New research from Naylor Association Solutions showcases the need for a balanced approach to technology and tradition as association communicators strive to keep members’ attention.

The firm’s new report, The 2018 Association Communications Benchmarking Study, reveals only 1 in 5 associations say they have a good understanding of reader, member and advertiser needs—and associations are experimenting with bringing back traditional communication channels such as printed newsletters while investing more resources and effort in newer platforms like podcasts and apps.

“Combating information overload and cutting through information clutter” retook the top spot for communication challenges associations confront when trying to reach their members. “Communicating member benefits effectively” fell back to the second most frequently cited communication challenge. The number of association professionals claiming this as a challenge has more than doubled since Naylor first conducted this survey in 2011.

“Past iterations of this survey have told us that at least half of association member communications are ignored,” said Sarah Sain, director of content and member communications for Naylor, in a news release. “This year, we attempted to understand why. Through the 2018 survey, associations have told us they know what they need to do to improve their communications: Understand member needs, goals, demographics and preferences better. Their persistent challenge is to find more technological, financial and human resources to make this happen.”

What association professionals revealed about the state of their communications this year:

  • Two out of three association communicators say members are too busy to engage with their content.
  • Podcasts, private online communities and association apps are becoming indispensable communication tools. All three tools’ perceived value increased by double digits with podcasts growing in importance by 27 percent.
  • Associations are shifting their focus to students: The percentage that report customizing member communications for this cohort increased by 14 percentage points (23 percent to 37 percent) from 2017 to 2018.
  • Customizing communication for member segments overall is becoming more of a widespread challenge: 57 percent of respondents agreed that customizing communications for different member segments is difficult, up from 52 percent one year ago and more than double the 23 percent of communicators who cited this challenge in 2011.
  • A lack of revenue earned from communication channels is a serious or significant problem for 46 percent of associations.
  • Nearly half of survey respondents recognize they need help identifying the ideal member communication frequency.
  • Only 27 percent give themselves a rating of four out of five when asked how well their communications channels were integrated.

What channels do associations value most for reaching members?

Traditional conference or events retained the top spot by far for the third year in a row: 90 percent consider events very/extremely valuable to their overall communication program. Member magazines and email newsletters round out the top three for the third year in a row as well.

Private online communities broke into the top 10 communication channels for the first time since this survey started asking how associations value them. Newer forms of communication, such as podcasts and Instagram, are being used by 40 and 26 percent of respondents, respectively.

However, print is making a huge comeback: 57 percent of respondents told us their printed member newsletters are very/extremely valuable, followed by 56 percent who said the same of their printed show guides. Printed show guides entered the top 10 most-valued communication channels for the first time since 2016. Printed member magazines continue to hold the No. 2 spot on this list.

The report gauges how successfully associations are monetizing their communications and how well they steward relationships with advertisers and sponsors. The study analyzes how associations engage their members through communications and other involvement initiatives.

Download the full report here.

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