Open-to-All COVID-19 Resource Hubs Are Bringing in Readers, Responsibility and (Almost All) Positive Feelings

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“On the very first day our department heads gathered on a call to deliberate about everything we needed to start delivering to our members,” Kathryn Hamilton, vice president for marketing and communication at NAIOP (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association), said on last week's AM&P Virtual Lunch & Learn: How Association Publishing Teams Are Responding to the Pandemic. (Access here.)


“We knew commercial impact was ripe for impact from this… and we knew this was something we had to address quickly. So by the end of the call, we had a full slate of content, delivery dates—we had way too many ideas to count. From a communications perspective, my biggest takeaway was that we needed to communicate quickly but we also needed to create a microsite where all this content could be easily found. Thus the COVID-19 site was born.”


In last week’s Sidebar poll, 31% of the respondents said they have created and posted a separate coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources section on their association's website while 62% said no and 8% said that one is in the works.  


This week two large publishers in AM&P’s parent division Connectiv opened their COVID-19 sections for free to readers. IEEE is providing direct access to a collection of various COVID-19 related research articles and standards to help researchers understand, manage and combat the many aspects of the pandemic. And Informa Pharma Intelligence has launched a free coronavirus content hub designed to provide key information related to the global virus outbreak, including the R&D and clinical trial landscapes, news, and market events for potential therapies and vaccines.


Hamilton said that NAIOP decided to open up their typically members-only webinars—for COVID-related content—to members and non-members alike. There were a few reasons: one because of the limited in-person conferencing capabilities that people have now, and also that “we believe we have a responsibility to educate the industry.” She also mentioned the member lead generation that could come from this.


Howard Saltz, former publisher and editor-in-chief of the South Florida Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, and the former VP for digital content at MediaNews Group in Denver, disagrees with these “free” approaches. In an article on Poynter this week—titled "Removing Paywalls on Coronavirus Coverage Is Noble. It Also Makes No Sense.”—he wrote that newspapers should not be giving away valuable content. But his argument did have some all-publisher qualities.


“There’s a belief among some industry leaders that the good feelings generated by a caring newspaper during times of crisis will yield paid subscriptions in the future,” Saltz wrote. “But there’s no research to support that. In fact, experiences during recent Florida hurricanes—when many newspapers made their online coverage free to all—suggests there’s little loyalty once the paywall goes back up.”


He went even farther. “In fact, it may even be harmful: We hope the community will develop a journalism habit that’ll continue when we start charging for access again, but we may be instead reinforcing the habit that news should be free.”

Of course, associations are a different beast, and Saltz is worried about newspapers being able to sustain themselves. Members pay to belong to an association, so valuable content is a given. And lead generation is something that associations and publishers of all makes and models have to consider.


“We’re continually adding to [the COVID-19 website],” Hamilton said. “Since March 19, we’ve had 12,000 unique site visits to the page, so we know that it is definitely a popular resource.”


The American Staffing Association also has a COVID-19 microsite, said Marlene Hendrickson, senior director, publishing and marketing. The site has quickly surpassed their homepage for traffic. They have also proudly opened it to members and non-members alike.


“My members are staffing companies, businesses placing employees on job sites,” Hendrickson said. So because of that, she said that the sample letters on the ASA COVID-19 site have been “very, very, very” popular. “We are not in the business of selling right now, however, we want to increase value to the entire industry and create those connections that will hopefully help our relationships in the future, whether it’s with members or non-members.”


There’s also a feed that comes from their daily newsletter so stories comes straight in. This way they’re up to date and crawlable, Hendrickson said. They’ve also partnered with the Retailers Industry Leaders Association to create a site for their members to quickly find member staffing companies that can provide workers.


If they were not publishing every day before this crisis, most associations probably are now. "Adapt your publishing schedule to the pace of the news," wrote Lyndsie Clark on the Niche Publishing Network site this week. "If you don't usually publish on your website every day, reconsider this during the pandemic when your audience is searching for the most up-to-date information. If they don't get the news from you, they'll find it elsewhere, and you may lose a subscriber." Or a member.