Getting a stronger understanding of your audience needs—and the content your organization is already producing—can help you focus your content marketing approach, says strategist Hilary Marsh.

In the past, associations often had a stated goal to produce a lot of content—but there’s now evidence that members aren’t seeing much of it. A recent report from PAN Communications [registration] finds that consumers are engaging with only one to five pieces of branded content per month … but many organizations are producing 16 or more pieces monthly. What’s an association to do?

According to Hilary Marsh, founder of Content Company and a digital strategist focused on associations and nonprofits, there’s a risk in flooding your content streams with too much information.

And that’s just from the end user’s perspective. There’s also a cost to your team: If you’re creating too much content, your team may become overwhelmed and fail to reach your goals. Marsh offered a few tips on balancing content production with your actual needs.

Focus on Relevance, Not Metrics

While your instinct might be to maximize traffic for reach and advertising metrics, Marsh discourages this mindset, saying the goal should be to build content with maximum relevance for the target audience.

“We want people who are going to come to our website because they need what we have,” she said. “That’s not necessarily more people. It might be the same people but with better actions. So we have to set our goals properly, and we have to coordinate the marketing efforts with the organization’s general work.”

Marsh added that it’s important to think in terms of the audience you’re trying to reach and how they take in your content, and then set expectations accordingly.

“They won’t necessarily remember what you published last week,” she said.

You might wind up publishing less but promoting more, to match the needs of your audience.

Translate Research Into Content Marketing

Marsh describes associations as “content machines” that already produce many types of content—which keenly positions them to generate helpful content marketing.

In particular, research produced by associations may be of high value to expert voices—but that information needs translating for broader audiences. Marsh said organizations can break down this richer expert-oriented content into formats well-suited for content marketing, such as snackable content.

She said good content marketing will pull from other departments throughout the organization—resulting in webinars, articles, and numerous other content formats.

“I really believe if you have a good content strategy, then the content you create comes from programs and products and services that your organization produces,” Marsh said. “And it’s easier to just market that without creating other marketing content.”

Build a Content Calendar—But Not Too Rigidly

Content calendars are important, as they offer ways for departments throughout the organization to take part in what you produce, Marsh said. But she warned against letting a calendar lock you into building only one type of content during a certain period.

Ideally, she said, “the calendar doesn’t try to drive the association, but the association overall kind of drives the calendar.”

A good comparison point for this is how magazines might have themed issues, but those themes are not universal throughout the magazine. If a good piece of topical content hits off the schedule, don’t be afraid to build it out of turn.

Understand Audience Behavior

One key to producing better content is making sure that it matches the needs of the audience. Better-targeted content produces better results, regardless of its format.

Marsh points to the different ways certain types of professionals tend to use their content. Real estate agents might be interested in content for Facebook that they can share on their own pages as promotional material, for example. But those in legal fields may not use Facebook at all to share legal information. This understanding of your audience can inform the content that you create.

“What’s going to work in any given association depends on who their members are, why their members are out there in the world of different channels, and then how those things play into the relationship that the members have to that association,” she said.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE