Cultivating engagement: beyond consuming content

I'm excited you're reading this (really, I am).  Associations are no doubt excited when members consume the content they create for their blogs, magazines, newsletters, et al.

But is mere consumption the metric to which we aspire?  Engaging people in reading what we write is better than nothing at all, but shouldn't we be trying to move beyond mere consumption?

Current efforts primarily focus on repurposing content from one source (i.e., magazine article) and republishing it in another (i.e., blog).  But neither of those efforts (nor many others in which most organizations seem to engage) try to ensure that people actually understand and apply the content in their work and are better off for doing so. 

Too often association content delivery is stalled in one-way push communications instead of creating inviting and interactive conversations.  We treat print content as a communication tool instead of a learning medium.  While it's great that you have the opportunity to rate or comment on many online articles, those efforts are really the bare minimum of what we could be doing.

Here are a few simple experiments you could try to engage more people in both content consumption, but more importantly, conversation and application.

Increasing consumption
  • A lot of people still find audiobooks to be a useful format for "reading."  Why not record some of your featured content in audio form?  Using the power of speech (intonation, tone, rhythm, pace) could make content more interesting and insightful.
  • Where's your equivalent of the Sunday morning political talk shows where thought leaders review the week's happenings and discuss their potential implications?  Creating a weekly program might be too resource-intensive, so start with a quarterly or monthly experiment conducted in audio or video chat format. 
Increasing application
  • Pick a piece of content (say a thought-provoking blog post) and then create multiple connection and conversation opportunities to discuss it:  Twitter chat, audioconference, or an author-moderated discussion in the comments section on Facebook, LinkedIn, or your blogThe goal isn't necessarily to test which conversation forum people find most attractive, but to increase the number of people engaged in actual conversation about the content across multiple platforms.
  • For a major publication like your monthly magazine, consider offering a regularly scheduled Google hangout or audioconference for facilitated conversation about each issue's content.  Editorial staff could lead these conversations or you could invite members (whom you train) to rotate in and out as facilitators for different segments.  A Google hangout could be an excellent forum to discuss or debate a challenging question or issue your publications are addressing.
  • Create a simple survey form (or a phone-in feedback voice mailbox people can call) with two fill-in-the-blank opportunities that you can use to assess people's takeaways from one of your content efforts.  This could be for any of your publications, but I'd probably test this using conference content first.  People's responses can then be spotlighted in your other communication vehicles to illustrate possible applications for the content you've created.
  • What I learned (biggest takeaway):_______________________.
  • How I will apply it:_________________.
While association staff could certainly manage all of these efforts, each also represents a potential volunteer contribution opportunity.  And if your members don't know how to use these different communication platforms, you now have a professional development opportunity to offer them as well.

The bottom line is that we need to aspire to more than just engaging eyeballs.  Consuming content is a necessary, but insufficient engagement metric when what we really aspire to is having people understand, explore, and apply the information.  To do so, place some little bets to learn how you can best shift from consumption to conversation and connection.

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