How Strategy Drove a Rebrand—and a Pandemic-Era Membership Surge

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Transformation and a year full of challenges galvanized the Consumer Brands Association after a high-profile rebrand. A sharpened focus and a new strategic direction led to increased membership, despite adversity.

Since the Consumer Brands Association rebranded from the Grocery Manufacturers Association in fall 2019, it has achieved a marked growth in membership. The catalyst for the 30 percent increase, which happened in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, was less about rebranding and more about creating a new organization, said Geoff Freeman, CBA’s president and CEO.

GMA served the industry for more than 100 years, but the environment changed, Freeman said, and so it was time to open a new organization that united all segments of the consumer packaged-goods industry, which is responsible for $2 trillion in economic activity.

“The combination of a strong mission and demonstrable results” was instrumental in driving the increase in membership, he said.

Freeman points to three factors that led to CBA’s success during a pivotal year:

  • A clear agenda. With multiple associations representing industries in grocery store aisles, the key was finding an opening in the marketplace for an entity that looked at the shared interests among a wide swath of companies and finding a common cause among them.
  • A preference for playing offense. “I like to say playing defense is a way to lose slowly,” Freeman said. A proactive approach to addressing challenges and advocating for members’ interests gets the C-suite excited and motivates the team, giving them “a great sense of purpose,” he said.
  • A focus on C-suite priorities. Countless issues confront a regulated industry like CBA’s, but with a limited amount of money, the association chose to prioritize the issues most important to C-suite executives in its member companies.

Rather than impeding its progress, the pandemic allowed CBA to show its value. “It gave us the opportunity to prove what we could do to benefit the totality of the packaged-goods industry,” Freeman said. CBA focused on the united interests of its members by helping to keep the supply chain open, increasing hours for truck drivers, addressing price gouging from unregulated entities, and more. A strong policy focus was critical. “In the absence of focus you have confusion,” he said.

One area CBA leaned into during the crisis was connecting members so they could learn from one another. Freeman’s team launched an exchange for CEOs so they could get together virtually for an hour every six to eight weeks, in a way they never had before, to talk about topics like back-to-work plans, changes in e-commerce, and retail relations.

“From CEOs to HR professionals, to the supply chain, we’re giving people the opportunity to learn from one another and share information,” he said. “It’s a tremendous value-add.”

Freeman sees a lasting benefit from all the collaboration that has occurred over the past year. Previously, people in the industry were not as inclined to share information, but now there is more awareness that access to vaccines and keeping facilities up and running are not competitive issues—they are in everyone’s best interest, he said.

“Leaning into a newfound industry collaboration is one of our greatest opportunities going forward,” Freeman said.

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4 Lessons Associations Have Found Indispensable In Surviving And Thriving In 2021

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Associations had to adapt quickly over the last year, and learned some invaluable strategies along the way.

As we approach the one-year mark of the pandemic and the shift to virtual, many associations have taken time to reflect on living and learning through this historic time. It’s these lessons that cleverly inform how to best plan ahead. In 2020, it often felt like there was little time to sit back and relax—the industry was undergoing a radical shift, and everyone had to scramble to master new skills and develop a roadmap.

Now, they have roadmaps. They’ve nailed (or at least grown comfortable with) being productive in pixels. Personify, the leading technology provider for associations, spoke to several association professionals to meditate on a trying year and focus on the best ways to move forward on a journey ahead.

Resilience Pays Off

Associations quickly pivoted from massive in-person events to virtual gatherings last year. And it wasn’t just annual events, but also educational courses, smaller-scale conferences, board meetings, member meetings, and more. Associations should continue to show up virtually for members and staff to project that “we’re still here,” said Jerome Bruce, the director of meetings and exhibits for the Association of Government Accountants.

Associations should also crunch the numbers and listen to their members, paving the way for a more data-driven and strategic future. Data metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) illuminate what events and sessions are worth continuing to invest in during the coming year of virtual and hybrid events. Member feedback provides qualitative insight into what may or may not be working.

“The most valuable lesson that I learned in 2020 is to stop and listen to the members regarding their needs,” Molly Hamill, the manager of exhibit sales at the Global Association for the Attractions Industry (IAAPA), said. “They can come up with ideas [to address them] that you probably didn’t think of yet.”

It’s All About Transparency and Engagement

Your members want to hear from you. Personify’s research found that associations tended to overestimate how much digital content to send to members, but that one in three wanted to receive something weekly or more. The sweet spot: weekly to monthly, with 81 percent wanting that frequency of communication from their associations.

And associations shouldn’t shy away from the reality of the current climate—inform members about how they are continuing to adapt in the midst of the pandemic, how they are keeping members safe, in the know, and—most importantly—engaged. Chris Lyons, the associate executive director at the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), cited strategies such as video chat breakout rooms, question-and-answer sessions, virtual photo booths, and gamified session features. With a cautiously optimistic view of what lies ahead, transparency and engagement will be pivotal as you slowly transition back into a hybrid and in-person world.

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

And Curating Your Digital Toolbox to Best Serve You and Your Community

To keep people engaged and prevent “Zoom fatigue,” associations also need the right online platforms and services. That’s probably why, according to Personify’s research, nearly half of association professionals spent more on tech in 2020, specifically on community software, virtual event software, and member self-service tools.

The key is to adopt services that can streamline most of your association’s needs within one platform. Examples include an association management system that can centralize data, integrate e-commerce needs, and manage web orders along with an online community that can drive engagement before, during and after virtual events.

In what Mike Hiskey, director of IT at the American Water Works Association, characterizes as our “virtual everything” world, you want to invest in tech platforms that can streamline your needs and check as many boxes as possible. “We’ve got a good rubric set up to figure out what the right tool is to meet the needs of a particular event, but we are looking forward to consolidating that stack,” Hiskey said.

Finally, Knowing That You Don’t Have to Do It Alone

Throughout this journey, teams reach across different departments to tackle issues with an interdisciplinary approach. Teamwork is essential—you don’t want one person playing point guard for everything, and no one has to figure out a new skill or strategy in a vacuum.

It’s that transparency and generosity among association staff professionals that make the difference between burning out and thriving as they push forward.

“Seeing people collaborate in new ways has made me proud to be part of this association world, and I’m looking forward to continuing to see people share,” Erica Holland, the assistant executive director at the Society of Interventional Radiology, said. “So I’m glad you guys are putting together this series of articles, and I’m sure we’re all going to learn a lot from it.”

That’s why Personify is committed to partnering with associations to support long-term growth in their organizations. “Many of the trends that have emerged over the past year will affect how associations recruit, engage and deliver value to their members now and in a post-pandemic world,” Erin Sullivan, director of marketing at Personify said. This is supported by Personify’s research, which found that 85% of attendees want virtual and hybrid options in the future, even when it’s safe to resume in-person events.

Finding the right strategy and toolbox is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach, but professionals agree that future success requires keeping your eyes and ears open to what members and staff want and need. And that’ll require a solid foundation of open communication, reliable digital platforms and teamwork along the journey ahead.

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.

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How Can You Manage Negative Facebook Comments?

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Odds are that you’re going to be more likely to deal with haters than fans on a Facebook page, according to a study. But smart moderation tactics can help defuse issues before they get out of hand.

For every three comments the average Facebook page gets, two of them are likely to be negative.

That’s according to research from INFORMS, an international association for operations research and analytics. In a recent analysis published in its scholarly journal Information Systems Research, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that, in an analysis of 12,000 posts from 41 Fortune 500 companies, negative posts outranked positive posts at a ratio of nearly 2 to 1. While positive and negative posts tend to get more likes than traditionally neutral posts, the negative posts tend to attract more comments, which means that the Facebook page creates an unstructured area that tends to attract negative feedback. Which, of course, isn’t particularly great news if you rely on social media to reach your members.

So what does that mean for your own strategy when managing the social network? A few strategies worth keeping in mind when dealing with social media negativity:

Acknowledge there’s an issue—but don’t delete it. The social media performance-tracking firm LocoWise, in a guide about managing negative comments on Facebook, says that preventing negative comments, or removing them from your page, tends to be counterproductive. “The best approach from the outset is to take on the challenge of negative comments and focus on positive ways to manage them (unless, of course, they are racist or offensive, or a legal issue),” the company says. LocoWise also  says that even if you can’t solve a problem immediately, it’s in your best interest to acknowledge it.

Use the “hide” functionality. Even if you aren’t deleting comments, you can still reduce their impact by hiding them in the Facebook interface, effectively making it so that overly negative responses don’t affect the overall tenor of the conversation—while allowing critics to get a word in. Hiding the comment makes it disappear for the public when they’re viewing  pages, but it still shows up for the user who added it, as well as for their Facebook friends. “I think this is wonderful, since they’ll continue to think they’ve gotten away with their snarky comment, while it’s evaporated for everyone else,” Marketing Land columnist Chris Silver Smith wrote in 2016. “This reduces some of the conflict, helping to diffuse the situation, and the hater may lose interest at the lack of attention and wander off.”

Handle headaches privately. Facebook’s own business page recommendations suggest leaning on private messaging in some cases. “When you reply with a private message, anyone can see that your Page has responded privately below the comment,” the company explains in a list of moderation tips. “Private responses are helpful when addressing matters that are more personal in nature or specific to the individual.” It’s a tool in your toolkit when responding publicly might just make things worse.

Leverage your public face. Not all responses should be handled privately, however. In an interview with BizReport, Mochen Yang, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota and a coauthor of the INFORMS report, says that it’s important to respond in a way that is productive and can publicly be seen as such. “Brands’ conversations with customers on Facebook business pages are public to all users on the pages,” Yang explained. “Therefore, if brands can do an effective job of addressing negative posts, it will be observed by other users, which will likely enhance the positive images of the brands. In general, we suggest that brands should use the public nature of their business pages to their advantages.”

What strategies do you use to manage moderation on your Facebook page? Share them in the comments below.

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What Risk Factors Are Top of Mind for Association Event Organizers?

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We recently convened a roundtable of senior-level conference organizers to discuss risk tolerance and the forces that are shaping their 2021/22 event strategies and decisions. Three primary risk categories are emerging as organizations weigh their options for major conferences in 2021:

  1. Mitigating financial risk
  2. Member considerations and communications
  3. Health, safety and duty of care

Mitigating Financial Risk

Financial predictions. Financial challenges continue to be at the forefront for many associations. Planners are expected to forecast revenue and expenses without data or clear guideposts. Some planners report that they’ve reworked attendance and budget predictions seven or more times. Many question the efficacy of these exercises while the future outlook is still cloudy.

Hybrid is costly. Everyone agrees that planning hybrid events takes significantly more time, money and effort. Many are still seeking clarity on the investment vs. experience priorities for serving an in person and virtual audience simultaneously.

Contract concerns. As optimism grows for business events returning later in 2021, hotels are testing the waters more aggressively on signed agreements. Challenges abound for event professionals looking to reduce housing block commitments.

Future bookings are getting more difficult as organizations are more reluctant to take on new risks. In an effort to reduce and manage risks, venues and planners are adopting new contract clauses. No question, negotiating contracts is going to get more complicated as the industry rebounds.

Member Considerations and Communications

Transparent communication. There is a growing need for associations to be transparent with their members particularly regarding go/no-go decisions for future events. A best practice is to determine and communicate a date or time frame for making these decisions. Making promises and keeping them helps earn trust and mitigate attendee concerns.

Variables for face-to-face timing. Audience characteristics and demographics are driving the timing and desire for in person events. Some planners report a strong demand to return to in- person events as soon as possible. Others, particularly those whose members are dealing with travel bans, or have large global audiences, are more likely to be in the camp that the soonest they can meet face-to-face is 2022.

Organizations that prioritize education and networking over expos are most likely to move forward with hybrid events. Event business models that are traditionally more reliant on 50% or more of their revenue from exhibitors have a more urgent need to get back to in-person. We still haven’t heard of any examples of successful online trade shows.

Health, Safety and Duty of Care

Organizers are hungry for guidance regarding onsite health and safety measures, facility capacity issues and what impact herd immunity will have on business travel. In addition to the many online resources, there are a growing number of vendors who can help inform the safety plans for in-person events. That said, like the enormous growth we saw in virtual event platforms, vetting these vendors is challenging and time consuming. Local and state regulations are all over the place with some venues providing specific guidance and others basically leaving the decisions up to the planner. Planners are trying to understand how their organization’s liabilities are impacted by duty of care.

Bottom line, for most of our clients, the return of face-to-face events can’t come soon enough. However, there are very real concerns on how staffing and bandwidth will be impacted in this time of uncertainty. In part two I will explore those concerns and share some strategies for overcoming obstacles that our roundtable participants are employing.

What contract concerns are you running up against? What other elements of risk are top of mind?

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Apply Pandemic Lessons to Evolve and Improve Your Business Continuity Plan

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It has been nearly a year since associations began implementing continuity plans due to COVID-19 closures. Now, those plans must adapt to face new challenges, such as weather crises—like those in Texas—when workforces are more remote.

Almost a year into major disruptions caused by COVID-19, many associations are still living in the environment born of their continuity plans. However, the recent freeze and power crisis in Texas are showing that additional disasters can occur on top of a pandemic, and continuity plans need to be ready for it.

“In terms of business continuity issues, we have to ask: what happens if there is a secondary crisis?” said Bob Mellinger, CBCV, founder and president of Attainium Corp. “You need to handle that differently.”

Mellinger said it’s important to recognize that plans aren’t static and need to adjust to address new situations. “A good business continuity plan will be continuously improved,” he said. “There will be new things that get added, and things that will evolve. What you are doing now is different than what you were doing a year ago. And it will probably be different than what you are going to be doing a year from now.”

For example, continuity planning looks different for associations that have gone remote. “Things are harder when you’re distributed and relying on infrastructure that you don’t control,” Mellinger said. “What if there is a massive cyberattack, and it actually goes to everyone’s PC at home, plus those servers that are maintained as part of the organizational structure?”

Scenarios like those, as well as power losses that can happen during bad weather, need to be considered. And if multiple systems are out of commission, an organization needs to be prepared for several days of lost work. “In Texas, we’re talking about large areas of people without power, without water,” Mellinger said. “They are not paying attention to work. They’re worried about their family and staying warm.”

How to Evolve

If your organization wants to ensure its continuity plan is up to date and can work with future emergencies, now is the time to start, according to Mellinger. “I’d hate to see people lose this experience by not capturing the lessons learned from it,” he said. Here are four steps to take:

Document your processes. A key to continuity is institutional knowledge, which is hard to capture. However, “It’s real easy to document processes,” Mellinger said. “Start with what do people do. What are the tasks being performed? How frequently are they being performed—daily, monthly, weekly?” Mellinger recommends scheduling time to document processes. “If it’s not a priority, it won’t get done,” he said.

Cross train. Make sure more than one person on the team understands how to do jobs. “Whose backing this process up?” Mellinger said. “You want to have somebody able to step in. Even if they’re not great, they’re going to be better than you or me, because we don’t know anything.”

Debrief and improve. The pandemic showed that associations can survive a major continuity interruption. Determine the lessons learned and incorporate them into your continuity plan. “Some of the things that were decided last year, we decided on the fly: ‘Everyone go home. Now!’” Mellinger said. “‘Oh, I wish we would have thought to tell you to take this stuff with you.’ Debrief to capture this information. What decisions did you make? Which ones were timely? Which ones weren’t? What would you tell them now knowing what you know now, versus back then?”

Consider the current situation. If your staff are mostly remote, do plans related to your building need changes? “If you only have three people in the office, and the fire alarm goes off, they’re just going to run. They’re out,” Mellinger said. Look at those plans to see if they need adjustments, particularly in how to check in and count evacuated staff. Also, most pre-pandemic communicable disease plans concerned seasonal flu. Adjustments related to the current pandemic need to be codified.

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Marketing That Works While You Sleep

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How the Texas Society of Association Executives found an instant marketing team that delivered fast results.

We all dream of making money in our sleep, but we’ll settle for getting work done without being glued to our desks.

That’s what Josh Spradling, a 13-year veteran at the Texas Society of Association Executives, was looking for when his small-but-mighty team of six needed to augment its marketing efforts. “We use direct mail and emails as part of our marketing mix, but in 2019, we knew we needed a digital tool to help us increase attendance at our annual conference,” he explains.

Time to Target Retargeting

The goal was to convert likely attendees and expand TSAE’s reach to new ones, Spradling says. “We wanted to grab people who didn’t know us all that well, and who we didn’t know all that well. Maybe they had passed through our website or a competitor’s site or those of similar sister organizations. We were looking for a platform that allowed us to retarget them and get them information about our upcoming events no matter where they were on the internet.”

Enter Feathr, a digital marketing toolkit that helps busy association professionals manage membership, event and sponsorship campaigns in one place.

The initial retargeting campaign that TSAE ran not only served up great results but also provided peace of mind for Spradling. “What I really like is that your marketing is working 24/7,” he says. “When we send out an email, there’s pretty much a one-hour window during which people may see it and open it. Similar with that brochure when it hits their mailbox. But here, people are visiting your site and other sites at all hours of the day, and this platform is running in the background all the time—even when you’re sleeping, which I think is really nice.”

Driving Revenue and Awareness

Besides driving traffic to TSAE’s site, there were unexpected benefits that came with retargeting, Spradling points out. “We had very involved users and board members reach out to tell us they were excited to see our ads appearing on various sites,” he notes. “It showed them that we were evolving and trying new things, and also served as a reminder that we’re always here for them.”

Since that first retargeting campaign, Spradling says that TSAE has found simple-yet-effective ways to utilize more of the tool’s capabilities.

“Cart abandonment has been an issue for us,” he explains. “People poke around the site, add event registrations to their carts, then drag their feet on checking out for a variety of reasons, such as needing manager approval for the expense.” Retargeting allows the system to follow these visitors and target them with unique ads to complete their transaction before critical registration deadlines.

“I think associations were a little hesitant to adopt this type of strategy because there was this idea that it was a little creepy,” says Spradling. “But Amazon has normalized it, and people are comfortable knowing that we’re trying to provide them with information that is relevant to the association and their careers.”

Feathr has been so effective for converting purchases that TSAE is now considering offering these capabilities to event sponsors. “We’re talking to Feathr about the option to sell or give packages to high-dollar sponsors that allow them to do some retargeting of their own.”

Tech That Helps Associations Help People

Feathr isn’t just a tool, Spradling says, it’s an extension of the association’s marketing team. Having this resource to create and place ads has opened up time for TSAE’s core team to focus on its overall mission of providing unparalleled programming, information and events to members. “We’re a family-oriented organization,” Spradling says, “We have 1,000 members, and everyone knows each other. And as things begin to turn around with vaccines, we’re optimistic that events will ramp back up and we can continue our work helping to make each member a little better at their jobs, no matter where they are on their journey.”

Feathr has thought of everything to help get associations up and running with digital advertising. Their dedicated flock of experts advise on unique revenue generating campaigns, campaign best practices, and graphic designer concierge services to ensure successful campaigns. Partnering with Feathr will ensure your association’s success for years to come.

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Hybrid Event Strategies: Get the Best of Both Worlds

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Associations are facing a transition phase where most meeting planners have to consider in-person attendees and virtual viewers. To serve everyone well, don’t fall into the trap of hosting both versions simultaneously, and lean on the community.

Quietly and without much notice, hybrid events that mixed in-person and virtual elements were already a growing trend before the pandemic. Now, as associations plan for events amid a COVID-19 vaccine rollout that will eventually make in-person gatherings possible again, even organizations that might have initially eschewed a hybrid approach will likely need one.

Sarah Michel, CSP, vice president of professional connexity for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, says that for many associations, it probably won’t be realistic to record all sessions and present them simultaneously online.

“The biggest obstacle people are really facing is the cost,” she says, noting that this tactic is tantamount to putting on two events at the same time. “Suddenly now we’ve got to stream everything—we’ve got to stream the main room experience, we got to do the breakout sessions? There’s just no physical way.”

Instead, meeting planners may need to take a digital-first approach, at least for the time being, building events for the larger, remote audience while ensuring that people onsite are engaged. She compared the technique to how a TV studio might handle a live audience when filming a sitcom.

“It’s built for broadcasting out to millions of people that are watching the show, and it’s an asynchronous thing,” she says. “When the TV audience is watching a commercial, a comedian comes out for entertaining the live audience, or things pop in.”

The result is that the event works in both settings: Virtual viewers have access to the content they want, while a smaller group of in-person attendees gets a rich onsite experience.

The Problems With Hybrid On-Demand

Just because you’re building content for a remote audience doesn’t mean you should simply load sessions into an LMS and expect your users to find them. Instead, Michel (and Velvet Chainsaw’s managing director Dave Lutz) recommends repackaging content from your onsite meeting as a scheduled replay of the event, which can be timed to encourage a community element and speaker interaction.

“We come together as a community,” she says. “There’s a social aspect to it because we’re on chat together and the speaker is there. And in some ways, people are going, ‘Oh, this was even better, because now I actually get to interact with the speaker and chat while watching the video play.’”

Some more advice from Michel on hybrid events:

Use apps to bridge the gap between in-person and remote. It’s a challenge to create engagement among people in different locations. Encourage attendees to interact via the apps your association has already built—think expo halls where in-person attendees share the benefits via a video chat for remote viewers. Longer term, “I think we’re going to be less worried about a platform and more about having a robust mobile app that connects the entire community, no matter where you are,” she says.

Think beyond the expo hall (at least virtually). Expo-style events give suppliers a way to show off their products and services to potential users—a model that is proving challenging to translate to a virtual environment. An alternative is to allow suppliers to sponsor individual sessions, which facilitates more direct interactions with potential customers. “We’re seeing really big upticks in sponsorship opportunities but also ways to bring exhibitors in front of members and potential buyers in more of an informal way,” Michel says.

Give attendees a good reason to come back to in-person events. No matter how much your members miss face-to-face events, it’s hard to predict when they’ll feel safe enough to return to in-person conferences post-COVID. Michel says leaning on the community could help get people on the plane. “What’s going to make them come back is creating a can’t-miss opportunity where the networking value is so high,” she says. Another option might be a hybrid style of flipped learning, where the learning session is remote but discussions happen at an in-person event.

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New Book Reinforces the Positive Power of Membership

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Through case studies, anecdotes, and data, veteran association expert Tony Rossell paints a detailed picture of the resilience and necessity of associations, now more than ever.

Mark Twain famously quipped when his obituary was erroneously published, “The report of my death is greatly exaggerated.” A new book, Membership Recruitment, references that quote as a parallel for the dire predictions about the end of associations and makes a compelling case otherwise, highlighting their vital role and the central force powering their missions and growth: membership.

The author, Tony Rossell, senior vice president at Marketing General Incorporated (MGI), began the book before the pandemic, but he says his respect and appreciation for associations grew even more when he saw them in action as the COVID-19 crisis surged.

One example: the American Nurses Association, which responded quickly to nurses’ needs and developed on-demand COVID-19 webinars free to all nurses—not just members. ANA had 190,000 people attending its webinars around the world last year.

“It was literally saving people’s lives,” Rossell said. “It really brought home to me that associations are doing incredible work.” And his commitment to sharing the impact of associations became even stronger. “There’s power in membership,” he said.

Rossell points to years’ worth of data published by MGI showing a correlation between successful membership recruitment and overall organizational growth. Each new member who joins an association creates a compounding effect, he said: They bring in recurring dues revenue and generate more nondues revenue than other customers. Members drive the mission, enhance networking, support advocacy, and generate content. In short, he said, “they build community.”

The value of membership is exemplified in the for-profit world, with companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Costco using the membership model successfully to drive revenue and growth. In the book, Rossell narrows in on Harley Davidson, which established the Harley Owners Group to connect its customers. Like an association, HOG charges membership dues and has automatic credit card renewals, a magazine, a newsletter, chapters, meetings, and 1 million members around the world.

“If membership doesn’t work,” Rossell said, “then there are a lot of companies going in the wrong direction.”

The Road Ahead

Despite the challenges of the past year—and the ones that are likely ahead—Rossell predicts the overall trend for associations is positive. People are going to come away from the ordeal of last year and recognize that they need community and their association to advocate for their profession or industry.

“There’s a real opportunity for membership growth in 2021,” he said. But “you don’t renew yourself to growth, you recruit yourself to growth.”

That requires strong and consistent messaging. In response to the challenges they have faced staying in touch with members and prospects, associations have been expanding their communication channels, Rossell said. They are still calling, mailing, and emailing renewal notices, and texting is on the rise. He predicts text messaging will “explode” as a channel in the next couple of years as a way for associations to send quick calls to action, such as reminders to renew.

“I believe in the essentialness of the association world and their mission to make an impact on the world,” Rossell said. His new book is a testament to that conviction.

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4 Guiding Principles for Virtual Events

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These philosophies are driving the industry into the future.

Q: As I’m learning how to do hybrid and virtual events, I’m getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty. What are some big-picture strategies that should be guiding this process?

A from Ryan Konikoff, Chief Operating Officer at event production company Rock The House located outside Cleveland, OH: You’re wise to take a step back to refocus on what virtual and hybrid events should achieve, and what planners need to know as we move into an exciting, prosperous future.

Hybrid events aren’t just something we’ve got to do to get through the pandemic—they’re what events are going to be like forevermore. Now is a pivotal time for the event community, because the groundwork that we’re laying today, the strategies and best practices, will be the new standards of the industry.

In fact, I predict we’ll start seeing more and more virtual-track positions added to staff rosters as time goes on; we’ll see new jobs and new dollars flow into our industry. Virtual is what’s going to open our community to sustained growth and success.

Whether you’re a virtual newbie or a seasoned pro, here are four of the top takeaways to keep in mind as we move forward.

Virtual Is a Co-equal Format

Some people want to go to the in-person event because they want to network, or to touch different products at the exhibit hall trade show, or because their company’s paying for it and they want to hit up the buffet at Caesars. You’ve also got people who—due to the size of their company, economic factors, or commitments at home—are now going to be able to remotely experience this amazing opportunity that previously might have been out of reach for them.

Look at pro sports in America: It’s been hybrid for decades. The day after a game, you gather around the water cooler at work. One co-worker watched the big home run in their surround-sound home theater on a comfy recliner; that person liked seeing the statistics and the cool graphics packages. Another was there in-person and loved the sun and the energy of the crowd. They both feel they had an elevated experience. Each might argue that their experience was better. But “better” is relative to their personal experience.

For so long, we’ve tried to figure out how people engage. Well, now we’re acknowledging that some people engage better from their desks at home. Going forward, we’re going to meet constituents’ needs wherever they are.

It’s All About That Engagement

A virtual event or a hybrid event is not Netflix. It’s not even a Zoom meeting. We have to ensure that we are driving engagement as we interact digitally, using the same principles that we would for in-person events and translating them into virtual. There is some great software out there like Slido and Kahoot that I love for hybrid events because they allow in-person guests and remote guests to be on the same playing field when participating in things like Q&As, word clouds, polls, and chats.

So much interaction is happening on that 13-inch screen, so rather than relying on an open bar, food, a brief break, or a cool giveaway, remote guests’ experience needs to focus on new perks.

The Lines Are Blurring—and They Should Be

Even guests who attend future events in person may choose to participate in a segment remotely— perhaps they have to make a call halfway through, or maybe they just want to be in a different environment. This creates tons of new and unique opportunities that can be really impactful, such as the opportunity to build remote or virtual-viewing lounges with lucrative sponsorships. Approaches like these also let people viewing remotely feel like co-equal attendees.

My philosophy on events is more circular, like a clock, than linear. How are we dripping information to a client base through smaller or online events throughout the year? How are we gamifying steps along the way? The conference is just one arm on the clock; it never moves. The other arm is the virtual components, which is so cool for our industry. It’s less of, “Hey, I’ll see you next year at the conference,” and more, “This is an active part of my continuing education that I get to experience all year round.”

Never Stop Learning

It’s not just meeting attendees who can benefit from continuing, year-round education—meeting professionals can (and should) benefit, too. For instance, virtual venues and virtual platforms are updating every day with new features. Sample what’s out there, and then mark a time six months out on the calendar to do it again, because chances are things will have changed. Continue to reevaluate and upgrade your tech tools, your skillset, and all of these big-picture factors as we move into the future.

Virtual and hybrid may be new concepts for many event professionals, but I always suggest looking at people who pioneered previous innovations, and what made them successful. Remember watching music videos … and when VH1 came along with Pop-Up Video and added to the format? We have the chance to keep adding to our constituencies’ experiences, and that’s great for our industry and everyone who participates with it.

There is a magic that comes from people being together, and that won’t ever change. But virtual will add value to this mix going forward, and it’s here to stay.

This Q&A column features Ryan Konikoff, Chief Operating Officer at event production company Rock The House, and is brought to you by Destination Cleveland. Keep an eye out for more meeting planning tips as you continue to navigate the new environment. And to learn more about Cleveland, visit

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Membership Pro Tip: Member Meetups

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

Informal, online monthly meetups give members a chance to connect with peers, explore hot topics, and enjoy small-group discussions.

How does it work?

The membership committee of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine wanted to find a way to help members connect who were missing in-person networking at SIIM events. Their solution: Member Meetups. The free, informal, 45-minute sessions are held monthly on Zoom with about 35 participants.

Members of the Meetup planning group choose the topics for the online meetings and find a lead moderator, as well as moderators for breakout sessions. On the back end, SIIM assists by providing a template with the title of the Meetup, bullet points about the topic, and other relevant information that Meetup organizers can use when they are soliciting moderators.

Why is it effective?

“Our members really value the networking and collegiality that they would typically get at our annual meeting,” says Meggan Olek, SIIM’s director of membership and operations. “This fills that void and offers a touchpoint for our members to be able to connect.”

What’s the benefit?

“It’s not a heavy lift,” she says. SIIM serves as the host with the help from members, so it’s a collaborative effort. Feedback has been positive so far, and members appreciate the mix of participants from SIIM’s multidisciplinary community of professionals and vendors.

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

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