Associations are known for providing high-caliber training programs to their members. But do your prospective members know this? Increasingly, no. Google has created more competition for your association’s training and education. Luckily, Google can also be the solution.
Google’s Rise in Importance for Associations
Once upon a time, associations were the singular source of industry information and knowledge. But today, they face stiff competition from other industry resources. Vendors and other organizations who are trying to sell their services to your members are producing their own educational content to get their attention.
Perform a Google search on almost any topic, and you’ll find a lengthy list of conferences, mini-courses, workbooks, webinars, and podcasts being offered by industry corporations and other organizations. These organizations make sure their content appears when someone is actively searching for information, answers, and guidance.
They are designed to build awareness and trust among the very same people you’re targeting for membership—young professionals.
Your association may have an entire library of content on the topic (and a network of professionals to consult with), but that’s only going to matter if that content appears in search engine results alongside your competitors.
Young Professionals are the Key to Training Program Growth
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Millennials in the U.S. —the youngest of whom are in their late 20’s to early 30’s—has eclipsed Baby Boomers. And, according to the Pew Research Center, they are now the largest generation in the workforce.
Generation Z, currently aged 10-25, only makes up 5% of the workforce today. But they are the #2 demographic group by size, just behind Millennials.
Unfortunately, according to our 2022 Training Trends Report, only 20% of associations saw more young professionals participating in their training programs in 2021. 35% did not see any increase, and 35% weren’t sure. The reason? Only 28% have a well-developed strategy in place to address the training and education preferences of young professionals.
The good news is that early observations note that these young professionals actively seek out professional development opportunities. This, coupled with their size, make them a prime target for training programs.
How to Make Restricted Association Content More Accessible to Google
Many associations restrict access to their educational content to protect its value. But this is often done in a way that also prevents search engines like Google from crawling this content.
There are steps organizations can take to maintain access control while allowing this content to appear on search engine results pages (SERPS).
Here are a few ideas of how to do this.
1. Find out what people are searching for online
Make a list of your most popular training courses or other resources and the specific topics they cover. Use free online tools to uncover the specific questions or keywords searchers use when looking for resources on one of these related topics.
These free online tools include:
The Google auto-complete function in the search bar
Google’s “People also ask” and “Related searches” tool found on search results pages
Google Trends and Wordtracker, which provide search volume history on specific keywords and phrase
2. Turn these search topics into “feeder” content
The goal of step #1 is to uncover common pain points and questions people in your industry are asking. Turn these pain points and questions into content that can be accessed by anyone, like articles and short videos.
3. Create entry points to your courses and resources that are search engine optimized
Some organizations are too protective of their resources. They put everything behind a gate, to the point where someone on your website can only see that you have resources, but not what they are. Which does nothing to attract new participants.
Instead, create a webpage anyone can access that provides a summary or even a short preview of a course or resource. Perform keyword and content optimization on this page so that it’s included in search engine results.
If a user doesn’t have the appropriate credentials to access the course or resource, that is the perfect place to entice them to register or join!
Associations don’t need to open their training material to non-members if it doesn’t align with their organizational strategy. But there are ways that organizations can, and should, openly publish samples of their educational subject matter for prospective members to discover. Like it or not, Google is key to organizational growth.
Perhaps the most valuable asset an association provides to its members is the educational content shared at a conference. In an effort to make that content more accessible, many organizations post their conference materials online. However, often times the content posted is limited to conference attendees who are looking for papers, presentations and handouts from sessions they already attended. While your current conference attendees certainly appreciate this, this limited approach does little to reach new audiences. By incorporating some simple SEO (search engine optimization) tips into your online conference content strategy, associations can drastically increase the role, value and ROI of your conference.
Why SEO for Online Conference Materials Matters
As associations look to increase their relevancy in a world that is changing faster than ever, many are thinking about how to attract and engage younger members. Capitalizing on the younger generation’s tendency to turn to search engines for answers to their most common questions is one logical place to start.
In 2012, the Pew Research Center conducted an online survey of middle and high school teachers to understand which tools were most often used for research projects. 94% of respondents indicated that their students were very likely to use Google as their primary source of research. Today, these students are the very same Millennials and Gen Z-ers your organization is looking to attract. They are conditioned to turn to search engines like Google for the information and knowledge your association already provides. Learning how to optimize your online conference content so it shows up at the top of search results will help increase your content’s reach and influence, and ultimately your association’s thought leadership and industry influence.
How to Optimize Your Conference Materials for Search: 3 Simple Steps
SEO can often be a daunting task for associations who already have limited internal resources. After all, some large companies dedicate entire teams to the discipline. But, according to Casey Emanuel, Search Optimization Manager at Rocket Clicks, a specialized SEO agency and Premier Google Partner based in Milwaukee, WI, most associations would benefit drastically from adding just a few, simple tasks to their annual conference to-do list.
1. Add Metadata to Your PDFs
Most conference materials—from speaker presentations to handouts—are posted online as PDFs. Emanuel points out that, “just like web pages, you can, and should, optimize PDFs for searchability.” If done correctly, Google will crawl your PDFs for content, and can even display them as organic search results. These steps should only take a few minutes per PDF. To avoid doing all the work yourself, make it a required part of your final submission process.
Save the PDF to your website with a descriptive, SEO-friendly filename
In Acrobat Reader, go to File > Document Properties and fill in the Title and Subject fields with descriptive text and keywords
Optimize the file size by compressing any large images, if necessary
2. Build Quality Backlinks to Your Conference Materials
Backlinks, or references from third-party websites to your own, can serve as a signal of quality and authority to Google. However, Emanuel is quick to point out that, “These links need to be real and authentic, otherwise you could actually be penalized by search engines.”
One fairly easy way to build backlinks to your conference content is to encourage your speakers to reference and link to the material within their own online properties. Not only does this boost SEO for your organization, it also helps the speaker increase their own authority and visibility.
3. Build Internal Links to Your Conference Materials
Oftentimes, the only place you’ll find reference to online conference materials is within the Agenda or Schedule page of the conference website. Emanuel recommends creating follow-up articles or blog posts on popular session topics and incorporating links to the conference materials as part of the article. “These internal links work to build link authority just like backlinks do, helping your PDF files appear in search results for relevant keywords.” To help mitigate additional work, ask your speakers and session leaders to craft the article. They will love the additional exposure, and you’ll have one less post-conference task to complete.
Posting your conference materials online does more than just provide increased choice and accessibility for current attendees. If these materials are search engine optimized, they can deliver valuable answers to new audiences, increasing both the reach and ROI of your conference.
The following is a special post from Brooke Rossi, our summer Marketing Intern. Brooke is starting her senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, majoring in Professional Communication and Emerging Media. Before returning to school, Brooke agreed to share her thoughts and impressions of associations as a soon-to-be graduate entering the professional world.
Before starting my summer Marketing Internship at Omnipress, I had very little knowledge of associations. My initial impression was that people typically joined them through their workplace with little enthusiasm and only for some level of prestige that comes with membership. I thought there were a limited variety of associations to join, focusing on broad disciplines, and didn’t realize how expansive (and specialized) the association universe is. Just four months ago, I wouldn’t have thought about associations and their impact on nearly every aspect of local and global societies. Without an understanding of the association world, I wasn’t even aware of the extent of educational and advancement opportunities available through education, credentialing and industry-related certifications. Real change happens because of associations, and I was completely blind to it!
WSAADTATYP? (What Should An Association Do to Appeal to Young Professionals?)
Now that I’ve had the chance to work in an organization that caters to associations, I have a greater appreciation and understanding of why they exist and why they’re so important. And I’m so glad I do! I am already looking into associations that touch my field of study. I wondered how many of my peers—students getting ready to enter the workforce—shared my same level of appreciation and understanding. I reached out to several friends to see what they knew, and whether associations were even on their radar. Most had given associations very little thought. Once I explained some of what I had learned, many of them indicated they would consider joining a professional association after graduation specifically for the continued education and networking opportunities. Associations: this means there is a huge opportunity to get in front of young professionals much, much earlier in the process, and to do a better job explaining what you do and you can offer us. You also need to help remove some of the inherent barriers that will prevent us from pulling the trigger. Here are just a few ideas for you to consider when looking for ways to engage more young professionals.
Set Up Early Outreach Programs
As I quickly learned from surveying my own peer group, many young professionals aren’t seeking out associations. To start enticing new professionals who do not yet know about you, visit them before they even graduate. Look for universities with corresponding degrees and create on-campus events and programming geared toward students entering the profession. Or, participate in existing events such as an on-site career fair. I know that any time I attend an event on campus related to my degree, it makes me more excited to get out and pursue a career, and knowing that I would already have a community to ease that transition would energize me more.
Create a Newbie-Friendly Environment
To recent graduates, joining a group of seasoned, industry veterans can be intimidating. Consider providing onboarding programs designed to increase our comfort level. This could mean an exclusive get-together for new members to make initial connections, or a mentorship program to connect a new member with a young professional ambassador—someone who has a few years of membership under their belt, but has been in our shoes recently enough and can show us the ropes.
Market to Our Thrifty Buying Habits
In order to appeal to young professionals entering the workforce, you will want to think about the average financial situation graduates face. With our search for work and a place to live, along with possible college debt, we often think there is nothing left in our wallets for a membership to your association. Throughout the years, I have noticed that my peers are easily deterred by price. We tend to be more frugal with our money, and are hesitant to make purchases that require a large upfront investment. Consider offering a special rate for new graduates, or give us a 90-day free trial for your organization. When we are ready to pull the trigger, provide ways to spread out the cost of membership over a longer period of time, such as monthly billing.
Help Us Grow and Be Adventurous
Opportunities for growth and adventure are valued by young professionals like me. Don’t be too subtle about your benefits of membership. In fact, flaunt them! But make sure they are tailored to where we are in our careers. Emphasize how your certifications and other recognition will help us “climb the ladder” or teach us how to become an effective leader. Or for more of a fun twist, tell us about the fun destinations you can help send us to. We are seeing our friends travel the world on social media, and we do not want to miss out. Giving us an outlet where we can both learn and explore is icing on the cake.
Invest in Your Content
Another thing you will want to think about when looking to gain young members is that we are accustomed to finding information quickly, with just one or two clicks. So having a strong online presence is crucial. But it also has to feature an exceptional user experience. First, you have to make sure I find you. When I do, feature content that immediately provides quality, relevant answers to my most pressing questions. Not sure where to start? Reach out and ask us! Use the channels we already frequent, such as YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. We are more than happy to tell you what’s on our minds.
Young Professionals Need Your Association…We Just Don’t Know it Yet!
Associations provide the learning and development opportunities young professionals crave. But you can’t take for granted that we’ll figure this out immediately upon graduation. We first need to understand what associations are and why they exist before we even consider joining one. Then, we need to have a firm understanding of what your association can do for me, while making membership as easy as possible. Do whatever you can to remove the barriers to membership, whether real (financial) or perceived. If you make a genuine commitment to us, the good news is you’ll have gained life-long learners who would love to advocate on your behalf, further spreading your mission to professionals that don’t know they need you yet.
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.
The chairs are folded. The hum of the fluorescent lights has come to a halt. Attendees, sponsors and speakers have gone back to their associations and offices. And just like that, your conference is over.
Nothing remains of the conference which took so long to prepare for…except all of the content you spent months collecting!
Are you missing an opportunity here?
What is your association doing with your valuable conference materials after an event? Many organizations fail to repurpose event content and thus, miss a major opportunity to keep the event at the forefront of attendees’ minds.
Don’t let your content fall to the side. Here are four creative ways you can share conference materials AFTER the event.
House material on a searchable website
In addition to handing out conference materials to each attendee at the event, it’s good practice to upload the materials online where all attendees can access it after the fact. Putting your content online allows attendees easy access to whatever materials you’d like to share, whether that’s this year’s materials or all event materials from the past.
Sharing conference materials online also increases the chances of someone discovering your association. Google searches can pull up your content, meaning more people will have the ability to find out about your organization. Even if your content is gated with a password, potential members and attendees looking for industry-specific information will come to know that your association is the place to look and may even join to gain access to it.
Use content to promote your conference on social media
Many of your attendees, speakers and potential members are active on social media, providing you with easy-to-use, free platforms to keep them engaged. The possibilities for sharing conference content on social media are nearly endless; you can summarize key points or interesting facts, provide eye-catching graphics and share links to content hosted online to remind attendees of your content and keep them interested.
If your association hosts a blog, it can be the perfect place to repurpose event content and keep the conversation going. Blogs can easily be used to post transcripts, video or audio of the conference, or even just takeaway points from the speakers. Blogging is great for marketing your event, as well. Those who didn’t attend can read about what happened to give them some insight on what they missed.
The content doesn’t just have to come from you, either. Invite industry experts to write a wrap-up of the event or to provide further information about a topic that they discussed.
Create a webinar based on popular themes from the event
A webinar or web series is a way to provide another layer of depth to a particular topic of interest from the event. Use feedback from event surveys to find out what topics your attendees were really interested in and create a webinar about how this topic applies to a current event in your industry or deep-dive into one specific aspect of the topic.
This is also a great way to expand your event’s reach. Your association can decide to offer the webinar or web series to a larger group than those who attended your event, meaning non-attendees can access it and hopefully become interested enough to attend next year.
Sharing conference materials extends your event
You spend months collecting and reviewing content to distribute at your annual event, but it doesn’t have to end once your conference does. Avoid missing an opportunity for engagement by repurposing your event content and sharing it with attendees and non-attendees alike.
We’ve heard from organizations that increasing enrollment in their continuing education courses can be challenging, time-consuming and expensive. Organizations sit on a goldmine of useful educational materials and resources, but might not know how to use them to their benefit.
Since getting new members to enroll in your courses is so important to your organization, you need a way to expand your reach and keep learners interested in your training courses year-round.
That’s why we’ve created a guide to help you use the educational materials you already have and share them on social media.
How to transform existing educational content into shareable information
Which visual tools you can use to create eye-catching promotional graphics
How Twitter can help you build a community of learners
How to promote your courses as events on Facebook
How LinkedIn can help you expand your reach to users outside of your existing network
Using free social media tools to share your content is a great way to start using your educational materials to their full potential. If you’d like to learn how social media can help your organization engage new and existing learners, download our free whitepaper!
Whether it’s before, during or after your event, social media is a great tool to use to promote your conference and engage attendees. And one of the most effective ways to grab your followers’ attention is with your existing conference materials. These research findings, conference schedules, presentations, speaker announcements, etc. provide the perfect preview of what your event offers.
But when it comes to sharing your content, not all social media sites are created equal.
Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn each excel at promoting your event in different ways. So, before you implement your conference content marketing plan, it’s important to know which sites are best suited for each type of content.
Take a look at the infographic below to see which social media networks are the best match for each type of conference-specific content. And be sure to read the whitepaper Promote Your Event With Conference Content Marketing for actionable ideas on how you can use social media to attract attendees to your next event!
Promote Your Event With Conference Content Marketing Infographic
Not all social media networks are alike! Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn each excel at promoting your event in different ways.
Twitter: Real-time updates and interaction. A network designed for immediate feedback, Twitter is the perfect choice for conversations around events and news.
Snapchat: Reach younger members. Connect with the next generation of professionals on the platform they prefer.
LinkedIn Advertising: Expand your network to others in your industry. Targeted advertising allows your messages to reach industry professionals that have not yet followed your page.
Choose the right type of conference content for each social media network
One of the more surprising findings from our 2017 State of the Conference Industry report was how many associations are not re-using their conference content to promote their upcoming events. These organizations are missing a huge opportunity, so we decided to do something about it.
We created a guide to give you some ideas on how to start formulating a social media strategy for your association’s content.
How to transform existing content into shareable information
Which visual tools you can use to create graphics that pique your followers’ interests
How Twitter can help you maintain year-round awareness of your event
How to use Snapchat to engage younger members
How to use LinkedIn to share content with users outside of your member network
Effectively using social media is a great first step in taking advantage of your association’s existing content. If you want tips on how to re-use content on social media to promote your event and create year-round member engagement, download your free copy of the whitepaper!