The following blog post was written by Molly Marsh, CMP, Director of Education and Engagement Design, at AMR Management Services, a full-service association management company that provides association management services to organizations of all sizes. 

The power and benefit of design thinking to support better outcomes for associations and their events was evident long before the COVID-19 crisis. Now, this approach may be the key differentiator between associations that thrive and those that crumble in uncertainty. Not only are association leaders looking for short-term solutions to the disruption of in-person events — one of the core values of most associations — they understand that this environment may fundamentally change the role associations must play for members. Nothing can be assumed; nothing can be taken for granted — which is why a design-based approach is so important. 

Design thinking is one way to ensure that association professional development, conferences and events (virtual and, eventually, in person), content marketing initiatives, publications, resources, and other programs remain continually relevant, applicable, and valuable for the community. Inherently, design thinking will always build on itself, creating a nimble and flexible organization that can anticipate and adapt to an ever-changing environment.  

So, how can you harness the power of design thinking to establish a virtual content strategy that supports your association’s members and stakeholders where they are — and where they may be a year from now? Ask these four key questions…and repeat:

1. Who is your audience?

Defining your audience(s) is critical to establishing an effective content strategy — now more than ever. With the influx of information in the rapidly-changing pandemic environment, people simply don’t have the capacity to sift through a lot of irrelevant content from your association to find what matters to them. Taking the time to identify and communicate one-on-one with members of your target audience (members, prospective members, the association, sponsors, other stakeholders, etc.) to understand how they are impacted right now is the most important thing you can do to ensure the success of your association initiatives. 

2. What is the need?

Embedded in this outreach is developing a thorough understanding of the preferences, pain points and areas of need. What problems are they trying to solve? Where do they need additional help? What will make them successful in the remainder of this year, next year, and beyond? From there, you can build out a content strategy with stated goals and outcomes with associated metrics to gauge how successful your initiatives were in addressing those areas of need. When you know where you’re headed and what your members, the organization and other stakeholders need, then you can tailor your effort to deliver on those needs.

3. What are the best delivery models or channels for the content?

Some content lends itself to micro-learning through short videos or blog posts, others may need longer format training offerings. The necessity to ramp up virtual education is challenging, but is also an incredible opportunity to integrate what might have traditionally just been conference content into a larger virtual strategy for the association. Good content strategy allows learning outcomes and objectives to drive selection of the right delivery model and we now have many more tools in the virtual delivery toolkit. In addition, research on the science of learning indicates that various methods of presenting the information over time is the best way to cement learning. So, taking topics, issues, or content elements and selecting 2-3 different delivery models over time is more likely to lead to real learning and behavior change. That kind of ongoing support creates more relevance in the lives of members and helps create new habits of engagement.

4. What does success mean?

Did you meet the need? Were the objectives of your organization advanced? What is different now than when you first started looking at the needs of your audience(s)? What additional content, education, or learning is needed to meet new needs? Reviewing success measures, analyzing feedback from users, and evaluating how the current climate has evolved ensures the ability to adapt and improve your programs over time — launching you right into the next iteration of your strategy.

For more content like this from AMR Management Services, visit the AMR blog here