Ensuring Your Messages Get Read Amidst All the Noise – Part II

A Review of CSAE Trillium Chapter’s Communications Roundtable PDX


By Maureen Shuell


At the Communication’s Table Topic Roundtable offered by the CSAE Trillium Chapter as their last Professional Development session (PDX) of 2016, I facilitated a robust discussion on effective communications in an increasingly noisy world. Four groups of participants took part in half-hour roundtable discussions in search of best practices, solutions and new ideas to tackle the question of how to ensure your association’s message gets read amidst all the communications noise.

The group delved into the expectations we had in using other means to get to members and stakeholders beyond direct inbox email delivery, and the reluctance, both internal and on the part of the recipients, to have messages broadcast in new ways. Familiar themes became clear: the need to know your audiences, using data and feedback to your advantage; and the importance of starting with clear goals on what you’re trying to communicate.

Beyond the email angst explored in Part I of this series, participants identified “pain points” they’ve experienced consistently with their association’s communications. Some of these included: meeting expectations, reluctance to change, the importance of showing the value of membership, and internal competing interests – what to send to whom and at what frequency.

Alternatives to email were identified as solutions to the limits of the technology and of regulation issues. With email being stalled by spam blockers and firewalls – in addition to the tracking needed to be compliant with CASL guidelines – social media and other communications tactics were discussed.

Associations develop content, but what could be done to help them to better share this content with members and stakeholders? Here’s what we heard from our roundtable participants:

Social Media

We could have spent the entire time looking at creative ways to use all the social media platforms available. Being everywhere wasn’t seen as a necessity; it was more important to know why you wanted to use social media in the first place, who you are trying to reach, what you needed to say, and if this was how you could best do it. We delved into the why of the matter, or the ultimate goals of having a presence on social channels:

  • To demonstrate knowledge and understanding of issues in your sector
  • Evidence that you are aware of your members’ interests and their challenges
  • Demonstrates you are connected and provides reassurance in your validity as an authority on your subject matter
  • Shows you are keeping up with current issues that are important in your industry
  • Provides a real-time, and quick response to current issues and events, and gives a platform for member and stakeholder engagement and interaction
  • Gives those not engaged with your association a chance to see the kinds of issues you care about
  • Allows you to be a curator of industry news from your members and related groups in a timely way
  • A way to engage with traditional journalists and trade journalists important to your industry
  • A way to connect with your political stakeholders

Whatever the platform of choice, doing it well and having some thought and strategy on the ‘why’ is not only important, but also essential to getting it right.

Using social media or broader digital marketing campaigns using Google AdWords or other platforms, the roundtables questioned how to return on investment of social media. Much of what you can do is on free platforms, but the human resources needed to manage the work were seen as difficult to communicate internally. Again, setting goals for the campaign, tracking results, evaluating if the ‘spend’ is proportional to the desired results. The question explored was if an organization’s management welcomes testing, experimenting and risk taking, and when to optimize activities and use data to continue or grow a campaign, or when to opt out and try other strategies and tactics that may work better with your audience.

Sharing Success Stories on Social Channels

We looked at successes with small-scale social media campaigns

Using the hashtag #ThrowbackThursday to cover historical images and facts has proven to be successful. If it’s a milestone anniversary of the association, show the history with a consistent format, and the communications take on its own persona.

Celebrate members by sharing success stories they share, and use your association as a platform where members can see their peers in a positive light.

One organization shared that they had had a week with themed, simple and related images and scheduled one message a day at the same time. They were linked together on related topics. They had great engagement and feedback on the simplicity of the campaign and its effectiveness.

Integrate and Cross Promote

Use social communications to promote upcoming events, distribute news releases, and to share small and large successes. Integrate advocacy and government relations’ activities and messages into these member communications. This expands the audience reach of these activities, and gives your members more ways to see and share what you are doing with these files. Developing social media posts about the government news and activity in your sector informs, shows value and engages members. Using a consistent hashtag for the tweets encourages members to share news and use the hashtag as well. For events and advocacy campaigns, remember to have a call-to-action link or directive to participate and engage.

Annual Reports

The trend with annual reports among the group seemed to be delivering top-level information in shorter formats, shared digitally, and with links to more detailed version as opposed to glossy, full printed versions like most associations produced in the past. With interesting infographics on association success and milestones from the past year, the annual report should be used to capture a comprehensive outline member value in the past 12 months and what members can look forward to in the year to come. By distributing across multiple channels, there was quite a lot of value to using the AR for advocacy and other purposes. The key messages in the report are a reflection of the sector, and of membership, and used well, provide a good marketing tool for potential members.

Balanced Information Distribution

Information and content is being produced at unprecedented levels. Organizations have to manage information sharing, and getting the attention of their members in a space that competes for their attention like never before. Coordinate what is being distributed, and keep your leadership involved in all your communications priorities. Balance and proactively plan your communications to members and stakeholders, and choose your channels wisely, keeping in mind why you’re sharing the information, and where you’ll best reach your key audiences.


If you’d like to discuss any of these ideas, please feel free to get in touch with me!

Maureen Shuell

[email protected]


Twitter: @MaureenShuell

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/maureenshuell