Archive for September, 2021

The Documents Groups Are Using to Ease the Transition to In-Person Gatherings

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Associations are trying to be thoughtful about policies for in-person events as they start anew. Here are a few strategies organizations are using.

In February 2020, few meeting planners were thinking about things like tracking proof of vaccination. But as associations tiptoe back into face-to-face gatherings, planners are having to address questions about policies that will make the return safe for all. Read on for a few approaches organizations are using to firm up their policies ahead of their in-person meetings.

Duty of Care Statements

Some associations are creating a duty of care statement, which lays out an association’s legal obligations to members.This policy approach is formal in nature, and clearly defines what an association will do for its members.

One example of this kind of document comes from the American Association of Airport Executives, which built a duty of care statement for its July 2021 annual meeting.The statement breaks down AAAE’s plan to ensure the organization will do what it can to take care of attendees, while making it clear that this responsibility is shared with attendees:

However, the responsibility for a safe and healthy event environment is shared among the event organizers, event venues, and event attendees. Towards this end, all conference attendees are expected to also comply with all applicable requirements imposed by federal, state, or local health authorities for the locality in which the conference is taking place, and in addition to our code of conduct, they are expected to adhere to and abide by the safety precautions AAAE has implemented to protect against the spread of COVID-19 such as social distancing where applicable, wearing a digital contact tracing device, personal hygiene and hand sanitization, self-monitoring and self-reporting.

Health and Safety Protocols

Other associations lean on a less formal approach to pandemic planning, gathering basic safety and health protocols that set expectations for attendees and the association alike.

Tom Morrison, CEO of the Metal Treating Institute, says that the association has taken an approach that is framed by the idea that COVID-19 may never truly disappear.

“We have to learn to live, interact, and meet as COVID exists in a way that is comfortable for those people who are comfortable meeting in person, while providing virtual opportunities for members who choose not to attend,” Morrison tells Associations Now via email. ”As we always say, ‘You have to meet your members where they are.’”

Reflecting this philosophy, the association and its board built a safety and wellness protocol that sets base guidelines for its events, including daily temperature checks (tracked by wristbands), spread-out seating, and mask rules for food service employees. Attendees are not required to wear masks, but they’ve been made available as desired.

Morrison says that the goal of the policies is to heighten the comfort level for attending in person while minimizing risks from COVID-19.

“So far we have hosted four meetings in 2021 without incident and have seen an excitement among members that our meetings are back,” he adds.

COVID-19 Waivers

One other approach to consider as hybrid events ramp up is a waiver for COVID-19 that legally protects the organization while giving attendees the opportunity to meet in person.

The Western Arts Alliance returned to in-person events with its annual meeting last month, which featured a hybrid element. WAA used a variety of tactics to manage COVID-19 risk, one of which involved a liability waiver stating that attendees agreed to assume the risk of exposure by attending an in-person event.

The association’s executive director, Tim Wilson, tells Associations Now via email that the waiver was just one arm of WAA’s approach to the pandemic, which was ramped up given the Delta variant’s increased virality. Wilson noted that attendees were required to be vaccinated, and that masks were required during the event.

After the event, the association asked attendees to report any signs of exposure (none have been received as of press time). “The board and staff approached the event prepared to do anything we could to protect our attendees, staff, volunteers, and hotel personnel—as well as the organization,” Wilson says.

The association made other adjustments, including limiting indoor capacity and allowing those who no longer wanted to attend in person to switch to the virtual event, no questions asked, with a partial refund to cover the cost differences between the two.

“In our view, having a liability waiver was just part of that package. It let attendees know that we, as the organizer, recognized the risk in participating,” Wilson says. “And while we understand that it can be difficult to enforce a liability waiver, often, the act of simply signing one can be enough to deter a claim.”

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Technology Pro Tip: Ramp Up Quickly With No-Code Frameworks

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Bringing in software that can help nontechnical employees build websites or apps could stretch your association’s ability to experiment on the fly.

If your association doesn’t have a dedicated web development or design team, launching a new initiative might feel difficult, if not impossible, because of the costs and resources involved.

But no-code tools, a rising trend in the tech world, carry potential for associations looking to test an idea before making a big investment. You might just find that they’re what you need to bridge the gap.

What’s the Strategy?

No-code tools have technically existed since the days when Macintoshes had built-in CRT monitors, but they’ve become increasingly powerful in recent years, enabling fast building even by users who don’t have traditional programming skills.

With the rising popularity of application programming interfaces (APIs), these tools have matured in function and can now integrate with existing tools associations use, such as association management systems.

No-code tools vary in complexity—, for example, allows in-depth mobile applications to be built without programming, while Carrd specializes in single-page websites that could be used to promote an event or sell a product. And Webflow makes it possible for designers to build sites without having to touch HTML (though if they want to get their hands dirty in the code, they can).

Generally these tools are sold as proprietary software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, which means they’ll come with a monthly or yearly bill. But they could still be significantly cheaper than a development resource.

Why Is It Effective?

It could save a lot of money, enabling applications to be built and managed by less-technical employees than a custom solution might allow.

“No-code software is suitable for use by nontechnical businesspeople, sometimes known as ‘citizen developers,’” Harvard Business Review contributors Chris Johannessen and Tom Davenport recently wrote of the trend. “For many companies, this helps them digitize and automate tasks and processes faster than trying to hire and onboard hard-to-source development talent.”

(Johannessen and Davenport did warn, however, that no-code may require resources from the IT department to support development.)

What’s the Potential?

It’s often said that emerging technologies are best implemented in areas that aren’t your primary discipline, and no-code tools could make it possible to work on those secondary initiatives. No-code tools let your association try out new endeavors with a relatively low level of risk, giving creative team members who may have strong ideas but less technical know-how what they need to try out something new. It could even stretch out the reach of an existing development resource.

“We’ve seen organizations where one system developer supports ten or more citizen developers,” Johannessen and Davenport wrote.

It won’t be enough to replace larger development tasks—you may still need to outsource development of your main website—but it could help put your experiments within reach.

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A Successful Rebrand Better Reflects Current and Future Members

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With an eye on attracting a new generation of members and more effectively representing existing ones, the Massachusetts Society of CPAs updated its acronym and logo. Getting stakeholder buy-in and other strategies helped the process go off without a hitch.

Looking to make itself more relevant to a younger generation of CPAs and set itself apart from other groups with a similar acronym, the Massachusetts Society of CPAs (previously MSCPA) recently launched its new acronym, MassCPAs, and logo.

MassCPAs has put a lot of energy into engaging with high school and college students so they are attracted to the CPA profession at an early age. “With new generations of CPAs entering the profession, we thought now was a good time to refresh our look and make sure we can continue to grow and evolve while we’re bringing these new up-and-coming CPAs into our profession,” said Elizabeth Emanuelson, MassCPAs’ senior director of communications.

Buy-In Is Key

MassCPAs works to get its members in the press to promote the CPA brand, but using the old acronym was confusing because other groups had the same one, like Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other state CPA societies. MassCPAs worked with a branding company to make the change but also realized, “It can’t be on us to make this change,” Emanuelson said.

So, the group gathered key stakeholders, including members, the board, and committee members who represent various demographics within its membership to participate in focus groups and surveys. They presented several ideas to them and asked them to vote on the ones they liked the best. “It was a little bit scary because we’ve always been MSCPA,” Emanuelson said. “Looping in those key stakeholders from the beginning and having them be a part of the process reassured us we were making the right decision.”

A Modern Visual Identity

Members liked that the new brand made it easier to immediately understand what MassCPAs is and what it represents. They also liked the new logo’s “M” graphic, which can be animated, making the brand more visible on social media platforms where future generations of CPAs are interacting online.

The new visual identity is modern and better represents who MassCPAs is, Emanuelson said, which is helpful as the group continues to build a robust and diverse accounting pipeline of future leaders. “Our profession—all professions—are evolving,” she said. “It’s on us to make sure that we are also evolving and continuing to develop programs to help our members grow, so we can continue to attract the best and the brightest to the profession.”

While changes like this can sometimes provoke pushback from stakeholders, that didn’t happen this time. Making it clear from the beginning that they weren’t changing the full name of the organization and that it was just a change to the acronym and logo helped. “Making sure we were transparent and getting buy-in from key stakeholders was huge for our success,” Emanuelson said.

Getting advice from other associations and state CPA societies that had rebranded was also important. The groups shared with Emanuelson their own rebrand communications, what worked and what didn’t on their own campaigns, and gave her candid feedback.

The new brand increases MassCPAs relevance for future generations of CPAs and is a better reflection of the people it represents. “Now we look as progressive as our organization truly is,” Emanuelson said.

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Make Meetings Meaningful Again Through Sustainable Practices

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Sustainable initiatives are at the forefront of meeting planners’ minds. Give back to the community and the environment to create a meaningful experience for attendees.

Given the events of the past year, meeting planners and travelers have become more conscious of our impact on the world. As planners and their clients adopt more socially-conscious mindsets, it’s important to incorporate sustainable tourism practices to provide meaningful experiences for attendees.

PromoLeaf survey of event attendees conducted by Censuswide found that 85 percent of respondents prefer or strongly prefer attending conferences with sustainable practices. And, according to Skift, 58 percent of consumers say that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused them to think more about the environment. As sustainable initiatives come to the forefront, it’s important to feature them while maximizing your resources and elevating your events.

Environment-friendly meetings:

Make your meeting/event as climate-friendly as possible. Many venues and hotels are beginning to provide more eco-friendly practices to attract eco-conscious meeting planners. Choose venues and lodging options that have sustainable practices in place (recycling, limited water waste, etc.), reduced carbon footprint initiatives and/or are LEED-certified. You can also go “paperless” by using apps and different forms of technology during an event.

Leave the community better off than when you arrived:

Incorporate excursions/team building/programming that encourages responsible travel and sustainable tourism. Examples include going into a community to rebuild a playground or providing your attendees with an authentic farm-to-table dinner experience with homegrown/sustainable ingredients. Another example is participating in “voluntourism” activities, such as working at a food pantry or with another non-profit that allows attendees to get involved with the community while they are visiting.

A study by Destination Analysis revealed that nearly 43 percent of travelers say that climate change has already impacted their travel decision-making in the last five years, and 21.5 percent say that climate change will have a significant impact on their travel in the years to come. Incorporating sustainable practices into MICE tourism will help bring us closer together, create empathy/meaningful experiences and involve social stakeholders in professional meetings. Working toward this will make any destination appealing for sustainable MICE travel.

Discover Puerto Rico is a not-for-profit destination marketing organization (DMO) whose mission is to make Puerto Rico visible to the world as a premier travel destination by collaboratively promoting the island’s diversity and uniqueness for leisure and business travel and events. The Puerto Rico Convention Center features more than 20,000 solar panels and programmable LED lighting, producing approximately 750,000KWhr/Month, which is equivalent to CO2 produced by 8,770 trees grown for 10 years.

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Creating a Workplace Culture That Welcomes Sensitive Discussions

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Your workforce may want an open dialogue on hot-button topics. But without an inclusive and trusting environment, tensions may rise. Here’s how to create a culture where workers feel comfortable discussing delicate topics.

Association professionals are beginning to return to a shared workspace—and they’re doing so in a social landscape that’s different from what it was when they left. While political divisions over the past few years have led some workplaces to curb discussion of hot-button topics, 2020 and 2021 have seen a massive uptick in awareness of DEI concerns and other social issues.

As a result, many professionals want to talk about these things at work and look to their organizations for support. And limiting discussion on these topics may allow inequity to persist in your own workplace.

That said, these discussions can cause friction between employees, so organizations and their leaders should work to develop a culture that leads to constructive conversation and makes workers feel safe talking about sensitive issues. Consider these tips to help facilitate these dialogues.

Build Organizational Trust

Without a culture of trust and inclusiveness, employees may not even feel comfortable having difficult conversations. And that isn’t uncommon: A report from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 33 percent of all U.S. workers and 45 percent of Black workers say their workplace discourages discussion of an important—and sensitive—topic: racial justice. The same report revealed that 32 percent of all HR professionals and 47 percent of Black HR professionals feel unsafe voicing their perspective on racial justice issues.

To help build trust among employees and create a level of comfort around discussing sensitive issues, organizations could consider offering diversity training and other less formal ways for staff to gather. Leaders can then reinforce this idea by showing an active commitment to diversity initiatives and connecting with employees by making an effort to know them on a personal level.

Lead With Empathy

When employees are in distress or passionate about a touchy topic, don’t shut them down and tell them work isn’t the place to vent. Instead, be an active listener and acknowledge their feelings.

Be prepared to “hold space” for that employee—the act of being physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone so that the person can be vulnerable and know he or she is in a judgment-free space. Doing so will show employees that they’re in an inclusive environment and can express themselves at work.

Encourage Discussion, Not an Argument

If you’re driving a conversation about a sensitive topic at work, remind participants that they are there to share ideas and learn, not win an argument. Create times and spaces for employees to engage in structured, moderated conversations with ground rules that address being respectful, listening to others, giving all participants a voice, and critiquing ideas instead of individuals.

You can apply the same ground rules on company messaging channels if employees discuss issues with each other online. For example, you could assign certain employees to moderate these channels to keep conversations civil and on topic without silencing workers.

Google did something similar during the pandemic, urging its employees to moderate internal message boards to keep conversations respectful while still allowing users to hit on delicate topics. Moderator training is key if you go this route, as you don’t want moderators overstepping their boundaries and removing messages based on personal biases or in an effort to shut down uncomfortable conversation for the sake of the company.

Celebrate Diverse Perspectives

Teams can actually become more productive when they highlight and accept each other’s differences rather than hide from them. A workplace that showcases employees’ different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, and perspectives creates an inclusive community where everyone feels comfortable speaking up. You can start with such initiatives as offering educational opportunities where employees share their own history and establishing a calendar that highlights a number of cultural traditions.


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Seven Ways to Make Your Communication More Pandemic-Inclusive

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Associations have a responsibility to communicate with their members and the public about COVID-19 and vaccination. Here are some pitfalls to avoid when doing so.

While we have been living with the pandemic for quite a while, it can still be challenging to figure out how to best discuss it with your audience.

This is particularly true as associations begin in-person operations again, whether that’s returning to the office or hosting conferences.

Here is a list of tips and recommendations for discussing COVID-19 in an inclusive way that respects your audience and avoids creating a stigma around people who have contracted the disease:

  1. Maintain the privacy of those seeking care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that discussing another person’s medical care generates stigma. With that in mind, if someone is part of a contact-tracing exercise or has chosen not to publicly disclose a COVID-19 diagnosis, it’s not your organization’s place to “out” that person.
  2. Avoid using terminology that implies others are a risk. The World Health Organization says in its social stigma guide [PDF] that using phrases that assign responsibility to people with COVID-19 can make it seem like they have done something wrong. “Using criminalizing or dehumanizing terminology creates the impression that those with the disease have somehow done something wrong or are less human than the rest of us, feeding stigma, undermining empathy, and potentially fueling wider reluctance to seek treatment or attend screening, testing, and quarantine,” the organization states. Instead of discussing the disease in terms of “transmitting COVID-19,” “infecting others,” or “spreading the virus,” use words such as “acquiring” or “contracting” the disease.
  3. Don’t associate the disease with a specific region or ethnicity. As WHO notes in its social stigma guide, the name COVID-19 was intentionally chosen to avoid stigmatizing any region or population.
  4. Call the virus by its proper name when needed. Simply calling the virus “the coronavirus” isn’t fully accurate, as there are multiple types of coronaviruses. COVID-19 is generally the accepted name, according to the Associated Press Stylebook [subscription], with “COVID” acceptable in direct quotes, space-constrained headlines, and proper names. It’s also important to note that there are many variants of the virus, with the delta variant currently the most common. Follow guidance on those names from WHO.
  5. Focus on facts, and correct rumors. An information void can foster an environment for misinformation, says the American Psychological Association [PDF]. The organization recommends clearing up myths where possible and highlighting factual information to your intended audience. “Clear, concise, and culturally appropriate communication—in multiple forms and in multiple languages—is needed to reach broad segments of the population, with particular focus on marginalized communities,” the organization says.
  6. Be thoughtful with terminology around the vaccine. The way we talk about vaccines can create confusion and potentially misinform the public. The AP Stylebook’s coronavirus topical guide has an entire section detailing how to describe the vaccine (not as a drug, medicine, or serum), as well as how to discuss side effects (“use caution in reporting”). This extends to those who choose not to receive the vaccine as well: The AP specifically warns against using the term “anti-vaxxer” except in a direct quote that is properly explained. A neutral approach helps to ensure balance and clears the berth for providing reliable information on protective measures.
  7. Avoid using misleading or hyperbolic language. As an association, your role is to be a general resource for your membership and the public. Inflammatory language, such as “plague” and “apocalypse,” goes against that mandate; it can even create unnecessary risk or harm. WHO recommends taking a more positive approach in your messaging. “For most people, this is a disease they can overcome,” the organization notes.


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Associations have a responsibility to communicate with their members & the public about COVID-19 & vaccination. Here are some pitfalls to avoid when doing so.


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What You Need to Know About Culinary Trends at Meetings Right Now

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Meeting F&B priorities mirror social values leading up to—and resulting from—the pandemic.

Environmental consciousness, holistic wellness and community-driven solutions: The largest and most durable trends in meetings F&B track right along with social and personal values that are at the forefront of the cultural conversation.

While priorities such as sustainability and health consciousness had long been gaining importance among event organizers and guests, experts say the pandemic sharpened the focus on delivering culinary offerings with these themes—a result of both ideological shifts and business necessity.

Here’s a closer look at the state of meetings F&B right now, with input from Beth Williamson, district manager for Centerplate catering operations at the LEED-certified Virginia Beach Convention Center.

Local and Sustainable

Williamson explains that natural resource conservation and environmental stewardship have long been a concern among meeting professionals. “But now, we’re really seeing a focus on local and seasonal, and supporting regional and small businesses,” she says. “People are wanting to support at the local level. We’re going to our major suppliers, but we are also looking regionally and locally for solutions.”

Indeed, the pandemic, “sharpened the focus on sustainable business practices for both our clients and our guests,” she says. “As people continue to work from home and business travel is still limited due to the pandemic, there has been a noticeable shift to venture out regionally for a better understanding of what is available in communities and how to offer support both personally and professionally.”

Virginia Beach has also long had initiatives that support small businesses, women-and minority-owned businesses and disabled veterans, says Williamson. “So we are always actively out working and making calls and trying to find all kinds of vendors.”.

The Supply Chain Effect

If local, seasonal foods had already been an established and ever-growing priority, the supply chain disruptions wrought by the pandemic only accelerated the trend, forcing professionals to find local solutions as a practical matter in addition to a philosophical one.

“We see sustainable menus as a welcome solution to some of the supply chain issues we currently face,” Williamson explains.

She adds that she and her counterparts at venues all around the country “are all reporting different challenges with a supply chain. You have to research other outlets, and it changes rapidly from one week to the next.”

For some outlets, local means very local: The Virginia Beach Convention Center has raised garden beds onsite that inspire executive chef Desiree Neal and her team to create sustainable menu items which vary by season. The team works with a master gardener to grow crops based on what matures best during seasons throughout the year. Herbs in bloom here year round include sage, parsley, mint, oregano and thyme, plus fresh bay leaves from a tree on the property. 

Health Consciousness

Health-conscious requests have been on the rise in recent years, with gluten-free fare becoming “a really popular thing,” Williamson says. “We’re always getting requests so we make sure that that’s readily available.”

And while certain diets may prove to be fads that come and go, the overall attention to health-conscious fare within meetings F&B is likely here to stay. This was underscored when the pandemic foregrounded the importance of staying healthy at work, on the road and at home.

“I don’t think it’s going away,” she says. “We always offer something healthy now— and it’s not okay just to have standard fare, you need a good variety.”

Right now, the broader focus on wellbeing and the unique business challenges of the current climate are driving meetings’ culinary focuses, Williamson notes

“As the concern for health and safety remains of paramount importance, we are facing more immediate challenges with both labor- and supply-chain continuity,” she says. “With that said, we strive to ensure the food and beverage offerings are as creative and locally inspired as possible, while adhering to any special circumstances.”

For more ideas on how Virginia Beach can boost your attendance and simplify your next meeting or event, visit


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Membership Pro Tip: A No-Cost Retention Strategy

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A zero-dollar strategy for retaining and recruiting members is hidden in plain sight on an unlikely, but very common, association tool: a job board.

As unlikely as it might sound, tracking career changes on job boards provides valuable information that helps with member retention and identifying new prospects.

How Does It Work?

Steve Doran, CAE, director of membership and marketing at NAFA Fleet Management Association, identifies positions on the organization’s job board that are important to NAFA’s membership and sets up alerts that notify him when someone is about to leave those positions or if they are opening up.

He builds a spreadsheet that lists the person leaving the position, the company they are with, and the day the job post went up. Then, he checks his database to see if he is losing a member or gaining a new prospect.

Sometimes it might be a company he has been recruiting for membership that has repeatedly turned him down. But now it has the potential to become a new prospect because the decision maker, the person responsible for paying membership dues to organizations for its employees, is leaving.

“That’s probably the most crucial person to be tracking on a job board,” Doran says. Because when the decision maker leaves a position that opens up the potential for losing five or six members from the association.

Why Is It Effective?

It increases retention. “You’re not waiting until the person leaves and then trying to get the dues renewal,” Doran says. Through the job board, “you’re basically getting notice that the person is leaving,” he says.

What’s the Benefit?

It keeps track of the primary contact for memberships at an organization. Because when that person leaves and the membership doesn’t get renewed, “All of a sudden your membership drops,” he says. It keeps membership consistent and helps keep the database fresh and up to date. It also doesn’t cost anything. “Some people pay for resources,” Doran says. “This is literally a resource that notifies you your membership is changing.”

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

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Why Immersive Elements Matter More Than Ever Right Now

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Communicating with engaging visuals and interactive elements is easier than you might expect—and it could offer an engaging alternative for members who find virtual events frustrating.

By Melissa Bouma

The good news about content marketing is that its value is no longer in question: It isn’t a battle you have to fight with your board anymore—it’s an expectation.

There’s just one problem. Since targeted content creation is easier to get through the pipeline than it once was, it comes with a lot more competition. And that competition might not just be from other organizations like yours, but from outlets like the mainstream news. You could be competing against celebrity news for mindshare without even realizing it!

So, if your goal is to reach your association’s intended audience, text alone will likely not be enough. For one, it’s a lot to digest, whether it’s 300 or 1,500 words. It is also being created from all corners of the internet by competitors and colleagues alike, so it’s hard to make it stand out.

Of course, the written word still has a lot of power, but it can’t be the only way to build engaging content. We live in a world where people spend 15 seconds on an average article, but will spend an average of 24 hours a month using TikTok and nearly 23 hours watching YouTube videos. What does this tell us? Immersive content has taken an increased hold of your audience. Below, the hows and whys of going immersive with your content.

4 Simple Ways to Build Immersive Content

Certainly the phrase “immersive” might have you thinking big picture about big-ticket items like augmented reality or virtual reality. Perhaps they are even stretch goals for your association to budget for in the future. Regardless, you can still create gripping content that takes your organization’s message to the next level without breaking the bank. Consider the following:

  • Build around data points. Associations are often primary resources for information about their given industries, which can generate effective storytelling hooks that can be leveraged into interactive infographics, social shareables, and hooks for more traditional storytelling. Data makes great fodder for engaging content, and it can catch the eyes of your readers both in their feed and in their inbox.
  • Play into visual elements. We live and interact in increasingly visual mediums, and your content has to match the times, or it will be in danger of getting overlooked online. Effective video projects like CDW’s Feds in the Field series are proof that great storytelling and smart visuals combine into a stronger whole. In short, give people something that wows them while still plugging into your overall messaging.
  • Build around interactivity. Creating quizzes or crowdsourcing-driven content is a great way to leverage some of the energy surrounding a big story in your space. Consider how Google recently celebrated the Summer Olympics by creating an entire video game around them. It’s all about taking advantage of momentum.
  • And don’t forget audio. As I’ve previously discussed, audio-based content is an effective way to stand out as you present content to others—and it can even integrate with your visual elements into a multi-sensory package.

How Your Immersive Content Can Augment Your Virtual Event Strategy

For many reasons, associations’ business models are tied to their existing events, which can generate a lot of revenue for the organization. But current consumption models may not match what your audience is into now, or how they interact with information.

Therefore, in addition to putting on a big virtual or hybrid event (and, of course, relying on content to help drive interest in the event), it might be a good idea to create a content hub as an alternative for audiences who consume information better without the involvement of webcams. Don’t forget, virtual events and immersive content can work together.

And let’s be clear. While content is often at the center of a sophisticated funnel-style model, what you create does not always need to be in service of trying to drive some sales strategy.

Maybe the content is good enough that people are willing to pay for it, no extra steps needed. Maybe the interactive elements you create help communicate the true value of your industry to the public, like the Paper and Packaging Board, a Manifest client, does on its site How Life Unfolds.

Whatever the case may be, it all starts with creativity. It only takes a little bit of it to successfully engage your audience for more than 15 seconds at a time.

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 Giving Members a Space to Build Community Is Essential

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Associations became a lifeline for members when they needed it most. Having a place to build and foster relationships highlighted the necessity of communities. Three association professionals share their stories and lessons learned in crisis—and beyond.

A panel of membership experts recently convened on a webinar, “Re-Booting the Membership Experience,” hosted by ExecConnect and the New York Society of Association Executives, to discuss how their organizations reacted after the start of the pandemic to deliver value to their members and—more importantly—what’s still working.

Keep Delight Alive

When its whole sector shut down in March 2020, speed, proximity to its members, and understanding what they were going through was a main priority, said Stephanie McAlaine, executive director at the Wharton Private Equity & Venture Capital Association. Like many associations at the time, Wharton PE/VC had to drive the value of membership and respond quickly to requests from members on how to handle the multiple challenges they faced.

Wharton PE/VC quickly put together a weekly, 12-part series called “What’s Happening Now” to help members navigate what the mergers and acquisitions markets were doing. Members logged in from all over the country, which highlighted the benefits of a virtual environment that kept members connected with each other and the organization at a critical time.

“Relationships matter so much,” McAlaine said. “In our industry, you don’t do a multimillion-dollar deal with someone that you don’t trust, and you don’t know.”

But one webinar series does not solve everything. The reality is, McLaine’s team had to tweak the model about every two to three months so they could stay current with changes. The market is changing so rapidly and “so is what people expect and demand from you, and what will delight them,” she said. “That amazing series you delivered in March might not be as amazing in June.” So, Wharton PE/VC has continued to evolve, stay close to members, and listen to keep the offerings relevant. “It’s hard and you have to be nimble,” McAlaine said.

Silver Linings Playbook

The Association of National Advertisers also switched on a dime to virtual, including its conferences. ANA will host its signature Masters of Marketing Conference in-person and virtually this year, but last year, it was all virtual. ANA usually gets 3,000 in-person attendees but garnered 6,000 participants last year. “It was incredible, it doubled,” said Pamela Wees, CAE, ANA’s director of membership.

What the group learned—the “silver linings playbook,” as Wees calls it—is that for most of its conferences only a senior person was approved to attend. But in a virtual space, ANA was able to offer a virtual corporate package, which meant many junior and middle-management participants were able to attend who never would have been approved to go before the pandemic.

Now, when everyone is talking about how to recruit and keep good talent, allowing that access for those participants might encourage them to stay in the profession or with a company, Wees said. It lowers financial and logistical barriers and increases access to resources for a broader swath of existing and potential members.

Shelter in the Storm

With many archivists losing their jobs during the pandemic, the Society of American Archivists reached out to its membership to create a fundraising program for members to assist each other, said SAA Executive Director Jacqualine Price Osafo, CAE. The program offered members $1,000, and 185 members accessed the funds. “The community came together to support the membership,” she said. “We created a platform, a space for them.” The platform allowed members to show up for each other and help them through hard times.

These stories illuminate the “power that our organizations have as a collective community to provide the individual connections and relationships that allow our members to find one another in times of need,” said panelist Lowell Aplebaum, FASAE, CAE, CEO and strategy catalyst at Vista Cova. Those platforms help build relationships that are often deeper and more meaningful than just engaging through programs, products, and services.

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