With this five-step member-centric communication approach, associations can emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic having strengthened their member relationships.

The pandemic has caused a lot change in a very short period of time. After getting over the initial disruption in mid-March of leaving our offices and transitioning to full-time remote work, many association professionals quickly adapted to new ways of connecting with their members—Zoom meetups and virtual conferences.

What has remained the same is that associations need to have ongoing communication in order to engage, serve, and collaborate effectively with members. Having moved from an initial crisis communications mode into a temporary communications reboot, now is an ideal time to step back and think about your next, more strategic, longer-term communications phase. If associations don’t act on this strategic phase, when the pandemic ends, members will wonder where their organization was when they needed them. We need to stay connected now and build on the trust that we’ve built with our members.

In his book, Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in the Virtual World, Nick Morgan outlines the biggest challenges leaders face in transitioning from face-to-face to virtual communications. Written pre-COVID, Morgan provides guidance on proactively communicating and creating deeper trust—a key part of an association’s value—in the virtual world.

I recommend reading Morgan’s book and then stepping back to clarify your team’s plan for creating more certainty in these uncertain times. Review what has worked well over the last four months and make plans for how to continue to communicate with your members and garner greater engagement. Below are five steps to help you move forward with this process:

Plan. Create a shared remote-work strategic communications document outlining how your team will maintain or increase regular contact with your stakeholders as we navigate the pandemic. This document is different from your organization’s crisis communications plan; your remote-work document provides everyone on the team with a basic roadmap for maintaining ongoing communications with members. To start, identify who you need to stay in touch with (all of your members), how you will stay in touch (what options are available to you), how often you will reach out (what is too much and what is not enough), and what information and help you will provide. Once you start executing your plan, update it regularly as the pandemic’s impact on your members changes.

Having moved from an initial crisis communications mode into a temporary communications reboot, now is an ideal time to step back and think about your next, more strategic, longer-term communications phase.

Check in. Continually and consistently communicate empathy, interest, and resiliencyThe pandemic is a massive stress test for most associations and their members—and the stress is not letting up. It’s key that you regularly check in with members and show them you care. Rather than trying to “sell them” on new programs or products, simply ask how they’re doing and what you can do to help them. This will provide some insight into their situations and perhaps uncover new ways you can support them. Of course, following up after all check-ins is critical to show your outreach is genuine.

Contextualize. In the remote world, we often communicate in short bursts like text messages. During this unique time, take extra time to ensure your electronic communications are properly contextualized, your intention for sending your message is clear, and it is balanced with an appropriate level of warmth and care.

Listen. Over the last few months, much has been written about the importance of showing up well on camera, but less has been said about the importance of really listening. Without the benefit of in-person communication and the ability to read someone’s body language, it’s easy to make assumptions. Conversations are only productive if people truly listen while others are talking. Find a place to talk with as few distractions as possible when on calls or video meetings.

Phone. Although various technologies—including different video platforms like Zoom, Teams, GoToMeeting, and Google Meet—enable you to communicate remotely, remember to also pick up the phone and call your members. The personal nature of a phone call will provide you with greater insight into how your members are feeling and the challenges they are facing.

With the right member-centric communication approach, associations can emerge from this crisis having strengthened their member relationships. By consistently communicating your commitment to your members during this difficult time, you will cultivate long-lasting goodwill and support.

Carol Vernon

Carol Vernon is a certified executive coach and trainer at Communication Matters: Executive Coaching & Training in Washington, DC.