The pandemic was a learn-as-you-go situation. And what association communication teams learned during the COVID-19 crisis are valuable lessons that can help associations stay engaged with members going forward.

It’s a strange and new world. You might be moving back to your office or rescheduling a big event, but life (nor your members’ work routine) is far from “back to normal.”

Let’s agree that every communicator just experienced a rare lesson about learning-as-you-go communication. Before we knew what happened, the world switched channels, and we each had to call an audible and adjust.

In nSight Marketing’s research during 2020, we found that less than half of associations have a documented crisis communications plan. While many used good judgement by connecting through social posts, e-newsletters, and other virtual connection points like video, communication in a crisis takes a level of coordination that most have never experienced. Those who didn’t have a plan learned the value of using a crisis communications matrix to get organized around what members need most in an uncertain business environment. Many communicators realized just how important a plan is to guide the way you communicate through uncertainty.

Here are six ways to apply learnings from the COVID-19 crisis and bring your communications to the next level:

Show care. While we’re all anxious for the pandemic to end, we can’t act as though it’s over. Re-openings are happening, but there are still unknowns. Kudos to the associations with meaningful, short videos and social posts that show care and recognize the current challenges facing members.

Once you discover and reveal your unique member value proposition and develop a strategy to support your promise, you’ll sow the seeds of connection across your diverse member groups and have more committed and engaged members who rely on your brand for their success.

Ask for staff feedback. Hooray that business is moving, but it’s not business as usual. What will be different going forward, and what did you learn that will be a new normal after the crisis? Consider asking staff the biggest challenges and what silver linings they uncovered from working at their kitchen table? Instead of reverting to business as usual, what lessons could help you be more effective at meeting member needs going forward? Be curious about the feedback you collect and include it in your strategy conversations.

Seek out member feedback. Now is a good time to ask members how you can help them now that business is coming back (or blazing back) to normal. While you could collect this feedback through one time polling, surveys, or focus groups, this seems a good opportunity to collect more informal feedback through your board members, staff, or even an ad-hoc member outreach committee.

Assess your crisis communications approach. You’ll never have a better time to look back at your communications process over the past year to consider what you did well, what you may have missed, and what processes to take going forward. What did your readjustment process look like? Here’s an example of six ways we observed association communicators maintaining strong connections with members.

Develop key messages to remind members why they should rely on your organization. If your formal value proposition is “We’re in this together,” you might tweak that message for a crisis to convey:

  • “We’re more prepared today than ever to support you.”
  • “Today’s business is unprecedented. We’ll face what happens next together.”
  • “Preparing for today, and for what comes next.”

Members are reassessing their need for their association right now. Now it’s important to convey why your association matters. Don’t expect them to figure it out on their own. That means relaying, in clear, simple terms the solutions you offer, instead of a list of services for them to choose from, or the ones you think are most important. Keep your message consistent to both new and long-standing members: you know them well enough to link what you do best to what they need most.

Look to the future. If you ask your members, you’ll hear that they want their association to have more than plans. They want to be associated with an organization that is looking forward, innovating, and planning for the future. It’s time to reassess what your future looks like. That means talking, looking, and thinking beyond today’s crisis and recovery. With a bold vision, your leaders can mind the gap between today’s situation and tomorrow’s possibilities.

Once you discover and reveal your unique member value proposition and develop a strategy to support your promise, you’ll sow the seeds of connection across your diverse member groups and have more committed and engaged members who rely on your brand for their success.

Melynn Sight

Melynn Sight is president of nSight Marketing in Leawood, Kansas, and author of “Breakthrough Value.”