Get Attendees to Network Before Your Conference

I recently read a fantastic article by Bernie Mitchell entitled, “5 Ways to Break the Ice with Social Media at Events,” which talked about how meeting and event professionals can get attendees to network and “break the ice” before the conference with social media.

In short, Mitchell suggested:

  1. Creating a unique Twitter hashtag and promote retweeting
  2. Recording speaker video interviews or a podcast and write blog posts
  3. Collecting attendee Twitter handles and reach out individually
  4. Asking questions on Twitter to get attendees engaged and interacting
  5. Making sure attendees know about the hashtag before the conference

Yes! I couldn’t have put it better myself, but I do think we’re missing a #6, which might make 1-5 a little easier.

6. Create an online event community for attendees to network.
Online event communities are the one stop shop for all your attendees’ conference needs. Give your attendees (and speakers, sponsors and exhibitors) an online hub where they can create user profiles, develop their personal conference itineraries and connect with other attendees who are scheduled for the same sessions. Then, post the conference final program and session handouts onto the branded homepage of the event community next to your Twitter wall and blog posts, and there you have it a one-stop social media shop!

Online Event Communities – Help Attendees Avoid the Awkward Silence

Social media has been a gift to meeting planners and attendees alike. Social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook have provided attendees a virtual place to get the introductions out of the way. Attendees no longer need to go into an annual conference not knowing anyone (which is a blessing if you’re anything like me and a little shy). Plus, this increases the quality of conversations at the actual meeting, allowing attendees to get right into the conference content.

Not sure if an online event community is exactly what your association is looking for, but you still want a place to put speaker presentations or proceedings online? Read here to find the right place to put conference materials online.

 

How to Create an Active Online Community

Wondering how to create an online event community where attendees, sponsors and exhibitors are logging into (and actively involved with) as much as their email accounts?

As a meeting or event planner, you understand creating a networking opportunity is critical for attendees, sponsors and exhibitors of your conferences. And as your conference participants become more engaged in online networking and social media sites, it is critical to create an online hub where your conference participants can network before, during and after your events.

3 Ways to Create a Successful Online Event Community

  1. Have a strategic plan.
    This is probably the most important aspect of having a successful community. What is the goal of the community? What will deem it successful? You need to be sure your online event community is in alignment with your bigger picture goals and objective. Write down these objectives as it provides you with a basis for measurement. Some core objectives might include: Visitors to the site, repeat visitors, number joined vs. total attendees, activity within the site. Who will manage and run the community? What will the technology be? How will you incorporate this with your other event marketing initiatives? What content or topics will draw people into the community and engage participants. By having a plan, you have a much greater chance for success. Plus, you’ll have something to measure against as you go.
  2. Assign a leader.
    Someone must own the community and make it theirs. It can’t be owned by everyone or a group of people, it really needs a leader who is passionate and unselfish. Someone who knows and understands relationships and social media. Giving this responsibility to someone because they have the time or because they are in marketing doesn’t cut it. They must have solid project management skills, excellent communication skills. They must understand the big picture and have the authority to drive the community. Failure to have the right person lead your community usually results in a stale, unused web site and a poor representation of your efforts.
  3. Outline your communications plan.
    This is essential to knowing who’s doing what, what’s being created and when it’s being shared. It will involve formal communications, promotional content as well as informal and just informational content. This plan will involve many different participants in your community. For example, you will want the speakers to create content and engage attendees by asking questions and providing insights to their sessions a few weeks out from the event. The key is to know the members of the community expect action and communications. They didn’t sign up to the community to just create a profile and never come back to the site again. Your plan should address how you and others will engage all participants.

What other ways can you think of to create an active community?

Attract More Conference Attendees – Use Video to Market Your Events

What better way to show annual conference non-attendees what they’re missing than to literally show them what they’re missing?

Creating a short video to promote your annual conference can show potential attendees exactly what kind of experience they will have by attending your conference.

Association Forum of Chicagoland posted a great video for their 2011 Holiday Showcase that captures the excitement and fun of the event by sharing photos, while clearly justifying the value of the educational sessions, solutions sessions and networking with live interviews from actual attendees and exhibitors.

And we can attest to the video. We attend the Holiday Showcase each year.

How to Market Your Conference Video

Get your pencils ready for this one.

  1. Put your video on the homepage of your conference website. It’s really that simple. The homepage of websites get visited the most, so don’t make people dig to find your video. You should also include the conference video on your association website.
  2. Put social sharing tools on your website. Addthis.com or sharethis.com are simple widgets that enable your visitors to share your website.
  3. Tweet, Facebook and write a blog article (or two) about the video. And do it many times at random intervals.
  4. Include a link in your event marketing emails directly to your video.

It’s not rocket science.

Are you using video to market your conference? Tell me about it.

Is Your Association Attracting Generation Y Membership?

In the words of Bob Dylan, “The times they are a changin’.”

I’m not sure if Bob Dylan was intending for his 1964 hit to reference associations, but it’s fitting, isn’t it?

Recently, Steve Manicor and Tracy Gundert sat amongst other association professionals at the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) meeting where a hot topic was the changing demographic in associations. Networking and educational content were big talking points, and here I’ve mixed in my Generation Y perspective.

Associations are Facing a Shift in Demographics

If we look at associations today, it’s becoming clearer that the median age of members is continuing to rise. In order for associations to continue to grow, it’s important to start looking at ways to attract the next generation.

The problem with attracting Generation Y is that we are of a different breed. As a “Gen Y-er,” I can attest I need more than a face-to-face annual meeting with keynote speakers and a printed manual to join your association.

As you know, networking and educational content remain critical to attracting new members, but technology and the generation gap have complicated things.

Networking Isn’t Just Face-to-Face Anymore

Are you providing your members with a place to network year-round? Are you leveraging your association on Twitter and other social media sites?

Networking remains an important factor in gaining new members, but the way we network has evolved greatly. Networking isn’t just face-to-face anymore, and Generation Y loves to “Facebook stalk.” Before we meet new people face-to-face, we like to check them out on social media and learn about their interests. Whether it’s through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or a conference website, it’s important for associations to provide a place for their members to engage, network and, of course, “Facebook stalk.”

Face-to-Face Meetings Have Evolved, Too

Are your annual meetings educational and fun?

If you’re still holding your annual meeting in outdated session rooms of older convention halls with the buzzing fluorescent lights, metal chairs and one-way speaker communication, you’re risking your members being uncomfortable, bored and not engaged. The associations attracting Generation Y members are leveraging breakout sessions, themed events, social gaming and different presentation formats such as pecha kucha, fish bowls and so forth. It’s about the attendee experience.

How Findable is Your Educational Content?

How are you leveraging your association content to attract new members? How are you making sure they are finding your content on the internet? How are you making your content more usable and shareable?

Access is critical! A printed conference program is no longer sufficient. To keep Generation X and Y happy, you now need a printed program, a conference flash drive chock full of speaker presentations, session handouts available online before, during and after the meeting (don’t forget about Wi-Fi and mobile-friendly access!) AND an eBook. (Ok, so you may not need ALL of these, but member expectations are rising in regards to what they are getting for their money.)

Consulting your crystal ball won’t help. Understanding how members and attendees want to receive your association’s educational content is not a guessing game. The key is to ask members what they want, provide options and be multifaceted.

Generation Y Learned Differently

We aren’t trying to be a pain in your association – This is how Generation Y learned!

In college, we learned through two-way discussion sessions and watched streaming presentations. We bought printed course books and study guides, but we also were required to read scholarly journals online (that we didn’t have to search for far and wide on the internet).

We network online. We spend more time on social media websites networking than we’d like to admit. We use Facebook and LinkedIn to build relationships and share information just to stay connected. If we know we’re going to meet someone new, we like to connect with them ahead of time online.

And guess what – My Generation X boss feels the same way.

So while you listen to some Bob Dylan, talk to us on Twitter!
How is your association attracting new Generation Y membership? #omnipress

May’s Big Ideas We Love

Check out some of our favorite May articles by industry professionals…

 

 

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