12 Digital Marketing Channels for Your Association’s Education Programs

Everyone’s life has changed to some extent in the past nine months. You’ve probably changed how you market your association’s education programs too. But, in case you haven’t, we’re here to gently nudge you in that direction and encourage you to experiment with new digital marketing channels.

Your members, attendees, learners and prospects have changed many of their habits. Work and home lives are nothing like before. Some are working from home instead of the office. They’re more distracted by the chaos surrounding them or within view. They have less time and attention for your news and promotions.

As the year’s end approaches, it’s a good time to reassess the marketing tactics and channels you’re using, and to explore new ones.

But first…

Measure what’s working now to attract people to your educational programs and conferences because it might be different than what was working before the pandemic. Identify the digital channels that are driving people to your website. Make it a 2021 goal to become more familiar with Google Analytics—these resources shared by Mighty Citizen at ASAE TEC can help.

Make a plan to capture data that will help you understand interests and needs. Encourage members and prospects to update their profile or gather additional information on forms for lead magnets, such as tip sheets or ebooks.

Digital marketing channels for education programs

If traditional marketing channels still bring in lots of qualified leads, there’s no reason to abandon them. But, according to the 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General Inc. (MGI), an increasing number of associations are using paid digital advertising too.

As one MGI survey participant said, “Paid digital advertising is no longer optional.” 50% of associations use paid digital marketing for their annual conference/trade show, 37% use it for professional development programs and 19% for webinars.

If you want to learn more about any of the digital marketing channels described below, check out YouTube for free training tutorials.

digital marketing channels

#1: Social media

According to the 2020 Association Communications Benchmarking Report from Naylor Association Solutions, 90% of associations said social media is one of the most effective channels for driving traffic to their website.

Although many associations use social media to promote programs, people are more likely to read, share and click on updates that are informative rather than promotional. For example, share a news item with a link to a related online course, or link to a blog post interview with a conference speaker.

MGI found that 46% of associations use Facebook paid advertising and 22% use LinkedIn paid advertising. You can target ads to specific audiences using the platform’s data and/or upload your own data.

#2: Email

Email rivals social media as the top marketing channel in the Naylor survey, coming in second with 89% of associations. We won’t go into email marketing strategies here because others in the association space cover that topic more extensively, such as HighRoad Solutions, Higher Logic, Mighty Citizen, MGI and Naylor.

#3: “Related content”

When you get a prospect’s attention, don’t let it go. Give them a few suggestions for “related content” so they’ll stay on your site longer—perhaps long enough to register for a program. Refer readers to related content found on your website, for example, newsletter articles, discussion groups, education programs and conference recordings.

#4: House media and earned media

Take advantage of content marketing opportunities provided by in-house media, such as blog posts and newsletter articles. Contribute informational content related to upcoming education programs—with a mere mention of (and link to) the program in the article.

Pitch similar content to industry publications. Start with existing partners—industry press whom you usually invite to your conferences and allied organizations.

#5: Sponsored content/native advertising

If you can’t get industry publications to write about your conference or course, see if you can pay them to do it, in other words, see if they will accept sponsored content (native advertising).

Sponsored content could be an article about new research or hot industry topics—content that’s related to a specific educational program or conference track that you’ll mention in the article.

#6: Podcasts

If your association hosts a podcast, feature interviews with upcoming conference speakers, or episodes discussing content related to other education programs and courses, like in-demand skills and industry developments.

Sponsor episodes on popular industry podcasts. These advertisements, usually read by the podcast host, are more personalized and compelling than the usual promotional copy.

#7: Webinars

Webinars are effective lead generation tools for deeper dives provided by online courses and certificate programs.

digital marketing channels

#8: Search engine optimization

According to the Naylor report, only 39% of associations take advantage of search engine optimization (SEO). Ernie Smith at Associations Now said, “In a world where search engines are often the main window to commerce, SEO matters a bit more than ever.” Yes, indeed.

SEO has two components: website functionality, such as load time and mobile responsiveness, and on-page elements, such as keywords and readability. Once again, YouTube is your friend if you need SEO training.

#9: Online advertising

Don’t forget about display or video house ads—advertisements on your association’s newsletters and website. MGI found that 21% of associations also place banner ads on other industry websites.

#10: Search engine marketing

You can place text ads at the top of a search engine results page. These ads are sold on the pay-per-click (PPC) model, which means you only pay when someone clicks on one of them.

MGI said only 17% of associations take advantage of this prime real estate. They helped an association client turn $10,000 in paid search marketing into more than $100,000 in revenue.

#11: Programmatic advertising

This type of advertising goes by a few names: remarketing, retargeting and programmatic advertising. It’s called “programmatic” because a software program, not people, automatically purchases and displays the ads on websites and Facebook.

If a prospect looks at a page on your website, for example, a virtual conference schedule, unbeknownst to them, a retargeting code (tracking pixel) on that page drops a cookie onto their browser. When they travel around the web, sites detect the cookie and display an ad for your virtual conference, maybe even with a promo code to spur a purchase.

Per the MGI and Naylor reports, 27-31% of associations use retargeting or programmatic advertising. AdRoll and Google run programmatic advertising on websites, and Facebook runs them on its own platform.

You can also use programmatic advertising for search keywords and lookalike audiences—this article from Feathr explains how.

Think about retargeting possibilities for:

•    Virtual conferences
•    Virtual exhibitor information
•    Webinars
•    Micro-credentialing or certificate programs
•    Online courses
•    Certification prep programs

For each retargeting code, you create a unique targeted ad that persuades the prospect to return to your website to learn more, request more information or register.

Brandon Williams at Naylor said, “Programmatic advertising can free up some of the traditional member communication real estate the association’s marketing team would typically use to promote all this activity. It can provide an alternative to emails, website-based announcements, or direct mail communication.”

#12: Texting

Keep texting on your radar. The technology has been around a while but we haven’t seen it used much except for reminders about registration deadlines. Texts do have a higher open rate than emails but require opt-ins and careful handling.

Make a promise to yourself to not market the same old way in 2021. Experiment with some of these digital marketing channels. Test, measure, tweak and test again—a never-ending process that leads to marketing success.


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