Member communication in a COVID-19 world

Apr 27, 2020 | COVID-19, Virtual Cafe

When member communication was discussed in the last Virtual Cafe, accelerate, innovate and measurement were the three dominant topics.  Centred on the theme of ‘Inspiration’, participants talked about what they and their organisation are doing which in turn could inspire others on the call.

Accelerate

We may not be – yet – in a time of rethinking what we do for members, but consensus was that we are accelerating what we had planned / hoped to introduce.  For example:

  • increasing the pace of introducing technology solutions, such as moving face-to-face meetings online when members have previously been reluctant to embrace this move
  • quickly making websites able to accommodate the surge in traffic
  • reviewing which content sits in front of / behind password-protected areas.

The pace of what we have to communicate with members, and how quickly we need to react, has also accelerated.

Innovate

Innovation in terms of how services are delivered included moving training, qualification teaching and events online, perhaps for the first time.  One organisation moved from a one-day conference to holding each speaker session as one-hour webinars – one each day for a week – and found that they had more people joining the webinars than they usually have attending the physical conference.

Quick and easy-to-record talking head videos are working well for one organisation.  They drew up a rota of staff, from CEO down to junior level, and each week a different person records a quick update of what their area is doing with a summary of the organisation overall.  These are then included in a weekly email on a Monday and uploaded to social channels.

The provision of content to non-members was a dilemma experienced by some.  There is a need to exist for the whole profession / industry, but how much content do you make available to non-members before you risk paying members questioning what they get for their money? Consensus was for a tiered level of content.  For example, make all information relevant to COVID-19 available to all, and add value to members through a daily bulletin, access to a 24-hour advice helpline, etc.

Some organisations found that the demand for information – and the logistical issue of how to make it available – was causing unintended consequences.  Innovation in terms of how to make the content available were causing challenges and either had been solved or a temporary solution was in place.  Being agile in response to member feedback meant one organisation has shifted from including summaries of articles in newsletters with links to the full article on the website, to including full articles in each newsletter so the members don’t have to click through to the website and log in to view the content.

Measurement

It is evident that more channels / activities have been added to the member communication mix, but few, if any, have been removed from our toolkit meaning we have more balls to juggle in the air.  The challenge ahead is knowing which to stop once the lockdown is over.  Measurement is key to making sure we keep the forms of communication members want us to continue with, so the intelligence from knowing engagement levels, attendance numbers or downloads, for example, is important.

With new member communication channels added to our repertoire, it will be important and necessary to establish which are sustainable in the long-term.  In this time of crisis-mode, comms teams are doing more, but the increased time we are devoting to our work to deliver what the members need is certainly not sustainable – and neither should it be.  If anything, this lockdown has shown us all what is important – at home and at work – and decisions need to be made on how our comms toolkit will look post-COVID lockdown.  Inevitably, it will be a more streamlined version to what it is now.

Looking to the future

The Vice-President of one of my clients refers to this time as a world reset, and I certainly see what he means.  COVID-19 is a reset in terms of membership organisations analysing how they will operate, how they will deliver services, and how stakeholders are engaged with.

The gut feeling from participants in the Virtual Cafe was that reluctance to embrace technology by members will largely stay in the past – in the pre-COVID world.  Sure, there will still be a demand for face-to-face interaction, but with the quality and quantity of online solutions to deliver certain services remotely, the comms world will be very different in the post-COVID world.

COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to be more informal and relaxed in our communication. This is now acceptable, but will there be a demand to return to slick high production videos once again?

This period of lockdown is giving us comms folk ideas of what we need to think about in terms of service delivery in the future.  One stand-out change to take into this future – however it looks – is the provision of training online, with some membership organisations moving qualification teaching online for the first time.  Face-to-face will never be replaced, but perhaps there should be a blend of face-to-face and online.

What’s next?

If you want to be part of the discussions in the next Inspiration Exchange Virtual Cafe, get the Zoom link here.  If you are on Facebook, we have made the Inspiration Exchange – The Collective group available to non-members for the duration of the lockdown.  Join up and take part in the conversation with other membership PR / Comms / Marketing professionals – ask questions, give answers, get solutions to those things keeping you awake.  All discussions in the Inspiration Exchange are Chatham House … so join in, connect with others, and be inspired.

 

Top: Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash
Bottom: Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown on Unsplash

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