How to Increase the Value of Your Association’s Publications
Written by Matt Berringer
April 28, 2021
With the right strategy, your association’s publications are a valuable asset. An impressive 70% of people who have joined a professional association feel their organization is the voice of their profession or industry. There’s no better way to serve as that voice than by creating a membership magazine that publishes in-depth content covering industry trends and career education. Many associations offer a mix of gated and free-to-access publications. Both need to be of the highest quality to attract new readers, convince them to join and keep them coming back.
High-quality, original content ranks well in search engines to help you find new members. It also appeals to more readers, which can encourage membership retention. Engaging association magazines attract advertisers, allowing you to monetize your publications through traditional ads and sponsored content opportunities. All these factors help your organization generate more revenue through its publications. So, how do you produce magazines you and your readers alike will find value in? We’ve compiled this guide to creating an association magazine worth reading to help you get started.
1. Understand Your Publication’s Purpose
The first step to creating stellar publications as an association is to set a clear content goal that aligns with your overall mission. Consider your organization’s philosophy and the reasons members join. Aim to make something that offers value to your target audience.
Professional associations often set lofty goals to enhance the public’s perception of a profession while helping those in the industry succeed. They may do this by granting designations or certifications to experts in the field and offering education and resources to growing professionals. They may also advocate for the industry with regulatory bodies or raise public awareness on behalf of the profession. Other associations unite people around charitable causes or passions. Whatever your organization’s mission and activities, your publication should directly support them.
A publication can help you attain one or more of these goals and speak to many different audiences. By setting and fleshing out a particular goal and audience, you’ll create more focused, valuable content. You’ll also improve trust and authority by publishing articles that follow your mission and speak directly to your core readers. You may even find that you should be producing separate publications for different audiences, depending on your content goals.
Here are some goals your organization might strive to achieve.
Become an Industry Thought Leader
Organizations that amass many members and can create content at scale are well-positioned to become industry thought leaders. Acting as an industry thought leader might be part of an association’s primary mission, steering professionals and regulatory bodies toward positive changes in the industry. Association thought leadership is a vital membership driver, since professionals join these groups to share ideas and resources with their peers.
If your goals are to further your organization’s status as a thought leader, your publications must take shape accordingly. It’s crucial to create an industry-facing platform or forum where professionals can share their knowledge. The content should regularly feature contributions from or interviews with well-respected industry players and take deep dives and unique perspectives on industry issues.
You may also consider publishing original research and statistics. Integrate videos, audio interviews, podcasts and other multimedia content to create a rich digital experience that appeals to all types of readers. Publishing frequently is critical to remain at the top of people’s minds as an industry leader, so aim to publish new issues at least eight to 10 times a year.
Many associations gate this type of content for members only. However, making some of these articles accessible to the industry as a whole will increase your association’s status. When anyone can access this high-quality, thought-shaping content, you’ll naturally grow credibility and respect. When people face particular challenges or wonder about specific industry issues, your association will pop into their minds first as the best source for answers. You’ll also establish your organization as one professionals should affiliate with to further their reputation as industry experts.
Build Connections Between Members
Associations form to bring people together. Professionals often join organizations for their networking opportunities. Others are looking to connect with people who share their passions. Organizations that thrive on frequent conferences, events and networking opportunities might find it challenging to build an association community online through publications.
However, it’s crucial to remember that communities grow around like-minded individuals who share a common cause. Your publication is the platform that can attract and rally these particular audiences together. With the right angle, content types and distribution network, your publication can drive networking between members and help them receive more value out of their association memberships.
If building an association community is your No. 1 priority, the age-old rule of content marketing — know your audience — becomes that much more critical. You need to know who is reading your magazine, what they hope to get out of it and what they stand to gain from interacting with one another. Then, you can build engaging experiences that speak to those groups.
You’ll also need to determine which distribution networks make the most sense for your audience. Consider which social media platforms your audience is most likely to spend time on. With particular distribution channels in mind, design your publication to drive lively conversations in the comments section.
Enhance Relationships With Sponsors
More often than not, your publications are for your members. However, by regularly engaging an eager readership, you create some prime real estate for your sponsors. Ads, sponsored content and guest posts can all fit in well in your magazine. You might consider adding a sponsor spotlight section or working out custom sponsorship benefits that allow companies to contribute to interactive content in your magazine.
To use your publication to foster more robust ties with sponsors, you must create a digital magazine worth sponsoring. That means developing something that speaks to your audience, first and foremost. Your members and readers will always be subconsciously asking, “What’s in it for me?”
So, as you work out sponsorship opportunities within your magazine, ensure they’re highly relevant to you and your sponsor’s target audience. A guest post or sponsored article should still deliver a unique perspective and valuable information. Traditional ads should be for products and services relevant to your market. For example, an association for antique car owners should feature ads for automobile care products like premium motor oil and services like specialty mechanics. An association for veterinary professionals might accept ads for medications or medical equipment they can use at their clinics.
Improve Member Retention
Membership retention is a crucial goal for any organization, as it often costs less to retain existing members, and high retention rates have a significant impact on membership growth. Regularly publishing engaging, helpful content that requires a membership to access can be an asset for retaining your existing members. While we recommend keeping some content free to the public, gated publications elevate your membership benefits and make your organization worth joining.
When considering their top reasons for membership attrition, 43% of organizations name lack of engagement with the organization as a primary cause. Another 28% say their members struggle to justify membership costs with a return on investment. High-quality publications can solve both of these concerns. By publishing often and regularly, you demonstrate that membership equates to real value in the form of ongoing professional education. It also ensures you regularly engage with your audience and remind them of the member benefits you offer.
If retention is your first aim, it’s crucial to offer unique, useful member engagement publications that feel equivalent to the monthly or annual membership dues. It’s smart to vary your content to meet many preferences — a mix of webinars, podcasts, educational modules and in-depth articles will do well.
A publishing platform that supports rich media experiences can go a long way toward engaging your members with these unique content experiences. The right platform can also give you enhanced metrics about your audience engagement, so you can hone your articles and user experience to ensure ongoing interest in your publications.
Increase Non-Dues Revenue
According to 2016 data from the American Society of Association Executives, trade associations only generate 45.4% of their revenue through membership dues. Professional associations earn even less through dues — only 30%. Finding ways to make up for declining membership and expand revenue streams has been a crucial goal for many organizations. Your publications can support this aim in a few ways.
If your association offers a robust set of membership benefits, you might consider selling separate magazine subscriptions or selling publications à la carte. This option appeals to individuals who don’t need a full membership or aren’t ready to commit. With a call to action within your magazine, you might upsell some publication-only members to full memberships.
Your publication can also generate some extra revenue through sponsored content and ads. Besides working with traditional advertisers in your market, professional and trade associations can also sell job postings. Since digital publications for associations target individual professionals, many businesses will pay to post their job listings where the right audience will see them.
Finally, you can use your publication and the authority you create through it to upsell your members to your other offerings. It’s common practice to promote ticketed conferences, trade shows and upcoming training seminars through association publications. By offering high value through your articles and other digital media, you can show readers that these events will provide a similar payback, if not more. After generating a loyal readership, you can increase registration numbers with a few strategically placed promotions.
With all these revenue-generation strategies, your content must remain highly relevant and valuable to your audience. Every publication must be worth paying for à la carte. It must also be worth reading for advertisers and job posters to consider paying for ad space. Your content must project authority, credibility and value for members to consider signing up for events. To ensure your magazine offers high quality, engagement and readability, consider using a platform that elevates your content above traditional association PDFs.
2. Create Quality Digital Content
Once you’ve established your goal, you’ll naturally begin to craft more valuable content. Every contributor and designer involved in the process will know who they’re targeting and why. To build on that, you must develop a robust content development strategy alongside a dedicated team of contributors.
Quality content is crucial for search engine optimization because search engines like Google want helpful answers and engaging articles to show up on page one search results. Thus, well-crafted content can help you find new members as they’re researching industry pain points. Satisfying digital experiences also increase engagement, helping you continually reach your current members and encourage them to renew their memberships. Boasting high engagement levels will also help you appeal to potential sponsors.
Here are some ways to create content your audience will readily engage with and return to.
Align Your Content With Your Mission
Your organization unites people behind a particular goal. Naturally, those people want to read about that mission. Some may like to learn more about your association’s advocacy and work. Others are looking for new ideas and in-depth knowledge on their profession or particular interests.
To ensure your content aligns with your mission, and speaks to the people who believe in it, take these strategies into account.
- Drive consistency: If you’re hoping to remain at the top of members’ minds for ideas related to your mission, it pays to be consistent. Whenever and however your audience sees your content, they’ll feel like they’re engaging with the same organization, united by a single mission. You can drive brand consistency by enforcing particular tones of voice, wording and graphics. Make sure these align with your purpose. If your goal is to advance a specific profession, you may stick to a formal tone that lends credibility to that career choice.
- Write about your mission: People who support your goals often want to know how to achieve them for themselves. For instance, if you work to promote arts and cultural education in public schools, you might publish case studies about thriving arts and culture programs or spotlight arts teachers who have made a difference in their school districts. You can also intersperse educational content that shows members how to support your mission in their lives or workplaces.
- Share your efforts: Talk about the specific initiatives your organization is working toward and how membership contributions make it possible. Readers who are already members will appreciate learning more about the daily efforts your organization makes to benefit them. It’s an excellent strategy to add weight to some of the more intangible benefits you offer, like improving public perceptions.
Answer Community and Industry Questions
Answering top questions is a great way to maintain a user-focused mindset. People will read content that promises to help them solve a challenge they’ve been wrestling with. Articles and other media that thoroughly answer readers’ “how-to” and “what-is” queries will also speak easily to the question, “What’s in it for me?”
Meanwhile, people are more likely to search for your community’s or industry’s top questions. By crafting authoritative, helpful answers to these questions, your publication can rank in search engines, helping more people find your content. We recommend you use an SEO-friendly publishing platform to give your content the highest chances for success.
How can you find out what your audience’s pressing questions are? First, as an association, you may already stand as an industry authority, and your members may ask questions directly to you. Pay attention to the questions from audience members at conferences or what people ask during training seminars. For more sources of inspiration, keep a finger on the pulse of social media discussions and comments sections within your online communities. You can also do some keyword research to find out what questions people are frequently Googling.
Showcase Your Work and Valuable Data
As a robust community within your industry, you have a valuable source of unique data. By surveying your members, you can glean data that many in your industry will be interested to know. Many associations publish an annual report offering in-depth statistics on their members. You can survey members on:
- Their businesses’ financial health and how they’re budgeting in the upcoming year.
- Their specific job titles and responsibilities.
- Their department or company’s strategic goals for the upcoming year.
- The specific tools and technology they’re investing in.
- The top challenges and opportunities they’re facing.
Data that may be even more valuable to your readers is intelligence about their customers. While conducting research outside your membership will require a more significant investment, your readers will see huge worth in this type of information. You’ll help your readers take advantage of new market trends and understand their target customers better. Your original research will also increase your status as a thought leader and help you earn more links to your content for SEO purposes.
Your annual report is also a great place to highlight the work and advocacy you’re doing. You can publish data on your membership and all the accomplishments your organization made in the last year. Highlight specific results of your industry advocacy, the events and training sessions you’ve facilitated and any other notable achievements. This publication is an ideal vehicle to keep your readers updated on all the good you’re doing within your sector.
3. Create Quality Digital Design
Excellent design draws a reader in. It catches their eye and compels them to read on. Consistent graphics and imagery help shape readers’ perceptions about your organization and demonstrates your professionalism. Besides adding visual interest, designing digital publications for your association will make your content more enjoyable. It makes it easy for readers to find the information they’re looking for. They can easily scroll through or turn the pages and use intuitive controls to interact with multimedia content.
When the design looks stunning and creates a frictionless content experience, readers will spend more time engaging with your publication and see more value in it. Here are some tips to improve your graphic designs.
Use Engaging Visuals and Graphics
As part of your association’s publication and content marketing team, it may be up to you to drive your organization’s visual branding. Consider whether it’s time to update your association’s logo, font families or color scheme. A contemporary design can help your organization appear modern, innovative and relevant. It can demonstrate your focus on the industry’s current challenges and your desire to carve out a better future. In general, modern design is clean, with an intuitive interface.
If you overhaul your organization’s visual branding, make sure it carries over into your bundled publications. Consider how to incorporate your chosen typefaces, color palette, graphic elements and photographs into your magazine. Visuals and graphics make long articles feel more readable and help keep audiences engaged. With the right publication and design tools, you can create impactful videos, graphics and photos that hold your audience’s attention.
Tell Stories Through Your Design
Successful brands put storytelling at the forefront of their design and content strategy. They place the experience of using their product or service at the heart of their brand and evoke powerful feelings to help readers connect with their content. Your association can do the same. Photos and videos can communicate complex emotions and situations in just a few seconds. By making your publication imagery-driven, you’ve already won half the battle of excellent storytelling. Combining these with succinct, powerful headlines can drive your stories home.
You can also think of your headline as the beginning of the story. The imagery and body text encompasses the middle, and a call to action concludes the tale. A well-designed call to action will stand out within the overall layout, directing viewers to the next step with a button prompting them to “get involved,” “join today” or “register now.”
Choose a Responsive Publishing Platform
Users engage with content when viewing it is effortless. It loads quickly and fills their screen without the need for awkward zooming or a confusing interface. Meanwhile, a reader can view it on a mobile screen as easily as they can on a desktop or tablet. Responsive design is the secret to this frictionless, intuitive user experience is responsive design.
In essence, a responsive design will resize itself automatically to the viewer’s screen. Regardless of what brand, model or type of device the person uses, the images and text will reflow to fit the screen, allowing readers to navigate without a confusing scroll bar and view graphics, videos and images without any distortion.
This type of design is leagues ahead of the traditional PDF many associations have used in the past. While PDFs look great on a desktop, they’re often challenging to view on mobile devices or even tablets. They’re unresponsive, so they won’t resize and reflow text to fit the device. On-the-go readers may struggle to pinch and zoom a PDF for easy reading on their device, which means they may become frustrated, spend less time engaging and abandon the publication sooner.
With a responsive publication design tool and platform, associations can eliminate PDFs. Besides offering responsive design, the interface makes expanding images and graphics simple. It also makes the entire publication searchable, so readers can quickly find what they need.
Choose Nxtbook Media for Your Association’s Publication
Nxtbook Media offers two tech-forward publishing platforms sure to make your association’s digital publications look their best. Our replica publisher, nxtbook4, lets you turn your print magazines into page-turning digital assets. It’s a significant upgrade from traditional PDFs because it provides valuable analytics on your audience and presents your publications in a beautiful, readable format.
For a fully responsive, multimedia experience, engage your audience with PageRaft publications. This tool allows your magazine to fill any screen and offers an intuitive, interactive experience. Users can scroll horizontally to find articles and vertically to read their chosen content. They can click on videos, expand photos, play audio clips and more. Meanwhile, you can access in-depth metrics on your readers to learn what captures their attention.
Plus, when you work with Nxtbook Media, our production team can turn your written content and assets into masterful designs. We’ll show you how to use PageRaft yourself, or, if you prefer, we’ll produce every issue and shape the profoundly engaging experience you’re after.
See how associations like yours are using our publishing platforms to deepen their member relationships and produce show-stopping digital magazines. To learn more about nxtbook4 or PageRaft, reach out about a product demo today.