Don’t speak French to me: A social media marketing lesson for associations

by Ben Martin, CAE on February 10, 2011 · 7 comments

Almost three years ago, I unsubscribed from ASAE’s awful, circa 1995 listservs. I was getting nothing out of them. Read up on my riveting experience.

But, time marches on, people start new jobs (haven’t heard my news?), yada, yada, yada… I recently updated my ASAE listserv details and began receiving daily digests again.

So here’s a popular question on ASAE’s listservs (and, to be fair, some others that I’m a part of):

I’m trying to market a conference.
How do I get my members to
tweet, do facebook, and various and sundry other
social media stuff so I can
reach them with marketing messages?

They could have just said: help me get my Anglophone members to listen to my French-language advertising.

Mon Dieu! Rule #1 of marketing: Know thy market. That’s why it’s called market-ing.

If your market isn’t tweeting, facebooking, foursquareing, or whatever, your association probably shouldn’t be putting too much time and energy in communicating through social media.

I repeat: Know thy market. Communicate like they do.

When I was at VAR, I figured this out pretty quickly. In 2007 I was hired to give our association a social media presence, and I did. We were viewed as a social media leader. I was asked to write articles, speak, consult. Awards and recognition came, my email and voicemail filled up with messages asking for my advice, and other associations in our industry followed suit.

But a funny thing happened along the way: I discovered that our blog, tweets and facebook posts weren’t making much progress in catching up to our magazine and e-mails in popularity. I won’t claim to have executed the perfect social media strategy, but it was a darn good program. The e-mails and magazines were more effective. Period. So we redirected our efforts into e-mail and print.

We didn’t stop doing social media. We did it smarter. Faster. And in a way that supported print and e-mail. Come to my session at the Great Ideas Conference on March 13 at 2:45 for the juicy deets.

Your market will give you their attention if you communicate a meaningful message in their terms, and on their terms. It’s not quite that simple, but you’ve got to start there.

– fin –

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

jsd February 10, 2011 at 9:38 am

Sacre bleu!


Matt Baehr February 10, 2011 at 10:10 am

Preach brother!

Here at my (not so new now) association, I have started a few social media things, but am not putting huge time into them because our members aren’t spending their time on them.



Maggie McGary February 10, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I’m just glad you’re blogging again 😉

You’re preaching to the choir, of course, with me. I love that you realized your efforts weren’t paying off so you stopped, or at least re-calibrated your efforts. Many would say “we can’t stop using [insert Twitter/Facebook/Linkedin group] because everyone knows you HAVE to be using social media.” No point in doing something if it doesn’t make sense for your audience. But to be able to determine if it’s right for your audience you need to at least try it and know what/how to measure to see if your efforts are paying off.


Tammy Tilley February 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Amen. While our members aren’t using, say, Twitter and FB in droves, we do have key non-member audiences who do. Our focus is generally more to those groups than to members when we ‘use’ these channels (though we have a couple of member-outreach pilots we’re conducting).

At the same time, we are talking about SM and its use in our member communications. Not necessarily a ‘you should do this’, more of a ‘here’s some issues in health care and social media use and you might be interested’ kind of form. I think a number of associations have an opportunity to be a resource to members new to these areas or to the issues for their profession.

I know my comments deviate a bit from the intent of your piece. My hope is that associations don’t think about SM only in the context of reaching members, and only in the context of marketing.


Jeffrey Cufaude February 10, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Wait. you mean it’s not true that the world will end if everyone doesn’t Tweet and get LinkedIn and book their face, and claim their space, and become mayor of their domain? You young man are a heretic.


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