As the nation continues to focus on the latest political meltdown in Washington this week, where the Federal government shutdown continues with no clear end in sight (at the time of writing), it’s got us thinking: when it comes to politics, what’s the best communications strategy for associations? Certainly, there are many associations that are very political, and even some that are flat-out partisan, in nature, and have no problem dealing with discussions of politics in their outbound communications with members, the press, or on social media channels. Other organizations are less overtly political in nature, and perhaps struggle with the best ways to address political news with their members. So what’s the best approach?

Using current events as a hook for communications is among the best practices out there for organizations looking for good blog/newsletter/social media topics (as an example, we’re doing it right now!). However, as everyone’s grandmother used to say: never discuss money, religion, or politics at the dinner table unless you want things to get dicey.

With that in mind, what are the best practices for communicating with your members about political events? What sorts of conversations are best left out of the equation to avoid controversy or feather ruffling? Read on for our tips.

Blogs and Newsletters – It’s easy to fall in a bit of a rut when dealing with association blogs, newsletters, and other outbound communications. While offering the latest news and events from within your industry is certainly crucial, highlighting current events and national news can add something extra to your usual topics, and serve as a useful hook to bring in new readers to your website (who then may stay and check out some of the other information or calls to action available there). When a major story breaks, you may want to take the time to cover it on your blog or weekly news roundup. If possible, also be sure to consider how the news impacts your members (look for more on that later in this post), and provide resources for them. For example, during election season, make sure you’re including information about voter registration among any election stories you include.

Use Social Channels, But Use Them Wisely – Obviously, if we’re interested in generating political feedback from association members, social media is an easy fit. Social platforms allow for a natural back and forth conversation about events—but as anyone with politically fired up friends on their personal Facebook pages can tell you, these types of conversations can also become too heated.

Particularly on blogs and on Facebook, where administrators have far more control over the conversation than on other channels, such as Twitter, using the moderation tools at your disposal should keep the discussions civil. The key to moderation is to use it wisely. Don’t delete any and all dissenting viewpoints, but do keep a keen eye out for those that are blatantly offensive, racist, threatening, or in other ways a violation of your established commenting guidelines.

Provide Useful Information – When national events have the ability to impact wide swaths of your membership, this is where associations can truly prove their value. An excellent post on Associations Now this week pointed out the many ways that some associations are assisting their members with obstacles they face thanks to the government shutdown. From the post:

The National Military Family Association, which has been in the news in recent weeks for converging on Capitol Hill to protest against sequestration, offers a guide on how members of the military would be affected by a shutdown, how to handle ensuing financial issues, and what to do next.

This type of helpful information in a time of crisis is a great example of how association membership provides far-reaching benefits.

How political is your association, and how are you advising members affected by the government shutdown? Let us know in the comments!