A little robot swiping through Tik Tok

Yesterday, I joined a meeting on membership and marketing with CalSAE. The facilitator posed a question to the group asking how people were using video like TikTok to reach potential members.

No one had a successful strategy.

One of the executives on the call insinuated that it was a distraction. "Members join for a reason. We should build our marketing strategy around that rather than whatever is the latest trend."

A few people agreed and a few people disagreed. "Social media enables us to reach all generations," was one dissenting comment.

And that's really what the discussion was about: can you use the latest trends, like TikTok, to build membership among the youngest generation?


Both the pro and con were correct. You should focus your strategy around the member journey and social media does enable you to reach all generations.

What makes social media channels like TikTok problematic is that the channel might not align with your intent. People are primarily on those channels to be entertained. Any message about your association or your industry is basically a commercial, what marketing godfather Seth Godin would call, "interruption marketing."

Even if you do the work to make it entertainment, you're still targeting potential members when they're not on the membership journey. Likes are not the same thing as people signing up.

To make a comparison, could you sell membership at the Coachella music festival? There are thousands of young professionals there that you could reach. Would your ranks see a surge from a newer generation after you spent your weekend at a booth there?

Maybe. Probably not.

There's a kind of marketing that takes people who are in a ready state and helps them to transition into an invested state. You need to nail this as an association. This is rubber meets road stuff.

There's another kind of marketing that is brand building. It's not measurable and there's no clear ROI. It concerns building awareness and good will. It can be powerful. And slow. And expensive. This is the marketing that enormous brands like Coca Cola invest in.

The way to think about it is as an investment portfolio. You have limited time and resources as an association executive. You should invest most of it into making sure your fundamentals are sound and you've optimized everything that is already effective. The remainder of your resources is for play and experimentation.

Because maybe TikTok is perfect for your organization.

John Hooley
President, Steward

John is a graduate of 10,000 Small Businesses, a certified Customer Acquisition Specialist, and a Zend Certified Engineer. He speaks and writes on connecting digital strategy to association goals. Outside of work he's an avid traveler, climber, diver, and a burgeoning sailor. He also volunteers with Rotary and Big Brothers Big Sisters.