There is no one-size-fits-all way to practice content strategy. But however you do it, content strategy helps your organization accomplish its goals and meet audience needs.
Our events, sponsorship, social media, and participation are seeing record-breaking numbers.
Here’s more about what that looks like for Angela McMillan and the Greater Kalamazoo Association of REALTORS.
Tell us about your role at the Greater Kalamazoo Association of REALTORS and what content strategy looks like in the organization.
I am the Director of Special Events, Communication, and Marketing for the Greater Kalamazoo Association of REALTORS (GKAR), and I have been with the Association for 9 years. In that time, my role has evolved and I have worked across several departments. This was excellent preparation for my current role and responsibilities, especially when it comes to facilitating content.
Over the last 5 years we have gone from 1 person (me) working toward a content-based approach to our entire staff now improving and collaborating on our content strategy. Our guiding principle is to ask why we are sharing what we are sharing, then to consider who specifically it’s for and how best to deliver it to them for their benefit. If it doesn’t truly benefit the member, why are we spending time on it?
We are also a small team of 8-10 serving our members and each primarily focused on our specific areas. So, it’s important to foster a collaborative, sharing environment to empower each team member to think about creating content within their area of expertise. Our Marketing and Communications Department oversees each piece, but everyone works on content creation. It may be in actual creation of pieces or it may be providing guidance on what information should be included in the piece. Both are imperative to sustaining our content strategy.
How did this effort get started?
By thinking of the information, tools, resources, programs, and basically everything we offer as GKAR as content for our members, we were able to shift our communication approach from individual, unrelated, association-centric communication to useful, member-focused, engaging communication and content. For example, we have a New Member Orientation Program and there is a specific section on Know Your Association which talks about the services offered at the local (GKAR), state, and national association levels. We shifted the approach and tone of this section from a very top-down, listen to 3-hours of information, and thanks, to a member-focused, get-to-know your associations, and what’s-in-it-for-you dialogue. We took into consideration what our new members actually want to know and what they need to be successful. Then asked how the local, state, and national associations could help, and built the content from there. Keeping in mind the capacity of our new members to process and retain what we’re sharing in 3 hours.
We shifted the approach and tone to a member-focused, get-to-know your associations, and what’s-in-it-for-you dialogue.
We reset our content strategy each year by gathering as a team to set and review GKAR’s annual calendar for the upcoming year. This allows all staff to understand the association’s cycle. Then, we layer in the average member’s schedule, their busy season, their financially lean season, etc. Then we layer in state and national items like April is Fair Housing Month, September is REALTOR Safety Month, etc. Next comes our specific GKAR aims, what are our top 5 items or sentiments we want our Members to know and why. When are dues billed? When are GKAR Elections? When are Committee Applications, etc. As we add all these annual, reoccuring layers, it is easier to develop corresponding content topics and set deadlines for publication. Finally, we can brainstorm about specific content pieces.
What have the results been since a strategic approach to content began?
A great example of our strategy at work is with our MLS Rules & Regulations that are part of our GKAR Policy. We have a Committee that oversees the Rules and a Board that oversees the Policy, but GKAR staff oversee adherence to the rules, assessing fines and penalties when rules are not followed. Through our strategic approach to our content, we were able to talk about how we were communicating our rules and policies. How were members learning about them initially and then over time, throughout their membership of 40+ years? We realized that we could be doing a better job than simply publishing the rules and policy in a PDF that lives on our website.
So, we developed several pieces of content all focused on this topic. We created a visually appealing quick-guide based on the most frequently violated and fined rules, and distributed to our membership in hardcopy and digital formats. We created ten 1-2 minute videos about these same frequent violations. We also created specific whitepapers for each violation in PDF format, emailing to membership and housing them on our intranet so they’re always available.
The key when we created all these pieces was to write and design them for the member’s benefit. Why should they care? How can they follow these rules? Including specific steps and screenshots. Also, we were able to create a cohesive style for all these pieces so members knew what to expect and how to engage with them from format to format. We started with the whitepapers, then created the quick-guide, and finally the videos, all over the course of 1-2 years.
Across the board our engagement is up. Our events, sponsorship, social media, and participation are seeing record-breaking numbers.
What have been the biggest challenges to getting wider adoption of content strategy? How have you overcome them?
Yes, we do still encounter challenges. Among staff, it can be difficult to convince your frontline folks to share all their frequently asked questions. Even if you ask them to write them down, it’s hard to get the specifics. And those member FAQs are imperative to guiding your content creation. So, I spend time on the frontline in order to hear the FAQs firsthand. I also continue to ask staff. If there is an offhand comment about “something happened again,” I’m on it. What happened again? How many times has it happened? Who is this affecting, etc.? As content creators, we must be attuned to these interactions and gather the information. We must be content cheerleaders!
I report on members attending events and programs – how registration is going and actual attendees.
Also, we must accept there will be a faction of members (and possibly staff) who do not understand why we can’t send everything to every member all the time. I carry my color-coded planner with me everywhere like a lifeline (yes, I do also have it online), and I live and breathe GKAR’s communication strategy, but not every member can know the depth and breadth of our plan. I like to report on our metrics in a way that resonates with our members. If our goal is members attending events and programs, I report on how registration is going and actual attendees. I report on our Facebook page engagement - our total likes, shares, and comments, to demonstrate the value of using this channel. We can report on the number or types of MLS violations since creating all those content pieces. My goal becomes shaping the conversation around the results of our efforts, not the technical specifics of the efforts. Finally, we share our communication strategy with every member who will listen and twice to those who complain because they become our biggest advocates once they understand our member-centric approach.
What’s next? Where do you go from here?
Every year we grow as a GKAR team in our ability to think about our services as content. We find another layer of consideration to add to our calendar. I am proud to share that after the Marketing and Communications Department created our first series of MLS rules videos, our MLS Director is now working on creating their own follow-up video series based on other MLS whitepapers we’ve published. We, the Marketing and Communications Department, are being included on editing and content as their videos progress. It is very exciting to see other team members create their own content to share. From here, we continue to have the conversation about the best format to communicate in so GKAR is actually helpful to its members, and we empower all staff to be part of the conversation.
Angela’s experience at GKAR shows how having a content strategy practice can help your organization thrive. No matter what type of organization you work for, there is a time and place to get started with content strategy. The soon-to-be-published Association Content Strategies for a Changing World research report outlines a content strategy maturity model and offers ways to get started. Here at Tanzen we help organizations at all levels of maturity get better at content strategy for business success. Need help getting started? Let’s talk.