Julie Ferry is a director in education and learning services and Sara Haukap is a manager in event services at SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, www.smithbucklin.com.
Association managers are always striving to find new ways to keep members engaged — not just during conferences, but every day of the year. Whether it’s offered virtually, through a 20-minute “Coffee Break” or in smaller regional events, year-round engagement programs can keep members connected to each other, their industry and the association. A variety of organizations find success implementing year-round engagement plans. By reviewing the best practices of these groups, association managers can adapt and develop their own programs to meet their membership’s goals. Let’s examine a few.
Provide up-to-the-minute updates. Members rely on their associations to provide them with the latest information about the industry. One business trade association provides “Coffee Breaks,” 20-minute webinars that share the latest information, tools, techniques and strategies in the industry. These breaks have become a highly valued member benefit with up to 1,000 members participating.
Virtualize the experience. Three years ago, a large medical services association started offering a virtual component in conjunction with its conference. The virtual extension of the event continues to attract members who are unable to attend the event in person and has not cannibalized the live audience.
At its 2013 event, the association had 325 people attend virtually. The virtual component of the conference continues to grow each year, bringing value not only in terms of revenue diversification for the association but also keeping members engaged, whether they can attend the conference or not.
Form year-round partnerships. Members, especially those in technology user communities, are hungry for access to product developers, service representatives and other partners. That’s one of the reasons they attend annual conferences and trade shows. But how do you connect users with technology partners throughout the rest of the year?
A telecommunications user community created a program that provides exclusive opportunities to connect users with their partner communities. Benefits, which vary based on level of participation, include membership, year-round recognition on the association website, social media posts, notification of chapter events, ads in the year-round publication and the opportunity to present a webinar. The program was implemented in 2011, and the revenue received to date in 2014 doubled what was received in 2011.
Mobile technology, creative sponsorship opportunities and online tools are making it easier for us to connect with members on a year-round basis.
The program has other positive results as well. The group’s outreach expanded. Each partner is provided with an allotment of memberships to give to their customers, resulting in an increase of new members. Participation grew with new webinar topics being offered and new partners getting involved. This additional content helps provide increased benefits to the members and prospects who now have access to at least one webinar per month discussing the latest advances.
Offer regional programs. Another technology users community, also facing increasing demand from members to have access to tech experts, favors smaller regional events over one large annual conference. The software services users group hosts 40 regional events throughout the year, both domestically and throughout Canada, Europe and Asia. The priority of the users group is to provide year-round educational opportunities through user conferences. Each event offers a full day of education content on varying topics important in the virtual technology industry. Since 2011, the users group increased membership by 150 percent. There also are sponsorship opportunities for partners to get engaged year-round and provide a revenue stream for the organization. The revenue is realized through speaking opportunities, recognition as event sponsors, company description in event promotions, tabletop advertising at the event and collateral distribution.
Invest In year-round mobile applications. Associations are taking their mobile applications to the next level by moving toward a year-round application for their members to keep them engaged long after the event is over.
A large software services users group is using a year-round app to share its Special Interest Group and Regional User Group directory, provide an easy way to access its newsletter, make education available in one place and encourage networking. Another benefit is the ability to send push notifications as needed to get the attention of members when new member benefits are launched and new events are added. While the users group is still measuring the results of their new tool, the expectation is that it will increase connections with members and prospects throughout the year and be a way for members to easily tap the users group as a resource.
Offer subscriptions. Two years into a webinar program, a technology association began offering subscriptions to organizations with larger teams interested in the webinar content throughout the year. The subscription program allows organizations to provide professional development training and continuing education units (CEU) to their employees, at an affordable rate. Organizations can purchase anywhere from 20 to 200 seats in the webinars at discounted prices — the more seats purchased, the greater the discount. The result of offering subscription options was increased attendance, additional revenue and member engagement for the association.
Create an online beginner program. A special dentistry association created a “quick start” online course containing several online modules tailored specifically toward those new to the special dentistry industry. The online course is available year-round and allows new practitioners to learn at their own pace, while preparing them for more advanced content at the annual conference. It also attracts young professionals and those new to the industry, providing more membership leads.
How to develop your own plan. Ask yourself, “What is the overall goal?” Typically, goals include diversifying revenue, attracting younger generations and/or retaining existing members. Next, determine how the goal fits within the overall association strategy. Once the goal is defined, incorporate key performance indicators into your plan to measure success.
Assess the audience needs. The next step is to fully understand the needs of your target audience and what they perceive as valuable. A needs assessment can accomplish this through a survey and/or focus groups. Some sample questions:
Develop a year-round plan. Use the research to build out your plan and define clear metrics so you can measure the success of the offering. Maximize the opportunity to engage your target audience virtually, in person and in print, through webinars, online courses, conference replays, year-round mobile applications, regional events and partner programs.
The annual conference or trade show does not have to define your association. Mobile technology, creative sponsorship opportunities and online tools are making it easier for us to connect with members on a year-round basis. Incorporate year-round engagement into your strategic plan today to find what areas will work for your association! AC&F