News and Insights


May 12, 2020


We assigned a Finn Partners team to audit key web pages and the social media activity of 15 of the largest US professional and trade associations. Most of what we benchmarked were Covid-19 related communications, social content and the volume of virtual events/educational programs. The idea behind our audit was to take stock of communications in the moment and help one association learn from another to see what’s happening now and what comes next. Here’s what we found.

Covid-19 dominates homes pages

This was no surprise. 100% of the 15 association sites we looked at prominently featured Covid-19 information or resources on the home page. Close to 85% were completely overtaken by Covid. Stating the obvious: Covid dominates association front page news. Some are playing it factual, others are taking a more personal, human approach—like the National Education Association. There’s no tonal wrong or right, yet we found the human element comforting.

Robust Covid Resource Centers Abound

85% of association sites have launched dedicated Coronavirus resource centers in the weeks since the pandemic took hold. Some are more robust than others with daily contributions of new content, others are a bit more static—this probably maps to the depth of content teams on staff. Some are rudimentary designs—even if easy to use (UX)—which is understandable since they were published so quickly, others are very well designed. With no end in site to the need for information on the current state and what comes next, associations should look to improve UX, searchability and forward thinking content in these resource centers.

From Reporting the News To Generating Member Driven Research

35% of the sites we audited have some form of original research based on member surveys, or they have a survey in process. We suspect associations will invest more in member-driven primary research on what comes next for members. They’ll pivot from reporting the news and sharing timely information to figuring out what the association can do to continue to advocate for and educate members. The National Restaurant Association and the American Nurses Association are two early movers with current research. We were particularly impressed by the ANA flash polls that capture member feelings at and in the moment.

Virtual Events

Live events for learning and networking have long been the backbone of association programming and revenues. In the now and for the foreseeable future, the importance of virtual events increases. Our audit reveals that roughly half of the associations reviewed are holding “virtual” events presently. More will follow. It is hard to judge whether these programs measure up to the networking value of live events. Clearly, the line between community building and online learning is blurred. The American Psychological Association does a bit of both with its practical, “Job Searching During the Pandemic and Beyond” program.


With education and/or professional advancement as part of their purpose and more members needing to learn and interact from a distance, each of the 15 audited associations appear to be positioned to help with virtual leaning. 100% currently offer programs online, some more than others. We expect more of this over the coming months and years. The American Bankers Association is one with an easy to use (good UX) training center. A “Teach Children to Save” offering is well-timed and went viral in late April. In that vein, the American Chemical Society offers a program on how to make digital or on line presentations better.

Social Media

To work toward closing the social distance gap, we see association accounts on platforms like Instagram abuzz with community building content. The Mortgage Bankers Association, SHRM and AARP deliver relevant and practical advice that speaks to the different needs of their members: home office, virtual meeting and cooking tips. This type of creative personalization is smart and is likely to accelerate. Relevance is key.


Summing up

The 15 organizations we sampled were selected to represent a broad swath of associations among the 50 largest in the US. While each association is unique, we see commonality in what we all need to do to engage, educate, inform and advocate for members. Here’s some fuel for thought:

Reaching member and delivering value from a distance is something we all need to do better. Digital transformation and improved CX are well-worn phrases. However, being better at understanding member needs with research and delivering against expectations of value with strong content and communications should rise to the top of association marketer to do lists.

The shift from the convention model to a constant year round engagement model will accelerate. We’re told by some association clients that upwards to 70% of association revenue can be earned in major live events. With those revenue streams at risk, the need for year round digital engagement becomes more pressing.

Forward-looking relevance and content is paramount. Associations are to be applauded for quickly standing up Covid-19 resource centers. Content that shifts from “we are in this together” to what are we going to do about it is the next frontier. Member surveys and digital demand mapping are key to helping members move forward.

Communications that speak to the head and the heart are more likely to resonate. Whether we’re close together in a physical ballroom or on a web platform, the content that earns and keeps our attention tends to be on point, respectful of people’s time, visual and well-packaged. Communications that balance fact-based delivery with the power of good, succinct storytelling tend to break through the clutter and get consumed, remembered and shared.

For more information on Finn’s brand, research, integrated marketing, content, pr, advertising and other work for 50+ Associations, please click here.

POSTED BY: Joe Walsh, Barry Reicherter

Joe Walsh Barry Reicherter