Right now, it’s probably more difficult than ever to plan a conference or instructor-led course. Just as we were all feeling relatively confident about a slow but steady return to in-person educational events, new variants caused us to re-think our plans yet again—including how we use print services to provide educational materials to attendees.
According to the latest survey results featured in PCMA’s COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard, meeting planners are once again shifting back to virtual or trying a hybrid format for the first time. Meanwhile, the planning window continues to get smaller while the outcomes (attendance, sponsor commitment, etc.) remain difficult to predict.
In response to all this uncertainty, Omnipress has launched a new print service option—EasyPrint™—that removes both the risk and burden of printing event and course materials. With EasyPrint, you can still provide a physical program book or training manual to the participants who really want it, at no cost whatsoever to the organization.
Here’s how EasyPrint works:
Omnipress creates, hosts, and manages an online storefront to merchandise your printed materials available for purchase.
You provide participants with a link to our storefront where they order materials directly from us.
You provide Omnipress with a print-ready file of your materials.
Omnipress will print, pack, and ship items to participants at no cost to you.
Jonny Popp, General Manager of Omnipress explains why EasyPrint was developed. “We understand that it’s become challenging to estimate print quantities with any confidence right now, without knowing what attendance or demand is going to look like. Add to that the fact that our customers are having to make significant adjustments to their educational events with less planning time. The last thing they need is one more task.”
Adds Popp, “At the same time, our customers tell us they have participants who are print fanatics. They love to have that tactile piece. For them, it increases the value of the event or course.”
In addition to increasing value for both in-person and virtual participants, EasyPrint also allows organizations to retain an important piece of their sponsor recognition package while removing the out-of-pocket costs.
Providing virtual access to event content continues to be an important strategy even as in-person conferences resume. It increases the value of your event for attendees, and broadens access to those who may not have attended in-person.
If you are planning to include virtual content as part of your next event, it’s important to remember the lessons we all learned about the strengths and limitations of virtual events over the past few years.
The following post was originally written in mid-2020. And while the kids are back at school and I’m spending part of my week in the office, many of these observations still apply.
Remembering the past: what we learned in 2020
To have a successful virtual conference, you need to truly understand what the life of a virtual participant looks like right now so you know what you can—and can’t—expect of them.
Normally, we don’t make our blog posts quite so personal. But this time, I’m going to get a little personal and share the first-hand wisdom I’ve gathered over the past week while my husband attended a three-day, all-day virtual event. Spoiler alert: while he absolutely loved the content and discussions with his peers, some of the logistics were both painful and funny (after the fact, of course).
A personal account of a virtual event experience
Typically at a conference, we’re more focused on the professional backgrounds of our attendees. But with so much of the population working from home, we must take into consideration their personal lives as well. Here’s what happened in my situation.
Both my husband and I work full time and have both been working from home since mid-March. We’re fortunate to have the tools and tech that allow us to work effectively: multiple monitors, great bandwidth, dedicated working spaces. Our two teenagers don’t always recognize the work/home divide. We also have two large dogs who are continually confused by why we are all home and not paying more attention to them.
So what did attending a 3-day live event look like in our household?
First, technology was not kind to us
Do you have any idea what having one person participate in a live video event all day does to the bandwidth in the house? The effects were immediate and dramatic. I had to take my Microsoft Teams meetings from the app on my phone, not my computer, with the wi-fi turned off. The kids were booted out of their online schoolwork and from their Facetime sessions with friends. Admittedly, much cursing occurred.
My husband, who was both an attendee and a speaker at this event, was in the middle of his presentation when one of the primary internet service providers in our area had two routers fail. He wasn’t prepped for any backup plan ahead of time, so he was scrambling to get the live streaming app downloaded to his phone. 30 minutes later he was back online, with just enough time to give an abrupt wrap-up. Things happen. They really do. To prove this point further, this is the same week that, back at the Omnipress offices where only a small staff remains on-site, a squirrel took out the power and internet for several hours. No joke. And while this had no effect on my husband, it only illustrates that technology will fail at some point, for someone. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
Tuning in (and tuning out) from a busy household
When you attend an in-person conference you’re away from the office, away from home, and away from the usual daily distractions, minus an urgent email here and there. With a virtual event, however, there is no mental or physical separation from work and home. You can’t delegate your spouse to deal with a vomiting dog, a kiddo who is frustrated with their math exercise, an impromptu 8th-grade graduation parade through the neighborhood (horns blazing, of course), or the UPS driver making his third delivery to your house that day, because she’s also on an important call!
The bottom line: it’s unrealistic to think that your attendees can dedicate significant amounts of focused, uninterrupted time to your event. As hard as they may try, life gets in the way.
A virtual group conversation is harder to navigate
Networking can sometimes be awkward, at best. Recently I’ve done several virtual happy hours with close friends and I find those to be more difficult and challenging than meeting up in person. Screens freeze up intermittently or people accidentally talk over each other which affects how naturally the conversation flows. But we manage because we know each other so well.
Now try doing the same thing with a group of strangers, especially if you’re more of an introvert, like my husband. Oh, he can fake his way through “forced” social events with the best of them, but he certainly doesn’t prefer it.
His event had several different networking opportunities built into the agenda. Some were unstructured happy hours and some were scheduled in-between sessions (ouch!). Others consisted of smaller collaboration groups, which he felt were the most beneficial and effective to establish a genuine connection with a group of people who rallied around a common set of challenges. It also helped when the virtual networking events were scheduled earlier in the day when his brain was fresh and he could absorb more of the educational content.
What did we take away from this experience?
I’ve lived in the association event space for more than a decade, so when I heard my husband was going to be participating in a three-day virtual event, I watched more closely than most spouses probably would. Putting on both my event planner and attendee hat, here’s the most important thing I learned:
An event that combines both live and pre-recorded content provides the best attendee experience—and the most room to get creative!
1. Making your content available on-demand is crucial
Give your attendees a way to access session content anytime. This not only helps to reinforce learning, but it also serves as a safety net if technology fails or life happens. Make sure all your presentations—even the live ones—are recorded and available in a way that is easy to search for and navigate, along with all related session materials. This also takes some of the pressure off your speakers and their tech.
If you have the resources, consider breaking up a single session video into multiple, shorter videos. Your on-demand viewers will find it easier to consume the content in smaller segments.
2. If you’re going to livestream, be selective
While presenting sessions live creates a sense of excitement and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), it doesn’t work for all attendees, especially those in different time zones. And it’s definitely difficult to manage as an all-day event. Save the live streaming for the most popular portions of your conference, such as a keynote session.
3. There are many effective ways to craft a successful live/recorded blended event
As one example, you can “fake” a live experience by releasing pre-recorded content on a timed basis and hyping up the countdown on your event marketing channels. Follow this release with live, small-group discussion sessions around that content to create a sense of urgency for participants to view the content.
This also helps to create those more structured and deliberate networking conversations among attendees that tend to be more meaningful. This blended approach also makes it easier to program natural breaks in the agenda for your attendees to address everything else that’s currently happening in the background of their lives.
4. Create opportunities for participants to connect outside of the event
Even if your event content is only available on-demand, you can facilitate meaningful conversations among participants. Use your existing online communities. Pose a question of the day related to the content, and let attendees weigh-in. Or host a moderated online discussion around a specific topic at a scheduled time. All of these options bring virtual attendees together around a shared interest, and allow them to learn from each other.
How will you incorporate virtual content into your next event?
Whether you are offering events that are fully virtual, or providing on-demand access to virtual attendees, the same rules still apply even today. Attention spans are shorter, distractions are greater, and online networking is more difficult in a virtual setting. Virtual attendees will get more value from your conference if the content is designed specifically with these limitations in mind.
According to the latest Association Benchmarking Report, associations believe their top three challenges this year are: communicating member benefits, generating non-dues revenue, and engaging young professionals. All three of these areas are necessary for future growth. Luckily, you are sitting on a wealth of valuable educational content that can be used to fuel this growth.
The Importance of Building Awareness
Before a new member can even consider joining your organization they first need to: 1. Know you exist; and 2. Understand the value you provide
In marketing circles, this is known as increasing awareness—something that is generally the responsibility of the marketing team. In reality, everyone in the association—from the conference team to the training and education group—can help build awareness of the organization and start engaging prospective members. One of the best ways to do this is by leveraging your educational content.
Increasing the Reach of Your Association’s Educational Content
Education is part of your mission. Between your conferences, training courses, and member publications, associations have an abundance of valuable content that members of your industry need.
The question is… does anyone outside of your association know about it?
Prospective members—in particular, young professionals—are turning to Google to search for ideas, resources, and answers to challenges. What are they finding? That there are plenty of resources to tap into. Are they finding your association’s content as well? Unfortunately, not as often as they should (or could).
Too often, associations are being out-ranked on Google by the for-profit organizations in their industries simply because they miss a few simple but important steps to ensure their content is equally visible on search engine results pages.
Learn How to Use Your Content to Grow Your Programs
Omnipress has published a 20-minute on-demand webinar, Simple SEO Strategies for Associations to help association professionals understand why it’s so important to take the time to re-package and re-purpose their educational content while providing some extremely practical ideas for how to do this with minimal time and resources, including:
How to optimize speaker and course materials for search engines
How to re-package existing content into new resources
How to promote this content without adding more to your plate
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.
While conference attendees love good food, great networking opportunities, and creative activities, what they really value most about your event are the insightful, inspiring, and educational session presentations. Which makes the task of sourcing high-quality content extremely important. For many event planners, running a call for abstracts, papers, posters, and presentations is one of the most time and resource-intensive tasks. But it doesn’t have to be.
Best Practices Guide for Sourcing High-Quality Content
We consulted with four of our resident abstract management experts, Erin, John, Dave, and Paul, to develop the Best Practices Guide for High-Quality Content. Using their experience working with hundreds of conferences each year, they provide ten simple changes meeting planners can make to simplify the abstract submission and review process.
As a follow-up to this guide, we sat down with these experts to dive further into the advice provided within the guide.
Q&A With Four Abstract Management Experts
Q: One of the tips featured in the guide 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 final 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!
Dave: 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 author or submitter 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 need to access reports for several months, providing all data sets upfront helps streamline the process.
Q: What about data quality? How can we ensure an author or speaker provides a complete 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?
Dave: 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 your 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.
John: 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.
The concept of user experience (UX) isn’t limited to websites and other online interactions. Offline tools, such as your printed conference program or proceedings book, also need to be designed with the end user’s experience in mind.
User experience is broadly defined as “the overall experience of a person using a product…especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use.” When the product is the conference, we take great care to ensure attendees can easily navigate all aspects of our event. From finding relevant schedule and session information on the website and in the mobile event app, to being able to easily navigate the conference center and expo hall, 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.
The printed program guide, which not only provides important event information but also sets the tone of the event, should also be designed to provide an exceptional user experience.
User experience and your conference program booklet
Just like an app or website, attendees must be able to access the information they’re looking for quickly within your printed program, and use the materials as they were intended. Elements like colors and fonts, tabs, paper type, and even the binding of the book don’t just make it look impressive, they also contribute to the book’s overall functionality.
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 book size, fonts, paper type, 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?
Does your program serve as a proceedings. book, containing “shelf-worthy” material such as abstracts or papers? If so, consider using perfect binding to create a printable spine. Just make sure it’s easy enough to pack in a suitcase for the return trip.
Conversely, if the program guide is meant to serve as a quick-reference tool to view the schedule, find room assignments, and navigate the tradeshow floor, 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 simultaneous content to choose from (sessions, workshops, symposia, 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.
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.
The #1 reason attendees choose a conference–whether in-person or virtual–is for the educational sessions. Which is why it’s so important to select and schedule sessions that align not only with attendees’ interests, but also with your organization’s quality standards.
Many organizations use an open or invited call for abstracts, papers, and presentations to source this content, relying on an extensive peer or staff review process to identify and select the highest-quality papers and presentations, and help weed out those that aren’t.
You can help your reviewers with this task by putting a few simple steps in place at the front-end of your submission process, to help deter incomplete or lower-quality submissions from even making it through the submission process.
1. Charge a submission fee
While submission fees can help generate some added revenue for the conference, the primary purpose is to discourage submissions from those who are simply “phishing” for any available opportunity. You can set the fee at a modest level–just enough to discourage less-than-serious submissions, but not so high that it becomes a barrier to your authors or presenters. Some find that even a modest fee encourages more thoughtful, thorough, and complete submissions from even the most legitimate authors.
2. Limit per-author submissions
Some meeting planners institute a limit on the total number of abstracts one author can submit, ensuring they present only their best work for consideration. Others set limits within their abstract management system that prevents a speaker from starting a new submission until their previous submission is complete.
3. Use plagiarism detection tools
The internet has made it easier to access, and in some cases “borrow” previously published work. As a result, more organizations are turning to plagiarism detection tools such as iThenticate as part of their scholarly paper review process. Some abstract management systems (such as CATALYST) can integrate directly with iThenticate, using essentially a one-click process to upload abstracts and papers to their database from within the submission form. Results are returned to the conference planner within minutes.
Top-notch event content is one the most important elements your conference can provide. Making some simple changes to your author and speaker submission process can help ensure you receive the high-quality materials that reflect your organization’s reputation. Not only will great content help generate interest in your next event, but over the long term, it will continue to reinforce your position as the go-to resource for your industry.
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.
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.