The Skinny on Associations’ Use of Micro Web Sites

Have you ever felt that digital marketing has gone a bit overboard and you are being sucked into a digital abyss? Associations don’t just have one Web site; they often have a parent site and multiple micro sites, not to mention the two twitter feeds, a FaceBook page, a LinkedIn group or groups for members and the organization’s thought leader or leaders’ blogs. Association and society members have access to more content today than any time in history. However, are members consuming the content or are there a lot trees falling in the forest that no one hears or sees?

While researching a recent white paper I was collaboratively writing, Sub-Brands and Micro Web site Use by US Associations: 2012, Benchmarks and PracticesI talked with several association executives that experienced these very concerns. When do you stop trying to keep up with your competitors and actually deliver content that member’s value, especially when it comes to micro Web site development? The development of micro sites is labor intensive and the care and feeding of the Web site does not end when it launches.

Fifty three percent of the 256 associations studied had micro sites, with the associations with micro sites tending to be larger associations.  These associations have both more complex marketing needs and larger budgets to support micro site development and content. The largest associations support 3.5 micro sites per association, and among large associations with micro sites, they support 4.1 micro sites on average. However, those creating the micro sites are beginning to question the site’s performance and goals.

“While Web analytics indicate the micro site is successful, we worry about two things, technology and the micro site’s effect of the Worldwide ERC Brand,” said Heidi Hume, Senior Manager, Marketing and Web Strategy, Worldwide ERC. “One concern we have is with the possible break with the unified brand. When you create a meeting site as the information hub for the event, and attendees are used to going to that site, you have to ask the question are you actually converting show attendees to members. Is there enough of a link between the show and the association brand and are there opportunities to go between the parent and the micro site?” Hume said.

Hume’s  goal of creating a strong link between the parent site and the show site is a good way to tie something the member values (the trade show) back to the association. Micro sites should be viewed as a part of a multi-channel marketing strategy. To measure the micro site’s value to members; it should be tracked and evaluated just like other campaign tools. While some think micro sites are a must have, they should be evaluated by how much value they deliver, compared to the work put into their care and feeding.



Association Marketing Obstacles in a Merger Environment

I had lunch with a new friend yesterday. She had some marketing related questions about a recent merger her organization experienced, and I had been through several mergers and/or acquisition in both the association world and the private sector, so we thought lunch was in order.
As we discussed her challenges in dealing with different organizational cultures and marketing duplicate and sometimes competing products and services, we both had a business epiphany. What are the business goals for the association and how does senior management leadership propose to get there — that is where you start. The question is simple, but in reality, establishing  business goals, and then having the organization’s senior management navigate through internal land mines created by a merger to achieve the goals is quite complex.
Without strong senior management to make the tough decisions and guide the culturally different staff through the turmoil, making the simple decision to create a sub brand for an existing product can become a complex endeavor.
During the course of our lunch we discussed, product and service audits, brand audits, sub branding, micro site development and everything else marketing related, while all the time tip toeing around the big old guerilla in the room. In theory, marketing is a very logical pursuit, in reality, because humans occupy a lot of space at associations, personalities and self-interests can get in the way.
At the end of lunch, we both came back to the same place, you cannot evaluate whether to sub brand products or services until you know whether they will still be around in 6 months. Deciding the fate of products and services is not a marketing issue, although marketing can provide metrics, business cases, sales data, etc., it remains a senior management issue. So the next question is how you communicate to an organization’s senior management team that seems to be unaware of a problem, that there is a very big problem that will ultimately prevent them from achieving their goal, whatever it may be.