Each year for the past five years, Omnipress collects data from conference planners and association professionals to better understand trends surrounding conference content, including how attendees want to receive content, how associations provide it, and what changes lie ahead as demographics and preferences change. We use the survey data collected to publish our annual State of the Conference Industry Report, which will be released in January 2019.
Our goal with this report is to provide peer-to-peer benchmarking, as well as ideas and trends you can use in your planning sessions.
Omnipress Annual State of The Conference Industry Report
For instance, in the 2018 State of the Conference Industry Report, we saw a notable increase in the percentage of associations that are re-using their content beyond the conference. Associations are not only using content to promote their events, but they are also reusing it in order to reinforce learning after the event and to attract prospective members to the organization.
Additionally, meeting planners face an increasing challenge of trying to balance the diverse needs and preferences of a multi-generational audience, particularly as many organizations have not yet defined their plans to address the needs of younger members.
2019 Conference Industry Trends and Insights
What insights will we gain in 2019? We need you to help us determine that, and would love to have your voice included in this year’s results! The survey takes just 5-10 minutes to complete. All responses remain confidential for the report. As a thank you for your time, you can choose to be entered into a drawing to receive a $100 Visa Gift Card.
Please take a moment to complete the survey and to pass it along to your colleagues as well. We look forward to sharing the results with you in early 2019.
As a follow-up to our newest whitepaper, Best Practices for High-Quality Content, which outlines simple changes organizations can make to streamline call for papers processes and mitigate problems, we asked our abstract management project managers to weigh in even further. Our panel of five field experts each work on hundreds of conference every year. While every conference is different, they often find themselves providing the same advice to new customers—advice that can save a tremendous amount of time and frustration.
Call For Papers and Abstract Management Expert Q&A
Q: One of the whitepaper tips is to “prepare your forms to collect all necessary data.” What does this mean, and why is it so important?
Erin: People spend a lot of time unnecessarily chasing down data from submitters at the eleventh hour because either they didn’t think to collect it, or they didn’t think they would need it. It’s really important to first understand where all of the collected data is ultimately going to live and how it’s going to be used, so we can help our customers get exactly what they need.
John: If the planner has a sample of what their final conferences materials will be, possibly from a previous conference, we try and get that early on in the abstract management process. The customer doesn’t think of the data the same way we do, and they shouldn’t have to. That’s our job. We look at the conference materials and make the connection between what’s actually being published versus what’s being included on the collection form.
Paul: Here’s a real customer example of why collecting all necessary data on your form is so important; I noticed that one customer published the city, state, and country for each of their authors, but they weren’t asking us to collect it on the form. We had time to change that before the call for papers opened, which ultimately saved them a lot of time!
Ashley: Best practice tip: If you know you’re going to need specific information, make it required in the first round of your call for papers, so you’re asking people to come into the abstract management system as infrequently as possible – they’ll really appreciate it!
Erin: At the same time, we do want to be mindful of how much people are asked to provide early on. We push our customers to really think about whether they really need some information, and if they are really going to use it. It’s a fine balance that we help customers maintain.
Q: Are there other ways that data is sometimes used that customers don’t always think of?
Dave: Reports! Sometimes a customer will need to have certain data sets for internal reporting purposes, but they may not have collected it because they weren’t thinking of reports at the time. But the reality is, even though the conference site is still being built and they won’t to access reporting for several months, providing all data sets upfront helps streamline the process.
Q: What about data quality? How can we ensure an author provides a completed, high-quality submission?
John: It’s all about the fields you use on your submission form. You have to break up data into smaller pieces. Otherwise five people will fill out the same field five different ways.
Erin: This is a huge culprit! For instance, don’t just include a “Name” field. Break out “First Name” and “Last Name” into two separate fields.
Paul: And, think of everything your authors are going to want to provide, like credentials and designations. If you don’t have a specific space for it, they’ll find a place to put it anyway, and that causes a lot of unnecessary data cleanup on the back end.
Dave: Co-authors can be tricky too. If the submitter is the only person that has access to that submission, they’re going to have a hard time completing it if they don’t know all of their co-authors’ information. So, on your instructions, tell your authors to gather all of their co-author information ahead of time, and it will be a much easier process for them.
Q: Speaking of instructions, how do they factor into the submission and review process?
Ashley: Instructions are incredibly important! Having clearly-written instructions that are easily accessible at the right points during the submission and review process will increase compliance and quality substantially.
John: Keep your instructions very simple, and break them out into smaller, more digestible pieces. Some customers have a tendency to try and over-explain, and this actually causes more confusion and misinterpretation.
Erin: Be sure to have a brief overview of basic qualifiers on your conference website, where the call for papers is being advertised. This allows authors to determine whether their topic is a good fit before they get into the system and start a submission.
Paul: And don’t forget about you reviewers. Be sure you write instructions for them as well.
Q: If you could share just one piece of abstract management wisdom with all meeting planners, what would it be?
Erin: Finalize the big decisions about how you want the process to go at the very beginning, so you don’t find yourself having to change anything while you’re already in the middle of collection. I’ve seen this happen with some large committees, and the customer then had to go back and ask hundreds of authors to come back into the system and update information.
Ashely: I’m going to add to that and say that it’s also important to determine early on who will be the designated point of contact for everything, and funnel all communication and decisions through this person. It simplifies the process tremendously, and you won’t have multiple committee members inadvertently providing conflicting information.
Paul: Provide a designated contact to field questions from submitters—particularly new submitters. Some customers don’t think they want to do this for a variety of reasons. Not having this available and accessible creates frustration for a potentially high-quality speaker.
Dave: Consider reducing the number of reviewers you recruit. I’ve had customers that wanted to assign a single reviewer to a single submission. With fewer reviewers, you actually get better data because they are seeing a bigger pool of submissions and have more context on quality.
John: I think the biggest thing for meeting planners or program chairs to know is they don’t have to be tied to legacy processes just because that’s the way it’s always been done. There may be an easier way to achieve the same outcome, so let us help you explore that option. That’s what we’re here for.
Do you have a question about your current submission and review process that you’d like to run by an abstract management expert? We’d love to help!
The concept of user experience (UX) is most often associated with online or web-based interactions, not printed conference materials. However, the actual definition is much broader than that, and encompasses all aspects of an end-user’s interaction with a company and any of its products or services—whether online or offline.
As meeting planners and event marketers, we take great care to ensure attendees can easily navigate our online conference tools. From finding relevant schedule and session information on the website, to making online registration as simple as possible, to providing the ability to search and download the appropriate conference materials before, during, and after the event. We understand that every touchpoint we have with an attendee helps shape their opinion of our conference, and affects whether or not they choose to return. So why limit the focus of UX to just their online interactions? To illustrate this concept even more, we dig into managing the user experience of a large piece of printed conference content that we are all familiar with – the conference program booklet.
User experience and your conference program booklet
Your printed conference program booklet is more than just another way to capture sponsorship revenue. Most attendees use this printed content in tandem with digital tools, such as a mobile conference app, which allows them to access content while also being social with other members. Just like an app or website, attendees must be able to access the information they’re looking for quickly with your printed program, and use the materials as they were intended. If this is accomplished, you are on your way to having a good user experience with your program book.
Program booklet graphic design
When managing a print project like a conference program booklet, it goes without saying that the overall design of the book is a key component to usability and the attendee’s experience with it. Layout and formatting should be done in a way that helps guide readers through the material, provides consistent visual cues, and appropriately reflects your brand. Other key aspects of the conference program book’s design that aren’t always top-of-mind are size, fonts, paper, and binding, which all affect user experience.
Before you start the design and production of your next program booklet and other printed conference materials, here are some questions to take into consideration that will help you incorporate UX into your conference materials:
What is the purpose of the conference program booklet?
If it includes abstracts or other content designed for in-depth reading and ongoing reference, creating a book that is thick enough to have a printed spine will help ensure it becomes “bookshelf material” for the attendee after the conference ends. At the same time, be sure it’s easy to pack in a suitcase for the return trip.
Conversely, if the program guide is meant to serve as a quick-reference tool while on-site, a smaller thinner, or even a pocket-guide piece may be preferable.
Who is your average conference attendee?
If the demographics of your conference tend to skew older, be sure to use a larger font size that is easily legible, even in dimly lit rooms. Avoid pairing colors that don’t have enough contrast, which also decreases legibility.
Some attendees tend to prefer a booklet that is more portable, keeping it in their pocket rather than a briefcase or bag, which may make smaller booklets a smarter choice.
Are you providing added value with your printed conference materials?
If your attendees love having the program booklet as a place to take notes during the conference, then paper stock and binding type matters. Use an uncoated stock for notes pages, as they are easier to write on. Additionally, ensure your piece lays flat. Coil binding works better than saddle-stitch for this purpose.
If your program is a source of revenue for your conference, then you want to give your sponsors (and exhibitors) a chance to stand out, while providing the information that attendees are looking for. Advertising space should be large enough to feature a meaningful message and help attendees find them on-site.
How much content do you have?
If yours is a large, multi-day and or multi-track conference with a significant amount of content (sessions, speakers, special events, exhibitors, etc.), you want to make your program booklet as easy for users to navigate as possible. Consider including a table of contents at the front, so users can find relevant information easily.
You can include tabs to break up sections of content. Physical tabs sit out further from the book, making them easy to see. However, sometimes this makes the book harder to store. Bleed tabs provide a graphic reference to each section while remaining in-line with the rest of the book.
User experience applies across all attendee touchpoints of a conference. As you’re reviewing and evaluating your online and digital tools, be sure to apply the same scrutiny to your printed conference materials, such as your program booklet, as well. Doing so will help ensure that attendees have a positive user experience with all aspects of your conference.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that this was going to be a big year for our CATALYST online abstract management system, as we maintain a strong focus on ongoing product development, industry partnerships and third-party integrations. We have been doing a lot of work behind-the-scenes that I’m very happy to share with all of you.
Partnerships and Integrations
Omnipress has secured several industry partnerships that help to make CATALYST even more accessible to meeting planners who are looking to simplify their next call for abstracts, including:
Community Brands – Tech Partner
Conference Direct – Preferred Supplier
ACGI/Association Anywhere – Resource Partner
Fuzion — Network Member
We are also actively integrating CATALYST with other event tech and association platforms, including many of the leading AMS providers to provide a more seamless user experience.
Over the past several months, we have launched dozens of new features and updates that further increase data integrity, provide even more flexibility for meeting planners, and provide an even better experience for end users. Just a few of the highlights include:
More advanced review assignment rules so meeting planners can easily implement a variety of options within the same collection
Even greater flexibility filtering data and configuring reports to fit your needs, reducing or eliminating the need to spend time manually re-working spreadsheets
More robust schedule conflict detection
Ability to collect payments in CATALYST, with 100% of the collected revenue going directly to your organization’s account
Integration with iThenticate/CrossCheck Plagiarism Detection Software to help uphold the integrity of your submissions
Future Product Roadmap
Even with all of these advancements, we continue to work toward our goal of ensuring CATALYST sets the industry standard for online abstract and speaker management. Today, we’re currently working on strengthening the integration from CATALYST to your conference material outputs so it’s even easier for you to get that content into your attendees’ hands. Watch for more information on that to be released later this year.
For over 40 years, our single focus has been to help associations and other organizations simplify the process of collecting, producing and distributing educational content. The investments we continue to make are with the sole purpose to continue this mission.
Your attendees are living in a mobile world, with nearly 80% of all Americans owning a smartphone. Of course, it would make sense for your conference to be mobile as well. Increasingly, attendees are becoming conditioned to using an app to access content and information while on-site. But does an app alone provide the greatest value? Not always.
Conference apps bring many benefits to the table, including a personal itinerary for the annual meeting and tools for engagement, but an app might fall short when meeting all the digital needs of your attendees. In addition to a conference app, consider hosting your conference materials on a dedicated website that can be accessed by smartphones, laptops and other devices.
Here are five reasons to pair your mobile app with online conference materials for your event.
1. Superior Search
Online conference materials let your attendees utilize advanced search tools superior to those available on a mobile app. Having options like full-text and faceted search makes a big difference when attendees must search through numerous technical papers and presentations.
2. Marketing and Promotion
To access content in the app, an attendee has to already be registered for the conference. But what about those that haven’t registered yet? Providing access to search engine-accessible online conference materials ahead of the meeting allows prospective attendees to gain a better understanding of the value of the event, ultimately driving registration for those who may still be “on the fence.”
3. Post-Meeting Access
Mobile apps provide the most value during the conference. Many attendees won’t use it at all after they plane home, although the content is still relevant and worth a second look. Having the ability to revisit materials on a computer when back in the office is often easier and preferred, and helps increase retention of the material.
4. Better Reading Experience
Close reading and deep comprehension are challenging when using a small screen. This is why many attendees choose to pore over new research on a full screen, rather than using an app, and where online conference materials have an advantage.
5. Non-Dues Revenue
As you build your association’s online conference content archive, you can plan to charge access for past years, generating non-dues revenue for your organization. This option is made even easier with the ability to restrict access to some or all of your online content. You can select who gets to see what content from recent or past events.
Even if you have a mobile app, supplement it through online conference materials. Having more avenues to deliver quality conference content to your attendees is far better than having too few. Each content format provides its own unique set of benefits to both attendees and your association, so it’s worth investing additional time and effort to select the ones that work best for your event.
If there was one thing I wish everyone knew, it’s that abstract management doesn’t have to be a pain point for meeting planners.
We conducted market research to understand how meeting planners are managing their call for papers, and where some of the biggest pain points are coming from. Most are not happy with their current solution, but are more afraid to switch than to deal with the known pain. As a result, they maintain status quo simply because it seems easier. In actuality, it often results in more (and unnecessary) work for the meeting planner.
Many organizations have legacy collection and review processes in place, and continue to maintain them because that’s how they’ve always done it. Or, they simply don’t realize there is a better way. When we start working with a new customer, the first thing we do is understand your current process, your ultimate goals and objectives, and then provide recommendations that deliver even better results.
Here are just a few examples of how we help improve your abstract management workflow:
Reverse-engineer your collection process so that you’re collecting exactly what you’ll need, in the way you’ll need it for your eventual conference materials. This ensures you are getting the cleanest data possible, saving a tremendous amount of time on the back-end.
Build your forms to collect your data in the smallest pieces possible, making it flexible enough to meet the requirements of all your outputs: mobile app, online, print, etc.
Have processes to validate and authenticate content before it passes on to the peer review stage
Maintain a database of record after your collection is complete so everyone knows which data is correct and current
We are lucky enough to have worked on thousands of conferences, and use that perspective to your advantage. We can configure CATALYST® in a way that facilitates cleaner, better and more complete submissions and reviews, while reducing your workload so you can focus on other aspects of your conference.
As you start thinking ahead to your next call for papers, know that abstract management doesn’t have to be your biggest pain. If you’re interested in exploring whether there are opportunities to simplify your collection and review process, we’d love to share some of our own experiences, as well as what others are doing. Making just a few, simple changes could make a world of difference for your next conference.
According to our annual State of the Conference Industry Report, a majority of associations recognize that education is the primary value their annual conference provides to attendees. And, the quality of educational programming is a major factor in whether an individual chooses to attend a conference. As a result, organizations continue to look for ways to increase the relevance of their programs and the quality of their speakers to maintain and elevate attendee satisfaction. But this alone will only take the learning so far. There is significant opportunity for meeting planners to incorporate proven educational ideas based on adult learning best practices into the structure and format of the conference.
Researchers spend considerable time studying how adults learn and retain information best. Using these findings, professional educators continually experiment with new classroom techniques to increase the amount of active learning and retention. Meanwhile, conferences continue to rely on the same, long-established format: subject matter expert positioned at the front of the room, walking through a PPT deck. The session may include some type of interactive, small-group exercise or discussion, but that’s as far as most sessions go to break from “traditional” format. Because the conference is a primary way that associations deliver education to members, there is significant opportunity to apply the principles of adult learning used by classroom educators into conference breakout rooms.
Here are four guiding principles to consider when thinking about the structure and format of your conference.
Guiding Principle #1: Andragogy
The study of andragogy, or the art and science of adult learning, was developed by Malcolm Knowles in the 1950s. The concept acknowledges that, unlike children, adult learners bring a wealth of professional experience with them into an educational session. According to Knowles, the best way to engage adult learners is to focus on how new information relates to these life experiences and allow them to be active participants in their education. Some examples of andragogy principles put into practice include:
Focus on task-oriented instruction versus memorization
Put learning activities into the context of real-world tasks, challenges and issues the learner encounters regularly
Guiding Principle #2: More sensory input leads to greater retention
The average adult classroom will contain three types of learners: visual (looking, seeing, watching), auditory (listening, hearing and speaking) and kinesthetic (experiencing, moving doing). Creating environments that incorporate all three learning styles does more than just appeal to a wider audience. It also increases retention for all learners. According to the Principles of Adult Learning & Instructional Systems Design, we retain approximately 10% of what we see, 30-40% of what we see and hear, and 90% of what we see, hear and do.
Guiding Principle #3: More content is not necessarily better
As meeting planners, we want to deliver as much value as possible for our attendees in return for the time and expense they invest in our conference. Delivering more content, however, can actually be detrimental to the overall experience. One of the greatest challenges attendees face when attending a high-quality, jam-packed conference is how to battle the inevitable learning fatigue that comes from trying to process a lot of information in a short period of time, while spending a majority of that time in a physically passive state (sitting and listening).
Guiding Principle #4: The “Forgetting Curve”
Hermann Ebbinghaus, a 19th Century German psychologist, conducted a series of memory experiments that uncovered some alarming statistics about learning retention. On average, we forget up to 90% of what we’ve learned within the first month. Repetition and reinforcement after the initial learning event does help to decrease this, to an extent. Retention is also affected by how meaningful the information is. The more a learner can connect new information with existing knowledge, the greater retention is over time.
Putting these principles into practice
Understanding how adults learn and retain information is just the first step in creating a more effective learning environment. The second (and perhaps most challenging) task for meeting planners is how to use this information to re-think the structure of your conference. Here are a few educational ideas to try at your next event.
1. Create a layered approach to learning
Consider decreasing the number of topics featured within your conference schedule, and instead, feature multiple sessions that address a singular topic in a variety of ways. For instance, you may introduce a broader topic or concept in a standard, classroom-style session. Then, dive deeper into specific aspects of that topic in subsequent sessions, each featuring more active learning applications. So if, for example, you featured a general session on strategic planning, subsequent sessions may include:
A hands-on learning task where attendees build the framework for their own strategic plans, which they can then bring back to the office and use
A makerspace-type session where attendees gather together to tackle a specific organizational challenge or experiment with solutions, under the guidance of a facilitator
A hollow-square session, where attendees have the opportunity to pose questions to and learn from each other
2. Interject micro-learning moments
Zoos and museums are two examples of organizations that know how to create great on-site micro-learning moments. While walking from one area to another, you may find a staff member or volunteer standing next to a small cart or table, providing a hands-on opportunity to touch, feel or see one aspect of a larger display. They’ve figured out that learning can truly take place anywhere—including outside the exhibit. Similarly, think about how you might be able to interject short (two to five-minute), pop-up, multi-media learning sessions throughout the venue: in the hallway or stairwell during breaks, in a lounge area where many attendees are often taking a moment to sit and check email, on the sidewalk outside of the conference center. These can be fun, interactive, almost “freestyle” or “street-style” opportunities.
3. Add more thinking and moving time
Instead of packing every possible hour with expert-led educational sessions, think about ways to schedule more “whitespace” into your conference—blocks of time designed to make learning more effective and productive. Consider scheduling “study” time designed to absorb and use what has been learned. Provide workbooks to help structure notes from the entire day into ideas and action plans that participants can apply as soon as they get back to the office. Have multiple attendees from the same organization? This can become a valuable team collaboration session (which can be difficult to find time for when everyone returns to the office).
Look for ways to get people moving more at the conference. Consider removing the chairs from a breakout session to keep the blood flowing. Schedule a 10-minute networking “walkabout” before your mid-morning and mid-afternoon sessions. Turn a learning lab into a scavenger hunt. Think about including five minutes of breathing and stretching exercises throughout the day.
4. Provide resources for attendees to reinforce learning after the conference
Learning doesn’t have to end when the conference does. Consider creating value-added opportunities for attendees to continue the learning after the conference throughout the year. Use both structured (instructor-led) and unstructured (attendee collaboration) virtual events to foster continued discussion. Provide ongoing access to conference and supplemental materials through an online conference library.
By following these educational ideas for conference sessions, your conference attendees will be more engaged and retain more information, making your conference and its education much more valuable.
How you deliver conference content to your attendees is changing. Thanks to on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube, the idea of omnipresent content—content that is available whenever, wherever, and in the format that is most convenient—is now the expectation. Associations typically offer some form of digital access to event materials, but the idea of providing a single digital format is no longer enough to provide attendees with the user experience they expect.
Feedback from attendees is prompting associations to look for ways to meet these new expectations. Rather than choosing one format, offer your attendees access to a variety of digital content to create a seamless, accessible experience that can heighten the educational value of your event.
Different digital format provide different benefits
It’s common for conference professionals to assume all digital conference products provide the same features, benefits and experiences. In reality, online conference proceedings, mobile apps and USB drives each bring their own unique set of benefits to your conference attendees.
Online Conference Proceedings
Online conference proceedings make conference materials accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. Attendees can easily search by session, track and speaker to select the material that interests them prior to the conference.
With online conference proceedings, you can offer a preview of your event’s sessions. These previews can help people decide whether or not they want to attend your conference based on tangible examples of the information you provide. And, by hosting all of these items in one central location, you create a great online resource for attendees to return to after the conference has ended.
A conference app is best for portability and on-site information. Your conference attendees can use your mobile app to navigate around the conference using GPS technology, maps and can build their own personal schedule that fits right into their pocket.
Apps also help drive engagement during your conference. Features like live polling, social timelines and direct messaging between attendees and speakers facilitate one of the main reasons your attendees come to your conference year after year: networking.
Relying on the venue’s WiFi is never a good idea, which is why USB drives are great for storing conference materials. The devices are small and easy to carry, especially when they are stored in unique shapes or useful objects like pens and keychains.
One of the biggest perks of USBs is that they make it convenient to access information. While web addresses might be easily forgotten, a physical keychain or item on your attendee’s desk at work will remind them of your association, conference and the information they learned from you.
Why you need a comprehensive approach
Since each digital format has its own set of unique benefits, using multiple options at your event will give attendees the most flexibility in how they engage with your materials. Don’t think of them as a replacement for each other, but rather think about how each option fills a different role in creating a seamless educational experience.
Here are a few examples to illustrate why your conference should offer a comprehensive mix of digital content formats.
John is interested in attending your conference and goes online to find example conference materials to get a better idea of what your association offers. When he sees your conference proceeding sneak peeks, he registers and uses the online conference proceedings to figure out which sessions he wants to attend. When the day of the conference arrives, John wants to reference the conference materials, but cannot access the venue’s WiFi. Fortunately, he can still pull up materials using the USB keychain you provided at check-in.
Mary likes to be able to reference conference materials during break-out sessions, but does not want to be weighed down by her laptop all day during your event. Instead, she accesses the conference materials available through your mobile app. During breaks, she also uses the app to post about her experiences on the social timeline and sends a question to a speaker she didn’t get the opportunity to speak with. After the conference is over, Mary deletes the app to free up space on her phone, but is able to log onto your online conference library to reinforce the information she learned at the event.
Susan is traveling from out of state to your conference and is uneasy about being in a new city. Fortunately, she has downloaded your mobile app, which provides her with GPS directions to the event location and helps her navigate the city during lunch and breaks. However, she finds it difficult to find the exact conference paper she’s looking for on her small phone screen, so she pulls out her laptop and uses the USB your association provided to access and search the materials to find the paper she is looking for.
Give your attendees the format freedom they desire
Providing content in multiple formats can be a challenge if you don’t have a strategy for managing them. One common pitfall is keeping data updated and consistent in multiple places as your content changes. The best way to avoid a data gap is to create a single source of record that is always up to date.
Updating content in multiple places and coordinating with multiple vendors is another scenario that can make managing multiple formats difficult, so consider working with a single vendor that offers all the formats you need.
By offering digital content in a variety of formats you’ll give your attendees the freedom to access materials whenever and wherever they want. All of the digital formats work together to increase the educational value of your event and create a top-notch conference experience.
This year’s State of the Conference Industry Report makes clear that association professionals are facing new challenges as they strive to meet their attendees’ changing expectations.
Between the growing number of formats associations use to deliver content, the variety of initiatives designed to increase attendee engagement, and the wide-ranging expectations of today’s attendees, managing conference content is becoming an increasingly difficult task.
Take a look at the infographic below to see some of the highlights from the report. For a more complete view of how association professionals are adapting to the realities of omnipresent content, be sure to download the full report.
Read the full report to learn how other associations use content to engage attendees before, during and after their events.
Several members of the Omnipress team made the trek up to Vancouver recently to participate in this year’s AMCI Annual Meeting. The event was packed with interesting sessions on a number of topics, but if you had to condense it all into one word, it would be “sustainability.”
The association world has seen dramatic growth over the past 20 years, and taking steps to sustain that growth into the future was an underlying theme of each presentation. The speakers at the event offered many ideas, but in general, there were three approaches to help associations build on the success of the past two decades:
Approach #1: Creating Excellence Within Your Organization
Several presenters at the conference suggested that organizational success begins by looking within. These speakers focused on making internal improvements to your culture, mission or processes.
Virtual workforces: This organizational structure is becoming increasingly common for both corporations and associations. For associations, there are some clear advantages in creating this type of environment:
Allowing employees to work off-site is an effective incentive in the hiring process. Millennials, in particular, are interested in non-traditional work environments, and the ability to work remotely is an enticing benefit.
Having a de-centralized staff creates greater flexibility for growth. In a traditional scenario, growing your staff often results in outgrowing your office space. When you have staff that works from home, you can quickly scale up without needing to find larger offices.
“The Givens”: This presentation focused on the culture within an association. “The Givens” refer to those aspects of your mission statement that are so common, they really are a given. Boilerplate values like integrity and honesty don’t need to be part of your mission statement because these qualities are assumed. Instead, your mission statement should include the values that only your organization can provide.
Approach #2: Promoting Your Association to New Members
Marketing continues to be another area that generates interest from association professionals. Using content marketing for promoting the value of membership is still something that many struggle to put into practice. As older members retire and leave the association, online content marketing is an effective way to reach the next generation of young professionals.
AMCs that can provide guidance and best practices for associations to reuse their content can add tremendous value to the organizations they work with.
Approach #3: Improving Member Engagement
For most associations, increasing member growth and engagement are top priorities. Educational sessions that delve into these topics are always crowd favorites, and one presentation combined both of these elements into one interesting hour.
Associations that have a large number of Baby-Boomer members are facing an interesting scenario: As members retire from the workforce, they may not be ready to retire from the association. In fact, retirement may allow these senior members an opportunity to participate in ways that were not possible while they were employed. One solution for these members is for them to serve as mentors to younger members. Mentorships offer a new kind of engagement for members and provides a tangible benefit for younger members that are looking to advance their careers.
In addition to these sessions, the 2018 AMCI Annual Meeting provided many opportunities to talk with peers about how they are working to keep the momentum going. Listening to the ideas presented at the event, it’s clear that the association industry is poised to continue the success of the past 20 years.
Developing a plan to promote your event is a critical part of conference planning. Marketing can be expensive and time-consuming, and consumers are increasingly skeptical of traditional advertising. This is where content marketing comes into play.
Content marketing is the practice of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract and engage a target audience. This method goes hand-in-hand with your goal as an association: to educate industry professionals and association members.
Luckily, as an event planner, you have a secret weapon: you sit on a goldmine of valuable information. This allows you to:
Connect with professionals looking for industry-specific information
Remind members of the value your association provides year-round
Build awareness of your conference and other events
Extend the life of the materials you work hard to collect
These shiny knowledge-nuggets are not something you have to go mining for; they are already at your fingertips.
Why Content Marketing Works for Associations
Content marketing has become one of the most popular ways for organizations to promote themselves online. Associations have some unique advantages when it comes to content marketing:
You have existing material. The biggest barrier to content marketing is creating new material. Your existing library of content gives you a head start.
Your review process provides authority. You can be confident that your peer-reviewed materials are insightful. This can be especially handy if you are not a subject matter expert.
You have access to the latest thinking. Your conference is an industry leader in providing timely, relevant information, allowing you to continue your role as a thought leader throughout the year.
You get feedback from the industry. Your conference feedback can provide insight into which topics are most in-demand. Think of this as “focus group” input on the material in your collection.
Reusing your existing content allows you to give your content a second life and extend its use beyond your conference. Using actual event content gives potential attendees a glimpse of the kinds of material at your conference so they can see for themselves why yours is a “can’t miss” event.
Develop a Content Marketing Plan
The first step in launching a content marketing campaign is assessing your existing materials. Determine what kind of content you have available and where it will be located. Your association’s website may seem like a good idea at first, but as time goes on, content can get lost or buried as the site gets updated. It’s best to create a standalone digital conference library. This will give visitors an idea of the broad range of information they can rely on your conference for.
It’s also important to determine a schedule that you will be able to follow. Be realistic. Will you be able to consistently post two pieces of content each week? Or is one piece of content every two weeks more likely? The rate that you choose is less important than your ability to stay on schedule. Readers stay engaged with a blog or social media profile that is updated on a regular basis.
Now that you’ve identified the most relevant materials and decided on how much time you can devote to sharing content online, you’ll need to consider the best ways your association can reach its followers. How can you make your content clickable? One way to effectively grab your readers’ attention is by using images.
Create Images for Social Media
The web is becoming an increasingly visual medium. Adding visual elements to your posts is one of the most effective ways you can increase the impact of your messaging. In fact, posts that include images see 650% more engagement than posts with just text alone.
Here are three conference-specific scenarios where visuals would be an effective way to promote your event. For each scenario, there is an example of an online tool well-suited for creating attention-grabbing artwork with minimal effort.
Scenario #1 – Promote a session by a prominent speaker
The speakers at your conference are a major factor in drawing in attendees each year, so it should be no surprise that speakers make for effective promotional content.
Imagine you’ve just finished your speaker selection process and are ready to announce the keynote speaker. You could certainly type out a post listing their names and the topics they will be discussing (Borrrrrr-ingggg!). A much more engaging approach is to present the same information with a visual design to it.
Pikiz is an image creator that is perfect for creating simple images that include text. Upload your own background image or choose from the images they have available. Then, double-click on the text box to add a customized message. Another great feature is that each social network has its own preset. This makes it super simple to post great-looking images to your favorite site.
Scenario #2 – Present research findings as an infographic
A presentation from last year’s conference coincides with some hot new research that is making the rounds. You know this is a great opportunity to join the conversation and promote your event. Since the presentation is available in your digital content library, it’s ready for people to see. But how do you make sure your post stands out from the crowd of others? Use the findings from the presentation and display it as an infographic!
Creating an infographic is a simple three-step process with infogr.am. Choose a design template, enter your data into their spreadsheet viewer and click share. That’s it! The program will create a shareable link to the social media site of your choice. You can also upload your own images or choose different fonts if you want a more customized design.
Scenario #3 – Call for award nominations using your own branded graphic
Part of your annual pre-event strategy is to ask for award nominations. You could do what you’ve always done: copy and paste the same text on the same social media networks and get the same results. Or, you can take it to the next level by creating a completely custom design (no designer needed)!
Canva is like working with a design pro that has dozens of designs ready for you to choose from (but doesn’t charge by the hour). Once you log in to Canva, you’ll see dozens of customizable templates sorted by format. Whether you are looking to create an image for social media, your blog or a poster, Canva has a file ready for you to start designing with. It’s also flexible enough to work with your existing elements. Just add your association logo, a picture of the award and text asking for nominations. You then have the option to share online or download.
Catch Their Eye
A well-designed image is critical in catching the attention of busy professionals, so having a visual presence online these days is essential. Presenting your existing content visually is a great way to keep your event in front of the attendees you want to attract.
Thankfully, the web is full of fast and intuitive ways to create custom graphics. With little effort, you can create designs that convey your message in an interesting and engaging way, and most importantly, in a way your audience enjoys seeing.
The next step is sharing those images and other content on platforms that will help you build and connect with your audience.
Promote Your Event on Social Media
Social media platforms are great hosts for content marketing pieces, particularly visuals. The best part about social media is that it’s not only for sharing content—it’s also great for building communities of like-minded people, just like your association! Each platform has its own strengths, so it’s important to assess these and plan content accordingly when designing a content marketing strategy. Below are a few of the most popular social media platforms to get you started.
Another platform that’s useful for engaging members is Instagram, a photo and video-sharing social media app. Instagram is great for sharing eye-catching graphics and photos to promote your event and attract potential attendees. Users can accompany their photos with captions and hashtags, which help the posts be seen by non-followers.
Instagram is popular with your youngest members, making it the ideal platform for appealing to Millennials and Generation Z. By sharing posts on Instagram, you have a much higher chance of attracting and engaging a younger demographic to your conferences than on other platforms like Facebook. The most important aspect to Instagram is to make sure your posts are visually appealing and include appropriate hashtags to make sure they are seen.
Twitter can be a fantastic tool for event professionals. Its design works well for promoting a conference or creating year-round awareness of your association. Being active on Twitter lets you connect with industry thought-leaders and attendees on a platform that they prefer.
Using original and industry hashtags, retweeting interesting industry sources and sharing quotes and links to your association’s content can transform your Twitter feed into a hub of relevant, valuable industry information. This way, you can keep current members engaged while attracting future members from other parts of the industry.
Twitter is also a great place for personal engagement with industry experts, your conference speakers and your members. Mention speakers in tweets; follow and retweet thought leaders; and like, retweet and reply to your follower’s tweets to create a sense of community while spreading the word about your event.
To reach younger members, try using Snapchat to promote your next conference. Snapchat is a particularly useful social media platform during your event, but can also be used before the conference to build anticipation. Snapchats stories, which last for 24 hours, allow you to share behind-the-scenes photos and videos of event set-up. Your speakers can also “take over” your stories to share some insider information about their presentations or industry topics.
A branded Geofilter can be designed specifically for your event and applied the day of the conference, so your attendees can use it when sending snapchats to their friends or story throughout the day. Not only will the Geofilter feel exclusive due to its limited availability, helping engage your attendees, but it can help spread the word about your association.
Facebook is one of the most-used social media platforms across all age groups, which makes it the perfect place to provide event information and promote the sharing of your conference. Create a Facebook Page for your association where you can post conference information and other content.
You can also create a Facebook Event for your conference and invite current members, encouraging them to invite people who may be interested, as well. This is a free and easy way to spread the word and potentially reach new members through current advocates of your association.
Discover Your Audience’s Interests
Now you know that using conference content as a marketing tool is a great way for your audience to learn about your event and the value it provides.
But did you know that it can also be a great way for you to learn about your audience?
By analyzing the data from your content marketing posts, you can learn a number of important things about your audience. First, you can see what parts of the world your visitors come from; this can help you find speakers from those particular regions to boost attendance at your annual event. You can also identify which sites or platforms best connect you with your members, helping you tune your messages on the most critical platforms moving forward.
Most importantly, you’ll be able to identify which types of content your visitors prefer. This feedback can guide future conference planning as well as future content marketing efforts to best connect you with your audience.
Content marketing can also inform you about your own content. By recognizing what messaging is most effective with your audience, you will be better prepared for conference promotion techniques. Additionally, analytics can teach you which topics generate the most interest among your followers; consider including these topics in your next conference event.
Use the information you gain from your content marketing plan to inform future events, connect with key members and create a more successful content marketing strategy overall.
Make Your Content Work Year-Round
The whole point of content marketing is to show your followers you have value to offer with tangible pieces of content you’ve worked hard to collect. Choose the platforms that best connect with your audience and help your association achieve goals, whether that includes your website, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat or one of the many others available online. Most of the content you share can be used across multiple platforms, giving you lots of opportunities to reach new people and prove the value of your event all year long.
Increase the value of your event for exhibitors, sponsors and attendees—and generate some new revenue for yourself in the process. Attendify’s mobile event app—which works seamlessly with our CATALYST Abstract management system—now offers integrated lead retrieval, making it super simple for your exhibitors to build relationships with the attendees at your event.
Event professionals are always looking for opportunities to generate additional conference revenue, and lead retrieval is a convenience that exhibitors and sponsors are willing to pay for. If you’ve ever watched an exhibitor struggle to jot down notes after a conversation with an attendee, you know the value a lead retrieval app provides.
Social Lead Retrieval
Scribbling on the back of a business card is the old-tech way of collecting information from event participants. With the Attendify app, exhibitors can use their own mobile phone to scan an attendee’s QR code. Contact information about the lead is available immediately, along with access to view the attendee’s activity stream posts. Exhibitors can also contact leads directly through the app to schedule follow up appointments.
Real-Time Engagement Data
During the event, an analytics dashboard helps you ensure that exhibitors use the app effectively. Lead generation data is available to monitor performance and see which exhibitors are successfully adding leads. These real-time insights are available on your existing device and don’t require adding additional hardware.
Using a lead retrieval app allows exhibitors to use their in-person conversations to build more meaningful engagement with attendees, knowing that details like contact information will be automatically synced to their device.
Providing an easy way for exhibitors to retrieve attendee data is becoming a must-have feature for an event app, similar to the way that attendees expect a mobile app to provide a schedule of the event. To learn more about pricing and the other benefits of offering your exhibitors an integrated lead retrieval app, check out the information on Attendify’s page.
Have you ever offered automated lead retrieval at your events in the past? What other ways are you using technology to create more value for your exhibitors and sponsors? Let us know in the comments below.