A Guide to Digital Marketing for Associations: Strategies That Wow

In the vast and varied universe of association management, those savvy enough to leverage the power of digital marketing are poised to reap the benefits of greater visibility and a flourishing, connected membership. As a frequent digital partner of associations and nonprofits, we’ve got the keys that will unlock the mysteries of member engagement, event promotion, educational outreach, advocacy, and beyond. Dive into this guide to digital marketing for associations and get the lowdown on strategies that will work for specific, organizational goals.

Why Associations Need a Digital Marketing Plan

Some associations make the mistake of letting their website exist as an afterthought. But even if you’re keeping up on website management and maintenance (and thus avoiding poor user experience and outdated designs), you may be overlooking all the association marketing strategies that keep your members engaged, your events thriving, and your mission advancing.

For every single one of an association’s common goals, there is a digital marketing tactic (or two or three) that can make sure each goal is calibrated for success. Here are the strategies we’ll take a look at:

  • Social Media
  • Email Campaigns
  • Content Creation
  • Online Communities
  • Digital Advertising

marketing for associations

Association Marketing for Member Engagement

Associations are about the spirit of community. They thrive on the connections forged with their members. For this, three key players step up to the plate: social media marketing, email marketing, and online communities. 

Through these channels, associations can widen the pathways for sustained engagement – even in an age of short attention spans. Using these tools with strategic intention will help associations connect with members, share updates, and create a buzzworthy online community, fostering a sense of belonging and shared purpose among their members.

Here are a couple of tips for email marketing:

  • Don’t Overlook Email: 

Don’t give email marketing the shaft when coordinating your strategy. Billions of people use it every day and a majority of marketing experts consider it even more important than social media marketing.

  • Segment Your Audience for Email Campaigns: 

If you’re already implementing a robust email strategy, your members are probably receiving event promos, dues notifications, newsletters, invites, new member introductions, policy updates, and more. If you let your members segment what they want to hear from you and specify who gets what and when, the more valuable your emails will be.

Event Promotion: Lights, Camera, Positive Action!

Next up, we have association events – the lifeblood of engagement. Whether it’s a conference, webinar, or an association soirée, digital marketing must take center stage. Through the magic of email marketing, social media advertising, and content marketing, associations can reach a wider audience and watch their events become the talk of the town.

Tips for Social Media Advertising

  • Identify your audience.
  • Identify the top platforms that your audience frequents.
  • Identify your goals.
  • Don’t overlook the importance of a great call-to-action (CTA).
  • Test your ads.

Educational Outreach: The Digital Lecture Hall

In the world of associations, education is a paramount feature. Digital platforms become lecture halls and libraries where associations share educational resources, courses, and industry insights. 

Content marketing, email marketing, webinars, and even integrated continuing education systems are the strategies to spread knowledge and share information 24/7, from anywhere, and on any platform – reaching association members in every corner of the universe.

In fact, we’ve implemented continuing education systems for associations like IIBEC, (International Institute of Building Enclosure Consultants), which they use to provide their members with online training on building standards and technology.

marketing for associations with online learning

Here are a few facts about content marketing:

  • Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing
  • 70% of people would rather learn about an organization through a blog than an advertisement
  • 80% of people appreciate learning about an organization through custom content

Advocacy and Awareness: Shaping Public Opinion

Associations are often on a mission to raise awareness about advocacy initiatives. This may be one of their core objectives.

Enter digital marketing to champion causes, increase visibility, amplify their voice, and sway public opinion. Tactics like social media campaigns, PPC ads, content marketing, and email marketing amplify the voices of associations and help shape the narrative in the public square.

Landing pages can also act as a town square for various legislative advocacy campaigns. Set up a dedicated web page for a cause and integrate digital tools that help the public and members reach out to legislators directly and press for change. Then you can use other digital strategies like social media and ads to raise awareness and attract participants. 

We’ve done this a lot for various associations. One great example is ASCE. Through its educational and advocacy website Infrastructure Report Card, they advocate for tangible improvements to America’s infrastructure, sharing knowledge, encouraging action, and influencing the government to fund critical repairs and resilience. 

To this point, ASCE has used landing pages to showcase the impact of gas tax holidays.

online advocacy for associations

We’ve also executed this strategy for Shipbuilders Council of America (SCA) to highlight critical issues that are relevant to the industry and people they represent.

association marketing for raising awareness

Membership Recruitment: Target Acquired! 

Membership recruiting requires precision and a targeted approach. Digital marketing for associations can become a superpower, attracting and engaging new members, and showing them the value and benefits of joining. 

Social media advertising, email marketing, and content marketing are the trifecta that make targeted outreach a breeze, improving efficiency and keeping association growth on an upward trajectory. 

Another very effective strategy is creating a landing page. Landing pages can be specifically orchestrated to highlight the benefits of joining an association, tell the story of why a person should join, and easily lead them to registration. You should then implement targeted PPC ad campaigns to spread the word and drive traffic to your newly created landing pages.

Here are four content marketing mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t ignore SEO when writing content. You need keywords and optimized content that meet audience search intent.
  • Don’t write generic content that isn’t helpful or interesting to your current members or potential members.
  • Don’t design or organize content in a way that isn’t easy for users to look at or read.
  • Don’t forget clear CTAs to get your readers to do what you want them to do.

Digital Marketing for Public Relations and Branding

In the digital realm, perception is reality. Associations need to craft and nurture a positive public image, and branding and public relations are an association’s calling card. 

Enter social media marketing, online reputation management, and content marketing as the artisans shaping an association’s digital persona. It’s vitally important to build and maintain a positive public image and let your brand shine.

content marketing for associationsHere are a few tips for branding:

  • Consistent branding, which drives brand recognition, has been shown to increase revenue by as much as 23%. 
  • Establish a brand style guide and implement it across all your marketing and production efforts to increase the quality and integrity of your organization. 
  • Maintain engagement with your members.

Data Analytics for Mensa-Level Decision-Making

In the world of associations, digital marketing is not just an art; it’s a science. And data is king. 

Data analytics is the oracle that guides associations in making informed, growth-enabling decisions. No matter your digital marketing strategy, make sure data guides it like a golden compass.

You can leverage relevant, readily-available analytics tools to refine digital marketing strategies and create data-driven campaigns that empower your organization and make success the norm.

How Does Data Help Digital Marketing Strategies?

  • Data analytics can tell you about your visitors and members – where are they from, how old are they, what’s their highest level of education, interests, etc.
  • With data analytics you can see who is visiting, clicking, or downloading, how long they’re hanging out on a page, and where users are dropping off fast. Then you can make changes to encourage longer visits and more conversions.
  • Data helps you create content your users want to see.
  • Data gives you a higher return on investment (ROI).
  • Data analytics can also help you leverage retargeting ad strategies, create targeted email campaigns, or offer a special to encourage more membership renewals, event registrations, webinar signups, etcetera.

Google Analytics is the most obvious example of usable online data to guide your online strategies, but other applications you may use for social media or email will usually offer analytics as well. Use every tool you have available.

Marketing for Networking Opportunities

Association marketing isn’t just about promotion; it’s about connection. Thankfully, opportunities are endless. Digital marketing strategies can act as a bridge-builder, creating and promoting online networking opportunities for members. 

Online communities, social media marketing, and webinars help associations span the digital landscape and empower members to connect, network, share ideas, and enjoy a sense of belonging.

Here are a few tips for social media management:

  • Choose 2-4 social media platforms that work best for your association and your members.
  • Create a social media calendar so you can be consistent with posting (applications like Agorapulse, which we use for our digital marketing clients, can streamline the scheduling and posting process for you.)
  • Hang out with relevant online groups so you can see what members might be talking about or interested in – then you can see what social media posts might be of value to them.

You Are Not Alone – Ironistic Takes On Digital Marketing for Associations

Associations navigate a world of unique challenges. By tapping into and tailoring your digital marketing strategies based on goals, target audience, and specific activities, associations can conquer the digital frontier. The key lies in understanding the unique benefits each tactic offers and crafting a plan that invites success one click at a time.

We might have mentioned our long track record with associations and nonprofits, and we’re not just blowing smoke. Besides building websites from the ground up, we’ve implemented digital marketing campaigns and social media strategies for a wide variety of organizations like PAVE, ASCE, SNAC International, Money Management Institute, and Collaborative for Student Success.

Contact us today to get started on a plan tailored to your unique goals, mission, and members.


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