Archive for January, 2021

Delivering Value Virtually With Video

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A shortage of opportunities for face-to-face interactions has created obstacles for associations in conveying membership value, but it has also opened doors to effectively communicate with members in new ways. Video is proving to be a must-have medium.

A case in point is Skate Canada, the association that promotes figure skating in the country, which had to get creative when its in-person options vanished. Earlier this month, it hosted its 2021 Skate Canada competition, a precursor to the Olympics, virtually. It would normally be held in an ice-skating rink in Toronto or Montreal with lots of people attending.

Not this year.

Instead, all the skaters from across Canada recorded their routines on video and sent them in. Skate Canada assembled the videos and created a virtual broadcast center to host the event. The judges, who were at home, viewed the athletes skating online.

“Associations are either going to wait out the storm and hope things come back, or they have to put in a different skill set to better communicate with their constituents,” said Perry Boeker, principal and marketing strategist at Red Rocket Creative Strategies.

Video is emerging as a great way to communicate in a virtual world that no one was anticipating. For associations, it has the potential to significantly increase engagement, participation, value, and community. The average user spends 88 percent more time on a website with video. And putting the word “video” in the subject line of an email doubles open rates and increases click-through rates by two to three times.

The way associations have done business has changed, so it is essential to communicate more effectively with members, Boeker said, noting that “they are not going to pull that information from us, we have to push it to them.”

Boeker said videos are easily consumed content that can meaningfully and authentically express the character and philosophy of an organization. “We need to embrace video streaming technology in a much better way than we have in the past,” he said. Out of necessity, people are becoming much more proficient in video production, which no longer requires an outside expert or a production company.

The people consuming content are skewing younger, Boeker said, and millennials are influencing lots of decisions. “If they’re not getting what they want from you, they’re going to find someone else to deliver that,” he said, making it imperative to deliver content to members in the way they like to consume it. He recommends embedding video in communication strategies with a plan, structure, and the ability to track its performance.

“Smart organizations that can recognize how they’re going to deliver their value proposition electronically are going to prosper in a material way in the coming years,” he said.

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Is the Future of Events Virtual or in Person? in a Word: Yes

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An expert in events gives advice for how to succeed in an ever-changing business climate.

The year 2020 saw the word “unprecedented” thrown around a lot, and rightly so. In the transition to virtual programming, associations had to be extra clever and resourceful when it came to meetings and events—the aspects of membership that had traditionally been contingent on the face-to-face. While it’s still unclear when it’ll be safe to return to in-person gatherings, there are ways to approach event planning now that ensure social engagement and avoid Zoom fatigue.

Jerome Bruce, the director of meetings and exhibits for the Association of Government Accountants, shared how his organization continues to adapt to ever-changing norms. “The tone that we want to project to our members is, ‘We’re still here,’” Bruce said. “That we represent government financial management, that we are continuing education. The AGA still offers educational courses and virtual conferences, they’re just in a digital format now.”

Personify conducted a survey of nearly 1,000 association members and staff in December 2020 and found that even when in-person events are safe again, only 15% of members want to return to mostly or entirely in-person events in the second half of 2021. Half of respondents said they would prefer mostly or entirely virtual events, and 33% wanted a hybrid option.

Following are Bruce’s tips for how to strategically plan for events while things are still virtual, with an in-person reality on the not-too-distant horizon.

Analyze Your Recent Data

Last year was all about quickly learning how to transform in-person gatherings into virtual meet-ups. Now, associations have nearly a year of data to inform their decision-making for events in 2021.

Bruce said that in the coming year associations have an opportunity to do analysis as well as strategic planning and marketing based on 2020’s learned experience, focusing on data metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs). Bruce, who characterized himself as a “data guy,” said he crunched the numbers on how many people attended last year’s events, what sessions were the most popular, and what types of attendees participated in those sessions.

Increase Engagement Through Outreach and Gamification

Associations can apply collected data to come up with creative ways to keep members engaged. For example, Bruce said his organization continues to leverage session recordings throughout the year, sending members and attendees portions of educational videos from its conference and other sessions in pieces.

Data can also help planners get ahead of potential roadblocks. For instance, analysis might suggest that people are hesitant to take part in virtual events for fear of sitting at their screens for hours on end. “We were challenged to come up with ideas to engage people,” Bruce said.

One thing the AGA did to combat screen weariness was gamifying its virtual events, including creating a visually-appealing attendee player screen. “Our survey showed people were engaged, people liked the idea of a virtual setting.”

AGA also gave attendees a chance to earn points for joining a session, exhibiting a virtual booth, chatting with another attendee, tweeting, or engaging on social media. A leaderboard displayed the points, enhancing virtual engagement.

Select the Right Tech Platforms

When it came to pivoting to an all-virtual setting, Bruce emphasized the importance of choosing an online platform that serves your association best. He suggests finding a tech platform that can execute a virtual conference with all the bells and whistles your association needs, and exploring platforms that provide post-event data.

“Having that tech platform that can help you manage your event efficiently and effectively and will give you data at the end, that’s key. All that costs some money, but you have to invest.”

The AGA is also a long-term partner of Personify, using its A2Z Events solution for conference modules, the exhibit floor plan, speaker management,and event app, among other tools. “When the pandemic happened, we just sat down with them and presented all the different options we had for us,” Bruce said. “Turns out that Personify has a virtual solution to all.”

Keep an Eye on the Post-Pandemic Future

Even with vaccines being rolled out, there is still uncertainty about when everyone will have access to them. That’s why AGA events from January through August of 2021 will be held virtually, including regularly scheduled in-person programming and board meetings. The organization will continue to plan for digital events, with an emphasis on more efficiency and effectiveness for attendees.

The AGA is concerned with sustainability, according to Bruce. It wants to host efficient, engaging events online without writing off a future when members look forward to in-person gatherings.

“We know now the virtual is a band-aid, a temporary thing right now,” Bruce said. “We need to keep the value of face-to-face current and sustainable, so we have a balancing act. We don’t want people to get too engrossed with virtual that they won’t be excited about face-to-face events. [2021 represents] an opportunity and challenge for us for sure to make sure that face-to-face doesn’t die.”


 

This series by Personify is intended to serve as a guidepost for associations that are reacting to fundamental market shifts and proactively building a better future for their organizations. Sign up for Personify’s webinar on Jan 27 that will walk through this research in detail.

The post Is the Future of Events Virtual or in Person? in a Word: Yes appeared first on Associations Now.

Going Beyond Data in Decision Making

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Data analysis is an important element in making informed decisions, but it’s not the only one.Your own experience and your team’s expertise can complement your data with a layer of human insight.

Leaders have access to an ever-growing sea of data to inform their decisions. But data is subject to bias, may not tell the whole story, and doesn’t always predict the future, especially as the world becomes more uncertain. That means relying only on data could lead organizations down the wrong path.

Data-based decision making is a powerful strategy, but leaders are more likely to unlock their organizations’ full potential by using data in tandem with other insights that may feel less concrete but are still valuable.

“The limitation is that you never have enough data,” says Meredith Low, a strategy and governance consultant who has experience with associations. “You still have to overlay judgment, intuition, and preferences on top of data.”

Reflect on Experience

The shift toward data-driven decision making “by and large has been a good thing,” Low says. “But you have to understand that data doesn’t tell you what to do. It’s one form of input.”

Data can provide valuable information, challenge preconceived notions, and eliminate incorrect assumptions, but it still might not provide you with a clear road map. That’s when leaders must draw on past experience to assess a situation and make the right call. Studies show that experience is valuable when leaders are confronted with uncertain information and complex decisions.

“Any data that you’ve got does not fully represent the complexity of the situation that you’re in,” Low says.

Don’t Dismiss Intuition

Using your intuition—the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning—might seem unwise when making big decisions. But studies suggest that nonconscious information can boost decision accuracy. And for psychologists like Gerd Gigerenzer, intuition is a valuable decision-making tool.

“We need statistical thinking for a world where we can calculate the risk, but in a world of uncertainty, we need more. We need rules of thumb called heuristics, and good intuitions,” Gigerenzer said in an interview with Harvard Business Review.

Intuition is valuable when you need to make quick decisions under pressure. Research psychologist Gary A. Klein’s Recognition-Primed Decision Model describes how people use past experiences to pick up on situational cues so they can make decisions in high-pressure conditions with little time for assessment.

“Any decision you’re making has to do with the future. And any data that you have, at best, is some kind of signpost to what you think possibly the future might be,” Low says. “There’s always that fundamental point where the data does not tell you what to do.”

On the other hand, relying too heavily on your gut without any critical analysis could cloud your judgment and leave you susceptible to being influenced by the way a problem is posed or framed.

Engage Others

When making decisions, consulting with a diverse group of coworkers or volunteers who offer unique perspectives can lead to better outcomes by mitigating any biases that might influence the way you interpret data or view a situation.

“The more diverse people are in decision-making bodies, the better the decisions are,” Low says.

With that in mind, the Association of American Medical Colleges created an executive committee to make important strategic decisions using a clearly defined process. As a result, the organization became more deliberate and transparent in its decision making, and all relevant parties had an opportunity to vet new ideas before they were finalized.

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Where Associations Need to Focus Their Efforts in 2021

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As associations adapt to challenges ushered in by the global pandemic, new research by Personify provides a guidepost for strategic decision-making.

Looking at 2020 in the rearview mirror, it’s easy to see that associations faced unprecedented changes, disruptions and threats to their operating models. (Understatement of the century, anyone?) But gazing into a crystal ball at 2021 and beyond, it’s difficult to determine what shifts are permanent and what newly adopted practices and behaviors are here to stay.

To better understand what may lie ahead, Personify conducted a survey of nearly 1000 association and nonprofit members and staff to learn how they are adapting to these shifts. In a series that begins with this article, we’ll highlight key areas of concern with both the short- and long-term in mind.

Here are some of the high-level takeaways from Personify’s research:

Your digital networks are more crucial now than ever before. More than half of all survey respondents shared how important it is for their associations to provide both digital networking and a digital community for its members. While associations have historically leaned on routine in-person meet-ups to court potential members, a successful association has to explore new avenues, such as networking in the digital space.

While productive and meaningful connections can take more time to navigate and nurture in a virtual world, people are adapting and finding themselves more engaged than before. According to Personify’s research, 48 percent of members said they were more engaged in 2020 than in 2019.

“That feeling of being seen and understood gets worse when you’re working remotely, so companies will compensate for that; they’ll start ramping up their recognition and rewards programs,” David Johnson, the principal analyst for employee experience at Forrester Research, told Fast Company. “Companies are going to invest quite a bit in up-skilling managers and investing in technology that will help them better understand employee engagement when working remotely.”

Similarly, investing in tools that complement virtual planning and events can benefit people not only in the interim but in coming years when many might opt into remote gatherings as a choice, rather than out of necessity. And with the adoption and application of these new services and skills, planners can empathetically and productively launch hybrid in-person/virtual member engagement.

Virtual engagement is here to stay. Even when it’s safe to return to in-person events, only a minority of members surveyed want to engage in them—merely 15 percent of members said they would want a mostly or entirely in-person event (under the assumption that it is safe) in the second half of this year, with 50 percent of members preferring a mostly or entirely virtual event, and 33 percent preferring a combination of virtual and in-person for 2021. This could be attributed to the fact that virtual engagement is seeing a more widespread and welcome adoption.

Once we can safely return to in-person gatherings, the digital shift won’t disappear. It’s going to remain a constant within networking communities. Rather than focus on ways to phase digital settings out, a forward-thinking association will discern how to maintain its online presence while still conducting in-person happenings in the months and years to come.

“Anyone who is planning to host an in-person event in 2021 should also be prepared to have a virtual back-up plan, or plan a hybrid event, as there will be many unknowns throughout the year and no guarantee that events will be safe by 2021,” Gianna Gaudini, Director, Global Head of Events at Softbank Investment Advisors (Vision Fund), wrote for Thrive Global. “Smart planners will communicate early and often with attendees to get an idea of attendee sentiment around live vs. virtual gatherings, and what will make attendees feel 1) safe and 2) part of a communal experience.”

Career skills and certifications still matter. This was cited as the top reason among members to continue to engage with their association (46 percent very important for members), followed closely by being able to network with others (45 percent) and belong to an organization that advocates for their industry (44 percent).

LinkedIn reported that in the first week of April 2020, people watched 1.7 million hours of content designed to teach a new skill on LinkedIn Learning, compared to 560,000 hours watched during the first week of January 2020, before the pandemic hit. That’s triple the amount of time spent watching skills-centered content once people were isolating. It’s evident that people are gravitating toward learning new skills and achieving certifications. Associations should tap into this by finding out what content members are interested in and providing relevant programming.

“Most of us have new skills we aspire to learn, but chipping away when we’re stuck at home requires a superhuman act of willpower,” Taylor Jacobson, founder and CEO of Focusmate, told Fast Company. “We’re used to relying on in-person structures—go to a dance studio, take a yoga class, meet your guitar teacher. These structures provide the accountability to actually show up, invest time, and make progress.”

Association membership remains valuable. Many members said that belonging to an association has either become more important (44 percent) or is as important (48 percent) as it was pre-pandemic. Associations Now reported that a study published in April by strategic research firm Association Laboratory, Inc. found that 57 percent of association leaders reported more investments in online education, 52 percent reported exploring virtual conferences and 62 percent reported plans to digitize their content.

Dean West, FASAE, president and founder of Association Laboratory, told Association Now that the concept of digital membership is hardly new, but interest has accelerated because of the pandemic. He suggests analyzing membership, cost and returns on investment for programs, dropping the ones that don’t yield meaningful results.

“You can’t look at a crisis only as a threat,” West said. “You have to consider it as an opportunity to create energy toward strategic change, because we know the crisis will eventually subside.”

In short, it’s not about sitting on the sidelines and waiting for this to pass, which could lead to associations running the risk of losing their relevance in their members’ professional and personal lives.

Stay tuned for the remainder of our series, where we highlight how smart associations are preparing for the journey ahead. And while we can’t predict the future, we hope this series will be a good starting point for making lasting improvements.


This article is the first in an 8-part series focused on studying the shifting association landscape and how smart organizations are planning for both short- and long-term challenges–and solving them. Backed by original research conducted by Personify and brought to life through the stories of association leaders who are meeting these challenges in real-time, this series is intended to serve as a guidepost for associations who are reacting to fundamental market shifts and proactively building a better future for their organizations. Sign up for Personify’s webinar on Jan 27 that will walkthrough this research in detail.

The post Where Associations Need to Focus Their Efforts in 2021 appeared first on Associations Now.

How to Boost Membership by Emphasizing Value Over Networking

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One of the biggest challenges associations continue to face is the inability to offer members face-to-face networking opportunities. But by highlighting the value proposition of membership over networking, one association increased its associate membership. Here’s how.

The National Asphalt Pavement Association was ready to kick off a new membership campaign in mid-March 2020 targeted to its producer members, who are a loyal group with a 96 percent retention rate. It’s an expensive membership and usually takes a long time to sell—a minimum of three to four months, according to Steve Shivak, NAPA’s director of membership.

NAPA represents asphalt pavement and asphalt producing companies. A couple of months into the pandemic, all 50 states deemed the industry essential, so NAPA knew its producer members were faring well because they were getting funding from state and local governments.

Considering the lengthy sales time and the expense of producer membership, Shivak’s team decided to revise its membership campaign and focus on their supplier members—which they call associates—instead. NAPA’s associate members have an 85 percent retention rate, so not as strong as the producers, but still growing.

A Valued Partnership

NAPA’s associate members like coming to its in-person meetings for the opportunity to network and mingle with producer members. Recognizing that in-person meetings were quickly diminishing because of the pandemic, however, Shivak and his team switched the theme of their messaging from networking to being a valued partner.

They quoted NAPA’s board chairman, James Winford Jr., Ph.D., who described a valued partnership as one where members have “uninhibited access” to all their customers. It’s a partnership in every sense, where NAPA learns how members conduct business and in turn, members learn how NAPA does business.

In addition to changing the messaging, NAPA decided to ask associate members to give two main reasons why they wanted to join, and if it didn’t align with what NAPA does, the membership team would be very honest and tell them NAPA is not the right fit for them. “With this kind of retention rate, we don’t want one-and-dones,” Shivak said.

A Surprise Messaging Success

Shivak’s team conducted split testing on the new messaging and went old school with direct mail. The first test was a memo on NAPA letterhead with reasons to join, a hardcopy of NAPA’s membership application, with a postcard-size index card stating NAPA’s value proposition, and no return envelope. The second test was a personalized letter to each prospective member on why they should join, with a glossy printed invitation, a return envelope, but no information on the value proposition like the first test.

They were positive the glossy invitation would be a hit. It wasn’t. “It bombed,” Shivak said. The hardcopy memo, on the other hand, “blew it away.” NAPA went from an average of 35 associate members joining a year, over the past four years, to 46 in one year—during a pandemic.

The hardcopy memo resonated because recipients appreciated that NAPA understood the value they brought to the table, he said. It wasn’t a transactional request, asking for money, or sponsorship, or to advertise.

The memo wasn’t about how joining would be an opportunity to network, Shivak said. It was, “You’re a valued partner and you can make a real difference to the industry for best practices, innovation, technology, and where the industry is going,” he said. “It gave us an opportunity to tell the story versus the invitation, which was all flash but no substance.”

The memo also had a call to action asking prospective members to respond by a certain date to get a free seat at NAPA’s online member meeting last June. They were still getting responses into July, well past the deadline.

“That was the other way we knew we had a hit,” he said. “People didn’t care about the free seat; what they cared about was access.”

The post How to Boost Membership by Emphasizing Value Over Networking appeared first on Associations Now.

How to Find Nondues Revenue Sources in 2021

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The new 2021 Association Annual Survey Results report suggests reduced dues revenue and declining membership in the year ahead. For associations wanting to stay ahead of the curve and generate nondues revenue, focus on showing value and creativity.

With 2020 defined by the pandemic, many associations are hoping that 2021 will have a different and better defining ethos. A new report from GrowthZone AMS, 2021 Association Annual Survey Results, looks at emerging trends, with the goal of helping associations best navigate what’s ahead.

So, what is it that associations need to prepare for?

“The trends we’re seeing so far, is that membership is dropping, and with that, there’s a correlation with dues,” said Amy Gitchell, senior marketing communications specialist at GrowthZone. “So, it’s going to be more important than ever to think through what those nondues revenue sources are and how you can leverage any opportunity for that.”

The good news, Gitchell said, is that, according to survey responses, associations have been finding innovative ways to keep the nondues revenue flowing. “What was surprising to us was the number of people both the on association and chamber of commerce side, who referred to what we’ve been calling ‘contract work,’ as a source of revenue,” Gitchell said. “Some examples of that were renting out parts of their building; grant writing and administration; management fees for major programs that were assigned by the government, lab testing, and marketing services.”

Another example of associations leaning into what’s working was the prevalence of one type of fundraising event. “Our support team and training team were hearing that people were having success with golf tournaments,” Gitchell said. She noted that associations were able to carry them out safely during the pandemic because they were outdoors and done with little contact.

In addition, Gitchell said that while some novel approaches are helpful, the real revenue drivers will be associations showing members and others the value they bring to the table. “It ties back into value proposition,” she said. “Organizations need to be clear on what their value proposition is, and how they are helping and aiding their members now.”

Many organizations did this by boosting their online education offerings and hosting virtual conferences. “They were able to generate revenue off of that, by having it online, and people were really enthusiastic about virtual events,” Gitchell said.

Associations also must be willing to adapt so the revenue flows. “This is unfortunately not as temporary as everyone was hoping,” Gitchell said. “What has worked in the past isn’t going to be as successful, because the game has changed. So you don’t have a choice. Adapt and survive. … Not everything is going to work, but the reality is not everything has worked in the past, either. If you don’t try it, you’ll never know.”

Adapting can be difficult, but she noted that organizations can lean on each other in this process. “Probably one of the most helpful things—and this is when it’s hard when there are no face-to-face meetings—is when association executives talk to one another and are having conversation about what’s working and what isn’t working,” Gitchell said.

What methods is your association looking at to boost nondues revenue in

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Membership Pro Tip: Offer Bite-Size Engagement

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Instead of overwhelming new members with a long list of benefits in a traditional printed brochure, the International Society of Arboriculture uses email to give them a handful of easy first steps to get involved.

How does it work? The International Society of Arboriculture restructured its new-member communications and went from a printed brochure and membership card to an emailed piece. The message offers opportunities for new members to begin to engage with ISA in bite-size ways through its website, online community, social media, publications, certifications, and products.

“A lot of folks didn’t realize we had a Facebook page, and they’ve been members for 20 years,” says Tip Tucker Kendall, ISA’s director of member services.

Instead of making the communication a sales pitch with a list of 40 benefits, the goal is to get members to focus on what they can do in five minutes to get deeper into their profession and become more invested in the community, she says.

Why is it effective? “It is an opportunity to engage in a relationship with the association. And part of that onus is on the member,” she says. By outlining a few ways to show up and get a return on membership, ISA sets up a dynamic where both the association and the member have a role to play. “It’s a contract,” Tucker Kendall says.

What’s the benefit? New members are usually one of the most at-risk groups for not renewing, she says. So, it’s been more effective to push the bite-size engagement pieces upfront rather than taking a sales approach. “Overall, new member engagement is up,” she says.

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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Four Ways to Make Marketing Part of Your 2021 Comeback Story

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With tight budgets and a challenging road back to in-person events, it may be tempting to rein in your marketing spend. But reminding people why your association is vital can lead the way to a robust return, as well as supporting members as they navigate their own unfamiliar territory.

By Melissa Bouma

If 2020 left your organization hurting due to lost business and revenue opportunities, know that you’re not alone. Many other associations are facing the same challenges. But the new calendar year, while it doesn’t end the pandemic, offers an opportunity to reset and fully embrace the new normal. And how you react to that new normal can help set the stage for your comeback story.

With strained budgets, it can be natural to look toward austerity measures and other forms of cost-cutting, but these have their limits, especially from a long-term perspective. To turn the tide, ultimately, your association needs to invest, but that investment should be thoughtful and evaluated for performance early and often.

A great place to invest is in your brand’s identity and differentiator. It’s one of the best things that you can do to reverse your fortunes. The Corporate Horizon Index, a 2017 McKinsey study of for-profit companies, found that organizations willing to invest in their long-term fortunes tended to grow 47 percent more, and with less volatility than organizations that were more focused on the short term.

And marketing is a great vehicle for reinforcing the importance of your association at a time when members may be reevaluating their reasons to renew their dues. It’s the industry-specific relevance that your organization provides that can help members overcome 2020 difficulties. The question is how to strategically invest those marketing dollars when your budget may already be stretched thin. Here are four ways to do this:

Focus on recruiting new members with a new acquisition campaign. Three of the biggest reasons people join associations are for networking, education, and recognition. Yet these benefits may have lost their luster in 2020—a year where meetings, the primary conduit for such exchanges, came to a standstill. Start off 2021 strong by leveraging an ad campaign or direct marketing (more on that, next) to reinforce your organization’s value in these key areas and promote what makes being part of your association so valuable—and help to offset any member drop-off seen in 2020.

Employ free or low-cost marketing efforts to retain existing members. A member retention campaign doesn’t need to be an expensive endeavor. Use email or retargeting to remind existing members of your value, or even introduce new initiatives or services they may not have known about. Consider adding a new member recognition award program into the mix, and explore other ways to amp up virtual member recognition until meetings return full force.

Target this messaging with performance marketing. This approach, which represents a combination of brand marketing, paid search, and social media advertising, helps marketers target very specific audiences. (It even has its own association, in case you were curious.) One of the benefits of this strategy—and part of the reason it’s growing in prominence—is that it’s rooted in results by design. That means there is a direct correlation between money spent and the people who are being brought into your association. And ultimately, money spent to bring in new members and to engage existing ones is critical at this time, as they will provide the basis for any future organizational efforts.

Be ready for meetings to return. So maybe this year won’t be when in-person meetings make their big comeback. But that moment will come eventually. Consider directing some of your funding into long-term event marketing, so that when attendees are ready to come back in force (in the back half of 2021 or beyond), your association is ready.

The challenge, of course, is that the pressure to return in a big way is high for every organization that found itself sitting out most of 2020, or drastically shifting its strategy into virtual realms. And that means everyone wants a comeback story.

This is going to be like a thoroughbred race. Whoever gets out of the gate first is probably going to win the race.

Don’t miss the opportunity to make your next steps count.


Melissa Bouma, president of Manifest, has more than 15 years of experience building insight-driven branding and content strategy, with a client base representing large companies, major universities, and prominent associations.

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Why Your Association’s Community-Building Strategy Might Need a Tweak

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If your association has been leaning on staff-centered online community engagement tactics, it might not have the effect you’re expecting, says culture expert Maddie Grant. Instead, let the members take the lead.

The difference between canned community engagement and the real thing can feel subtle. But you know it when you see it.

And when engagement feels forced in a member community, it can feel disingenuous—something highlighted in a thread that picked up heat in the community-building space on social media.

What’s something that feels like community building but isn’t?

— Rosie Sherry ☁ (@rosiesherry) November 17, 2020

In an email, community expert Rosie Sherry noted the reaction to the tweet was fairly robust. “It made me think, realize, see that really anything can be good for community building, but just because you are doing it doesn’t mean you are building community,” she said.

Maddie Grant, cofounder of the culture-driven consultancy PROPEL, compares tactics like these with the early days of social media, before brand marketers moved in.

“It used to be really organic and just fun and interesting and kind of new, and then the marketers took over, and now you’re just getting spammed all the time with the ads,” Grant said. “I think community management, not in the same way, there’s a little bit of that, too, because all of these tactics are so obvious.”

Service at the Center

So why do these tactics feel so poorly suited to online communities? And what does that say about community-building in general?

The secret might come down to who is driving the engagement. Sherry explained that communities that put the organization’s goals at the center will often fail to engage. Instead, she suggested that member communities should be built with service in mind.

“There would be better success with a community if done this way because the focus is more on building something of value for the people, rather than the person [or organization] at the center of things,” she said.

In an ideal world, Grant said community managers could mostly stay out of the way of the member conversations.

“Really, the best communities are where the organization itself is completely invisible and in the background and is just making sure that everything runs smoothly from a technology perspective, or that there’s a helpdesk person in case anybody has issues, or that is focused on onboarding new people into the community,” she said.

Community Considerations

Grant offered a few suggestions as to what that might look like, including creating a network of “champions” to help seed conversation in the community, but also to think about the structure of the community, building it in a way where everyone who joins has a role—such as a help forum or an area dedicated to Q&A.

“The impetus for people to help each other is really, really high, as opposed to ‘just come in here and discuss these industry-related topics,’ where nobody has time for that,” she said.

Grant offered two additional insights on keeping digital communities going:

One-way engagement is OK, sometimes. If you can’t get people to comment, all is not lost. Since the start of the pandemic, people have found themselves engaging aggressively through mediums like Zoom, and they may need a break from posting on a forum. While passive forms of consumption, like podcasts and videos, may seem underrated compared with commenting, Grant said they still have significant value. Just be sure to offer options. “The value of people watching or just reading or sharing is actually much higher for the association than the value of somebody commenting, or posting, which obviously has always been harder to get,” she explained.

How should you feel about external competition? In recent years, Facebook’s long-neglected Groups feature made a big comeback as a way to interact with others, in ways that don’t seem as stilted as more professional platforms. Grant noted that the professional nature of association communities can actually put Facebook groups at an advantage in some ways, as they tend to be a bit looser. However, associations can learn from them in trying to encourage a balance. “You can still have rules without curbing some of those connections, because that’s how people obviously get to know each other,” she said. She also noted that the informal nature of Facebook groups makes them distinct from the stronger strategic nature of associations. “It’s so much more lightweight,” she said.

The post Why Your Association’s Community-Building Strategy Might Need a Tweak appeared first on Associations Now.

A Return to Meetings: How Contact Tracing Works

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As meeting professionals plan for future in-person meetings, they’ll need to incorporate new technologies and processes to keep all participants safe. One tool to consider is digital contact tracing. Here’s a look at what’s involved.

Although most associations won’t be hosting large in-person meetings in the immediate future, many are thinking about what those face-to-face events will look like when they do return, along with what new technology and procedures they may need to implement to keep all participants as safe as possible.

One new area that meeting professionals will have to consider is contact tracing. For a look at what this involves, I spoke with Julie Ann Schmidt, CMM, CMP, a certified COVID compliance officer and founder and CEO of global events firm Lithium Logistics Group.

“Contact tracing is being able to trace who someone was in contact with before they became sick,” said Schmidt. “For meeting planners, it’s looking at having a conference where, after the fact, you find out somebody was sick and then being able to inform everyone who had contact or may have had contact with that person.”

The CDC defines “close contact” as being within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more over 24 hours.

If you decide to do contact tracing at a conference, you must “first have a mechanism for people to inform you afterward that they got sick at your event, and then [you] need to be able to take that information and tell other participants they may have had exposure,” Schmidt said.

Also keep in mind that an association can’t require people to participate in contact tracing. “Rather, it’s an effort that you’d have to ask attendees and other participants to opt into,” Schmidt said.

There are two ways to handle contact tracing. The first is to use your list of people who checked in onsite. “If that’s all you’re doing, then you’ll have to tell everyone on the list that they  may have had contact,” she said.

The second is to use some type of technology that allows you to pinpoint and contact only those who were within six feet of the infected person for 15 minutes or more. “For some groups, the value of not having to worry everyone, of being able to give people more precise information, and maybe manage the PR of it …  is worth the investment of going beyond that full list,” said Schmidt.

Contact Tracing options

If you decide to make the investment in contact tracing technology, you’ll be able to choose from among three types:

Radio frequency identification (RFID). This is considered a passive technology because attendees wear a tag or fob—possibly in a wristband—that is constantly on. Sensors are set up around the meeting space, and the technology tracks when a person’s fob crosses a sensor and compares it to other people’s fobs going by the same sensor. (It does not track attendees walking by or standing next to one another throughout the conference venue.) According to Schmidt, RFID is typically the most expensive option. “It can run, based on the last research I did, up to $120 per person, depending on the amount of people you have,” she said. “That includes the individual fobs and sensors.”

Bluetooth low energy (BLE). Like RFID, this is also a passive technology where participants wear a fob. “But, in this case, there are no sensors,” Schmidt said. “Rather, the fobs, which may be in a name badge, are talking to one another so the data shows when attendees are close.” According to Schmidt, this technology is typically in the $10 to $15 range per person.

App. This is considered an active technology because people need to put the app on their phone, and the app and the phone need to be turned on for it to work. “In other words, people can actively turn it off if they want to,” Schmidt said. However, apps usually have the lowest price point, running about $5 per person.

Data Privacy Concerns

All of these technologies collect the same data. “They are measuring time and distance,” Schmidt said.

Most importantly, the collected data is confidential. “When attendees sign up for the app or other contact-tracing program, it puts them in the system as a number,” she said. “So planners don’t know who these individuals are.”

It’s not until an attendee informs the organization that they are sick that staff can put their name into the system and learn who that attendee had been in contact with. “That’s the only point that you know the data tied to a specific person,” she said.

The technology also does not track where people go throughout the day. “It’s not GPS,” Schmidt said. “It’s not tracking the person; it’s tracking their contact.”

Ultimately, the decision to use digital contact tracing comes down to three things: budget, buy-in from participants, and risk management.

“To me, being able to do digital contact tracing, rather than using you’re checked-in registration list, is going a step further and beyond the basics to keep people safe,” Schmidt said. 

This is the first piece of a three-part series about meetings post-COVID. In part two, I’ll look at what onsite screening and testing procedures may entail. And in part three, I’ll discuss COVID protocol documents that meeting professionals should put together.

The post A Return to Meetings: How Contact Tracing Works appeared first on Associations Now.