of the quality of your content.
    5. Shares, likes, comments
    7. Followers and Subscribers

Marketing with Conference Content: Part 1 – The Event Planner’s Advantage


When it comes to planning a conference, how often are you asked to do more with less? More food and beverage options, but for less money. More speakers, but in less rental space. More information, but in less time. (OK, I get the hint! I’ll get to the point…)

Marketing for your conference is no different. The web creates many opportunities to promote your event, but creating new marketing materials can be a time-consuming task.

As an event planner, you have a secret weapon.

You are sitting on a gold mine of information that can cut through the clutter, allowing you to:

  • Connect with professionals looking for industry-specific information
  • Remind members of the value your association provides year-round
  • Build awareness of your conference and other events
  • Extend the life of the materials you worked hard to collect

These shiny knowledge-nuggets aren’t something you have to go mining for; they are already at your fingertips.

Repurpose your conference content

You know that the secret to attracting people to your conference is having the educational content they want. Let this valuable information take on a second life! There is no reason it should sit dormant for 51 weeks each year. You worked hard to collect this material, it’s time to put it to work promoting your conference.

Existing conference content is effective as a promotional tool. Images of last year’s event can only go so far in conveying the value your conference provides. Using actual event content gives potential attendees a glimpse of the kind of material at your conference. This allows attendees the opportunity to see for themselves why yours is a “can’t miss” event.

Recent shifts in the perception of advertising also make a strong case for content marketing. Think about how you respond to the advertisements you see online. When was the last time that “celebrity secret” actually turned out to be “shocking”? The result of this quick-click obsession is a skeptical consumer. Your content inspires confidence by providing a tangible example of what your conference has to offer.

The event planner advantage

Content marketing has become one of the most popular ways for corporations to promote themselves online. In fact, according to a 2016 Content Marketing Institute survey, 88% of businesses use content marketing. You may even have given it a shot yourself, and for good reason! Association conference planners have some unique advantages when it comes to content marketing:

  • You have existing material: The biggest barrier to content marketing is creating new material. Your existing library of content gives you a head start.
  • Your review process provides authority: You can be confident that your peer-reviewed materials are insightful. This can be especially handy if you are not a subject matter expert.
  • You have access to the latest thinking: Your conference is an industry leader in providing timely, relevant information. Continue your role as a thought leader throughout the year.
  • You get feedback from the industry: Your conference feedback can provide insight into which topics are most in demand. Think of this as “focus group” input on the material in your collection.

Putting a plan in place

The first step in launching a content marketing campaign is assessing your existing materials. Determine what kind of content you have available and decide where it will be located. Your association’s website may seem like a good idea at first, but as time goes on, content can get lost or buried as the site gets updated. It’s best to create a standalone site that will contain all of your current and past event content. This will give visitors an idea of the broad range of information they can rely on your conference for.

A dedicated digital publishing platform is a well-suited home for storing your existing conference content. In addition to housing all your current and past content, it provides a flexible viewing experience for any kind of content. Its easy navigation, search capabilities and modern design will reinforce the positive impression attendees have about your conference.

It’s also important to determine a schedule that you will be able to follow. Be realistic. Will you be able to consistently post two pieces of content each week? Or is one piece of content every two weeks more likely? The rate that you choose is less important than your ability to stay on schedule. Readers stay engaged with a blog or social media profile that is updated on a regular basis.

A look ahead

So now that you’ve identified the most relevant material on your online content and thought long and hard about how much time you can devote to posting content online, now what? What are the best ways to get this great material in front of people?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at some tools and tips to make your content contagiously-clickable by those on your social networks. We’ll explore creative ways to use your existing conference content before–and after– the event. Stay tuned for tricks that will help generate interest in your event and attract new members.

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss any valuable tips!

Interested in learning more about promoting an event with your existing conference materials?

Check out the other entries in our Marketing with Conference Content series for more ideas:

Part 2: 3 Ways to Stand Out From the Crowd by Using Images

Part 3: How to Learn From Your Own Content [Infographic]

Part 4: Promoting Your Conference with Twitter

Learn About Using Social Media for Events

Yes, this is an advertisement for, but let’s move beyond that.

YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine. It might have something to do with people enjoy watching videos. Creating fun little videos like this is a bit more entertaining, yet it shares the same message as this:

<be sure to hum a dramatic tune while reading>
Currently meeting planners and associations are having to deal with a decrease in event attendance. And that makes people a bit nervous. Using social media is proven to help increase event awareness and attendance. But, many meeting professionals don’t understand social media or how to use it effectively for their events. They need help understanding social media for events and how to engage attendees. Engage365 is a great resource for meeting professionals. – Social Media for Events Community

YouTube makes it easy for your to tell a story… It’s called YouTube search stories. If you’ve ever “googled” anything, then you’re qualified to create these free videos. Pretty neat, eh?

Creating Content and Being Findable Leads to More Attendees and Members

An event blog and must-read content on your web site are powerful tools for attracting members and attendees.

In a recent Hubspot webinar, “How to Use SEO and Social Search for Lead Generation“, I learned that 45% of companies who blog have gotten revenue from that blog. And, those companies who blog increase web site visitors by 55% over those who do not.

Your association or conference is the same as any other business. You are trying to attract more attendees, sponsors and exhibitors to your event, and members to your organization.

With Google being one of the most popular web sites in the world, being found on the Internet is extremely important.

If you’re considering creating a event blog or updating your existing web site, here are techniques (by time period) shared by Hubspot that can help your web site rank higher in Google.


  • Use a lot of keywords in your title and body of your pages – technique not used much anymore
  • Use meta data descriptions and keywords – technique not used much anymore

2000 – 2010

  • Use some keywords in your title and body of your pages
  • Create useful content (tips, ideas, etc.)
  • Promote content in social media outposts and via email
  • Use call to action on your pages

2010 – Future

  • Publish more and more content (blogs are great – publish 3-4 times per week)
  • Be active in social media, often
  • Build large volumes of followers in social media
  • Use call to action on your pages

In a nutshell, you need a content marketing strategy and you need to keep moving forward with the plan if you want to keep your organization front and center. And, no longer can you hide behind the fear of social media. Rather you should embrace it as your friend as it is playing an important role in your organization being found and staying relevant.

Three Great Resources on Blogging and Creating Content

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