The Ups and Downs of Revamping Communications

Written by Angela McMillan on November 26, 2018

What is the aesthetic and overall experience that members have with your association? How do communications play into that experience? Do you need to shake it up?

At the Greater Kalamazoo Association of Realtors, we realized that while our meetings and services were of value to our members, we weren’t doing enough to make them exciting and engaging. By taking an experiential approach to our services, we were able to revamp what we already had, make some tweaks and (sometimes) see high engagement as a result.

In this ongoing revamping process, what worked and what didn’t? Below are some examples of communication experiments we have tried out to make our services and events pop.

Annual Meeting

At our annual meeting, we install our incoming leadership, recognize our existing and outgoing leadership, and recognize various members who have been active on committees or won awards. It’s the largest gathering of real estate professionals in our community and we wanted to make it an event to end the year with pride and celebrate all that we’ve achieved.

The revamp started with the program. What started out as a one-sheet, timed outline of the event schedule was turned into a keepsake item. We added pictures of our incoming leadership, their titles, offices and how long they’d been members. We provided bios and pictures of the current recipients of our REALTOR of the Year award, alongside a list of all our previous recipients. We listed all of our committee members, investors and business partner members, and the schedule for next year. It was designed in house and printed offsite to make a lovely hardcopy piece.

There were also several pages of photographs and collages of members. Our Facebook page indicated that members engaged with us most when they saw pictures of themselves doing association activities. They could flick through this brochure before the event began. Small things like this made such a huge difference to the experience of that event for our members.

Additionally, we hired professional emcees to better engage the audience and keep the program running smoothly. In the last two years, we added a recap video of program and event photos from throughout the year, and included interview-style videos of our board and committee chairs talking about what they love about being a REALTOR and/or being a member of the association. Finally, we have segmented our members into various groups so we can offer personalized, tailored invitations to attend the annual meeting. For example, we send hardcopy VIP invites for high-level donors, board members, committee members, and award recipients. We send tailored email messages for the remaining members, segmented by type of membership. This may sound complicated, but once the system is established you should be able to execute easily between your membership services person and communication department year after year. The return on your time is well worth it!

Policy Manual

Our association provides a multiple listing service for a real estate database that we oversee. Our members agreed to specific rules and regulations to use this service that lives in our association policy manual. It’s admittedly a very dry and boring document. Rates of violations were increasing every time we did an assessment.

As a communicator, that told me that the policy in its existing format was not being consumed. The content was valuable but the format was not engaging. How could we take this policy and revamp it into bite size pieces of content that will grab attention so members won’t be subject to fines and violations? Working with the head of that department, we developed nine different ways for our members to access this piece of content. It took two years.

First, we wanted to create a visually pleasing guide. The marketing department broke each section down into one to two sentences. In terms of graphics, we put light bulbs next to the things we wanted people to remember and warning signs next to the items that we see the most frequent violations on. It was all laid out in a beautiful and easy-to-read format, both digitally and physically.

Once we had the simplified version of the document, we broke it down further into one-page white papers for each policy. It was a text version set up like a guide with step-by-step instructions and screenshots of the system. Another method we used was the ever-popular video, creating ten clips under 2-minutes, featuring the head of department explaining the policy and giving specific examples of questions members might have about it.

We released those recently, and are seeing huge viewership and engagement so far. The first video got 200 views in a week and our members were sharing them on social media. Considering we have a membership of a thousand, it was gratifying to witness that instant response.

And The Blog That Never Was

I had the idea to start a blog for our members. The goal was to host it on our website, make it mobile responsive and available to anyone. It was an opportunity to take the guides and white papers created by our committee and making them easier to use by freshening them up and adding some graphics.

It took some time to create and we were excited to publish it. However, we quickly learned from early feedback from our members that they did not favor those resources being searchable and available outside of the association. We discussed it as staff and realized our members were right. This was their content that they created, and a blog was not achieving what we had hoped. They felt the value was being diluted. It was taken down and the white papers stayed on our intranet. This was a lesson in listening and letting go.

Angela spoke in the “Revamp to Revitalize and Grow” session during SURGE Optimism 2018, an interactive virtual conference hosted by on November 7th-9th. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.