At first glance, content marketing for associations appears simple. It includes words on pages, white papers, blogs, and social media posts. No big deal, right? 

Turns out content marketing is more than an editorial calendar laid out on a spreadsheet or a blog on your website.

If your association doesn’t have a content marketing strategy and a plan to implement it, then what’s the purpose of your content? 

two people browsing social media posts

We’ll tell you how to create an association content strategy and some secrets for successfully executing it. First, let’s get clear on our definition of content marketing. 

It seems like everyone has their definition of what content marketing is and what it entails. We’d like to clear up any confusion.

We like the definition of content marketing given by the Content Marketing Institute and think it applies to associations.

A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

Content Marketing Institute

So you see, content marketing is a tool to reach your target audience and get them to take action. Everything that you create and distribute should have a purpose. To implement your content marketing strategy, you need a flexible and scalable approach.

Here are 6 secrets to success for your content marketing:

1. Write down your strategy and plan

coffee while writing my content strategy

Let’s start at the beginning. When your organization sets out to create a marketing plan, building in a content strategy is a critical step.

A content marketing strategy is the why behind your content. Like anything else in life, it’s not official until you have it written down on paper.

Over 60% of content marketers still say they do not have a documented content strategy. Yet, those who do have a content marketing strategy consistently rate their efforts as far more successful than those who don’t according to the Content Marketing Institute, 2019. The data is clear. Those who are successful have a documented strategy and their content marketing efforts are clear. 

Content strategy is the roadmap toward the goals you want to achieve with your content – each piece should contribute towards the overall vision, whether that’s to promote your association, educate your audience, or both. In turn, your content strategy should feed into your overarching marketing plan.

Heather Kenny
Content Strategist at www.heatherkenny.com

A strategy is the “why” behind something. A content marketing plan is a way you go about executing the why. Your content marketing plan should include your strategic vision, along with your goals and tactics.

The content you create should be working to achieve your organization’s top priorities. So your plan should also describe your organization’s overarching goals. If you haven’t already, create a content marketing strategy and plan for your association. Next, make it official by documenting it and sharing it with people in your organization.

2. Pick the right tools

tools to help write and develop association content marketing plan

Tools make tasks more manageable. As you begin to develop your content marketing strategy and plan, think through the tools that will make it easier to execute. 

Have you ever heard of Canva, Evernote, or Click Funnels? These are just a few content marketing resource examples.  

Marketing guru, Neil Patel, has a comprehensive list of content marketing tools that will help you carry out your plan. There may be some you have never heard of until now.

What’s the number #1 tool? Blogs! Blogs are the best tool associations have in the toolkit for content marketing. They are cost-effective and easy to do yourself or outsource. 

You will need tools to help research, analyze, create, distribute, measure, and execute your overall plan. Investing in resources to conduct your strategy will set you up for success. And if you don’t have the capacity, ask an agency to help. We are here to guide you.

Digital marketing made easy. Turn your website into an engine for online success. For associations exclusively.

3. Identify your audience

four content strategy audience profiles

When you are creating your content marketing strategy and plan, remember to have your audience in mind. Your audience will determine the content and the platforms you distribute on. 

Identify groups of members with similar motivations. Grouping your members will help you to understand what content will engage members and what they would be interested in reading.

What connects them? Do they have common interests? What are the largest categories of your members?

As you segment, look beyond the obvious of workplace, industry, field, and job title—for example, members who have kids and also work from home. See where you can identify the cross-sections of your members and layer different criteria. 

When you’ve identified your audience and have segmented them properly, you can start to create buyer personas.

Personas are detailed descriptions of the characterization of your members, packaged into a fictitious person. These personas have the same goals and behaviors as your audience. 

For instance, one of your personas could be named Joe. Joe could be a marketing executive who gets his daily news and inspiration from a few online sources he trusts. He could consume information on his mobile device because he’s a parent who is often working whenever he can, in between shuttling his kids to soccer games and band practices. 

Craft a story and a background for your association’s personas like Joe. The more real they are, the more effective your content will be.

When coming up with user personas, a good rule of thumb is to avoid using your real members’ names and any internal jargon. Use language your audience would use.

Personas help you walk in your members’ shoes because, after all, you are not the end consumer of your content. Joe is. And things look different to you and your staff than they do to Joe.

4. Use your channels strategically

content marketing cloud featuring social media icons with a bulb in the middle

It’s easy to perceive all social media platforms as the same. They all use photos/graphics and words to connect people and help people to share ideas and news across the Internet. 

Each social media platform has its unique twist on its capabilities and best uses. Audiences who engage in these social media platforms have different expectations for each one. 

By creating large pieces of digital content, you can take the same ideas but package them differently for each unique channel. Some content is better suited for one platform over another. 

Here are some ideas from Entrepreneur.com on what to post to each channel: 

Facebook: videos and blogs

Instagram: photos, quotes, and stories 

Twitter: news, blogs, and GIFS 

LinkedIn: jobs, company news, and industry related content 

Pinterest: Infographics and instructional guides 

Your content marketing plan should include which pieces of content go to specific channels. For example, blog posts go to Facebook, and PR related content and news goes to LinkedIn.

Create a clear outline so that any staff member could take over your social media and content marketing and know what to do. 

Be strategic with how you distribute your content on each social media platform. And make sure to include this information in your overall plan.

5. The biggest secret: borrow ideas

three sticky notes with the words borrow ideas for association content marketing

Brainstorming quality content that solves the audience’s most significant pain point and has a twist is a challenge. 

After you’ve run through all your top of mind ideas, it’s challenging to keep up with the pace and creativity. One of Picasso’s famous quotes is “good artists borrow, great artists steal.”  

There’s nothing genuinely new and innovative anymore. Everything is either replicated or builds on an idea that someone else had.  

It’s okay to borrow or steal ideas – just don’t take them word-for-word. Put someone else’s ideas into your own words. Borrow from a collection of sources and put your spin on it. Or give credit to the originator or creator, and add your commentary.

We borrow ideas from our educational content. It’s an easy way for our association to generate more content. This also bolsters a speaker’s profile and the organization’s credibility.

Lidia Varesco Racoma
Board Liaison to Marketing & Communications Committee at Association of Consultants to Nonprofits

If you need ideas, see how your competitors are using their social media channels. Either mimic what they are doing or diverge from the pack, whichever is more strategic for your association’s content marketing plan. 

If you find yourself staring at a blank page, go to well-known sites like Forbes or Inc. for inspiration or get up and doing something else. Sometimes magnificent ideas and metaphors come from your own life and can be applied in a unique way to your content.

6. Don’t forget about SEO

laptop screen showing Google Search Console with two browser screens above it

A vital piece of the overall strategy for content marketing – new and existing content – is to make sure you don’t forget about optimization. Lean on your SEO team and make sure they are part of the process. Every piece of content should be checked and have a thorough audit by the search team.

For the various types of content used in your association’s content marketing plan, you should always select your target keyword. Remember just pick one keyphrase for high-performing search engine optimization!

Your search team can optimize the post with an on-page SEO checker and ensure its technically sound using the basic tenets of technical SEO – internal related links (IRL), meta tags, title tags, H1 tags, etc.Getting SEO for associations dialed in for every post is an essential part of the puzzle for success.

Successful Content Marketing for Associations 

Content marketing is an asset to associations. It’s an affordable way to build your presence and establish member value and high member engagement.

Before you start creating content, you need a strategy. A content marketing strategy informs your plan. And your plan will lay out the path to making it a reality. 

Remember to keep your audience at the center of your content by clearly identifying who is consuming it. And make it fresh on each social media channel. 

Content marketing is a long game, not a short game. When you inevitably run out of ideas, don’t be shy about borrowing from someone else. Creating great content doesn’t have to be complicated. 

It’s never too late to get started with your content marketing or revisit it. Start today, and be consistent. A year from now, you’ll see the results from the efforts you’ve made.


Written by

Zachary Wilson

I enjoy reading & writing about the web and digital marketing. My day-to-day focuses on ensuring our clients have big wins. That begins with extraordinary website design and UX. The real exciting stuff is helping develop strategies to drive traffic (on-site page optimization) and help conversion rate optimization (getting new sales and / or customers). With all my “other” time, I enjoy exploring new adventures with my 3 daughters and wife.