Embrace Content Strategy for Better Organizational Outcomes

Foundation_content strategy March 9, 2021 By: Jenny Nelson

Trusted and relevant content is the core of the association value proposition. Recent ASAE Research Foundation studies point to members’ high expectations and shifting needs for content in the future, making a holistic content strategy even more valuable.

Have you considered lately how much content your association creates? Providing relevant information, news, and knowledge has always been central to association work, but during the pandemic, it became even more critical. And for many associations, the amount of created content grew over the last year—to provide members with timely and important information amid the COVID-19 crisis and to create value in the absence of in-person gathering.

But while associations generally create content for a reason, it is critical to ensure that the content reinforces the organization’s purpose and is positioned to support long-term organizational and member needs. Recent ASAE Research Foundation studies point to the importance of relevant content in the future and the value of a holistic content strategy to support mission-driven content.

High Expectations in a Shifting Environment

Association professionals, members, and other stakeholders see the content generation and management activities of associations as critically important in the future. The activities rated most important by Impact Every Day survey respondents were “serving as a trusted source of information,” “establishing and/or distributing standards of practice,” “promoting the value of the field to society,” “providing access to the most up-to-date information,” and “gathering, analyzing, and publishing data on trends in the field.”

While creating relevant content is critical to the future of associations, delivering it will continue to be a challenge. The ASAE ForesightWorks driver of change “A Shifting Environment for Content” forecasts increased personalization, automation, and politicization of content. Associations may experience pressure to predictively define and deliver to members what they need—but only what they need. Demand for content in a variety of formats will continue to grow. But as the public looks for institutions to trust, associations have an opportunity to serve that role—for members and for society. 

Many leaders are already feeling these pressures, but to attack them as separate efforts may lead to uneven results. A holistic content strategy enables organizations to manage the complete slate of their content offerings to tackle challenges and make cohesive shifts to meet future expectations. The foundation’s 2019 report Association Content Strategies for a Changing World identifies key tactics that support an effective content strategy.

Driving Better Outcomes

Association Content Strategies for a Changing World defines content strategy as “the planning and judgment for the creation, publication, dissemination, and governance of useful, usable, effective content across departments and functional areas.” A good content strategy will account for everything an organization offers—web content, magazines, and books are the obvious targets, but a truly holistic strategy also includes learning content, standards documents, certification materials, research reports, marketing collateral, policy statements, newsletters, press releases, new member orientation materials, and more.

A good content strategy will account for everything an organization offers.

This mindset does not make content easy to wrangle. Content governance, one of the most valuable content strategy tactics according to survey respondents, ensures that the wrangling becomes an organization-wide effort. Content governance is defined as a “set of policies that list ‘how content works.’” These policies establish the workflows, standards, and lifecycles of organizational content, and identify responsible staff. Content governance enables staff across the organization to make choices, set priorities, and develop content in alignment with organizational objectives.

Governance is further supported by content audits, identified by survey respondents as the more arduous and yet the most valuable content strategy tactic. Content audits provide for the “inventory and analysis of the content an organization produces.” They enable leaders to look across all content to analyze patterns, review data, identify gaps, and recommend updates and changes. The content audit inventory gives leaders a look at how their organization deploys content in support of the mission, but it also provides more practical insight for planning. For example, the audit could indicate pathways for member personalization and enable plans for technology or platform shifts to take into account the entire body of the association’s work.

These tactics and 15 others are explored in deeper detail in Association Content Strategies for a Changing World. Implementing the tactics has an impact that goes beyond content strategy and management. Associations that implemented at least 14 of the tactics—rated as “advanced” in the study—were collaborative, outcome-based, data-driven, and mission-oriented. They are also best positioned to connect content strategy to organizational outcomes, including member satisfaction, audience engagement, and membership recruitment and retention.

Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.