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Members and other audiences need associations’ help managing the tsunami of information and misinformation coming at them.

Delivering carefully curated content will help associations be a vital partner, a trusted source of information that makes members’ lives easier, pointing them to what really matters, and providing the context necessary to help them make sense of their increasingly complex and challenging professional worlds.

Here are six best practices for content curation.

1. Stop trying to be Google.

Aggregating information is a form of curation, to be sure, but it is the least useful form and, as our interview with Carrie Hane and Dina Lewis highlighted, it is unfortunately often the starting and end point of association curation efforts.  (See the content curation maturity ladder diagram below.)

The core function of associations is to help the professions or industries we serve solve problems and achieve goals they can’t on their own. That’s why people associate in the first place – they’re trying to accomplish things they can’t do on their own.

Your association’s community is experiencing information overload in a time when it’s become increasingly difficult to assess the quality of that information due to the proliferation of sources and to the declining trust people have in traditional gatekeepers of information.

Piling on links to a bunch of stuff absent context isn’t going to help solve that problem. If your association really wants to get to the root of this for the people you serve, you are going to have to move beyond mere aggregation and use multiple methods to achieve distillation/museum-style curation.

Recognize that there are many sources of information out there that are at least as good – if not better than – what your association is providing.

That’s hard for associations to accept. We have a long history of being a, if not the, major source of information for the professions and industries we serve. Indeed, according to the 2019 Community Brands Member Engagement and Loyalty Study, industry information is still one of the top benefits members identify and is a key driver of retention (although, interestingly, association professionals think targeted content is far more important than members do).

However, with the advent of the open-access movement in scholarly journals, platforms like Google Scholar and Research Gate, limited metering and pay-for-only-the-article-you-want sites like Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review, and the ease with which industry influencers can create personal platforms on sites like Medium and Twitter, your members have ready access to expert information. In fact, perhaps too ready.

What that means in a practical sense is that when it’s time for your annual magazine/newsletter/blog/podcast focus on volunteer leadership, rather than writing another series of original articles on the topic, thus contributing to your members’ problems with information overload, seek out the five best pieces of information available on the topic in the past year from recognized experts, present them, and provide context. Explain to your members why these are the best five articles written in the past year, why these particular pieces matter to them, how they specifically impact and compliment your association’s particular volunteer structure and industry trends, why those particular individuals should care, and how those particular individuals can use the information contained to become better volunteer leaders in your community.

2. Curate and repurpose your own content.

Your audiences are looking to you for information about the profession or industry your association serves, and your association likely generates a lot of it, out of many different departments. That’s actually the problem: Silos. We guarantee that your association is generating more content than you know, sending it out to various segments of your community in ways that may not be particularly well-coordinated, and likely not reusing it effectively.

Repurposing your own content is all about matching the type or format of the content to the appropriate delivery mechanism (i.e., creating an infographic from the data shared in a research report, turning excerpts from a conference presentation into an e-book). Digital agency Mighty Citizen, borrowing from content guru Gary Vaynerchuk, recommends formalizing an approach where one piece of long-form content provides fodder for presenting pieces of that content in various shorter form versions and distributing those shorter pieces through a variety of channels.

3. Be member-centric, rather than association-centric.

This concept is discussed at length in the Spark/The Demand Networks monograph Leading Engagement from the Outside-In, but the key point is: Seek to view the world from your members’ perspective and focus on their most important goals and their most pressing problems, not on what the association’s own internal goals are. Or, as Distilled Logic’s Dina Lewis put it in our interview with her: “Associations should start with finding out what members need, then think about how to deliver and measure success.”

4. Hire and train for new skills.

The Institute for the Future’s Future Work Skills 2020 report groups 21st-century work skills into four main areas:

  • Personal skills: Resilience
  • People skills: Cross-Cultural Competency, Social Intelligence, Virtual Collaboration
  • Applied knowledge: Novel and Adaptive Thinking, Cognitive Load Management, Sense-Making
  • Workplace skills: New Media Literacy, Design Mindset, Transdisciplinarity, Computational Thinking

As you begin to transition your content staff from writing and editing to curating, context-providing, and sense-making, these are the types of knowledge, skills, and abilities you will need to nurture in them. To quote the IFTF report:

“As smart machines are used for more routine manufacturing and service jobs, there will be an increasing demand for the kinds of skills that machines do not perform well. These are higher-level cognitive skills that cannot be engineered into mechanical systems. We call these ‘sense-making skills’ or skills that help us to create unique insights that are critical to decision-making… while data-mining and other tools can be effective at finding…connections, they cannot effectively place these findings in context. It takes a human being to assemble data and correlations and then meaningfully translate them into rich stories that garner attention.”

5. Engage volunteers in new ways.

While the Baby Boom generation still provides numerically the most volunteers, GenXers volunteer at the highest rates (36 percent, versus 31 percent for Boomers and 28 percent for Millennials), and Millennials will be overtaking both groups soon.

As discussed in the Spark/Mariner Management monograph The Mission Driven Volunteer, due to both generational and life-stage issues, those Xers (and the upcoming Millennial and GenY generations) are interested in different kinds of volunteer opportunities than previous generations. GenXers, who are taking care of both school-age children and aging parents, need ad hoc, episodic, micro, and virtual volunteering opportunities. Meanwhile, Millennials and members of GenY are looking to hone specific, marketable skills in their volunteering.

Two quick activities for your volunteers:

  • Helping identify topics and trends
  • Creating create the “sense-making” stories that show why particular content matters. Members can use these to build their own resumes and professional reputations.

6. Climb the Ladder of Curation Maturity

The world in which associations communicate with members and other audiences has changed dramatically, and we need to change our internal communication goals and processes accordingly.

All associations are somewhere in the curation maturity ladder.

Start by identifying where you are today, and then move gradually up the maturity ladder. To spot when and how to proceed:

  1. Use the analytics from your existing communications
  2. Conduct member survey about what kinds of information your members want

Members’ information needs are changing quickly, so keep a close eye on your analytics, and revisit the approach every year.

Your association’s goal should be to provide value to your audiences by helping them make sense of information and their environment. Rather than being only writers or even editors, the communications department has to become the organization’s team of managing editors – setting the schedules, developing and enforcing style, making sure that the right people are disseminating and receiving the right information. They need to be editors-in-chief, planning, assigning and overseeing rather than doing.



Whitepaper Introduction

The Scope of the Problem

What Is Content Curation?

6 Best Practices for Associations’ Content Creation

CASE STUDY: Content Curation Is a Journey

INTERVIEW: The Role of Curation in Content Strategy

INTERVIEW: Using Artificial Intelligence to Power Curation

Questions for Reflection

Works Cited, and More Resources

About the Authors


Download the complete report (PDF, 530k)


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