Membership Pro Tip: Member Orientation Webinars

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A series of recorded member orientation webinars helps introduce an association to members who don’t typically come to its events, creates microvolunteering opportunities, and attracts new—and sometimes elusive—members.

How does it work? The United Fresh Produce Association saw an upside to Zoom and created a series of recorded member orientation webinars featuring members who talked about their membership journey. Specifically picking members who had not seen the value of the association previously but had a transformative experience to share made a big difference, says Miriam Wolk, CAE, vice president of member services at United Fresh.

“We figured people who were watching the video were on the fence, and so it would be good to hear from someone who was also at one point on the fence,” she says. “It makes a big difference in their willingness to be involved.”

Why is it effective? “Video captures more of the senses than just a two-dimensional marketing piece or even a website,” Wolk says. A company she had tried to engage for more than 12 years joined United Fresh after watching one of the recorded webinars.

What’s the benefit? Participating in the webinars gives members a chance to microvolunteer, without the lengthy commitment of serving on a committee. The webinars also give young professionals, who might not have a chance to attend a large conference or event, an opportunity for professional development.

“It gives rise to a whole new generation of members,” Wolk says.

 

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Three Ways to Boost Membership Renewal With Video

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Looking for ways to increase membership renewal in 2021? Sounds like a plan. And adding video to that plan could help make your association a renewal superpower.

Our whole lives became video based at the start of the pandemic, and the value of video has become much more apparent anecdotally and quantitatively since then. Why is video so powerful? Because it increases engagement, participation, value, and community, said Gather Voices CEO Michael Hoffman in a recent webinar on using the medium to boost member renewals.

But it’s important to have a plan. Seventy-eight percent of associations that have seen an improvement in renewals state they have a tactical plan to increase engagement, according to Marketing General Incorporated’s 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report [PDF].

Keep It Real

Video may seem expensive, glitzy, and out of reach, but it doesn’t have to be. Especially now, in this moment, authenticity is key, Hoffman said. The most resonant videos are not highly produced but are simple segments featuring real people talking about their real experiences.

“Engagement is about creating something new and letting members be the star of the show,” he said. And that emphasis on real people and real stories is good news because it means expensive production companies are not necessary. You can use inexpensive tools like Zoom recordings to build up your video library.

When you ask a member to share their experience in a video, that person’s story becomes a powerful testimonial that will influence others. Just asking for it creates a different relationship between the member and the organization: It says, “We value you. We value your experience, and we want to know about it,” Hoffman said.

Three Platforms

Hoffman recommends using video to boost membership renewal on these platforms:

Website. The average user spends 88 percent more time on a website with video. When your members spend more time on your association’s website viewing video content featuring their fellow members, their sense of community and belonging increases because they see themselves reflected in real people sharing their experiences, rather than brand messaging.

Social media. Incorporating video into social media messaging creates deeper engagement and greater retention of content. People remember 95 percent of a message viewed in a video compared to only 10 percent in text. And 85 percent of marketers say video is an effective way to get attention online.

Email. Email is the main tactic associations use to connect with members for renewal. Putting the word video in the subject line of an email doubles open rates and increases click-through rates by two to three times.

Video on websites, social media, and email leads to member engagement by making campaigns and communications perform better across channels. The good news: This doesn’t have to be a major—or expensive—production. Video enhances the platforms you are already using to increase click-throughs, engagement, and conversion.

It’s important to remember however, that video is not a strategy. “Video is a tool, and your strategy is your value proposition, your messaging, your targeting, and your communications plan,” Hoffman said. The beginning of a new year is as good time a time as any to assess whether you’re using all the tools at your disposal—including video—to carry out your member retention strategy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After a Year of Free, How to Reset Your Pricing for 2021

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While the pandemic led many associations to offer free education and events as a way to best support members in 2020, now is the time for organizations to re-evaluate their pricing strategy to ensure sustainable revenue.

With 2021 upon us and a vaccine slowly rolling out, associations are starting to move out of the pandemic pricing mode and into a post-pandemic normal. But many are wondering what pricing should look like this year. Michael Tatonetti, CPP, CAE, a consultant who specializes in association pricing, said organizations should move away from the discounts that marked 2020.

“I think discounting and knee-jerk reactions to make everything free need to stay in 2020,” he said. “I understand that for 2020, we wanted to get the right education to our members. That’s noble, but moving forward, it’s not sustainable financially. It can undervalue you if you eventually decide to do hybrid [events] or if we go back to in person.”

Tatonetti recommends starting fresh this year and looking at all pricing to ensure it makes sense.

“Now is a good time to reevaluate the value, and not just for events and sponsorship, but for membership and education, certification, publications, everything we offer—whatever those offerings are,” Tatonetti said. “The best associations will keep price and value conversations in step with their strategic planning, asking not only what value they provide to their members, sponsors, and the public, but how will they monetize it.”

Monetizing will typically require charging something other than free. Associations can decide that price by aligning it with the value of their offerings.

“Sit back and ask, what is the value? What are we charging? What is the strategy?” Tatonetti said. “When we get into conversations about value, we are actually having a conversation about innovation because we are saying, what else can we do? How else can we serve? What new things should we be doing? What should we stop doing? Is there anything that is no longer of value that we can sunset?”

While it’s important to get pricing right, some associations may be wondering how to get members to accept the new pricing model after months of free events and other products. The answer is simple: communicate value.

Whether in sales copy or videos, according to Tatonetti, “you need to clearly hit on membership value, sponsor value, and make sure you are clearly communicating that.”

Tatonetti said it’s also important to remind members that 2020 was an outlier due to the pandemic, and now the association is returning to a sustainable model.

“You can say, our goal for 2020 was to make sure you had what you needed,” he said. “As we move forward in 2021, we can now breathe and make sure the value matches what you need and that our association and our community can have financial sustainability.”

In addition, Tatonetti recommended mentioning that the free offerings were possible “because of your membership dues, because you spent money on conferences before, because of our great sponsors. Now, we’re going to continue to offer these amazing things, and continue to grow into other things, and because of that, membership is going up, or the cost of certification is going up, or whatever it is that is going up is going up. I think if you communicate well, that will minimize—it doesn’t mean you won’t have any complaints—but it will minimize the complaints.”

However, if members do complain about price changes, Tatonetti said “it’s important to capture those complaints. Document them, categorize them, and evaluate them a few months out. That will teach you how to communicate better next time.”

The good news is that small price increases can significantly improve the bottom line. For example, if a product costs an association $40 and it sells it for $50, that results in a $10 profit. Raising the price to $52 would boost profit by 20 percent.

“The price raise typically has a way heavier impact on your bottom line,” he said. “We might think the price is only going up 1 percent, but that might impact 5 percent of the bottom line when you look at your costs.”

The key thing is to have those pricing conversations now and start introducing those changes with proper communication. “As we do come back to some level of normal, now is the time to introduce some new things, and try some new things, and reprice a bit because it’s almost expected,” Tatonetti said.

What are your plans regarding pricing this year? Share in the comments.

 

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The State of Email: Five Email Trends to Watch in 2021

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From visual tricks to added interactivity to integrating user-generated content, there are a lot of ways for associations to leverage the power of email in 2021. Read on to catch up on the latest trends.

Even with all the options out there—video, social media, immersive websites—email has remained one of the most important ways for associations to reach their members.

But competition is fierce, as plenty of other organizations’ newsletters are fighting for your readers’ attention first thing in the morning. (According to one study, the average person gets more than 120 business emails each day.)

To stand out, you need to be willing to try new things. Here are five email trends that associations should keep an eye on, and potentially experiment with, in the year to come:

1. Interactive elements

You’ve heard it a thousand times, but it remains true: Email is often constrained by email clients’ limited parameters, which means that the boundaries of what the medium can do will only stretch so far.

While tools like AMP for Email have promised progress, these offerings are still years away from being widely used.

But digital marketers still have plenty of options. A blog post from Email on Acid notes that interactive techniques such as image rollovers, quizzes, and even surveys add panache and are compatible with many platforms. (Email on Acid even mentions a scratch-off-style effect, in case you really want to get fancy.) These snazzy tactics are possible in many email clients, particularly Apple Mail-based clients and even Gmail. But if your users are stuck with Microsoft Outlook, they may miss out.

“Always provide a fallback image or design for subscribers opening your email on a mobile device or a client that doesn’t support interactive elements,” writes Hanna Kuznietsova, the chief content officer at Stripo.email.

2. Workflow optimization

Whether it’s a matter of curating content more efficiently, automating the use of data to personalize messages, or optimizing processes so building messages takes less time, there are ways to make your email production workflow less painful.

In a blog post for the email provider MailerLite, email marketer Kevin George recommends creating content calendars for messages that aren’t automated, while building out multiple workflows for the various kinds of emails that are.

“When defining the email production workflow, make sure you account for the different types of email campaigns and automated workflows you have set up for them individually,” writes George, of the custom email design firm Email Uplers. “This will help you nurture opportunities thoroughly and allow you to cater to the needs of the target audience without compromising on the quality or speed of the campaigns.”

3. The rise of dark mode

While not widespread in emails yet, dark mode—a low-light version of an operating-system interface—has gained popularity in many computer operating systems, including MacOS, Android, and iOS.

Since Apple has been a driving force behind this trend, dark-mode functionality has translated to email clients as well—and as Litmus reports, Apple’s support for dark mode in its desktop and iOS email clients has helped to build momentum for such support in email messages. Heck, even the mobile versions of Gmail and Outlook support it now.

While not a necessity—certainly, you’ve gotten by without it until now—dark mode can help avoid rendering issues for users who have the feature turned on. It’s also a boon for accessibility.

“One of the biggest benefits of Dark Mode is its assistance with reducing eye strain for users in low-light conditions or for other personal reasons,” Litmus’ Alice Li writes. “If your subscribers are making that conscious decision to view emails in dark mode, it’s best to respect that.”

Plus, adding such support helps prevent Google or Microsoft from doing it for you—and, in the process, messing up your hard work.

4. The growing popularity of web fonts

Much like dark mode and interactive elements, web fonts aren’t everywhere, so you need some fallbacks. But where they do exist—particularly clients like iOS Mail and Thunderbird—they stand out.

“Web fonts can be used for many things from enhancing the aesthetic beauty of an email to setting the mood for your message,” the email provider Emma writes in a blog post. “After all, communication is not just about the message, but it also involves how the message is conveyed. And for written media like email, looks (yes, including typography) enhance your message.”

While web fonts do not yet have universal support, designing for them now can supply a more elegant look for a surprising number of users, particularly those on mobile clients.

5. A push for user-generated content

Emails promote your association’s messages, but incorporating voices beyond your own can be a cost-effective way to spur engagement. It can be easier and less costly than building out visuals in your emails, and engaging with individuals beyond social media can impart intimacy.

“Social networks have become the go-to place for people to post about the brands they love,” Stackla’s Megan DeGruttola writes on the Campaign Monitor blog. “But, to amplify the collective enthusiasm of your customers’ social posts, you need to start cultivating that community beyond social platforms.”

Thanks to their member communities, associations are well positioned to leverage user-generated content. This base creates a loop: Associations can draw on their members’ perspectives and showcase them through activations like regular polls and prompts for members to share their thoughts, and in turn that content encourages ongoing engagement.

This is the first part of a three-part email series. In part two, we’ll discuss what it takes to add automation to your email workflow. And in part three, we’ll highlight a real-world example of an association finding success with email.

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Four Social Media Basics to Take Into 2021

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It’s easy to get into the weeds when crafting an effective social media approach. But before you get in too deep, make sure you’re getting the basics right. Here are four to follow.

If you wanted to, you could spend weeks researching social media trends in great depth. But after a tough 2020, that level of detail might be a little much.

So to start off 2021, we’d like to take a back-to-basics approach to social media. If you’re following these general approaches, you’re probably on the right track. Nail these—then focus on the more complex stuff.

LinkedIn: A Tool for Lead Generation

As a network targeting businesses, the Microsoft-owned LinkedIn has a more focused approach than some other social networks (and its dedicated paid premium version reflects this framework).

For that reason, beyond its traditional use as a “living resume,” LinkedIn may be best thought of as a way to help build new leads and conversions. The company even added a new feature to its Pages platform recently that adds a call-to-action (CTA) that can be used to generate signups, downloads, or other goals.

“You can add links to take visitors from your company’s LinkedIn Page to an off-LinkedIn CTA site right now,” Rishi Jobanputra, LinkedIn’s senior director of product management for Pages, recently told PC Magazine. “But we felt it important to add a directly accessible and customizable CTA capability to Product Pages because our data tells us users see a very steep attrition rate when they move visitors to another site.”

That’s not the only strategy for lead generation, either. Marketing expert Neil Patel has an array of other suggestions that associations can leverage on LinkedIn.

Twitter: Good Timing, Strong Visuals

The past few years have proven that Twitter, traditionally a second fiddle to Facebook, still has a place in the social media landscape.

A big part of that is Twitter users’ ability to draw attention by jumping into the conversation. A consistent record of replies goes a long way, and a willingness to leap on a viral thread or trending topic with a well-timed comment or reply can be an effective way to stand out.

“It seems like Twitter sees a new viral topic every other day. Your brand can capitalize on this by participating in trending conversations and topics relevant to your industry or your company,” wrote Jacqueline Zote on the SproutSocial blog. “This helps you gain visibility with people who have yet to [follow] you on Twitter, which then paves the way for more engagement.” (Of course, the flip side of a real-time, high-engagement platform is that you can more easily fall into a gaffe on Twitter than on some other social networks.)

Another strong element of Twitter success comes down to having effective visuals that encourage storytelling. Twitter recently added a feature called Fleets, which are akin to Instagram Stories, offering a new way to stand out.

Facebook: Groups vs. Pages

If you were trying to reach an audience on Facebook half a decade ago, you might have found yourself reliant on curating an effective page with daily content that your readers could interact with.

In the past few years, however, the pendulum has swung back in favor of groups—one of Facebook’s earliest features but increasingly one of its most important. After years of letting the feature sort of fade out, the company has started to put more focus on it than pages, even creating tools for advertising through Groups. Groups allow marketers to nurture a narrower community than a more broad-based page might.

While Groups can naturally create competition with existing association offerings, such as private communities, they can also come in handy for helping to curate a niche or to help strengthen a community that didn’t previously have a solid platform. In some cases, Facebook groups have even become the starting points for nonprofit groups, with one notable example being Women of Email.

But even if pages no longer have the level of reach they once did, they remain an important element of any social strategy—though you may need to change your approach to something less about clicking on a link and more about teaching your audience.

Instagram: Sell the Story

A well-curated Instagram page can go a long way for associations, especially when it tells a story that goes beyond the surface level.

In a blog post for Hootsuite, writer Christina Newberry recommends taking a variety of approaches to help hit your audience, including behind-the-scenes posts, videos, and quote-driven images.

“Instagram is a visual medium, so your posts have simply got to look great,” she wrote. “You don’t need professional photography equipment, but your photos and videos do need to be sharp, well-lit, well-composed, and in focus, at a minimum.”

Newberry also recommends building an aesthetic around your account, so people know what to expect from your messages. That kind of consistency—both from photo posts and stories—can help draw others in.

Get this stuff right, and you might just be on the way to social media success.

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Five Things to Love About the Year We Love to Hate

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A chorus of jeers is rising for 2020 in its waning days, and for good reason. But before we bid the year a hearty good riddance, consider whether it left us a few unexpected gifts.

How do we hate thee, 2020? Let us count the ways.

Actually, let’s not. That list would be way too long, familiar, and depressing. It seems safe to say that very few of us will be sorry to see the screen door hit 2020 on the way out. Unfortunately, we’ll be cleaning up the mess it left behind for some time to come.

But as hard as it may be find them—and as accidental as they may seem—2020 had a few redeeming qualities. For associations, I count at least five things to love about the year we love to hate.

As hard as it may be find them—and as accidental as they may seem—2020 had a few redeeming qualities.

It clarified our priorities. In an emergency, when resources are suddenly scarce, the fog around priorities—a person’s or an organization’s—tends to lift.

Maintaining meetings in some form became Job One early in the pandemic, leading to a rush into the virtual space—a shift that was probably overdue, but better late than never. Associations now have nearly a year of experience with virtual meetings that they can build a post-pandemic event strategy on. (My colleague Samantha Whitehorne has been chronicling that journey for nine months; her work is worth putting on your holiday-break reading list.)

Meanwhile, many associations made a quick advocacy pivot to prioritize their members’ immediate needs as economic activity nearly ceased in many sectors last spring and then resumed only haltingly. They also took meaningful action to assist with the world’s pandemic response. Internally, many association leaders faced difficult choices about operations and staffing, which led some to take a hard look at the core values and culture that would be needed to sustain their organizations through the crisis and beyond.

We broke free of the office. After virtual meetings, the shift to remote work was the story of the year for associations, along with so many other organizations. Some made the change more easily than others. But after the extended experiment with scattered teams working in places other than a headquarters office, the possibilities for continued flexible work arrangements that would likely help attract and retain talent—not to mention smaller overhead budgets that would come with less office-building square footage—look enticing for the long run.

We dove deeper into DEI. The racial reckoning that grew out of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others pushed associations to recommit to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The summer protests came and statements were issued, but in many cases the response went deeper. Many organizations and coalitions launched new initiatives to address systemic racism in their professions and industries.

Some associations convened difficult conversations among staff and members and examined whether access and opportunity were truly available to underrepresented groups in areas like volunteer leadership and event participation. In ASAE’s Collaborate community , members sought help from their peers and shared details of their own attempts to grapple with complex issues around social justice. Conversations there focused on practical topics like appropriate DEI terminology, use of demographic information in member recruitment, and DEI guidelines for conferences.

We made personal discoveries. I suspect most of us learned something new about ourselves this year—maybe deep, maybe trivial but still interesting. (Me: It wasn’t too late to try yoga and love it; and hey, I like jigsaw puzzles!) We figured out new and far more rewarding things to do with time we used to spend commuting. Last fall, readers shared their COVID-19 silver linings with us.

We learned to appreciate ordinary things. As much as we may love our down-the-hall commutes and bunny-slipper-level home office attire, there’s been a lot to miss: the impromptu deskside drop-ins from coworkers, a favorite coffee shop down the street from the office, even the long hours and sore feet of in-person conferences. I know I took those things for granted, or even complained about them, in 2019. I promise you, that won’t happen in 2021.

So thank you for these gifts, 2020. Now get out.

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Should Your Association Consider Adding a Gen Z Membership Tier?

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With a recession, a pandemic, and a tough job market, some associations are looking to target Generation Z with new member offerings. It can work if you prioritize their engagement, one expert says.

We’re starting to get past the point where millennials are at the center of the discussion around younger members. The focus is shifting to Gen Z—but how can you convince people born after 1996 to join your organization? Is a new membership tier worth discussing?

Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University and a generational engagement researcher, says yes—in part because of the current environment, driven by a recession and a pandemic. And Gen Z is feeling it more than most.

Gen Z actively consumes and creates content in a variety of forms on a variety of platforms. Associations need to do the same.

That might be why discussion of member tiers is picking up again. Sladek compares this period to the 2008 recession, when associations created low-cost tiers for younger members.

“In many ways, we’re seeing a repeat of that market environment now, as associations are scrambling to figure out ways to appeal to young people,” Sladek says, adding that retirements and career changes among older members might also be a factor.

New Generations, New Habits

However, 2020’s younger members aren’t like those of 2008.

For one thing, everything is virtual at the moment—which could be a virtue for omnivorous content consumption that drives many in Gen Z, but that requires a more open-minded approach to content creation that emphasizes visuals and user-generated content.

“Gen Z actively consumes and creates content in a variety of forms on a variety of platforms. Associations need to do the same,” Sladek says.

Another, more fundamental problem? In a world where people spend heavily on monthly subscription-based services, annual memberships may be going out of style.

“This points to a bigger issue for associations, which likely need to reconsider their dues structures,” she says. “In addition to price being a common barrier, young people are also more accustomed to having the option to pay bills monthly rather than annually, yet few associations offer this option.”

Younger generations may also want more purchase options. For example, think of how streaming services offer an à la carte alternative to cable bundles. Likewise, younger members may want flexibility to pick and choose their services. For associations, the forthcoming generation offers a reset opportunity.

“The time is now to be rethinking dues as well as value,” Sladek says.

Gen Z’s Shifting Values

Sladek says that Gen Z has a unique perspective compared with other generations. She notes that Gen Z-ers tend to be highly informed visual learners with a strong focus on creativity and an eye toward broader horizons.

And there’s a distinct focus on advocacy that hasn’t been as pronounced in older generations. That means younger members want to speak up—and if they aren’t being heard, they might not renew.

“Gen Z has been raised in a world where everyone is treated equally and everyone has a voice,” Sladek says. “When the reality is different, they disengage. They will expect a seat at decision-making tables, and for your association to be intentional about outreach and giving a voice to the marginalized voices.”

The Risk of the “Summer Camp” Tier

These changing habits might lead some associations to build membership tiers with a distinctly younger focus. But Sladek warns against separating the tiers too much, as it may create a declining value proposition over time. It’s a situation she likens to a summer camp.

“The student and young professional chapters tend to be more focused on fun, led by peers, and there is a feeling of inclusion as well as responsibility,” she explains. However, when young members move into regular membership, this inclusive environment can be lost. “As a result, the young members ‘graduate’ into an organization where their participation is overlooked or minimized.”

Instead, Sladek suggests that member tiers be in tandem with the organization’s goals while also taking Gen Z insights into account.

“If an association wants to engage young people, it has to be a real commitment throughout the entire organization,” Sladek says. “The associations which struggle to engage young people tend to be those which don’t prioritize engaging them.”

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What Virtual Attendees Are Looking for in 2021

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A look at three ways attendee expectations have evolved since they pandemic began, and what that means for associations as they plan for their 2021 virtual conference offerings.

As we close out 2020, there’s lots of talk about how the pandemic caused skeptics to embrace everything from remote work to telemedicine. And this new comfort with not going to the office and relying more on technology, as well as the other benefits that come with them, means that consumer, employee, and traveler expectations are changing as we move into 2021.

The same is true for your attendees: With almost a year of attending virtual meetings under their belts, they know what they like and don’t like—and will expect your association to take both into account as you host virtual conferences in 2021. Here are three ways I think attendee expectations have evolved and what that could mean in terms of execution:

Attendees want to make connections. Networking and hallway conversations are staples of in-person events. And although attendees were willing to watch speakers give presentations from their screens with little to no interaction at the beginning of the pandemic, when associations were quickly pivoting to virtual, that’s no longer the case. Attendees expect the ability to connect and share with colleagues, exhibitors, and speakers. And these interactions will need to go beyond Q&A sessions, live chat, and polling. As you plan for 2021, think how you can create intimate settings for small groups of attendees to talk among themselves, they way they might chat waiting in line for food and drinks.

Among groups investing in making these connections happen is the Consumer Technology Association. During a recent virtual press event discussing next month’s CES, CTA President and CEO Gary Shapiro discussed their approach.

“It is costly for us, there’s no secret about that,” Shapiro said, according to AdAge. “We’re feeling the effects of the pandemic like others, and we’ve had to cut back on things, but one thing we invested in was this venue, this platform that allowed exhibitors, customers, attendees, business people, startups, retailers, the investment community, and of course media, to connect.”

Attendees don’t want to stick to the traditional schedule. In-person meetings typically pack a lot into several long days. While it’s pretty common for attendees to leave their hotel room at 7 a.m. and return 12 hours later, your virtual participants really don’t want to be sitting in front of screen that long.

Keep this in mind as your plan your 2021 virtual conference schedules. How can you break up or reconfigure your event so that attendees can get the most of out of it, especially when they are juggling family and work responsibilities in the same space where they are participating in your meeting from?

Next April, for example, the American Counseling Association is transforming what has been a multiday annual conference into “a monthlong celebratory, community-building, and engaging virtual experience.” The New Jersey Dental Association and American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery are also taking a similar approach.

Attendees want more of a voice. Association members are often involved in choosing content and sessions for conferences. And while they should still be doing that for your virtual conferences, consider how you else you can engage them in a way that will help you produce better virtual events. Sure, a post-event evaluation will provide some insight, but consider going further. What if you looked at social media activity during your previous virtual events and picked out three to five attendees who expressed the most frustration or criticism and scheduled a phone call with them? You could ask them more about their experience and what you could be doing better.

By getting attendees more involved in the process or having them help you design your virtual conference in 2021 and beyond, your association is sure to benefit from happier and more engaged attendees.

What expectations do you think attendees will have for your 2021 conferences and events? How are you planning to meet them? Please share in the comments.

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Use Fast Data You Gathered This Year to Improve the Member Experience

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The upside of the shift to virtual platforms in the past several months is that members are interacting more with associations digitally. This is providing a quick roadmap of member preferences. Speakers at the ASAE Technology Exploration Conference explained why that’s key.

Members are engaging now more than ever through online channels like virtual events, online community discussions, social media posts, surveys, and online education platforms—which is creating an abundance of data to mine to improve the member experience.

A session on maximizing fast data at the ASAE TEC Virtual conference last week covered the benefits of collecting fast data and how to implement it to help with member recruitment, retention, and renewal.

“Now more than ever there is an uptick in people using data. We’re in a new, changing environment, and we can’t rely on history because the landscape has changed,” said Julie Sciullo, CEO of Association Analytics. “Fast data is real-time data that allows data to stream together to make rapid business decisions.”

Association-specific information from Acumen shows that since March of this year, there has been a 42 percent increase in overall use of data and a 70 percent increase in executive usage. The rapid shift to an all-virtual environment has amped up the use of data, which is providing an opportunity to engage with members more effectively than ever before.

In other words, the data tells the story.

The Next Wave of Data

Associations have long relied on traditional ways of determining member engagement by longevity, volunteering, meeting attendance, and publishing articles, said session co-presenter Tom Lyons, director of IT at the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). The increased use of data in recent months has allowed associations to “look outside the sandbox at the next wave of data.”

Social media streams are incredibly fast. “We get a snapshot of people engaging with us in the moment,” Lyons said. But it’s essential to use that data and not just have it, he advised. And applications are maturing to include more data insights, which makes reporting more accessible to all staff members, not just IT professionals.

Serve Members Better

The ASM team challenged themselves to serve members better by looking at behavioral and demographic data that members share as they interact with the organization through online communities, social media, virtual meetings, and more. This lets ASM staff observe what members are engaging with and what they are specifically interested in, providing better, more relevant information for making business decisions, Lyons said. For example, a member profile is only as up to date as when it was filled out. Priorities and interests change, which is why the behavioral interaction becomes even more important.

Sciullo recommends online communities as a great starting point to gather fast data. “It’s certainly one of the most dynamic and forward-thinking” ways to find out what members are thinking, she said. The chat function in virtual meetings is another way to collect data on what is important to members, as well as voice calls and messages. All that data can be used to drive value back to members, Sciullo said.

Members are providing a customized data trail of what their preferences are through their digital interactions with associations. This is giving associations the chance to respond better—and faster—to their needs.

“We really want to deliver what our members want, when they want it, and on the channels they want it,” Sciullo said. “Now is a better time than ever to move forward in this capacity.”

 

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Top 2020 Membership Takeaways

Written by GSF Editor on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed

Is 2020 ending with a bang or a whimper? Hard to say, but it’s almost over, and that is a good thing. The challenges of this year, however, were no match for the fortitude of associations. Here are some reflections.

There’s little chance of overstating what a chaotic and unsettling year 2020 has been. As difficult as it was, associations have exemplified the tenacity, flexibility, and ingenuity necessary to rise to many daunting occasions and continue to meet their members’ urgent needs.

I’ve talked to a lot of association professionals over the past nine months, and what I heard was: This is what associations do best. They are communities of problem solvers. Here are some examples.

Delivering Value Amid Crises

Associations faced many challenges in demonstrating relevant value for members during several crises, but there were still a lot of success stories. Many people I spoke to talked about how the crises made them move much faster—without a safety net.

The American Nurses Association responded quickly to get nurses what they needed most when the pandemic struck: an on-demand COVID-19 webinar series free to all nurses—not just members. ANA garnered 130,000 registrants for the series, and a targeted membership email to those registrants led to approximately 2,600 new members. ANA also extended their grace period for membership renewals and offered members a well-received monthly dues payment structure.

It makes sense that nurses would value information on responding to a global pandemic, but how else do you know what members value? A recent report, Association Trends 2020: From Disruption to Opportunity [PDF], found that despite the many challenges this year has brought, member engagement continues to grow and loyalty to associations is strong. Fifty-one percent of members surveyed said their association is more important to them today than before the pandemic.

Advocacy and meetings are often regarded as core elements of an association’s value proposition. But Tom Morrison, CEO of the Metal Treating Institute, said that as part of an exercise to determine value, MTI took advocacy and meetings off the table and discovered that sales forecasting, financial benchmarking, training, and professional development were important value drivers for members.

Virtually Engaged

Associations large and small found innovative ways to engage members, some on really tight budgets. The Council on Undergraduate Research developed “Five in Five,” videos that provide five tips, solutions, or answers to questions in five minutes. The staff didn’t have any video technical skills to speak of, so they used an inexpensive platform, Animoto, to produce polished videos quickly. CUR’s videos include ones on how to better leverage their online community platform and five tips for hosting a virtual symposium.

The American Concrete Institute also used videos to better connect with members, especially when they realized everyone was becoming a lot more proficient in a virtual world. The membership and marketing teams created short, one- to two-minute whiteboard videos to connect new, prospective, and longtime members with ACI’s benefits. The videos walk members through the benefit options and show them how to navigate different sections of ACI’s website where the benefits can be accessed.

Budgeting Membership Dues

2020 brought a lot of uncertainty, especially regarding finances. Associations struggled to figure out ways to factor membership dues into 2021 budgets. Christina Lewellen, CAE, executive director of the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools, had some great advice.

Her team analyzed different levels of membership based on member engagement, looking at factors like longevity, volunteering, and participation in meetings. That helped them determine which members would be more likely to come back, and that’s how they built their budget.

And finally, how do you communicate with members in a crisis? A combination of empathy and some old-fashioned techniques are key, according to Sheri Singer, president of Singer Communications. She offered lots of practical guidance on ways to talk to members in difficult times. And—bonus—she explained why we all have Zoom fatigue. It’s because we’re experiencing “lizard brain.” Mystery solved!

As we head into 2021, it will be a relief to come out of survival mode and head into what I hope is recovery mode. It’s time to turn the page.

What membership strategies worked for you in 2020 that you plan to use in 2021? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

 

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