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“Stop Thinking Like an Association” to Debut at ASAE Annual Meeting Led by John Foley, Jr. and Samantha Lake

ilinklogo_280WILMINGTON, Mass. – (August 1, 2016) John Foley, Jr., CEO of interlinkONE, Inc. and strategic association advisor, and Samantha Lake, Vice President of Association Marketing Services for Grow Socially, will present a one-of-a-kind learning lab session at the 2016 American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. This high energy and insightful discussion, titled “Stop Thinking Like an Association,” will take place on Monday, August 15, 2016 from 4:00 – 5:00 pm MDT.

As we move deeper in to the digital age, associations often find themselves stuck in the rut of “business as usual.” Guided by John and Samantha, attendees will transform their mindset from that of an association, to that of an entrepreneur; ready to take risks, embrace change, and welcome challenges. Attendees will leave the session with an entirely new outlook on what it means to lead an association. John and Samantha will open the minds of participants to a culture that values forward thinking, creative problem solving, and team work by highlighting the benefits this mindset can bring.

“I am both excited and honored to present with Samantha at this year’s ASAE Annual Meeting and to share crucial knowledge to those attending. Too often, associations find themselves saying ‘we’ve always done it that way.’ Our goal is to change that mindset and I can say with complete confidence that this presentation will do just that,” said Foley.

The sixty minute session is open to all ASAE Annual attendees. Those who are among the first to arrive will receive a surprise gift box packed full of valuable tools to help along the journey to success. John and Samantha are allowing attendees to pre-register for both the session and the gift box to ensure a seat and a box. Registration for the session and the gift box will be available at Association Marketer. Sign up for the Association Marketer eNewsletter to be notified when this registration becomes available.

Registration for the conference is separate through the ASAE Annual Meeting website: http://ilink.me/ASAEReg

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, interlinkONE, Inc. provides a collection of innovative marketing software solutions including MAX, a powerful and user-friendly marketing automation tool. Designed to take the stress out of communication with members and prospects, MAX gets the right message to the right people at the perfect time, and on a platform suitable to them. This intuitive system lets users build campaigns that deliver compelling content to their audience, promote awareness, build relationships, and educate. And with MAX’s easy-to-use system, anyone can use it; no expertise required. To learn more about MAX and how you can stay in front of your members visit MarketWithMAX.com.

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Media Contact:
Donna Vieira
Vice President, Marketing
interlinkONE, Inc.
donnav@interlinkONE.com

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Strategic Planning for Your Association

When was the last time you took a good, hard look at your association’s business plan? Now that we’re halfway through the year (can you believe it?!), it’s time to see what you have accomplished so far. By looking at what your plans were for this year and evaluating results up to this point, you can see what has worked and what hasn’t, helping you to make key decisions and adjustments for the second half of the year. In reality, best practices for marketing and overall association management are constantly changing. By looking ahead and developing a strategy, you will be able to make necessary adjustments in a time-conscience manner. Below are some practices to consider as you begin strategizing for the second half of the year.

Take a Goal-Oriented Approach

When planning for the future of your association, it’s incredibly important to take a goal-oriented approach. With tools and trends constantly changing, the first step is making an assessment of your current strategy. Researching new technology, the outside market, and competitors will help you surpass competition. Once research is completed, you can begin positioning your association and setting goals for the upcoming months. Come up with the direction that you want your association to take. Think about where you really need to improve. Whether it’s increasing membership levels or delivering more value-added benefits, make sure that you have a main focus.

Create a Strategic Business Plan

Once goals are set, it’s imperative to create a detailed strategic business plan. In doing so, you’ll be able to form a step-by-step guide targeted at achieving results. Begin by taking what you have already completed for research, and compile specific tactics aimed at your goals. The elements within your strategic plan should all be driven by underlying elements, including:

  • Financial plan, allowing you to project what your expenses will be in pro-forma statements.
  • Marketing plan, which should identify key communication, promotional, and lead generating tactics for your association.
  • Membership goals and strategies, indicating projected new members, along with methods for improving numbers.
  • Timeline & summary of key events, which will give you a high level outline of what the upcoming months will look like.
  • Roles and responsibilities, providing the necessary insights into what resources are required in order to achieve the desired results.
  • Measurement techniques. Remember you need to measure, monitor, and continually improve your efforts based on analysis.

Focus on Your Members

Not only is it important to make sure everything is running smoothly internally, it’s also essential to make sure members remain satisfied. Keeping your existing members happy is what truly matters for your association. They must come first and remain a top priority for your association every step of the way during the strategic planning process. By creating a satisfaction survey and sending it out to members, you will be able to see clear insights and feedback. This will not only help improve relationships, but it will also help you gain new members for the second half of 2016 and beyond. Showing members that you value their opinion is one key recommendation in an effort to maintain and grow.

Update Your Competitive Value Proposition

Lastly, developing an updated competitive value proposition will help set your association apart from others. Research what competitors are offering, and really try to get a grasp on why potential members may veer towards joining a different organization. By performing this due diligence, you will be able to update your messaging to state why your association provides more value. Ensure that your strategy encompasses methods for proving value to members, whether it be case studies, testimonials, or other methods of showing member satisfaction.

Now, keep these tips in mind and think about this: Is your association ready for the second half of this year? It might be tempting to say “yes, last year the second half of the year was successful, so I’ll continue on this path for the rest of 2016.” In reality, however, this is a dangerous mindset. Not adapting to the evolving marketing and overall business model landscape is a sure-fire way to see a decline in membership levels. Ultimately, updating your strategic plan is the best way to ensure a healthy and productive future.

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The Impact of Social Media in the Workforce

A decade ago, social media was predicted to be a passing craze that allowed teenagers to share what they had for breakfast. Today, it’s one of the most important factors employers consider when deciding to offer a candidate a position. No matter what size your association, it’s impossible to deny the massive impact social networks have had on today’s labor force.  Sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ are changing the way employers communicate with and evaluate their employees.

social_connectionIn a study conducted by CareerBuilder.com, 2,303 hiring managers and human resource professionals were surveyed, and 37% said to have used social networks to screen potential candidates. Compare that number to only 14% of employers who consider a cover letter to be important when evaluating someone for a position. By conducting a quick social network scan, associations can evaluate a candidate’s communication skills, interests, social activity, and past employment history.  In the same study, 65% of employers said they use social media to see if the job seeker presents himself or herself professionally, and a whopping 34% claim they have found content that has caused them not to hire a candidate.

As social media networks have grown and become an even bigger influence throughout the corporate environment, some organizations have attempted to take drastic measures on the issue. Over the past couple of years, certain organizations have gone as far as requesting applicants’ and employees’ usernames and passwords to their personal social sites, such as individual Facebook accounts. Since this occurrence has been deemed a huge violation of privacy throughout the country, several states have passed legislation preventing employers from demanding access or passwords to personal social media accounts.

For job seekers, social media has become more than just a way to connect with others. It is now a way to portray themselves professionally to appeal to potential employers. However, using social media as an evaluation tool is a two way street.  Job seekers use company Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts as a way to assess the legitimacy of an organization. Many young employees who belong to the millennial generation use social networks as a way to gauge how connected an association is within their industry.  Smaller social networks such as Indeed, Vault, and Glassdoor.com allow users to rate and review organizations based on their employment experience.

Social media is not only affecting the job search process, it’s also starting to change the way we work. According to “Social Media in the Workplace Global Study,” 90% of companies now use social media for business purposes. What exactly those purposes are varies from organization to organization. For some it means creating profiles to establish a digital community with their members or customers. By doing this, associations are able to connect personally with their members and prospects. Other organizations see social networks (Twitter in particular) as a way to conduct customer service. By interacting with their members in real time they are able to provide more attentive customer service than ever before.

marketing_lightbulbZappos, a company recognized for their impressive Twitter customer service, has a reputation for going the extra mile by offering tips for customers and issuing refunds for defective items. By offering customer service via social networks, organizations are able to display their attentive service to their followers, a strategy that improves PR and builds member and customer loyalty. In addition, to keep staff aligned with the brand and principles, Zappos insists that all employees embrace the social culture as well. If, after starting their job, someone decides that they cannot align themselves with the culture, Zappos will pay them to leave their job. Amazon has followed suit and enacted a similar policy.

Larger organizations of all industries are beginning to spend significant resources on hiring “social media experts” that will work within their marketing department to use social networks to shape their organization. What was once designated to interns or entry level employees is now being taken on by high level marketing associates.  But while many associations encourage the use of social media during work hours, an increasing number of organizations are beginning to establish social media policies that prohibit the use of certain (and in some cases all) social networks. According to “Social Media in the Workplace Global Study,” 57% of organizations prevent their employees from accessing one or more social media sites.  This has sparked a management debate of policy that is leaving many organizations unsure of the correct strategy to implement. While many managers see social media blocks as a way to ensure productivity, data from the University of Melbourne suggests that employees with access to social networks are actually more productive than employees in organizations that block access.

Many employees see the activity of checking social media as a way to reward themselves in between tasks and admit that even when working under social media restrictions, they still find ways to circumvent them. Shel Holtz, co-author of Tactical Transparency, argues that social media policies arepeople_talking useless due to the fact that employees typically own tablet devices and mobile phones and are able to avoid the blocks.

So what can HR/Management do to make sure employees are able to use social media productively instead of wasting time? Shel argues that instead of blocking social media sites, organizations can take measures to encourage appropriate use of websites such as Facebook and Twitter during the work hour. Shel encourages organizations to offer social media trainings so employees understand the right way to utilize these sites. She even encourages organizations to provide grammar and spelling training to ensure that their employees are portraying their organization properly in the digital realm. This allows employees to establish digital relationships with other professionals in the industry and improves the overall connection of the organization.

With so many people on social media, it’s no wonder social media is starting to change the work force.  The idea of digital privacy for both associations and employees has disappeared for better or for worse.  With new social media websites that allow users to share their personality and experiences popping up every day, it is a safe assumption to say social media will continue to play an even larger role in the work force in the future.

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Design Thinking: A Team Sport Your Association is Ready to Play

In a recent article by Keith Chamberlain, associations are encouraged to apply Design Thinking to improve non-dues revenue opportunities as well as the experience and engagement of membership.

I want to take that article a little further by asking and answering a few questions, but first, here’s a quick refresher on Design Thinking.

This visual, created by Guido Kovalskys at the Institute of Design at Stanford, nicely communicates that good design requires one to be mindful of process – not just what you do, but how you do it and how to improve your process.

Good design is done by having a specific end in mind. With Design Thinking, a good deal of the process is empathizing with your audience and really getting to the root of their needs. From there, you develop a host of ideas, create minimally viable products – meaning they are not built as final – to test and learn, and then you test them in real life. Iteration is purposefully embedded in the process to continuously improve and refine.

Now, the questions:

Can associations apply Design Thinking to their organizations?

Companies like Apple, IBM, GE and Kaiser Permanente use Design Thinking’s human-centered process to meet customer needs in strategically viable ways…simply meaning, they make customers happy and they make money doing it. According to Jon Kulko, education company Blackboard’s vice president of design, in a recent HBR article, companies that have made Design Thinking an integral part of their culture:

  • Focus on their customers’ experiences, especially the emotional ones
  • Create models, like customer journey maps, to examine complex problems
  • Use prototypes to explore potential solutions, knowing it’s okay to fail
  • Tolerate failure, because they know it’s an opportunity to learn
  • Exhibit thoughtful restraint, deliberately choosing what should and should not be done

This to-do list doesn’t require billions of dollars in capital reserves or a fancy-schmancy R&D team. In applying Design Thinking at organizations I’ve worked with in the past, I’ve never found that spending lots of money is a requirement for success.

Paraphrasing Mr. Kovalsksy, Design Thinking requires being mindful of process. It requires thoughtful application of staff time and team energy. How you work together matters.

So, yes, associations can most definitely apply Design Thinking to their worlds.

What will happen when you use Design Thinking?

First, expect to learn a lot about your culture’s ability to cope with ambiguity and risk. With Design Thinking, the goal is not to launch perfect products or services. Rather, the goal is to iterate well…this means performance ideals and metrics must migrate from those seeking perfection to those steeped in continuous improvement.

Design Thinking is a team sport. Your organization will become more inclusive of employees and members in the discussion and decision process. Your internal coordination will improve when cross-departmental teams own the full course of their work. Team purpose, form and function gains clarity. As a result, execution improves overall, too.

With Design Thinking done right, members and employees are empowered and encouraged to contribute; subsequently they do so in awesome and pleasantly unexpected ways. Your organization can expect to experience improved employee engagement in addition to better products and services aligned to previously unidentified member needs.

Results: happier members (higher retention), happier employees (less turnover), and more revenue.

What challenges arise when putting Design Thinking in place?

Design Thinking is not for the faint of heart. But its potential rewards are tremendous for all stakeholders, and the many upsides makes it worth giving it a go.  That said, here are a few tips for addressing a few of the primary challenges you may face.

A brief case study.

At a national association, we used a Design Thinking process with members, Board, and staff to identify the following undesirable member (and staff) experiences:

  • Marketing practices that resulted in email bombardment saturation and members feeling nickel-and-dimed;
  • Different internal departments sending newsletters with various forms, functions and frequencies, creating member and staff confusion;
  • Unchecked growth in member benefits, creating (a) lack of focus for staff priorities, (b) inefficient use of resources and (c) lack of awareness and use of said benefits by members.

It was clear member needs could be better met. Subsequently, we created an experience design plan and new interdisciplinary teams; we prioritized no fewer than 10 major projects for execution (e.g. a new online publication, new volunteer opportunities, and new/improved access to benefits).

The outcomes were significant. By applying Design Thinking to the member experience, the association:

  • Consolidated and improved use of member benefits and communications;
  • Improved staff coordination and project prioritization;
  • Introduced a new recruitment and member experience model, growing membership by almost 10% in 8 months (previously, membership had been flat for 7 years running); and
  • Finished its most recent fiscal year in healthy, positive financial territory when it previously recorded a $1 million annual loss.

Start small and iterate.

Design Thinking offers a vastly different approach to creating new solutions; however, its impact can be positive in a variety of dimensions. Starting small with one or two projects will allow you to apply Design Thinking, minimize disruption, and discover and prove that a “mindful process” will improve the experiences of both members and staff.

While you may find it useful to find outside help, if you stick to the process, you can even apply Design Thinking to your own version of the Design Thinking process to continuously improve. Yes, I just said to purposefully iterate on the design of your Design Thinking process.  🙂  Patience, young Jedi, patience.

Authors: Keith R. Chamberlain & Garth A. Jordan

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