7 Ways to Increase Readership for Your Association Magazine

Association magazines are one of the most meaningful ways to connect with your members. And your members see the magazine as a substantial benefit of belonging to your organization. 

But we live in an age of information overload. Your magazine has heavy competition for readers’ time and attention. To win eyeballs on the page issue after issue, your magazine needs to engage, inform and adapt to members’ evolving needs. 

We’ve gathered seven strategies to increase both the readership and value of your association magazine. Let’s dig in! 

How to Increase Readership for Your Association Magazine

A thriving association magazine needs strategy, innovation and a solid understanding of who your members are. If your magazine readership isn’t as large as you’d like it to be, or if you get the sense your members aren’t engaging with the content of each issue, it might be time to re-evaluate your strategy and look for ways to integrate modern trends with timeless member values. Here are seven ways to get started: 

1. Understand Your Members

One of the most important steps in addressing low magazine readership is understanding who your audience (members and potential members) is. Members who feel seen, heard, understood and represented are more loyal and more likely to feel connected to your association.  

A CommunityBrands survey found, “Only a third of members believe their professional membership organization uses member-provided information and search data to show them things they might be interested in.” 

That’s a significant gap to bridge. 

Here are a few ways you can start better understanding your members and creating content that reflects their values, interests and pain points within the pages of your magazine. 

  • Ask them. Hold regular feedback sessions or conduct surveys where members can share their thoughts, preferences and suggestions for the magazine. Include a link to an online survey in the magazine.
  • Create audience personas. These are similar to buyer personas commonly found in marketing. An audience persona allows you to segment your members into different categories based on their characteristics (age, location, education level, etc.). Because you may not be able to survey every member, personas allow you to tailor content that resonates deeply with each group. 
  • Journey map. Take your personas a step further by creating member journey maps, like a blueprint to help you understand your members’ experience in the organization. 
  • Use digital tools to measure print’s impact. If you already have a digital magazine, track how many readers visit it and which articles they click to read. In the print publication, include unique web addresses or QR codes to bonus content online. Readers who click through are interested enough in the content to seek out digital extras.
  • Monitor social media interactions. As you promote magazine content on social media, pay attention to which features get the most engagement. You can also use social media to better understand what your members care about by noticing what they share or like and following their conversations on your platforms.

2. Use Digital Wisely

A digital version of your association magazine is a must these days. Members expect to be able to interact with your content online. That doesn’t mean digital should replace your print publication. Print continues to thrive, especially (and somewhat surprisingly) among younger generations. Instead, be thoughtful about how you connect your digital and print communication. 

  • Use social media. Social media “is a great way to push your messaging out and build interest in your magazine,” says Paula Felps, an m3Magazines editor. “That means perhaps even doing an entire social media campaign about a story or topic in the magazine. It allows associations to reach readers who might not even know they exist.” 
  • Include digital teasers. Add simple web addresses or QR codes that lead print readers to online-only content. Not only does this offer readers more than can fit in the pages of the magazine, but it also gives you an idea of how many print readers are following the link or QR code online. 
  • Create subscriber-exclusive content online. In the same vein, create subscriber-exclusive sections of your digital magazine. Members can access these areas through their membership details or via a code in the print publication. 
  • Enhance digital editions. Instead of a static PDF of the magazine, create a digital flipbook to present a more magazine-like experience for online readers. Take it a step further by including multimedia elements like videos and clickable links. This draws in members who prefer to experience your content online. 
  • Optimize for mobile. Nearly 57% of internet traffic in 2023 comes from mobile devices. Many of your members are reading your digital magazine on their phones, so make sure it’s set up to look good to increase engagement. 

How does this add up to more magazine readership? According to CommunityBrands, 63% of members who rate their associations as technologically excellent also feel “extremely connected” to their associations. Connection equals engagement. 

3. Encourage Member Participation

Remember way back in point one, where we talked about the importance of knowing your members? The more members feel involved in your organization, the more connected they feel. Take this idea beyond creating content based on what your members tell you they like or what your member personas reveal, and actually empower your members to create (or star in) content. 

“There are plenty of places to find the ‘how’ of what associations are doing, but what truly makes associations special are their people,” says Felps. “So tell the ‘who’ of your association and the amazing things your members are doing. It will inspire other members and encourage better readership/engagement with the magazine.”  

  • Member spotlight. Dedicate a section of the magazine to highlighting members’ achievements, stories or insights. This celebrates your members and inspires others to aim for similar accomplishments or nominate their friends and fellow members. 
  • Open submissions. Encourage members to share their stories in the form of articles or ideas. Not only will you get a heap of new content ideas, but you’ll know it’s in line with what members want because it’s coming from them. 
  • Have a contest. “Annual contests or awards are a great way to bring more people into the publication,” says m3Magazines editor Lisa Horn. Whether you ask members to submit essays or photos, “contests are interactive and fun, and awards honor and recognize those doing good work.”  

One word of caution from Horn: “It’s critical to have a mix of people included and not the same individuals featured over and over. Repeatedly talking about the same group of individuals can backfire. For those readers who are less involved, it can seem like there are cliques, and only those people are spotlighted in the publication. This can hurt readership.”

4. Pass It Along

One of the best ways magazines gain readership is through pass-along readers. Also known as secondary audiences, pass-along readers are those who read the magazine but have not purchased it (or received it as a member benefit). They become familiar with your publication through the initial reader or by picking it up in a public space, like the library or a waiting room. The News Media Alliance estimates the average pass-along rate is four passes per copy per reader. 

  • Encourage members to share the love. Launch a monthly or quarterly challenge to share the magazine with friends and family. Create a hashtag like #PassItAlong and feature some of the best ones in the next print issue. 
  • Make it easy to share. Create a section of the magazine specifically designed to be shared. Develop trade-specific content under headings like To Share at The Office or Sound Smart at Work. These provide readers with engaging talking points related to the magazine’s content. 

5. Include a Free Gift

Remember when the complementary canvas tote became a status symbol? Media companies like NPR and the New Yorker hand them out to subscribers, and their very presence can speak volumes about the person carrying them. 

“Adding a free gift to subscription or membership campaigns is a smart marketing move because the merch — whether it’s a tote bag, tumbler or T-shirt — is integrated into the recipient’s daily life,” says Horn. “The merch provides consistent brand exposure and more opportunities to strengthen the bond between the brand/organization and its readers/members.”

“Annual contests or awards are a great way to bring more people into the publication. … Merch provides consistent brand exposure and more opportunities to strengthen the bond between the brand/organization and its readers/members.” —Lisa Horn, m3Magazines Editor

Lisa Horn pull quote

Horn also suggests encouraging your members to share photos of themselves with your branded merch on social media. 

6. Expand Your Reach

Many associations send a copy of the magazine to every member. Since everyone in your membership is already a “subscriber” to the magazine, it can be hard to imagine how to broaden the reach of your publication. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Add subscribers. If you have a particularly valuable publication (see number seven), it may hold interest for people who aren’t already members of your association. By creating a subscriber-only option for the magazine, not only do you increase readership, you have an opportunity to earn new members who come to you through the magazine. 
  • Work with other associations. Partnering with related industry magazines (provided they aren’t direct competitors) can be a great way to broaden your reach. You can swap ads or offer mutual promotions — a win-win. 
  • Work the convention circuit. Make sure your magazine is available at industry conventions, conferences and events. 
  • Get hyper-local. If you’re a national association, work with smaller state or local associations on content collaborations, feature swaps or magazine exchanges. 
  • Become an industry go-to. Do you know how every business-focused hotel leaves a Wall Street Journal outside the door? If you have the means, target industries related to your association. For example, if your association is focused on door hardware, you may send the publication to a group of maintenance supervisors. 

7. Make Your Magazine Awesome

You can do all the promotion you want, but if your magazine isn’t compelling, beautifully designed and packed with valuable content, your magazine readership won’t grow.

Your primary focus should be on creating a quality publication that your members want to read. 

  • Go pro. Invest in professional writing, editing and production services to give your magazine the depth and interest of a newsstand glossy. 
  • Make your mag a must-read. Rather than just filling pages, hone in on quality content. Offer deep dives into industry trends, insightful convention or event roundups, interviews with industry experts and thought-provoking op-eds. 
  • Work with a designer. Invest in a good design team. Easy-to-read layouts, gorgeous imagery and standout covers will make your magazine something readers can’t wait to pick up and share with their friends. 

Leave a Lasting Legacy

In your quest for more readers, keep your magazine’s mission top of mind. As the voice of your association, your magazine can influence, educate and inspire. But the most powerful publications go beyond this, fostering community, connection and a sense of belonging — solidifying a place as your flagship tool for member engagement. 

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