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Reprinted with permission from SmithBucklin. The article originally appeared in the 2018 edition of Circuit, which offers 20 articles on key trends, issues and development that will impact associations in the coming year.

With their staggering supply of member knowledge and passion, associations are trusted sources of information brimming with subject matter expertise. By properly leveraging that knowledge and passion, associations can create an unmatched, self-sustaining content model that rivals that of a world-class news organization. This strategy can help them become extraordinary resources of relevant, authoritative information that is not available anywhere else.

According to Jason Meyers, director, Marketing & Communication Services at SmithBucklin, this is a two-stage process with a feedback loop. The first stage of building a volunteer-driven, continuous content model involves determining what content members want and need, and then leveraging the experiences of members and other experts to deliver it. Next, other members consume the content and contribute their reactions and thoughts to it, and possibly even additional content. The trick is to ensure that at each stage the feedback and input is cultivated and captured to drive the most relevant future content. The result of this approach is a model that, over time, can continuously provide great value to the association’s stakeholders, thus igniting volunteer and member engagement.

This model works for many types of media. After all, content can take many forms, such as short-form web copy, long-form print articles, professionally produced videos or audio podcasts. Meyers believes that a key component in ensuring success for such models is for associations to create central, online hubs that house the content. This allows members to not only easily access it, but also share it with their personal and professional networks through social media.

To see the power of this model in action, look to Apra – an association committed to serving, representing and advancing the professionals and practices that enable the philanthropic success of institutions that rely on fundraising to achieve their missions. Apra launched its continuous content website, Connexions, in February 2017 and quickly saw it become one of its most highly-valued member benefits.

Connexions utilizes the collective intelligence and expertise of Apra members to explore topics that are top-of-mind for the industry. The topics reflect the content of the most popular sessions of Apra’s events, as well as any suggestions or recommendations from members. Each volunteer member of the Connexions editorial advisory committee has a beat, like a newspaper reporter, and works with Apra members and other subject matter experts to turn these ideas into articles, interviews and videos. The site includes in-depth analysis, case studies, how-to tutorials, Q&A sessions with thought leaders, book reviews, news from the field, infographics and more. New content is contributed and posted as often as four times a month, which is twice as much as originally expected when Connexions was created. The excitement and participation from members also greatly exceeded expectations. As an added benefit, the site has created new revenue for Apra as sponsors can host their own page on the content hub and present their own content, as long as they ascribe to Apra’s sponsored content guidelines.

Continuous models like this can do more than just provide useful content – they can help an association be a trusted authority. As it becomes more difficult to distinguish between trustworthy information and erroneous “fake news,” high-quality, curated content from an association is more important and worthy of investment than ever. In this atmosphere, by soliciting and vetting information to ensure its validity and then aggregating it for members, an association can be a beacon for reputable information regarding its industry or profession.

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