The fact is that your members are sick of being interrupted, just like you. Everybody is tired of website pop-ups, email spam and online ads that follow you around the Internet. As a membership marketer, how do you cut through the irritation and apathy? Inbound membership marketing.
Inbound marketing is the ice cream store of the Internet: People come to visit because they can’t help themselves. If your blog is filled with high-quality images and articles that offer meaningful, timely insight, your prospective members will come to you. If they can’t get the information anywhere else, they’ll beat a path to your door. If you can earn a reputation as a must-read industry publication, you’ll always have a steady stream of new members coming to your website, and through your doors.
And if you do a good job spreading the word about your content on social media and other channels, like email, you’ll get even more traction.
You probably don’t give enough attention to your blog
Unfortunately, most associations and non-profits give little time and attention to their blogs. They publish infrequently and the content is short and thin; the images are scraped from the internet for free, and the design and layout are sub-par. There’s little or no thought given to SEO keywords, categories, metadata for Google or open graph data for social sharing.
Why? Because inbound marketing is hard. It takes time, skill and money. Conceiving, producing and designing high-quality blog posts takes writing, graphic and web design skills. Promotion requires social and email marketing expertise. Most important, it takes time to see a return on investment — sometimes a long time. But don’t let that stop you.
There are many layers to inbound marketing, but if you’re just getting started, here are our 3 steps to a basic inbound strategy. It’s simple: find out who your members are, figure out what they need, then give it to them.
1 | Who are your prospective members?
Like all marketing, you have to start with a clear idea of who you want to reach. When we set out to write this blog post, for example, we wanted to reach people like you: forward-thinking membership marketers who are interested in learning more about inbound marketing. You’re our ideal client, so we created some actionable content that provides real value for you. Who are your ideal members?
2 | What do they need?
This is where you sit down and create a list of all the ways you can serve your prospective members. Start at the place where your expertise overlaps with your prospect’s interests. Here are some examples:
- Are you looking to capture recent grads? Write a detailed blog post about what employers in your industry want to see on a LinkedIn profile.
- Is there a complex issue dominating the news or water-cooler talk across your sector? Write a blog post that explains the key elements in a neutral, easy-to-understand way.
- Is your industry in the midst of technological or legislative upheaval? Write a series of posts that explain the changes in clear, accessible language.
- Do you curate sector-specific news, insights, and information that nobody else offers? Provide a taste of the information on your blog, and encourage prospects to join for access to more.
- Are there innovators, thinkers or leaders your prospects would like to hear from? Could you secure a contribution from these people? What about a member spotlight?
- Will a review of a new product or service benefit your prospects? Can you curate a list that will serve their needs?
These are just a few examples of the opportunities that exist for most associations and non-profits. In many cases, we find that our new clients have lots of high-value industry information and insight that they aren’t sharing with prospects. Typically this information is held back in a misguided attempt to ‘force’ the prospect to join in order to access the information. While this might work in some cases, giving high-quality information away for free has the powerful benefit of establishing your organization as a generous thought leader and a valuable career-building asset. Prospects who come to know and love your brand for its contribution to their professional lives have the potential to become engaged members who contribute meaningfully to the organization, and attend events and volunteer.
3 | Now give it to them!
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. We’ll go into more detail in future posts but if you’re just getting started, the following is a basic approach to inbound marketing that will get you off on the right food.
- Invest in high-quality content and images. Cheap writers beget cheap content, which is not what you want. Expect to pay an experienced freelance writer up to $500 to conceive, research, write and revise the content for your post; an in-house writer might take a few days to get it right. If this means you can only do one post a month, then do one post per month. Don’t skimp on content — it’s the backbone of your inbound strategy. Same goes for images: Buy them from a quality supplier like Stocksy or Shutterstock.
Pro Tip: Don’t try to sell anything in your post; nothing will turn a prospect off faster than thinking they’ve been duped into reading content that is really a sales pitch.
- Spend time on design and layout. Chances are you have a blog layout built into your current website, and some of the design elements will be fixed. Still, do what you can to make the blog post beautiful and easy to read. Subheadings, numbered points and bullets all help make content “scannable,” with multiple entry points for rushed readers.
- Invest some time in selecting categories, keywords, metadata and open graph data. This is where many associations and non-profits stumble, and making the investment here will make you stand out from the crowd. Categories will help Googlebots scan your site properly, while keywords and metadata will ensure that you start gaining traction in the search engine results. Adding open graph data is easy to do in many blogging programs and will ensure that when someone shares your link on Facebook or Twitter, a nice image and clear explanation appears.
- Add a subscribe option at the bottom of your blog post. You’ll probably have to call your website developer for help with this, but the form can be re-used on each subsequent post and it will be well worth the investment in time and money. The form should allow readers to subscribe to receive future posts, which will help you build an email list of people who want to hear what you have to say.
- Promote, promote, promote! In most cases, you’ll start by leveraging your social channels to promote your blog posts. Create some catchy social cards and write some snappy copy to go with them, and share all of it with your social followers. If you already have an email list, consider sharing the blog post as a value-added element in another mailing. Later, when your blog has more content and you’ve got some traction, you can consider a separate email to promote each post.
- Be patient. Inbound marketing is a long game. It can be tempting to throw your hands up after the first two or three months and declare inbound marketing a failure for your organization. Stay the course! Success in inbound depends on myriad factors, from the quality and frequency of blog posts to the sophistication of your promotion tactics and beyond. As you get more experience and establish a solid workflow, you’ll start improving your approach and seeing more return on investment.