Increase The Educational Value Of Your Event With Digital Content

How you deliver conference content to your attendees is changing. Thanks to on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube, the idea of omnipresent content—content that is available whenever, wherever, and in the format that is most convenient—is now the expectation. Associations typically offer some form of digital access to event materials, but the idea of providing a single digital format is no longer enough to provide attendees with the user experience they expect.

Feedback from attendees is prompting associations to look for ways to meet these new expectations. Rather than choosing one format, offer your attendees access to a variety of digital content to create a seamless, accessible experience that can heighten the educational value of your event.

Different digital format provide different benefits

It’s common for conference professionals to assume all digital conference products provide the same features, benefits and experiences. In reality, online conference proceedings, mobile apps and USB drives each bring their own unique set of benefits to your conference attendees.

Online Conference Proceedings

Online conference proceedings make conference materials accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. Attendees can easily search by session, track and speaker to select the material that interests them prior to the conference.

With online conference proceedings, you can offer a preview of your event’s sessions. These previews can help people decide whether or not they want to attend your conference based on tangible examples of the information you provide. And, by hosting all of these items in one central location, you create a great online resource for attendees to return to after the conference has ended.

Conference App

A conference app is best for portability and on-site information. Your conference attendees can use your mobile app to navigate around the conference using GPS technology, maps and can build their own personal schedule that fits right into their pocket.

Apps also help drive engagement during your conference. Features like live polling, social timelines and direct messaging between attendees and speakers facilitate one of the main reasons your attendees come to your conference year after year: networking.

USB Drive

Relying on the venue’s WiFi is never a good idea, which is why USB drives are great for storing conference materials. The devices are small and easy to carry, especially when they are stored in unique shapes or useful objects like pens and keychains.

One of the biggest perks of USBs is that they make it convenient to access information. While web addresses might be easily forgotten, a physical keychain or item on your attendee’s desk at work will remind them of your association, conference and the information they learned from you.

Why you need a comprehensive approach

Since each digital format has its own set of unique benefits, using multiple options at your event will give attendees the most flexibility in how they engage with your materials. Don’t think of them as a replacement for each other, but rather think about how each option fills a different role in creating a seamless educational experience.

Here are a few examples to illustrate why your conference should offer a comprehensive mix of digital content formats.

Scenario 1

John is interested in attending your conference and goes online to find example conference materials to get a better idea of what your association offers. When he sees your conference proceeding sneak peeks, he registers and uses the online conference proceedings to figure out which sessions he wants to attend. When the day of the conference arrives, John wants to reference the conference materials, but cannot access the venue’s WiFi. Fortunately, he can still pull up materials using the USB keychain you provided at check-in.

Scenario 2

Mary likes to be able to reference conference materials during break-out sessions, but does not want to be weighed down by her laptop all day during your event. Instead, she accesses the conference materials available through your mobile app. During breaks, she also uses the app to post about her experiences on the social timeline and sends a question to a speaker she didn’t get the opportunity to speak with. After the conference is over, Mary deletes the app to free up space on her phone, but is able to log onto your online conference library to reinforce the information she learned at the event.

Scenario 3

Susan is traveling from out of state to your conference and is uneasy about being in a new city. Fortunately, she has downloaded your mobile app, which provides her with GPS directions to the event location and helps her navigate the city during lunch and breaks. However, she finds it difficult to find the exact conference paper she’s looking for on her small phone screen, so she pulls out her laptop and uses the USB your association provided to access and search the materials to find the paper she is looking for.

Give your attendees the format freedom they desire

Providing content in multiple formats can be a challenge if you don’t have a strategy for managing them. One common pitfall is keeping data updated and consistent in multiple places as your content changes. The best way to avoid a data gap is to create a single source of record that is always up to date.

Updating content in multiple places and coordinating with multiple vendors is another scenario that can make managing multiple formats difficult, so consider working with a single vendor that offers all the formats you need.

By offering digital content in a variety of formats you’ll give your attendees the freedom to access materials whenever and wherever they want. All of the digital formats work together to increase the educational value of your event and create a top-notch conference experience.

 

Hit the Reset Button on Your Content Marketing Program

 

It’s September, which means the mad rush of a new school year has begun, filled with new beginnings, new learnings and new adventures. And not just for the kiddos. Did you know that Labor Day marks a time when many of us adults hit the mental reset button too? New York Magazine featured an article calling it “Second-Chance January”—a time to refocus on our previous personal and professional goals before the end of the year.

If this is true, then Labor Day is a tremendous gift for associations. As the leading source of knowledge, information and development opportunities for your industry, you provide the resources that your current and prospective members are “Googling” right about now. The question is… will they find you?

In a previous post, I observed that too many associations are wasting their most valuable resource—their content—simply because they don’t have a well-defined content marketing program to effectively share it with the world. The content exists in the form of conference educational sessions, continuing education courses, standards and other resources.  But it’s not necessarily repackaged in a way that directly answers some of the most common questions your constituents are asking.

The concept of content marketing is not new to associations by any means. But many of us still struggle to launch and sustain a measurable content marketing program that directly contributes to increased conference attendance, membership and retention.  It’s time to crack this nut once and for all because your competitors—any other free or for-profit resources—already have.

So, during this time of “resets,” and “fresh starts” I challenge you to take just one more step toward leveraging your association content to its fullest potential. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Try these ideas to improve your content marketing program:

  • Create a searchable and discoverable online “home” for all of your conference or other continuing education content, so that you have a destination for your content marketing efforts.
  • Develop a content calendar that re-purposes existing content into multiple topics and formats to lessen the burden on your marketing team.
  • “Gate” your most valuable content behind a simple sign up form to generate new member leads for your organization.
  • Test one or two new channels to expand your reach beyond your active “base” to new audiences.

Any one of these steps can help your association use content marketing to reach your organization’s goals. And with “Second-Chance January” creating a renewed interest in your members’ goals, now is the perfect time to take action!

 

How to Improve Your Conference Sessions (and Create Happy Attendees)

“What an educational experience!”

“I enjoyed every session I attended.”

“The speakers did a great job.”

This is the kind of feedback that makes the months of planning worthwhile.

Every conference planner knows how important educational sessions are to your event. Attendees often justify the cost of their trip by citing the new topics they learn about. This means nothing is more welcome than receiving positive feedback on your conference sessions. After all, who is more likely to return next year than satisfied attendees?

But these positive learning experiences don’t just happen.

A big-name speaker for the keynote speech is not enough to ensure a good learning outcome for everyone involved. Successful planners know the work they do before the conference plays a major role in the feedback they receive afterward.

Here are five tips that will help your speakers deliver impactful sessions:

1. Have a system in place

Organization is key to ensuring a smooth-running conference. But coordinating with speakers before the event has been known to derail even the most seasoned planners. The constant back and forth can become an all-consuming experience.

An abstract management system takes the hassle out of coordinating with your submitters. Having the right organizational tool means less time hunting through emails and attachments. Freeing you to focus on finding speakers that resonate with your audience.

2. Inbox hero

Peer review is another organizational challenge that will overwhelm your inbox. A full-featured abstract management system organizes and automates your peer review process. Emailing research paper abstracts to individual reviewers can be a thing of the past! Imagine what other elements of your conference you can work on with these time savings.

Seriously, go ahead and imagine.

Others will notice the improved communications, as well. Your reviewers will delight at the ease of use that allows them to focus on what they do best.

3. Plan for different learning styles

Not all conference attendees learn in the same way. Some prefer the traditional presenter/listener model, but try to offer other formats, as well. A panel discussion allows for different points of view, while a workshop creates an interactive experience. Embrace this variety! Encourage your speakers to re- evaluate event learning models for presenting their educational content.

“Visual” vs. “verbal” learning is another factor to consider when selecting conference session formats. The format of the presentation is best left to the presenter, but as the event organizer, you play an important role. Make sure all the necessary A/V resources are available to handle a dynamic presentation.

Start this dialog with speakers early during your call for abstracts to avoid any surprises during the conference.

4. Make an introduction

Letting your presenters and attendees connect before the event is good for everyone. Speaker bios, preliminary papers and conference schedule give attendees a preview of the sessions. Speakers will appreciate the chance to develop their personal brands online. And this fresh content drives traffic to your website.

Keep a space reserved on your conference website for guest postings. Promoting these posts on social media builds attendees’ excitement in the weeks leading up to your conference.

Presenters can also use this opportunity to provide preliminary information on their topics. This is especially helpful in emerging fields. Attendees will be able to get more out of their conference session by having a baseline education before the event.

5. Give your educational content a life of its own

Over the course of the event, your speakers present more information than any one person could master. In fact, the average attendee forgets 70 percent of what they learn within 24 hours!

(Psst…. Guess what? There’s a way around that.)

An online content library is a great way to create a single location for all your conference content. This digital library lets your attendees know exactly where to go for the information they need, when they need it. And finding material is a breeze whether browsing by topic or searching by keyword.

Online conference materials add depth to your association’s website. This relevant, high-quality content makes your website a destination for those researching industry-specific topics. Exactly the kind of people your association wants as members.

Don’t wait until the conference is over to start gathering materials, though. Avoid confusion by making arrangements with your speakers early in the process.

These discussions should happen as part of the initial call for papers.

Conclusion

Focusing on what’s important to your attendees is critical to hosting a successful conference. Having the proper system in place leading up to the event allows you to spend more time choosing content and less time managing communication.

As a result, your attendees biggest challenge will be deciding which sessions they have to miss. And when the show is over and everyone has gone home, how will it feel to hear that feedback?

Has feedback ever motivated you to change your organizational process? What other ways do you accommodate different learning styles in your sessions? Any good tips to help attendees make the most of what they’ve learned? Let us know in the comments!

I Need to Put My Content Online. Now What?

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About once a week, I have a conversation with a customer who tells me they, by choice or necessity, need to take the plunge into offering content online. And it’s not uncommon for their strategy to begin and end with that need; other than knowing that they have to get online, they have little understanding of the rest of the complexities involved.

With tablet and smartphone sales eclipsing desktop computer sales, it’s clear that more and more people expect to access your valuable content, no matter where they are. We’re living in the digital renaissance now. Overcoming inertia and following through with an online strategy has never been more important. But where do you begin?

First, think about your audience. Why are they using your content? How will they most likely access it? Do you have a standards book that people need to quickly search in order to find answers while in the field? Or do you have conference proceedings that members want to browse when deciding whether to attend your event? Or both? Will your users want to be able to easily share interesting content with their peers? No matter what the answers, how your users want to interact with your content will have a big impact on how you’ll decide to deliver it. For example, if you expect a sizable amount of mobile device usage, consider offering your website with responsive design and/or available as a complementary mobile app.

Next, think about your own objectives. Though I think a good user experience should always be your first objective, you probably have your own reasons to do this, too. Are you interested in offering access control so only members can see your content, based on their membership status in your association management system? Would you like to use an eCommerce solution so people can purchase subscription access to your entire site, or even individual documents? Do you want to offer free downloads of your training materials, but discourage unauthorized distribution with watermarking or other DRM methods? Besides making sure users can find the content easily, our customers are primarily concerned with deriving member value and revenue from their valuable materials, as well as making sure that they attract new people to their organization.

Finally, think about the content you produce every year. Do you frequently produce newsletters? If so, you’ll need to be able to upload new material to your site on a regular basis. Are you the primary resource for the latest laws around your industry? Then you’ll need to be able to update your documents quickly and easily so your members have up-to-date information. Do you want to combine all of your association content onto one online system: your publications, magazines, training materials, and conference abstracts? Do you have the analytics to determine your ROI when you’re delivering all of this to your users?

Omnipress started printing for associations over 35 years ago; in the early ‘90s, we took the lead in offering digital content. We’ve helped hundreds of customers make the transition to a digital delivery. Even in our own online evolution to digital publishing platforms and mobile apps, we have learned that the first step is often the hardest one to take. Let us partner with you to answer these questions and we can take that next step together to find the best solution to move your content online. Over the next few months, we’ll explore these topics in more detail. Until then, let us know how you’re implementing your online strategy in the comments below.

Five Reasons to Build a Mobile App

As with any important communications expense, before you build an app for your organization, you need to determine if the app can provide something far and above what the mobile web cannot. Here’s a checklist that outlines the key reasons to do so:

Five Reasons to Build a Mobile App

  1. Apps provide the richest mobile experiences.
    By developing a native app designed for specific smartphone features, you can deliver exceptional functionality that mobile sites cannot. Examples include tapping to a device’s GPS, accelerometer, photos, and microphone. Simply put, native apps can interact with users’ devices more fully in ways that a website cannot.
  2. Apps can deliver offline access. Mobile users are by nature accessing your content on the go, but what if a Wi-Fi hotspot isn’t available? Websites won’t work when you’re offline, but you can build apps to work just fine without a connection. Apps can be made to run without a connection at all (i.e., a convention session scheduler) or to run with content that’s downloaded when you’re online and stored for future use (i.e., a news reader that’s refreshed with new content).
  3. Apps maximize usability. Since apps are developed and optimized for specific device delivery (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.), an app can inherently tap into existing interface tools on each device so usability is ideal (the interfaces will feel more normal to users if they use native elements).
  4. Apps facilitate sales. If you want to generate revenue from app sales, it is easier to go through an existing app store (like iTunes for the Amazon Appstore for Android) where there is already a pay-wall and centralized marketplace. Smartphone users are already familiar and comfortable buying through these marketplaces, and you can tap into the ease of monetization without inventing your own mobile commerce tools.
  5. Apps are ideal for focused content/feature delivery. App are best for content and/or tasks that have a singular or very finite focus (like looking up members or keeping track of sessions at a conference) while a mobile website is more of a general information tool that can cover the same variety of topics as your desktop website.

Keep in mind that creating mobile apps are much different in terms of cost, time frame and delivery to different smartphone devices than building a mobile website, so make sure you spend ample time upfront to determine if an app truly meets your audience needs as well as satisfies your communications goals before getting started.

Going Mobile: Websites and Apps

I recently came across a stat that stated more people on the planet own a mobile phone than own a toothbrush. While I question what this means for the world’s dental hygiene (!), I don’t think anyone would question that mobile content delivery via the web and apps have quickly vaulted into mission-critical initiatives that organizations must address head on.

How can your organization best benefit from a mobile app versus a mobile website? Do you even know the difference between the two?

In this day and age, every organization should have a mobile presence — smartphones are surpassing desktop computers at an astonishing rate, and being mobile-accessible is imperative to be where your audience is accessing you.

A quick overview of the two will help you better understand the right context for building a mobile website or mobile app at your organization and identify what mobile solution is the right match for your needs.

What’s a mobile app?

  • Apps are device-specific and leverage native features on the phones/tablets
  • Usually look and interact in more immersive ways that mobile web (for now!)
  • Apps are usually accessed via an online app store like Apple’s App Store, BlackBerry’s App Word, or the Android Market

What’s a mobile website?

  • Mobile web is accessed via the browser on phones
  • Typing the URL on the mobile browser brings up a mobile-formatted version of a traditional website
  • A mobile website offering can range from a different presentation your main site (good place to start) or a fully mobile-designed version (ideal end game)

Yes, mobile offerings are SEXY! But remember, they are just another communications tool in your arsenal, so be sure to substantiate the return on investment just like any other marketing initiative.

Nine Questions You Should Ask Yourself About Offering Access to Your Online Content

Our customers’ publications, training materials, and event-related content are significant assets for their organization. However, migrating these assets to the web for online consumption can pose significant challenges, especially if you’re looking to generate some revenue from it. There are many different ways to serve up digital content to your users, so it’s helpful to have a plan in place for how you will be offering access to your intellectual property.

Here are nine of the questions we ask our Digital Publishing Platform customers that you can answer to assist yourself in this task:

  1. Are you going to offer free access to everyone, or will some or all of your content be gated (either as a benefit of membership, and/or if purchased)?
  2. What will you provide access to? Everything? Blocks of content organized by year or topic? Content types (ex. Presentations, videos, technical papers, publications, manuals, etc.)? Chapters? Or is access given on an a la carte basis? Or will you give a number of these options to your users?
  3. Will access be given depending on the user’s role (such as attendee vs. member vs. non-member)? Or if you’re selling access, will you provide discounts to certain roles, or offer up coupon codes?
  4. Once access to content is provided, is a user able to access it “forever”? Or can they only access the content for a set duration (ex. five days, 30 days, one year)? Or does access get automatically rescinded on a certain date (ex. 12-31-2014)?
  5. Do you want to offer preview access to pieces of your content, either by exposing something like an abstract, or the first three pages of every document, or by allowing users the ability to view up to 10 pages of anything they want before they lose access?
  6. Do you need to provide accounts to organizations, where you would limit account access either by number of concurrent users logged into a single account, or limit login only to those that come from a certain IP address range?
  7. Will you only allow the content to be accessed via your site, or will you also allow for digital file downloads?
  8. Will you allow for your gated content to be searched by search engines like Google, so people can more easily find your content on the internet, even though they might be prompted to pay before they can access it?
  9. Perhaps the most difficult question: What makes sense for your audience and what are they looking to achieve? Do you need to research/survey this further?

As part of this exercise, assuming you are offering different levels of access, it can be helpful to put together a table that lists your different offers and content blocks. Such as:

  • Full site access for 365 days for members, $499
  • Full site access for 365 days for non-members, $999
  • Access to all Continuing Education resources for 30 days, $199
  • Access to an individual publication until Jan, 1, 2013, $249
  • Access to 10 papers of the user’s choosing for 180 days, $69
  • Etc.

Obviously, this can have varying levels of complexity from organization to organization, but when you’re trying to monetize your publications, training materials, and/or event-based content in a digital publishing platform, having a good plan in place is 90% of the work.

Have you successfully followed a plan to get your content online and accessible to your audience, or did your attempt fall short? Or are you looking to migrate your content and you still have questions? Please let us know in the comments.