If only one person had a phone, would it be valuable? Hardly – who could you call? The technology only became more valuable as it was popularized. The strength of a network is based upon the number of connections that it includes. When it comes to health associations, the same principle applies.

The strength of a network is based upon the number of connections that it includes. When it comes to health associations, the same principle applies.Click To Tweet

Whether it’s your formal partnerships, your audience touchpoints or your relationship to current trends, these connections are everything. They impact your visibility, your funding, your success. Your association can’t afford to live in a silo.

To be truly beneficial, however, relationships must be rooted in strategy. Connections come in many shapes and forms, and it’s important to evaluate every partner, every piece of content and every potential trend to make sure it’s moving your association in the right direction and providing value. When going through this process, there are a few key tips to keep in mind:

Connections to other organizations

Associations need partnerships, but not just any partner will do. A relationship with an organization that doesn’t match your values could leave your message muddled and your audience confused.

We often talk about “mutuality of mission,” the common goal shared by industry and health associations. For a partnership to be impactful and have long-term potential, partners should share stakeholder groups and agree upon an approach to move them to action.  For instance, the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) has a longstanding partnership with Major League Baseball to raise funds for prostate cancer research through its annual Home Run Challenge.  For PCF, it’s a way to reach middle-aged and senior men.  For Major League Baseball, it’s about demonstrating a commitment to keeping the men in our lives (their fans) healthy.

When seeking a partner, health associations should conduct an audit of potential organizations, assessing their reputation, stakeholder groups, opportunities to reach stakeholders, and ways that they have supported this mission in the past (volunteerism, donations, other partnerships, advocacy). The key is identifying a partner that helps reach your current target audience or a new target and understanding that they will expect the same from your organization.

Connections to current trends 

Tying your association to timely trends can keep you relevant and part of relevant conversations, but only if the connection is believable for your organization. It’s tempting to jump in on any and all trends you see gaining steam, but misguided “newsjacking” is never effective nor fruitful.

Make sure any trends you link to your association actually make sense. Ask yourself:

  • Does this trend align with our mission?
  • Does it help strengthen our message?
  • Does it impact our audience?
  • Is it a true shift in the industry or just a fad?

Found the perfect trend for your association? Pick a strategic spokesperson to lead the conversation. That could mean a member of your board or an industry thought leader who can advocate for your cause and resonate with your audience. Take the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids for example. For The Medicine Abuse Project, which launched in 2012 and addressed the opioid abuse epidemic, it tapped into industry leaders such as Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Leveraging industry leaders adds credibility, interest, and makes your message more mediagenic.

Connections to your audience

Every piece of content is an opportunity to connect with your audience. You can’t afford to waste a single one – especially when you’re working with limited resources.

From whitepapers to infographics to e-newsletters, all content should provide value to your target audience. If a touchpoint with your audience doesn’t reinforce your message, your mission or your impact, it’s not worth your time. And don’t forget, strategic content contributes something new to the conversation and provides an opportunity to bridge to your organization’s key messages.  

Where you connect with your audience also matters. Getting your research published in a top-tier outlet means nothing if your audience doesn’t read it. Your approach should be rooted in data – conduct surveys to understand where your audience gets information, and tailor your communications accordingly.

Expand the impact

Once you’ve decided a connection makes strategic sense for your association, figure out how it plays out in the short and long term. Work on parallel tracks to figure out the quick wins from your new partnership or piece of content, while also laying down a plan for long-term impact.

Associations with a strong mission and dedicated team should be able to get by – but strong relationships and smart connections will elevate you to the next level. This is your competitive edge; invest in connections so that your organization can thrive.

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