Archive for August, 2020

Daily Buzz: Make Your Association Stand Out With Member Engagement

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Engaged members will become brand advocates and help advance your mission. Also: simplifying that long list of to-dos.

Attracting people to your association is no easy task. Nowadays, when everyone’s attention is being pulled in so many different directions, an association might not be a professional’s first stop when looking for information and community.

“People have a seemingly endless array of groups to join and ways to discover new information,” says a recent post from Association Success. “From local clubs to volunteer organizations, Facebook groups to Reddit communities, there’s no shortage of options for finding community and knowledge.”

Associations can stand out by making member engagement a top priority, suggests the Association Success team. Start with a digital marketing strategy: Organizations can spread their good content to members through weekly newsletters, podcasts, and social media posts.

“The key is to make sure the public has ample opportunities to discover—and learn from—your association’s work.”

Once your audience is engaged, it will be easier to advance your association’s mission. The Association Success team points to the example of Sunny Knoll EcoFarm, an organization that uses free-range livestock to manage a sustainable farm.

“As more members of the general public become invested in Sunny Knoll EcoFarm’s journey, their attitudes toward commercial farming may begin to shift. With time, they may also start to prioritize purchasing groceries from sustainable farms, advancing Sunny Knoll EcoFarm’s overall core purpose.”

And once members are connected to your organization’s mission, they will become brand advocates who will share your good work and encourage people in their networks to become members.

Managing Your Unwieldy To-Do List

It’s pointless to pressure yourself into getting a huge to-do list done every day. Try focusing on doing one thing well instead.

— Harvard Business Review (@HarvardBiz) August 12, 2020

Sure, jotting down a list of to-dos can help your productivity, but an extra-long list can be overwhelming. Instead of working with a long list, take a clean sheet of paper and write down the one thing from that long list that you want to accomplish, suggests Peter Bregman in the Harvard Business Review.

“The one-thing list reflects a strategic and intentional choice about what you will do next and continue to focus on until it’s done,” he says. “It might feel silly, but writing that one thing down on its own list is the key. It makes it a commitment that you are far more likely to follow through on.”

Other Links of Note

Hosting a virtual meeting? You might be making one of these common mistakes, suggests a recent post from Eventsforce.

iCloud storage is key to backing up important data. Make sure you have enough space in your accounts with these tips from Gizmodo’s David Nield.

Community moderation should go beyond banning spammers, argues Marjorie Anderson on the Community by Association blog. She breaks down the additional roles that moderators should fill.

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Five Ways to Create Better Engagement During Virtual Events

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Taking your conference virtual doesn’t mean you have to lose the networking and interaction that occurs at your in-person events. Some ideas for building better online engagement. 

As associations continue to host virtual conferences due to COVID-19, many are concerned about the ability to replicate the interaction, networking, engagement, and hallway conversations that are staples of face-to-face events.

During a March 2020 ASAE webcast called “Tips and Tools for Creating and Awesome Virtual Event Experience,” the two presenters said it is definitely possible—you just need to be thoughtful and creative.

Here are five ideas that 360 Live Media Director of Experience Design Beth Surmont, CMP, CAE, and Matchbox Virtual Cofounder and CEO Arianna Rehak shared during that webinar that are still relevant today:

Prepare your speakers. “It is extremely difficult to present to nobody,” Surmont said. “A lot of speakers feed off their audience. So, the first time you present to no one, it is very strange experience and it can throw people off.” That means associations need to talk to their presenters about what to expect—and also what they can do to deliver the best experience to attendees. If they’ll be on video, that includes having a clean background (“think newcasts,” she said), wearing clothing that is not distracting, and having front lighting.

Get your audience ready too. “It’s very important to bring a specific level of intention to your virtual event to help your audience understand how they can have the best experience,” Surmont said. Tell them how to engage. “For example, submit your questions here. Raise your hand this way,” she said.

Surmont suggested thinking of engagement through four dimensions: physical, physiological, intellectual, and emotional. For the physical dimension, for example, consider where people are participating from and offer tips on how they can create the best environment for themselves: “Keep your door closed, or put a sign on your door so you won’t be disturbed,” Surmont said.

Build a virtual environment that’s conducive to conversation. “While pre-recording sessions often gets a bad rap,” Rehak said, doing so allows speakers to engage actively in the conversation that is going on while attendees are watching their session. “The speakers love this by the way,” she said. “They are seeing their content come to life.”

If you do go this route, Rehak recommends having chat animators who “create a positive conversational environment that signals to other that they can join,” she said. “That can be as simple as being the first to say, ‘Hey, really excited to be here and get started.’ That will set the right tone.”

Host virtual roundtable discussions. “If you want attendees to dive into a specific topic, you may want to consider video chat breakout rooms,” Rehak said. “It’s really a way for folks to meaningfully connect with one another.”

To make this happen, have a designated facilitator in each room so the conversation stays focused and gets people talking. If your association is unable to provide multiple facilitators, Rehak suggest supplying each room with a list of guiding questions. “You want to give them a sense of purpose around their interaction together,” she said.

Offer a little bit of fun between sessions. Create moments between sessions that capture people’s attention. For example, you can provide additional content during breaks, such as meditation or a trivia game. Or if you have awards to present, consider playing short videos of the winners. “Really, the world is your oyster in terms of that you can offer attendees during these breaks,” Rehak said.

What ideas have you implemented for introducing engagement and conversation during your virtual events? Please share in the comments.

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Four Email Tech Trends to Keep an Eye On

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From design concepts to artificial intelligence, there’s a lot going on with email technology these days that could improve your promotion strategies. Here’s what you should watch for.

Email marketing is an evergreen strategy, but that doesn’t mean the technology itself stays still. In fact, evolutions in email tech could open up new opportunities if you’re ready to leap on them. It could be the difference between a forgotten email and one that hits all your metrics in a big way.

These are a few email tech opportunities worth keeping an eye on:

Images in Gmail promotion cards. For years, Google has been adding support for metadata that allows email messages to take advantage of extra features in Gmail and similar tools. One that could boost open rate on mobile is the addition of promotion cards, which some Gmail users may see when opening up the promotions tab. By adding this data, you can get an extra visual pop that a subject line might not be able to pull off on its own. The tech platform FreshInbox has a tool for adding the images to your messages.

Expanded use of artificial intelligence. From your subject lines to your send times to what actually goes into the message, artificial intelligence will increasingly come to define the experience of emails in the years to come. “AI can analyze the open rates of your emails, helping you better understand what types of subject lines your customers respond to most often,” according to the email tech firm NeverBounce. “This removes a tremendous amount of guesswork from the process. As a result, AI email technology can analyze what types of content and copy are most effective.”

Better email signatures. For years, marketers have known that email signatures are a key way to draw new leads without thinking about it. But that means they’re often an afterthought, argues Lindsay Kolowich on the HubSpot blog. “Those signatures are a chance for you to make it clear who you are, make it easy for people to reach you, and give people a place to go to find out more—either about you, about your business, or about something you’re working on,” she says. They deserve more attention.

The rise of dark mode. Whether your operating system of choice is MacOS or Windows, you are probably familiar with “dark mode,” a visual layout that minimizes the level of bright light in your face, making the screen easier on your eyes. Mobile platforms have been adding this functionality as well in recent years, and now it’s email’s turn. The tech platform Email on Acid notes that some email platforms are automatically turning on dark mode, which could cause issues with your email design: “The dilemma email marketers face is do they try and hack Dark Mode and force the colors they choose to ensure the email renders as they intend? Or, do they accept that the end user wants to view things in this manner and hacking the Dark Mode is fighting the user’s needs?” Your devs may want to come up with alternative layouts that consider this use case.

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How to Factor Membership Dues Into 2021 Budgets

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Trying to put together a 2021 budget based on a nonexistent crystal ball? One association found a novel approach to assessing member engagement to solve its 2021 budget quandary.

If you’re wondering how to prepare a 2021 budget amid unmatched uncertainty, join the club—it’s crowded!

An ASAE member recently posed a question in the Small Staff Association Professionals Community on ASAE’s online network, Collaborate [login required], about how to figure in membership dues in a 2021 budget process. Christina Lewellen, CAE, executive director of the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools, had some excellent advice based on her own recent experience. I followed up with her to learn more.

Factoring in the Unknown

Lewellen started putting together a 2021 budget and quickly realized that so much of what ATLIS normally relies on in a traditional cycle didn’t exist. “The economy had just dropped off a cliff,” she said. “Nobody knew what was going to happen with independent schools and their budgets, or whether they would be able to open again in the fall.”

Once you get past the fear of frozen budgets and dire predictions of associations going under, she said, then you get down to what people need. “People will prioritize your offerings if you’re bringing them value.”

The more Lewellen looked at budget options, the more she realized nothing was resonating because there were too many unknowns. Without a crystal ball to work through projections during a global pandemic, ATLIS figured the best approach would be to isolate the variables.

The solution: a phased budget approach. Lewellen said the first major financial hurdle would be to get through the membership renewal cycle—which takes place from July through November—and then tackle the spring financial components when their in-person events were scheduled to happen.

Levels of Engagement

Without any capacity to project those in-person spring events in the short-term, the staff charged with budgeting decided to take them off the table and save that conversation for later. They took the overhead part of the budget down to a zero-based—or austerity—budget for all other departments besides membership.

Once they had isolated membership, they could analyze different levels of membership based on member engagement, looking at factors like longevity, volunteering, and participation in meetings.

“If you’ve got a decent database, you can see how many webinars [a member] came to, how many virtual town halls they participated in, and how many times they came to a conference. All of those things make them more ‘sticky,’” Lewellen said.

Each of those engagement elements, or “stickiness,” helped them gauge a member’s likelihood of renewing. Lewellen and her team divided up members into different buckets—red, yellow, and green—based on their levels of involvement with the association, ranging from high risk to low risk, and were able to put a dollar figure on the anticipated renewal rate.

“It made sense for our organization to look at members on a case-by-case basis and make our best guess of whether we thought that school would come back or not,” she said, “and that’s how we built the budget.”

She approached the renewal projections knowing that it was not productive to live in fear. “None of us has ever lived through anything like this before,” she said. “It’s time to be creative and find solutions that make sense for today.”

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Three Ways to Host Informal Networking Opportunities During Virtual Events

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Hallway conversations and chance meetings are staples of in-person events but can be hard to re-create in the virtual space. A look at three ideas for making it happen.

A few weeks ago, I came across this article on about virtual tech conferences. The piece not only dove into some of the pluses of virtual events (e.g., lowered barriers to entry, reduced travel costs) but also highlighted what a lot of virtual attendees were missing, which it appropriately titled “the hang.”

Those are the chance meetings or hallway conversations that attendees have while in line at registration, as they grab a coffee, or when they are seated next to each other waiting for a session to start.

“Conferences aren’t just about what’s on the schedule, but the side conversations and the other social aspects,” said Christina Warren, a former tech journalist and current podcast host who now works as senior cloud developer advocate at Microsoft, to Wired. “I don’t think we’ve quite figured out as an entire industry what the best way is to bring in some of those social interactions when an event is virtual.”

Replicating “the hang” in a virtual space is definitely a difficult task. Here are three ideas I’ve come across in recent weeks that may be food for thought as your association goes about planning online events.

Daily concert. In late June, the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science and the Association of Genetic Technologists held their 2020 Joint Annual Meeting  online. Ahead of the event, organizers sent swag boxes to attendees—called JAM Packs—that included a kazoo. During each day of the event, there was a Kazoom session, where participants could join a Zoom room and kazoo a song together. “[Attendees] called it ‘The Daily Kazoom,’” said Michael Cubbage, CMP, CGMP, who served as an independent planner for the event, to Convene magazine.

Casual connections. VidCon—YouTube’s event for social media influencers, execs, fans, and the brands that want to reach them—also moved online for the first time in late June. “We really wanted to try and as much as possible replicate the interactive experience of an event, both the connections that you can get to speakers and creators and other things in sessions, but also the casual connections that you make with people in the hallways, in the lounges,” said VidCon General Manager Jim Louderback to Forbes last month. One way his team did this was to offer a variety of online interactions. Among them: one-minute direct conversations between a fan and a creator—what Louderback called “a video selfie”—and “ask me anything” sessions with well-known industry professionals.

Virtual shuttle ride. When the Institute of Food Technologists transitioned its Annual Meeting and Food Expo to SHIFT20 Virtual Event and Expo, organizers didn’t want to lose all of the networking opportunities that participants had grown accustomed to. Since shuttle rides often lead to spontaneous conversations and connections (you never know who’ll you’ll sit next to on the ride to the convention center or evening reception), IFT hosted a 15-minute virtual shuttle ride before every evening event. Each night, two IFT members moderated a live shuttle-bus-themed discussion with a trend-watching guest to chat about the ideas emerging at SHIFT20.

What is your association doing to foster social interaction in its virtual event spaces? Please share in the comments.

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Timeless Member Engagement Strategies

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Keeping members engaged is often considered the hard part. One association CEO outlines key membership engagement points that work no matter what, even in troubled times. The key to it all: value.

“Membership engagement solves everything.”

That’s a pretty bold statement. Tom Morrison, CEO of the Metal Treating Institute, backs it up with impressive numbers: More than 80 percent of MTI members are engaged at some level, and the organization has maintained a 97 percent retention rate for 10 years in a row. He says engaged members lead to fiscal growth, better volunteerism, and program involvement, which is why it’s his number-one priority as an association leader.

Morrison recently cohosted a webinar outlining successful strategies for keeping members engaged, even in a crisis.

Know Your Value

“Members support your mission, but they buy your value,” Morrison said. It is essential, therefore, for associations to know exactly what their value is.

We all know advocacy and meetings are core elements of an association’s value proposition. Without advocacy and meetings, what’s left? Good question.

Several years ago, during a strategic planning session with MTI’s board, as part of an exercise to determine value, they took advocacy and meetings off the table. That forced leadership to look internally at problems and “high pain points” and analyze them. Sales forecasting, financial benchmarking, training, and professional development emerged as important value drivers for members.

Another value proposition that has re-emerged is information. It was a high-value point in the ‘80s, Morrison said, but now with the advent of widespread misinformation distributed across many platforms, “associations are back in the channel of interpretation of information.” Associations need to ask what information they are engaging members with, where it comes from, and how to become the authority on interpreting it, he said.

Perceived vs. Actual Value

“Relevance is directly related to your value as an association,” Morrison said. Members engage in what they value. But value can be perceived or actual, and the latter is the one that counts.

Morrison noted, for example, that some associations offer members a discount on car rentals, which he says most people can easily get on the internet for an even lower price so that is not technically an actual member benefit. It is something some associations put out there, but it isn’t really meaningful—so it falls into the perceived value category.

Associations need to drill down on their benefits and determine if their value is actual or perceived. Morrison noted that many members pay for consultants to help with issues that associations could be helping to solve at a fraction of the cost—or at no cost at all. You need to know what members are going to need on any given day that your association can provide, so they don’t go looking for it elsewhere.

Morrison said he keeps hearing people ask, “How do you communicate value during COVID?” Talking about value is not enough right now, he said, “It’s time to do your value.”

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