In the second of our series of articles looking at the impact the Coronavirus has had on our industry, Gordon Glenister, CEO of Membership World and consultant advisor takes a look at the effect this has had on our communications by discussing some of the highlights and anecdotes from his Covid-19 Impact Report.

Marketing and PR teams within associations have had their work cut out during the Pandemic. Due to the sheer amount of news and Government policy changes around the Pandemic, there has been a constant need to keep members informed of these developments, distilling the information into industry relevant content in the process. Many trade bodies immediately created Covid-19 sections on their websites, which allowed their members quick and easy access to this and at the outset of the Panedemic, a number of associations also ran online weekly webinars at set times and some undertook daily briefings to to both staff and members in the earlier stages of the first lockdown.

According to the Covid-19 Membership Impact report, associations used the home page of their website to signpost this coronavirus-related – some 93% of those surveyed said that the website has been the main channel for content of this kind, with 88% also using social media channels to get the messages out. In fact, 82% of respondents said that social media engagement has improved, and this was seen as vital to their wider communications strategy. However, direct e-mail still provides the main source of communication for the vast majority (more than 95%) of surveyed organisations. The British Dietetic Association said they had seen a 400% increase in their web traffic.

Despite the relevance and importance of external communications, only 26% of respondents said they would spend more on this in the next six months. Some organisations have created and shared a strategic message, such as Badminton England’s ‘Protect, Prepare and Play’ slogan, with a specific focus on the safety of the sport.

Faced with a looming crisis in the advertising industry, the Advertising Association went into overdrive as soon as lockdown was announced, sending a planned message to all their members – SURVIVE, THRIVE and REVIVE. CEO Stephen Woodford said: “We were frantically busy with daily meetings and our initial plan was to survey members and feed back into the Government.”

Robin Osterley, COE of the Charity Retail Association, said: “We ran a couple of re-opening meetings in May. More than 200 attended our Zoom meetings, and overall 1,600 attended this which is a huge increase and great exposure for the association.”

Debbie Hunter, Director of Commercial Affairs from the Cosmetic Perfume and Toiletries Association, said that it had in excess of 12,000 hits on one of its news items on the website. In addition to the Government advice, CPTA provided counter guidance for members involved in the beauty sector, which is, of course, a close-contact industry which can be problematic. In addition, it provided a matching service for those members and companies wishing to make hand sanitiser, even receiving requests from breweries which was very successful to the extent that one prospective member CTPA had been trying to persuade to join for over a decade converted following the specialist advice from the association.

The National Association of Estate Agents’ Property Mark represents some 17,500 members. Their CEO, Mark Hayward, reports that he was regularly in touch with the housing minister as the property market ground to a temporary halt. He said: “We needed to communicate on a daily basis given the impact to the sector. One webinar was viewed by 20,000 live and a further 11,000 watched the recorded version.

“There has never been a better a time to review your business. We are going to have good people at the front and probably greater technology at the back, which will no doubt involve a reduction in the industry workforce. There won’t be a brand on every high street, but more hubs instead, and London is no longer the main commuter destination

“We have been able to prove the worth of membership. The organisation campaigned hard for a stamp duty reduction to kick-start the economy and won it.”

What have we learnt?

The increased level of communication to members has clearly had a positive impact on engagement levels, with associations over 89% seeing a positive shift on member engagement. Zoom was seen as the most used medium according to the survey, with over 60% of respondents using this for communicating with their members, followed by Microsoft Teams at a much lower 25%. Associations have also extended their community reach using tools like Slack and Whatsapp for special interest groups. Associations have certainly learnt the importance of their communications throughout the Pandemic, especially when industry bodies are the ‘go to’ source of news, guidance and of course reassurance for members in such a difficult business landscape.

Associations want to re-engage with live events as soon as possible, but only when its safe to do so. However, there have been some really positive upsides for many in how associations communicate from a strategic point of view. Here are my closing thoughts:

• Online meetings are very cost effective, with further potential for special interest group separation in smaller numbers, using toolls like Zoom Rooms.
• AGMs and Board meetings can more easily be done online, and most have reported higher attendance levels for this type of meeting due to the online facility.
• Connecting with global members means that real consideration should be made for time zones, e.g. late afternoon.
• Restricted areas of websites for specialist interests can be very effective.
• Online forums only really work well they are properly managed and constantly stimulated with content and commentary. This is challenging for those with little time resource.
• Having a specific strategy to promote the industry with key pillar words like those of Badminton England’s ‘Protect, Promote, Play’ can really help bring members with you on the journey.
• Online presence will be an important area for associations to focus on in the future, so if you haven’t got the social media skills internally, consider outsourcing them. People are following individuals too, so CEOs should also have a strong online persona alongside the corporate.

To get access to the full Covid-19 impact report, please click here.

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