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Digital advertising is a highly effective tool for recruiting new members to your association. However, it can be difficult to figure out where to start and how to create a sound marketing strategy that caters to all of the different audience types your association serves. 

Below, you can find eight digital campaign strategies for your association to deploy for recruiting new members. Read on for search ad, display ad, and social media ad ideas. 

Search engine marketing for associations

Search ads are text-based advertisements that appear when someone searches for a particular keyword. See the screenshot below for an example of a search ad: 

Example search advertisement

With search ads, advertisers pay each time their ad is clicked, which is why this form of digital advertising is called pay-per-click (PPC). Advertisers create a list of keywords they want their ad to show up for in the search results and designate a bid (how much they want to pay) for one click of that particular keyword. From there, an auction initiates every time the keyword is searched. 

For recruiting new members with Google search ads, we recommend a few different campaigns to reach audiences at varying stages of the marketing funnel. 

1. Branded search campaign

A branded campaign involves bidding on the keywords connected to your brand name. This type of campaign helps ensure your association appears in the first position on the search engine results page when someone looks for you. This is perfect to use if your association shares a name with another organization, or if a competing association is bidding on your brand’s keywords, causing their ads to rank above your organic (AKA free) listing. 

For example, AMA is the name of an extremely prominent professional association — but which one? When a potential member Googles “AMA,” the search engine results page produces: 

Imagine if the American Management Association wanted to appear at the top of the page for searches for “AMA.” Because of their powerful competition, they would have an incredibly difficult road ahead of them to rank first organically. However, if they created a branded search campaign and paid for their brand to appear on searches for “AMA,” their ad could be the first listing users see. 

With that said, a branded campaign is not essential for every association. If your association ranks No. 1 on Google for your brand name, you can rely on your organic listing and save the ad budget for a different campaign or ad initiative. 

Ad copy in branded campaigns should include a call-to-action to join your association and include a sitelink extension that points searchers directly to your membership landing page.

2. Non-branded industry association campaign

Another type of search campaign for recruiting new members is an industry association campaign that bids on keywords an industry professional would use to find and join a professional association. For example, here are a few sample keywords that could apply to an association that serves professional nurses: 

  • Nursing association
  • Association for nursing professional development
  • Professional association for registered nurses
  • Nursing organizations
  • Professional nursing organizations

These searches would cater to audiences who already know they’re interested in joining an association in their industry, but they’re just not familiar with your association yet. Ad copy for this campaign should focus on the specific benefits and features of your organization, emphasizing why yours is the best association to join. 

3. Professional development campaign

Last on our search engine marketing strategy list is a campaign to target colder audiences. This professional development campaign would cater to audiences who are looking to further their careers but aren’t looking for an association specifically — yet, at least. Ad copy here should focus on how joining an association and being a part of a community of other industry professionals can help enrich their careers. Sample keywords here could include: 

  • Professional development for nurses
  • Advance nursing career
  • Advancing your nursing career
  • Furthering your nursing career

Note: Though this section focused on Google PPC ads, don’t rule out Bing! Many professionals use Bing as their at-work search engine, and it can be effective in reaching professional audiences. 

Display advertising campaign ideas

Google display ads are banner ads that appear on various websites across the web. These are more passive ads, as they do not appear when a user searches for their content directly. Think of them as digital billboards — they are image-based and appear all over the Internet, on websites like blogs and news sites. 

Similar to search ads, advertisers only pay when an ad is clicked. Because display ads are broader and lower-intent in nature than search ads, they tend to be highly economic and tout much lower costs per click than search ads. 

See the screenshot below for an idea of what a sample display ad looks like:

display ad campaign

1. Awareness campaign

A simple awareness display campaign can help introduce your association to your target audience. You can target display ads in multiple ways, including by demographics and interests, or even the websites your ad is placed on. 

A targeting technique to test for your first brand awareness display campaign could be to target your ads based on content, using keyword targeting. 

Keyword targeting for display ads works differently than search — with display ads, the keywords you enter (like “nursing”) relate to the actual websites your ads are targeted on. In this case, your nursing association’s display ads would appear on websites that include content about nursing. 

2. Remarketing campaign

Remarketing is a great way to stay top-of-mind with audiences who have already been to your website. By installing a Google Ads remarketing cookie on your website, you can advertise to these warm audiences to remind them to come back and join your association. 

Pro tip: Set up your remarketing campaign to only target visitors of the membership landing page of your website. This way, you’ll avoid showing irrelevant ads to your existing members who are visiting other pages of your site. 

Social media ad strategies for recruiting new members

The first key to success in recruiting new members with social media ads is to know your audience. You should fully understand your audience’s interests, demographics, and communication habits before beginning to advertise because you need to meet them where they are. For example, if your association caters to fashion design professionals, a visual platform like Instagram would make sense. If your association is full of B2B professionals like accountants or tax professionals, LinkedIn would be a better pick. The main point here is this: Don’t waste ad spend on networks that your audience doesn’t use.  

According to data compiled by Sprout Social, these are the largest age groups by platform:

  • Facebook: 25-34
  • Instagram: 25-34
  • Twitter: 30-49
  • LinkedIn: 46-55
  • Pinterest: 30-49
  • TikTok: 18-24
  • Snapchat: 13-34
  • YouTube: 15-25

Social media ads feature detailed targeting options that allow you to target potential members in a variety of creative ways. These are a few social media ad strategies and campaign ideas you can test for recruiting new members. 

1. Cold audience brand awareness campaign

Leverage the powerful interest-based targeting capabilities of social media ads to introduce your association to brand-new audiences and generate awareness. These are some ways you can target your cold audience: 

  • Demographics 
  • Job title
  • Company name
  • Industry
  • Industry-specific brands and interests

Pro tip: Upload a list of your existing members list and exclude this audience from your targeting. This way, you won’t waste ad spend on an audience that has already converted, and your members won’t be shown an ad that isn’t relevant to them. 

In terms of targeting professionals by job title and company, LinkedIn cannot be beat! These ads are a little on the pricey side with a required minimum daily spend of $10, but the platform’s B2B targeting capabilities are superior. 

For your ad copy in this type of campaign, remember that this is a cold audience who is unfamiliar with your brand. Top-of-the-funnel ad copy should address the pain points and problems of your audience, like feeling stagnant in their career or standing out at work. In this campaign, it’s a little too soon to use a “join now” call-to-action. “Learn more” is a better fit, as you just want to introduce the potential member’s problem with your association as the solution at this stage. Video ads are great for this type of campaign, as they are more attention-grabbing than a still image. 

2. Middle-of-the-funnel lead generation campaign

A lead generation social media campaign is a great strategy for recruiting new members because it helps you turn interested/familiar prospects into leads. The goal of a lead generation campaign is to collect an email address that you can use to follow up with to urge the conversion. These are some audiences you can consider targeting to recruit new members: 

  • Previous visitors of your membership landing page
  • Fans of your social media page
  • People who have engaged with your social media pages

In order to score an email address, you need to provide an offer of value. This could be: 

  • A content download like a report or case study
  • A free webinar invite
  • A giveaway

Again, you would want to exclude your list of existing members from this campaign’s targeting. You should also exclude your existing leads list so you don’t waste money on email addresses you already have. 

3. Warm leads conversion campaign

Your association likely already has an email list of potential members who haven’t made the commitment yet to join. With social media ads, you can create a custom audience to target this group with ads specifically tailored to their situation and position in the marketing funnel — they are already aware of your brand but need a nudge and reassurance before deciding to become a member. Here are some ideas to include in your ad creative: 

  • Testimonials from existing members
  • Reviews
  • Limited-time discounts or other incentives to take the plunge
  • Free trial membership or refund if not satisfied after a trial

For bottom-of-the-funnel campaigns, you can move potential members to join by showcasing social proof, offering special incentives and freebies, mitigating risk and objections, and creating a sense of urgency. 

And there you have it — eight different digital ad strategies and campaign ideas for your association to use to recruit new members! 

We understand that this is a lot to digest and probably too many different campaigns to try all at once! However, we recommend bookmarking this post and revisiting it whenever you’re ready to give your digital recruitment strategy a boost. Your ideal members are out there! Leverage digital marketing to connect with them and find them.  

Emily Herrington
Post by Emily Herrington
August 13, 2021
Emily Herrington is a New Orleans-based digital marketer specializing in SEO, content, and pay-per-click advertising. She can usually be found at her desk obsessing over data and rankings, or in the kitchen covered in flour.