Association News

NetXtra Breakfast Club: Zoo Illustrates Associations’ Evolution

Penguins are birds that have fully adapted to the marine environment. At the NetXtra Breakfast Club meeting at London Zoo recently we learned how associations must also adapt their online markings, to blend with their environment, and to attract the attention on which they feed. We also learned the communication tools they must adopt to survive. Is this the latest proof of survival of the fittest?

Darwinism contends that plants and animals make incremental changes over generations as they adapt to the world around them. But the rapid pace of change in the online environment condenses timeframes, and membership bodies don’t have eons in which to adapt. So the great thing about events like this is that shared wisdom means we can learn from each other’s traumas and triumphs without becoming extinct!


The Faculty for Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH), offers qualifications and membership to clinical professionals as well as producing clinical guidance documents that are referenced by healthcare professionals. And yet, despite that clinical guidance being the most used resource on their website, they weren’t its main focus for the website project. That was to create easy online journeys for users to achieve FSRH membership via qualifications. Abby Wright-Parkes and Emma Barrett, FSRH head of membership and digital manager respectively, shared their experience of a two and a half year project, and to bring their online presence up to scratch.

Their challenge was to eliminate the “forest of options” provided by their old site. By focusing their efforts on qualifications, it become very quickly apparent that the Guidance and Standards section of the website was not meeting users’ needs. More consultations were required! The result was a simple, user friendly, interface for this section of the site that met the needs of their stakeholders and, to their surprise, yielded a 400% increase in use. The experience has paved the way for the next wave of adaptations, including an online CPD Diary.

So, what did they learn from their experience? First, they “underestimated the giant cultural journey that these changes implied”. Second, they concede that they expected too much from their website project, that, far from being simply an IT project, it represented significant organisational change. Their learnings included realising that they should have focused more on what the old site had to tell them by way of available analytics, and that harnessing a wider consultative group provides valuable perspective when considering future plans.

A break-out for round-table discussion proved that others shared their doubts, but could learn from their experience.



Language is, by definition, a method of human communication – either spoken or written – consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. Anna Marsden, from communications agency Luminescence, was on hand to break some of the bad habits of its online written form. Far from “pushing out information” as was suggested from the floor, managing content is all about being agile, responsive, and in tune with the zeitgeist. Establishing a vision and optimising formats, are crucial. As is imagining yourself in the mind of the reader. 

Blaise Pascal is purported to have said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time”. Which sounds counter-intuitive, but illustrates one of the pitfalls that ensnare many NFPs. Secretariats are great at writing technical reports designed to persuade Boards with overwhelming data or arcane detail. But there is no place online for the verbose, the boring, or the irrelevant. Too much text, too few pictures and graphics, out of date content, and repetition, are all cardinal sins.

Top tips? Spend more time on editing. Focus on outcomes, not outputs. Align your activity with your wider strategy; consider your target audience; have different tactics for different platforms; and, establish metrics for measuring your success.

Don’t forget, it isn’t a sin to share others’ content (see the PESO model) – with attribution – and where appropriate. Lastly, put effort into monitoring what you’ve already done, rather than just pushing out more information.

How Was it For You?

 Richard Hayward, Head of PR & Communications at CITMA, said:

“Navigating the Content Jungle was the best membership sector breakfast event I’ve been to. Engaging presenters and excellent venue – it provided a real practical insight into amplifying our content.”

Michael Hoare

©2017 M J Hoare