Use Social Media to Better Engage Members and New Audiences

convo January 11, 2016 By: Tom Quash, CAE

When DECA realized that social media provided the resources needed to support the two-way communication it desired, it jumped right in. The strategy has paid off via increased member and website engagement, community building, and audience development.

For more than 70 years, the Reston, Virginia-based association, DECA, has prepared emerging college- and high-school-aged leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management.

But despite its longevity, the association was long due for a rebranding, according to Christopher Young, DECA's high school division director. "Probably about five years ago, we recognized that we hadn't rebranded our organization for over 19 years and the DECA of the '90s was a different DECA than today, not only in our mission but in the programs and services we offer," he says.

After a successful rebranding a few years ago, Young says the association turned its focus toward a communications strategy that included finding new audiences and building engagement among its membership.

For example, DECA had been relying on the teachers in its community to carry its messaging down to the students. This made it hard for students to communicate back to DECA because it didn't have easily accessible resources for that.

But, with the explosion of social media, DECA realized it now had the resources to support the two-way communication it desired. "Our opportunity to communicate now is a lot different, so we can leverage two-way communication to engage our student members," he says.

Social Experiment

Unlike some associations, DECA staff were fortunate that its leadership empowered them to look for new opportunities to engage in social media. "[Social media] is where our members are—not just our student members but our alumni, advisors, and teacher members," Young says.

But, with the fast-paced growth of social media, one of DECA's biggest challenges was ensuring it stayed visible and relevant on all of the key social media platforms. As DECA's members migrated from Facebook to Twitter and then to Instagram and now Snapchat, DECA added a full-time position to focus on digital communications and create resources and opportunities for member engagement.

"Sometimes we can post the same message on all of our social media platforms, and we were doing that for a little while, but then we found we could utilize each of the platforms for what they're known for," Young says.

For example, DECA pushes out its own photos, primarily through Instagram. After discovering its student members were flocking away from Facebook, meanwhile, DECA has used it for tailored messaging to its parent and teacher communities. And Snapchat has been used to give members behind-the-scenes video content, such as an inside look at conference preparation, for example. "We've been finding little niches for each of the social media platforms, but then there's come content that we put on all of it, so that it doesn't get missed like important deadlines or announcements," he says.

Though DECA has creatively leveraged social media to enhance its communication strategy, there are still challenges to consider. "We must continue to stay on top of the different platforms as they come out and be sure we are providing relevant, meaningful content," Young says. "We often find that we need a balance between our organizational content and specific messages we're trying to push out in order to jumpstart conversations. It's about content that will resonate with our members so that we can speak their language, especially with the millennial audience. So we've found ways to bring in pop culture and lighter content and relate them back to our DECA programs. It's been interesting to watch."

Success Story

DECA's injection of social media into its overall communications has paid off. The association uses many of the metrics tools available through Google Analytics, tracks its own website engagement, and integrates much of their social and online activity through the Sprout Social service.

"As an organization, we've seen that our membership has increased significantly year over year; our participation in all of our conferences continues to increase," Young says. "The metrics that we have can help paint the picture and tell the story between the direct co-relation of the communications efforts and helping to reinforce our programs growth and engagement, which is one of our main goals."

And, to date, DECA's strategy has been well-received. "Overall there's been a new excitement from our members, both from our advisors who've been there a long time and the members who cycle through the school year," Young says. "They are thrilled that we have a mechanism for communication that they see as innovative and more contemporary. This strategy has created more engaged members and active members. The conference now becomes more of a meetup for them."

So, what's on the horizon for DECA? As Young says, "The biggest lesson is that you always have to keep being innovative and looking at what's next. We had a big year. Now, how can we have even a more effective strategy? What's the next way to engage people?"

As DECA remains tuned in to the social media landscape, we'll see how it continues to cultivate engagement and innovation.

Tom Quash, CAE is the vice president of marketing, communications & publications at the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses in Washington, DC. Email:

DECA: A Gold Circle Award Winner

DECA won the 2015 ASAE Gold Circle Award in three categories: convention/meetings campaign, video, and website. For more information on the ASAE Gold Circle Awards, visit

Tom Quash, CAE

Tom Quash, CAE, is the vice president of marketing, communications and publications at the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN).