4 Tips to Strengthen Your Digital Engagement Strategy

Aug 15, 2017, 12:21 PM by David McMillin

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Like most member-based organizations, the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) works to unite its audience in a face-to-face environment at one big gathering each year. But Brian Summers, CAE, vice president of content management and education at CFMA, told PCMA in a recent interview that the organization faces the same challenge that affects plenty of its peers: The majority of its members can’t attend the Annual Conference. “Approximately 10 percent of our membership comes to the conference,” Summers said. “The other face-to-face delivery method [we] utilized was our chapter network, where approximately 20 percent of our chapters utilized CFMA programming that was made available to them. About five years ago, [CFMA HQ] started doing online versions of our programming to try to deliver education to everyone.”

Fast forward to 2017, and CFMA has developed a robust digital content calendar that includes 12 to 14 webinars per year, 10 to 12 intensive online courses, and an online Connection Café where the association’s 8,000-plus members can discuss trends and issues. With 95 chapters across the U.S. and Canada, CFMA has a unique structure; each chapter is a separate entity with a separate board of directors. Summers and his team have leveraged the network to extend CFMA’s reach and maximize the value of the content captured at the Annual Conference.

If you’re refining your approach to online engagement, consider these four valuable lessons from CFMA’s approach to navigating the digital landscape.

1) Turn Attendees Into Content Curators.

The CFMA Annual Conference offers face-to-face attendees approximately 60 educational sessions across six tracks, and Summers aims to make sure that the 7,200 members who aren’t there have opportunities to gain some of that on-site knowledge. Rather than having a staff member review all the material after the conference ends, CFMA assigns a liaison to each speaker to offer tips on tailoring the presentation to the audience. Once the presentation day arrives, the liaison continues his or her work, attending the session to determine how the content should be repurposed. “The liaisons are part of a task force, and we trust them to be an extension of our team,” Summers said. “They rate the session on a number of factors, and they recommend what to do with the recorded content after the conference is over.”

Some sessions might turn into CFMA magazine articles. Others might make good inspiration for webinars. “It all depends on the interest of the topic,” Summers said, “and what the liaison thinks will serve membership best.”

2) Unite Discussion Groups Around Digital Recordings.

While CFMA members can access webinars and online courses from the comfort of their own screens, the association recently launched a new blended learning program that aims to bring them together in small groups for a different viewing experience with somewhere between 15 and 40 local attendees. “A chapter can tell [CFMA HQ] that they want to present a recording to their own chapter audience, and they secure a local expert to answer questions,” Summers said. “We’ll help them coordinate this effort.”

Summers said that CFMA has hosted three blended programs so far. “Attendees like the ability to have a lively conversation,” he said. “The program might be 90 minutes, and the speaker will stop the recorded session at times to answer questions and encourage discussion.”

3) Don’t Be Afraid to Buck the Trend.

As Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a range of other well-established digital players unveil new tools for live streaming, consuming content in real time is all the rage. However, Summers said that the CFMA audience isn’t quite there on live streaming. “We did three years of live streaming various sessions from our Annual Conference, but we just couldn’t get the volume to justify the expense,” Summers said. “Our members don’t seem to demand the live access.”

Summers said he is considering trying live streaming again, but for now, he is focused on empowering the chapters. “We have a speaker recommendation program where we pick five to seven of the top-rated conference speakers and promote them to the chapter network,” Summers said. “We’re trying to find a way to help our chapters do more of their own webinars, too.”

4) The Team Behind the Scenes Makes All the Difference.

Summers highlighted that collaboration is key to CFMA’s success. As the association has expanded its content offerings and connected with more members, Summers pointed to his team for their commitment to delivering high-quality education and customer service: “Ariel Sanchirico, director of online learning; Sue Madden, administrative assistant, education; Mike Elek, project coordinator; and Elizabeth Lachowicz, recently hired as an instructional designer; and Fern Oram, director of content marketing and communications.

These individuals are unique to CFMA’s team, but Summers’ philosophy applies to any organization working to attract any kind of audience. “Without the right people who have the right focus,” Summers said, “you will not achieve your goals.”

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