Benchmark Report: Association Communications Struggle to Keep Up

A report from Naylor Association Solutions finds that small staffs and more competition make it tough for communications to break through. However, old-school tactics still do the job pretty well.

Each month, the average association communicates with its members about 30 times. And while those interactions are frequent, they often struggle to hit the mark for many association communicators, according to a new report from Naylor Association Solutions.

For its 2019 Association Communications Benchmarking Report [registration], Naylor got surveys from more than 400 senior leaders representing  small, medium, and large organizations in North America. The report found that despite the high number of communication touchpoints between associations and their members, the effectiveness of interactions struggled, in part because of issues of information overload, which 70 percent of respondents say is a challenge.

(Reflecting this, the level of social media communications declined year over year for the first time since the survey began in 2011.)

However, despite talking to members more, associations are actually communicating with smaller staffs and budgets, meaning that improvements to the process can be difficult to attain. In 2019, 49 percent of communication teams report that they feel understaffed, compared with a peak of 54 percent in 2017.

The report suggests that the root issue is something of a 20th-century approach to a 21st-century challenge, one related to struggles in segmenting content and integrating those tools across the organization. The problem is more of a distribution and promotion issue than a creation issue: While 81 percent of respondents believe they create relevant content, they struggle to connect with their members—which contributes to increased challenges with communicating benefits, customizing member communications, engaging young professionals, and fighting technical barriers to communication.

And letting members know that all this content is being created is something of a sticking point: 44 percent of respondents say they could do a better job of promoting their communications as a member benefit, up from 41 percent last year.

“We’re understanding that big improvements to member communication plans can take time because they involve so many moving and unpredictable parts: the ability to staff or outsource, keeping a pulse on members’ and advertisers’ changing communication preferences, and carving out time to train on new technology platforms, to name a few,” explained Sarah Sain, Naylor’s director of content, member communications, in a news release.

One surprise highlighted by the report: Despite all the added competition, legacy channels are still holding their weight in effective ways, with live events, print magazines, and email newsletters among the most successful member communication offerings. The report makes the case that part of the reason for the continuing success of these channels is that they break through the noise.

“It’s a simple fact—different members want to consume information differently and at different times,” the report states. “Embracing multiple channels is imperative to remaining relevant and engaging, but newer isn’t always better.”

In some ways, the 20th-century approach still has value, even in a 21st-century world.

(scyther5/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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