On January 3, 1996, Bill Gates published an essay titled “Content Is King,” which revolutionized the way marketers think about the internet. Summarily, Gates posits the following: If content published on the internet is good, quality content, an audience will consume it, and it can eventually be monetized.

During this week’s Abila User and Development Conference (AUDC 2017), Amanda Myers, Abila’s Director of Member Strategy, presented the findings from a recent Member Professional Development Study which, more than 10 years later, confirms what Gates predicted – content is still king for consumers.

In fact, when it comes to their continuing education, price, convenience, and presenter are all trumped by the quality of the content, with 60 percent of respondents reporting it as the primary driver for deciding to enroll in a course. As an association, you are in a unique position to capitalize on the wealth of industry knowledge and expertise you possess.

With retention remaining relatively flat and new member acquisition accounting for small growth year over year, professional development and training present alternative revenue sources for associations. Harvard Business Review estimates $160 million is spent annually on continuing education. Many associations have already jumped on the CE bandwagon and report professional development programs account for 42 percent of their annual revenue.

Myers presented some compelling reasons why associations should consider offering continuing education and sticky programming for associations. Abila’s research shows members rate the courses they took from a professional member organization more highly (84 percent rated “excellent” or “very good”) than classes they took from an alternative source, such as their employer (77 percent). Millennials, who now comprise the largest demographic in the workforce, are more likely to look to their employer for continuing education (56 percent), but they’re not as satisfied with the content. Myers suggests marketing your competitive advantage to industry employers to benefit from this trend.

Before embarking on a new continuing education venture, be sure to survey your members and get a pulse on what resonates with professionals in your industry. While 60 percent of members are looking to their organization for CE needs, they’re also more likely to go other places as well, with 29 percent of respondents reporting they look to their organization and at least one other source. However, of 40 percent of professionals who aren’t going to the organization to which they belong, more than half of them are only using a single source. Are they going to a competing organization? Is your content not as good? Are you even offering the content they need?

Myers suggests asking yourself three key questions about your professional development content:

  1. Can members use this information immediately? Forty-eight percent of members surveyed say they are seeking practical skills they can use straight out of the classroom. If you’re looking to attract younger members, the practicality is even more important with 67 percent of Millennials reporting their primary motivation for taking a course is to learn a new skill.
  2. Which members are we targeting and how will it benefit them? In Abila’s Member Engagement Study, released in June 2016, continuing education and/or credentials ranked in the top three benefits members value from the organization to which they belong. One size does not fill all for what types of education and how members prefer to consume it. While in-person classes remain the preferred method across generational groups (86 percent), convenience and access to certain types of content online or on mobile devices is a key component for things like nano-learning and “just in time learning.” Look at member data and deliver targeted content about your continuing education offerings based on demographics and the preferences they’ve already self-identified for you and is living in your association management system (AMS).
  3. Can they use the content to grow professionally? Many of your members are likely lifelong learners and love consuming all the knowledge they can get their hands on. But if we’re talking “pay to play,” as is the case with most professional development courses, help your members better themselves and build their resume. If your association is struggling to attract younger members, like most associations, this point cannot be understated.

Hungry for more? Join Amanda Myers on Wednesday, April 26 at 2 p.m. ET for the webinar, “Knowledge Is Power: Association Education Trends,” where she’ll take a deep dive into the Member Professional Development Study – you’ll earn one hour of CAE credit just for tuning in.