Build Community With Your Content

By: Brian Birch

How the Snow and Ice Management used its new content hub to build community among its members.

There is a great deal of pressure on association staff, both within organizations and from new competition online, that drives us toward creating more, more, more. Nowhere is this more true than online, where we are constantly pushing ourselves to create more content and information and share it via numerous new social tools. We run the risk of becoming the proverbial hamster in a wheel, chasing the content monster we have created. How do we manage this craziness that has been thrust upon us?

In June 2010, our association, the Snow and Ice Management Association, with a staff of five full-time employees, launched a social community and content hub for our industry called The lessons we have learned in the past few months may help any association looking to develop an online content strategy. While there isn't a single, right answer about how to do it well, there are some things we learned you can do now to help your organization:

Focus on relevance. Driving traffic and clicks to your site is important but not sustainable if the information you provide is irrelevant to the people you are trying to engage. Focusing on relevance is a key strategy, and information should be tied to a broader set of processes and goals related to educational and professional development, certification programs, and other content-rich silos in the association.

Tie to outcomes and strategic plans. The moment we get these awesome new toys online that help us deliver more powerful messaging to a broader audience, we totally freak out and forget that our association has a strategic plan and set of big-picture outcomes we are charged with fulfilling. We need to align our content creation and online communities with those strategies. For example, if you have a certification program, use small portions of the preparation material to develop quality, relevant content for the site that people can absorb in small bites and link it to the info about your certification program. I promise you your certification program won't self-destruct or lose value if you do this. Don't lose the forest for the trees when you develop your strategy for online content creation and distribution.

Get SEO right. Let's face it, most of us dove (or are diving) into the social media and content-creation world online. We aren't trained in it, and I'd bet that most association execs and general staff don't understand search-engine optimization. The important point is that good SEO is an ongoing process, not simply a one-time addition of some silly keywords when we build a new site.

If you want to increase your online influence, you'll need to build your site SEO friendly to start and put someone in charge of continuous monitoring and SEO strategy, as it will change over time. Don't forget the low-hanging fruit as well, such as presenting articles as text on the site versus PDFs, paying close attention to page titles, and using keywords in strategic places.

Know it's a work in progress. The notion that you will be able to simply write a bunch of content and put it out there is too simplistic. Becoming a relevant content resource online is no different than building an effective educational program or meeting; you must analyze the situation and develop a strategy, design your product, develop it, reflect on it, and start all over again. It has to be an iterative process.

Create a hub. No matter what you are trying to do online with content and engagement, you need to create a hub that serves as the focal point of your content. The goal is to make the content relevant, timely, accurate, and helpful. Use social networks to both drive people to the hub and to pull content from the hub for easy access (e.g., feeding your YouTube channel into your Facebook group).

You will have a lifecycle for your content creation and community engagement online, and this will take some amount of planning, effort, and passion. You can't put just one foot in the water, although we all try that at first. You need to dive in before you are left behind.

Brian Birch is assistant executive director of the Snow and Ice Management Association. Email: [email protected]

Small-Staff Stats

Name: Snow and Ice Management Association

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Staff size: Five

Members: 1,600

Budget: $1 million