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By April Sellers
National Account Executive/Lane Press

Now is a great time to be a consumer. We have it so good, right? As the mom of a toddler, I can go to and do a quick search for, say, diapers and quickly see all of my options. I can pay with a few keystrokes using my PayPal account and expect the goods to arrive on my doorstep in two days. Or, if I decide to run to the store, I expect to find the brand and style of product I want and to have a purchasing experience that ends with a smile.

Bunch me with all the other consumers out there, and we are your readers. We have come to expect there are various avenues for finding what we want – and that traveling each of these will be a path-of-least-resistance experience.

This reality was at the heart of the topic I moderated recently at the Association Media & Publishing (AM&P) Publishers’ Roundtable: Helping Your Magazine Thrive in Today’s Multi-Channel World.

With today’s readers wanting and expecting content at their convenience, publishers face the need to deliver that content across multiple channels – print, web, mobile, social media, live events, online events, and the list goes on – in order to be where their readers are. How do you know where to focus your efforts and how to deliver a satisfying user experience in each channel? Attendees around our table returned again and again to these three critical steps:

LISTEN. For starters, how do you know which channels your members are using and what their preferences are for interacting with your association and content? You have to ask.

There are a number of options for connecting with your members, from online survey tools, like SurveyMonkey, to phone calls to in-person interviews. If you have the resources, I argue that in-person is ideal. Think of what you can learn by spending one day each with a short list of members who are at various stages of the membership lifecycle to observe and inquire about how they interact with your association. As Chris Bondy suggests in the white paper, The Transformation Mandate, knowing what is meaningful to your community “requires an immersive understanding of specific unmet and unspoken needs” which can come only from “a close analysis of the needs of members based on their specific time and place in the member community.” In other words, your members may not even know what they want and need until you can draw it out of them, and this is often best achieved by connecting, probing, and listening.

DEVELOP. Endeavoring to take on “multi-channel publishing” can seem daunting, especially if you’re working with limited resources. The good news is that the digital space, for one, is ripe for experimentation. There are many opportunities that are either (a.) free, or (b.) not nearly as hard as you might think.

SellersBlog_TweetchatConsider Tweetchat. During our roundtable, Meghan Edwards from the American College of Radiology (ACR) shared that her organization has had success using this free, community-driving capability of Twitter. A Tweetchat is a real-time Twitter conversation enabled by the use of a dedicated hashtag (in this case, #jacr). ACR hosts a Tweetchat with a guest moderator at a set time each month: the 4th Thursday from 12-1 EST. The moderator is always someone well respected in the healthcare field and an expert on the designated topic. After each session, ACR can assess their members’ level of interest in particular topics and plan future content accordingly.

You might think of video as expensive, time-consuming, and requiring professional resources – but not necessarily so. Scripted video with high production value will still require all that and more, but in this YouTube age, users are accustomed to watching simpler, do-it-yourself videos. And fortunately, the equipment for creating and editing video is now both accessible and affordable. At ACR, for example, Meghan conducts interviews using Skype and then edits the videos using Adobe Premiere Pro. She cuts in other elements, such as relevant photos, to help complete the story. Since ACR’s membership is composed of busy doctors, Meghan finds that a short 3 minutes is the right length for attracting and engaging these users.

DELIVER. A critical challenge with publishing across multiple channels is, as you might imagine, consistency. As many of the roundtable participants pointed out, publishing channels are often managed by multiple people within an organization. Given that reality, they said, it’s critical to have an over-arching organizational message and a process in place to ensure that the message stays consistent from one channel to another.

Of course, design helps. Employing a consistent design approach, in your fonts, images, colors, and tone, helps ensure that your members and readers recognize your content across channels, associating it with YOU and no one else.

Meeting your members and readers where they are – with content that is valuable and easily accessible – is key to multi-channel publishing. As you continue to shape your strategy, keep in mind that, when it comes down to it, your readers are today’s consumers – just like you and me.