Computer and LockOffering conference materials and other association content online may seem like too much of a gamble to some groups. The thought of valuable content getting out to non-members, free of charge, can be scary.

After all, there are plenty of free professional development resources available online. If your association publishes content online, doesn’t that undermine the value of the information that paid members enjoy?

Yes and no. Remember that online content can also be an important benefit to tech-savvy members. The convenience of online access, coupled with the increased exposure that speakers receive when their materials are search-engine accessible, means that many attendees may prefer a website over a printed program. And while it’s true that there’s a risk of unauthorized use, many options are available to protect content.

Keep these considerations in mind as you determine how—and whether—to go about offering online access to your association’s content.

  1. There is no single right answer. Every association will make its own decision, based on its financial goals, membership demographics, mission, and other factors. Moreover, the decision you make today doesn’t have to be final. As the demographics of your association shift, for example, digital publishing may become more important to your members.
  2. The decision doesn’t need to be either/or; it can be both/and. Consider tiering content instead: offer high-level teasers to whet the appetites of prospective members, with a deeper dive into the subject available only to members or with a paid subscription.
  3. Association content is more valuable than other resources that are available free with a simple Google search. The editorial review that content must pass in order to be sanctioned by an association carries considerable heft. With conference content, this is even more true, and especially if abstracts go through a review and approval process. Because the content has been thoroughly vetted and condoned by an authoritative source, it can rightly be considered a better resource than the average article that Google spits out.
  4. Search engine accessibility means that your association is easier to find online, whether or not non-members can get to the content. If your association’s content is available online, it can improve your search rank. That’s true of all content: watermarked documents, abstracts behind a pay wall, and publications that can only be seen with paid subscription. If you put your content online, it will benefit your association’s findability.
  5. Associations have many options to protect online content. No matter what you’ve determined is the best course of action for your association, you can choose how you safeguard your online content and which types of materials you protect. Possible solutions include watermarking, digital rights management (DRM), and subscription management.

Hat tip to Association Media & Publishing and its newsletter, Sidebar, which included an article that inspired this post.

Looking for more tips on approaching digital publishing of your association content? Download our white paper, Putting Your Content to Work.