Where do you get the biggest return for association marketing today – traditional or digital media?

I was sitting in a typical board meeting the other day and the conversation was about ways to market the association and its members. This board has set up a committee to look at social media options and how to best utilize social media to promote the members of the association. There was also a discussion about creating a magazine or pamphlets to promote the members of the association.

Ultimately the discussion drifted to the obvious question – Which is the way to go and how do you allocate the limited resources that most associations have?

The board realized that the option they choose needs to relate back to the association’s strategic plan. How best can the association achieve its strategic objectives based on the medium used to brand their message? For the purposes of this blog I will look at traditional versus digital media and only caveat I offer is that what you choose will depend on the needs of the strategic plan for your association.

Is Social Right For Your Association?

No matter which option you pursue you need to do some market research. For online marketing, start with the obvious question: Is your audience online?

I attended a session at the Canadian Society of Association Executive national conference entitled: “Forget Social Media: 20 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Invest a Penny In It”. The session premise was interesting because it was all about your level of commitment to digital media and the amount of resources you allocate to it.

Some of the things considered in the session were as follows:

  • There are over 590 social media platforms in the market place, which one/ones should you look at using?
  • Can you dedicate the resources required to make it valuable to the association to use?
  • Are you able to measure the activity online to determine if it is being effective? There are many measurement tools available and how you track the activity is important.
  • Does your organization have the time to do it?
  • Is it a chore for the person doing it and therefore won’t get done well or properly?
  • Do you have permission from your customers to market to them online (Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) considerations) See the blog https://strauss.ca/canadas-new-anti-spam-law-the-basics/
  • Do you have an online strategy with the resources to implement it and do you have the right people working on it?

Should You Go Old School?

Before the digital world became as popular as it is today traditional media was the primary way to market your association.

When looking at the comparison of social media to traditional media I found an interesting chart that compared the two mediums created by Angela Hausman (https://www.hausmanmarketingletter.com/16-differences-between-social-media-and-traditional-media/) It does a good job summarizing the differences between the two options and would give your association a lot to consider when looking at the best ways to market your profession.

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Social Media

Two-way conversation

Open system


One-on-one marketing

About you

Brand and User-generated Content

Authentic content

FREE platform

Metric: Engagement

Actors: Users/ Influencers

Community decision-making

Unstructured communication

Real time creation

Bottom-up strategy

Informal language

Active involvement


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Traditional Media

One-way conversation

Closed system


Mass marketing

About ME

Professional content

Polished content

Paid platform

Metric: Reach/ frequency


Economic decision-making

Controlled communication


Top-down strategy

Formal language

Passive involvement


Should the Solution Be A Blend?

As you can see, there are benefits to both advertising mediums and either or both options could benefit your association in promoting your brand and messaging. The research done will be important in selecting the mediums that best target your audience.

There Is No Universally Correct Answer.

As mentioned previously, how you approach marketing your profession will clearly relate back to your strategic goals and objectives and the types of resources (financial and human) you are able to dedicate to the project. Whichever medium (or blend of media) you choose, know that resources will definitely need to be allocated and a plan with a clear set of goals will need to be developed.