Listen Up! Here’s the Secret to Knowing Which Content Is Worth Your Team’s Time and Effort

The simple-yet-effective tactics the American Hospital Association uses to determine what its members want.

Do you know which subject lines will entice your association members to open an email and which they will skip? Do you know which webinar topics will get hundreds to sign up, and which will flop? In short, do you know what your members really want?

If you are like many of the association professionals surveyed in the 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report, which surveyed nearly 500 leaders of North American trade associations, professional societies, and association management companies, you might feel unsure. Forty-one percent of respondents said they must do a better job of “understanding member needs, demographics and goals,” and 32 percent replied that they have to do a better job to understand why certain content “resonates with members.”

But what about those associations that do seem to have a finger on the pulse of their membership? Are they mind readers who know just the right webinar topic that will cause members to drop everything to attend? Can they predict the future? Not at all, says Diane Weber, executive director for the Society for Health Care Strategy & Market Development at the American Hospital Association. It’s less about superpowers, she says, and more about the fact that her team has a skill that gets powerful results: they know how to listen.

“We pay attention to what’s being discussed in our online communities,” says Weber. “My entire team is subscribed, so if I didn’t pick up on a hot topic, another team member will ask, ‘Did you see so-and-so indicated that this is a problem today?’ So we’re seeing our members’ wants and needs in real time.”

The AHA hosts several online events every month, and Weber says a survey always follows webinars and talks. “The surveys are very short, and we always leave an open-ended question asking members what current issues they are having trouble with or, very simply, what else they would like to hear more about.”

The answers to these questions, as well as email queries and other communications from members, are discussed by Weber’s team on a weekly basis and used as a launching point for content creation. “Somebody might say, ‘I have a connection with a speaker who can cover X, Y, Z topic in a webinar.’ Or, ‘I can quickly turn this topic into a podcast.’ So I feel like we’re very good at listening, coming up with ideas based on what we hear, and putting those ideas into action.”

For smaller organizations that might feel overwhelmed searching for speakers and content creators, Weber points out that premier leaders in their industries are already at their fingertips: the association members. “I have some knowledge of healthcare and the different jobs that our members are responsible for, but clearly the real experts are in the field day in and day out. So we have really leveraged that expertise,” says Weber. “We reach out to members to do presentations and lead discussions, and the response is always great. It is a wonderful way for members to connect, share ideas and elevate the industry.”

When content is created by members for members, Weber says, “It ends up being a wonderful culmination of insights that is sure to be directly relevant to them.” And for Weber and the team at AHA, success delivering what their members want goes beyond good marketing. “To be able to support them and to give them programs that help them fight COVID — it is an honor.”

Naylor Association Solutions provides innovative association tools and services for strengthening member engagement and increasing non-dues revenue. Our offerings include member communications, management of live and online meetings and events, online career centers, Association Management Software (AMS) and Member Data Platform (MDP), full-service association management and online learning. A strategic partner to professional and trade associations in the U.S. and Canada, Naylor serves more than 1,700 associations across 80+ industries. For more information, visit