It’s safe to say that most associations aren’t completely sold on blogging. I’m aware of only 15 or so associations that actively publish a blog. This means that less than 1% of all associations are blogging. Is it because they’re unfamiliar with the technology? That’s seem unlikely at this point. Blogging has exploded. Technorati, the web’s most popular blog tracker, estimates that the entire blogosphere is now over 60 times bigger than it was just 3 years ago. And I haven’t read an association-related publication or attended a conference in the last year that didn’t include information on blogging or podcasting.

There’s a lot of buzz, just no action.

The problem is not a lack of awareness, it’s lack of a plan to make it work. In other words, we’re constantly telling associations that they should be blogging without really telling them how. Just introducing the technology isn’t enough. Let’s face it, signing up for a Blogger account, doesn’t mean you have a blog. It just means you can fill out a form. Well, here’s a simple realistic plan to not only start a blog, but keep it going, and gain non-dues revenue from it:

Add blogging directly into your site
Typepad and Blogger are decent services – they’re great for a personal blog. The problem is, these services make your members go to another website (usually in the form of yourassociation.typepad.com) to discover and read your blog. This throws off traffic stats and makes it less likely for people unfamiliar with blogging and RSS to become repeat-visitors. Who wants to keep track of two sites for one organization? Adding a WordPress or Moveable Type or TextPattern blog into your site’s navigation shouldn’t be a big deal for your web team. A few association management software packages have built-in blogging software, making it even easier to get started.

Outsource the writing
It’s unfair to ask your staff to do their jobs and post regularly to
the blog. A true collaborative effort between staff and members is the
best bet for success. Want to increase member participation instantly? Get your members to contribute. Hire them and pay them per post. If they’re already writing for one of your publications, this should be easy to figure out. They could even preview what they’ll be writing about in your next issue – free promotion! Or, you could open submissions up to all members. The quality of content and the community that you’ll effectively create will benefit everyone – it’s that Association 2.0 thing.

Of course, the association would maintain edititorial control, and have the right to pass on submissions or delete comments. I only bring that up because I’ve heard executives say thing like, “What if members use the comments to complain about the association?” Well, what’s worse – a couple angry comments or a site that no one goes to because it doesn’t provide any value?

Get sponsorship
Let’s talk ROI. Though the setup costs may be low, a blog
takes a lot of time and effort to coordinate and maintain. In theory, the member
participation sparked by the blog will lead to better retention. But that can be tough to measure,
especially in the first six months. For this reason, I think associations
seriously thinking about publishing a blog should look for sponsorship
opportunities.

Why
can’t the company that’s sponsoring the badge lanyards for your annual conference,
also buy a small ad on your blog? Chances are, you’ll be covering the event in
the blog, why not combine the two campaigns? If you can demonstrate the value
of advertising on your blog, sponsors will bite.

That value is measured in impressions or CPM (Cost Per Mille – cost of 1,000 impressions or ad views). So if your CPM is $15* and your ad was viewed 30,000 times in one month (again, your web team should be able to get this info pretty easily), the cost of an ad on your site should be around $450 ($15 x 30). Get 3 ads and you could potentially cover a decent chunk of your web budget for the entire year ($16,200). Not too shabby.

The key is to keep things unobtrusive. Members can be sensitive to ads and sponsorship. 3 small ads near the blog might be ok, 4 large ones might turn people off. Use the same discretion you employ during your conference and you’ll keep everyone happy.

Bottom Line
A blog won’t succeed without good writing and frequent posting. Get a plan in place that involves your members. Your site is competing with a billion other pages for their attention. A blog gives your members a reason to come back. It can also open up sponsorship opportunities, adding non-dues revenue.

*A $10-$25 CPM is a pretty standard rate for targeted online ad campaigns.
However, one could argue that an association’s audience is even more targeted than most websites,
and therefore demands a higher price.