Part III: Digital Intelligence
A Conversation with Olya Ryabinina, Kellen Director of Digital Strategy
Social media is a rapidly changing medium with continually emerging potential, what are some of the new developments or opportunities that associations should know?
Association communicators can learn a lot from digital analytics and social listening. I think these are areas where many organizations may not be investing sufficient resources. Through digital analysis they can learn a tremendous amount about online behavior including when, where and how users are engaging with their websites and social platforms. This information can help associations to significantly improve the effectiveness of their online efforts. It is of utmost importance to be tracking your digital efforts against the established goals.
How can organizations improve their websites and their results in organic search?
Understanding how the algorithms work for each platform and staying on top of those as they change is crucial to creating and maintaining an effective website. Google has become user experience oriented and so it’s not just the keywords that drive the search placement. For example, people might be surprised to learn that if the color scheme of a website cannot be read easily by a person who is color blind, the site will not be ranked as highly by Google. Other negative influences on organic search placement include slow site loading time, duplicate content or outdated content. I should point out that search engine crawlers are still based heavily on a site’s text content, rather than images. Also, back links to the site are still important, but do not have as significant a role as they did previously. Finally, having the site optimized for mobile use is absolutely critical.
Fewer than half the associations we surveyed have blogs. How beneficial are blogs for an organization’s digital presence?
In general, blogs are not as important as they used to be. Individuals’ attention spans have gotten so short. People want their content in smaller bites. I think blogs are more beneficial when the content is targeted toward a specific professional sector.
That’s interesting, because sites with fresh content rank better in organic search. Isn’t a blog a good way to update site content?
Yes, Google does give preference to sites with fresh content – and also to unique and relevant content. If your organization is able to maintain a blog with fresh and relevant content that people are reading, then it’s working. But what we heard in our US focus group is that organizations struggle to produce quality blog content consistently. Associations can keep their content fresh in other ways, such as updating news on the home page, promoting upcoming events or sharing previous event highlights.
Is there any benefit to creating a custom website versus a templated site, such as one in WordPress?
There is no difference with regard to search. There is a big benefit to using a template site like WordPress, when it comes to the ability to update content easily and as we just discussed, fresh content is very important. Many organizations use an AMS platform (association management software) for their websites and as with any other site, the same rules apply for creating a site with a strong, positive user experience and unique, relevant content.
We’ve talked a lot about websites, which are very important for associations. How important is paid digital advertising as part of a strategic plan?
For organizations that want to build a social following or disseminate an important message quickly, targeted digital advertising has proven quite effective. You need to know who you are trying to reach and understand your audience’s online behavior, which is where the analytics come in. While Google search ads can be targeted by location and search queries, you have no control over the demographics of the searchers, therefore, you are reaching largely a consumer audience, which may not be right for your organization or its specific message. Moving ads from search to social channels, such as Facebook, can be more effective. There are a lot of individuals who put their professional information on Facebook, enabling you to target them.
What newer digital technologies do you think associations should be experimenting with?
I see a lot of potential with mobile advertising by reaching people via ads on the apps they use – from news to gaming apps. A technology called geo-fencing enables the advertiser to reach individuals within a very specific boundary, set by the advertiser. So, for example, if your organization is promoting an upcoming regional conference, you can target an audience within a specific radius of your conference location. I think this is powerful. I also see opportunities with Snapchat for associations trying to reach a younger demographic, such as millennials, that can be otherwise difficult or almost impossible to reach. Snapchat is only available for use as an app on a mobile device. One example of how an association might deploy Snapchat would be to create a geofilter within Snapchat that aligns with a specific event to engage the attendees.
Is there anything else you’d like to add to our discussion?
Just that there is still no one-size-fits-all approach to social media. Facebook and Twitter are better for tackling issues and advocacy. Consumer and product oriented messaging performs well on Instagram and Pinterest. But for every organization and every message, to be effective you must always consider who your audience members are and how and where they spend their time online.