Many associations and nonprofits have arrived at the question: do we go fully digital with our marketing and communications. Maybe your organization runs in person events and meetings, or you want to be more green, or if you’ve had a particularly tight year budget wise, making the leap from print to digital can be a compelling option beckoning your board or operations staff.
I’ve done this transition with three different organizations, and each time it’s been a slightly different result as well as adoption. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider your next steps:
1) What is your current strategy and why are you doing it that way?
Why and how do we market/communicate with our membership and community the way that we do? Take some time and figure out the strategic organizational insights since so much of adoption depends on your participants as well as your organizational readiness: like (but definitely not limited to), where does your organization’s current strategy sit as far as “touching” your membership and community for marketing and communications (frequency, channel, engagement ROI, etc); where does your staff’s comfort level sit in working with new and shiny tools?
2) What insights do you have on your participant or customer habits?
If you do a big event or an annual membership survey, use the evaluation to ask specific questions about how they want to get their information (magazine, website, app, newsletters, emails, etc). Also ask, how are they currently consuming information. The responses should give you some basic insights on what their habits are, as well as their ideal habits .The answers you get back won’t tell you everything, but it will definitely give you more data to help make a decision on whether or not your strategic intentions will at least align with where your audience is living and playing.
3) Do a total cost comparison
If your strategy is in place and your customers seem to be open to the idea, look to cost of doing digital business. And it’s not just hard money; you’re making a potential change which means you’ll could see reverb in your audience as you work it all out. Make certain people who watch the bottom line know that you’ve taken into consideration of what the costs (such as lost revenue or advertising) could potentially mean as you make the switch. I’ve seen the best long-term adoption when we’ve done a blended approach, which means doing both print and digital until you hit the tipping point of complete adoption, which means you’ll have to also think through your integrated marketing and communications approach since your channel strategy will now have redundancies (for example, you’ve printed that great promo post card and then your speaker or venue changes, but your app is still up to date, and your customer is left wondering, which information is the most correct?).
For hard costs, examine options for all of the tools and systems you’ll need to support during the transition, as well as counting in the investment for training, deployment, and maintenance. With almost any digital component, there are cost savings that can add some dollars back in. For instance, you can also do packages if you do a global sales AV approach and use a vendor like PSAV or Freeman. We’ve negotiated signing bonuses as well as complimentary iPads to help promote our mobile app usage. There are also some of the digital magazine publishers who build in bulk discounts, especially if you’re pairing it with any remaining print you might still be doing.
But going back to the spending of the money: if you’re thinking of going from print to digital with an event you run, don’t forget to figure in the cost of wifi. If your program is completely dependent on the internet gods, you need to have a back-up plan in case the venue network can’t effectively handle the multiple users, heavy traffic, and multiple days of usage. If you run an event where you anticipate users with more than 2 devices and especially if you run a big show (2k plus or with a large exhibit hall), get a network manager to watch the bandwidth and help troubleshoot. You’ll also likely need to budget for more dedicated hard lines for your other things that use a lot of internet.
If you’re tipping your print pieces, like your magazine, conference guides, or books, think through your staff time as well that you might be increasing (think who’s going to add all of those hot links to your clickable links in the digital edition) that your outsourced graphic design team just took care of, or how mobile responsiveness might play a role in usability, or you need interactivity, how much will cost to add good video or audio?
Finally, it’s not just the initial purchase. Technology changes faster than ever (seriously, I just bought the Apple iPhone 5s and now there’s an Apple iPhone 6). Think through initial purchase, maintenance, customization, and upgrades. Be a pessimist and also think through, what happens if it doesn’t work, what’s our backup plan?
4) Get recommendations, then purchase
I’ve used some amazing vendors and I’ve had some not so amazing vendors. Ask your friends, colleagues, and people whose online presence you admire who they used to get the real scoop. Your RFP process (check out TechSoup’s great advice on how to run an RFP process and a sample RFP, which you can use as much of or as little of depending on needs) should help you outline the hard cold pros and cons of a tool. However, having a trusted colleague or fellow planner make the “are you kidding me face” is well worth the conversation if it saves you from making a costly technology decision.
5) Get everyone on board internally and then over communicate about it
I know. I’m always harping about communication, but really, when you’re changing things up, you can’t talk about it enough. People fear what they don’t understand. You have to make them feel as safe as possible to ask questions. This means outlining a clear plan for training people on how to use the new tools, then talking about the changes and how it’s going to be amazing (and look, there’s training!) and then talking some more.
Put information out in multiple ways and with multiple spokespeople endorsing and demonstrating how much they like the new. Depending on the age range of your customer base, membership, AND/OR your leadership (because if they make this face when asked how it’s going, you might have some trouble), apps and online programs don’t feel as comfortable as something that they can feel and touch. Don’t forget, you need to bring them on board and if they’re game, ask your influencers to be part of the communication plan that helps participants understand how best to use these shiny new tools.
5) Give it time
Really, my recommendation is two to three years to really make the full adoption if it’s something where you interact with your community one or twice a year. If it’s collateral that delivers more frequently, then that timeline definitely accelerates, but you still shouldn’t rush it. Change can be hard initially. Your audience is learning a new consumption skill, and you need to ensure that you build in that feedback mechanism as well as ongoing training for the new systems in so that they can get their good, bad, and hopefully constructive criticism thoughts out to help you continue making your new digital product(s) better. You should also be prepared to keep your internal people’s expectations low so that when/if something doesn’t go as well as you hope, you have systems in place to continue to make it better.
Going digital is hot, but remember, like with any change, it has to fit for your people. Take the time to figure out your best plan of attack and you’ll be well rewarded in the long term.