What Happens When You Don’t Optimize Your Content

Associations produce a lot of content, but if it isn't properly optimized for your audience, you may be wasting a lot of time on content the people you care about don't really care about—or worse, hiding the content they actually are interested in. The solution to this problem may be hiding in your data.

“If there’s one thing associations do, it’s produce content,” association marketing pro Scott Oser said during a session on marketing and communications on Sunday at ASAE’s 2016 Great Ideas Conference.

It’s kind of absurd to think about it in such basic terms, but it’s absolutely true—between all the press releases, white papers, blog posts, and legal arguments that groups publish every single day, the “face” of associations, more than ever, is content.

Big content, small content, in-between content. One-off websites. Massively organized websites that require your staff to drop everything to get it out the door. Advocacy efforts. Member-retention efforts. And everything in-between.

How do you get this stuff right, so you’re not wasting your time and energy?

The answer to this question of how to optimize your content was a common target of discussion at two sessions that I attended during the 2016 edition of Great Ideas this week.

And in both cases, the overall solution to this headache of a problem comes down to data.

Pick and Choose Your Battles

During the MarComm session hosted by Oser and Lauren Hefner of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, the duo specifically recommended not to hop onto too many social networks. It was one suggestion out of more than 50, but it was one that stood out to me as the tech writer.

Why shouldn’t you have an account on every social network? I’ll throw this in terms of a recent debate from the world of social media: Should you care about Peach?

Peach, if you haven’t heard, is a texting-style social network that gained a lot of buzz a couple of months ago. It had a quick burst of attention, but since then, things have calmed down a bit.

There’s a reason why a lot of associations aren’t on Peach at the moment. The reason for that is, with the social network being so new, it’s not clear if the network is cost-effective at the moment. Odds are (unless you work for the Join Every Social Network Association) your members aren’t there, and as a result, putting your time into Peach just doesn’t feel like it’s worth your content strategy time.

The Poynter Institute, writing about this topic in the context of journalism last month, created a useful infographic to consider when you think about whether to give that hip new social network a little of your time:

Right off the bat, Peach fails at least three of the five tests mentioned above—your audience most likely isn’t using it, and it’s not clear if the network is sustainable. It does offer an interesting approach and is relatively simple to use, but since it fails the the first two tests, it’s clear that Peach is not cost-effective. Check back in six months.

If you had a data analysis of your members handy, you might’ve been able to figure this out right away before even taking an awkward first step.

Imagine All the People

So how do you build a data analysis that you can turn to without a lot of trouble?

During a session on content strategy which she repeatedly assured us was not focused on technology in any way, shape, or form, The Learning Studio‘s Debra Zabloudil, FACHE, CAE, emphasized the importance of personas in figuring out the audiences you’re trying to reach.

What’s a persona? Well, here are a couple of people I just invented:


Lisa, a 35-year-old account manager for a Fortune 500 firm. Not particularly happy with company, so eyeing career opportunities. Active Instagrammer, interested in social, but not really allowed to do too much of that due to her job. (Doesn’t want to hurt the brand; fortunately, brunch photos are brand-neutral.) Interested in watching webinars, which she likes taking in on her lunch break.


Michael, a 48-year-old CEO of a small regional company, but one that’s the market leader in its state. Michael is not a heavy social media user (who has the time?), but he does love listening to podcasts and is subscribed to a number of industry newsletters. He’s not active in many national associations but is on the board of a local nonprofit.

Why would you invent people, anyway? It’s actually a pretty smart idea from the world of marketing: Basically, by creating these personas, you personify the decision-making process that goes into the content you create, by imagining the folks who would actually be reading it, whether they’re established members or prospects.

Personas offer a lot of benefits, but the best one is that it turns data into something approachable. Rather than talking in stat lines, you’re suddenly talking in terms of the people you want to reach. And naturally, it leads to segmentation.

Both of these sessions talked about segmentation at length, and it’s something that, if you’re not taking advantage of to any great degree, may be something you’re missing out on.

Segmentation may be one of the big buzzwords of Great Ideas. But it ultimately touches on the point that not all kinds of data or traffic are the kinds you should care about. If you get a surge in traffic from Reddit one day, it may provide a big boost for your unique visitor numbers in Google Analytics, but did it actually touch on the people you’re looking to reach—the prospective members, the young adults, and the lifers who will follow you wherever you will go?

(On the other hand, as one person at my table pointed out to me, an unexpected traffic surge may uncover a new audience you might want to create a persona for.)

Ultimately, when we talk personas or what social networks you should join, we’re really asking this: In building content, are you properly targeting the people you want to reach? Are you utilizing what you know about those people correctly? Or are you creating a lot of content waste that isn’t hitting its target? The answer to that question is in the data you’re already gathering about your audience.

Make sure you’re using that data correctly.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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