If Events Could Talk: 10 Strategies for Fueling a Powerful Voice

by Aaron D. Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, CTA

Has your association conducted a communication audit within the last three years? More specifically, are your meetings and publications teams working together to ensure your association’s events are effectively marketed?

If your events suffer from stagnant or declining attendance, sponsors or exhibitors – or if you have difficulty securing quality speakers – the answer lies not in a silo, but rather in your team. Following are 10 strategies your association can immediately implement to boost the reputation of its signature events and, in turn, its bottom line. 

  1. Branding – A uniform event name, acronym or hashtag from one year to the next is just the beginning. To ensure your members easily recognize an event at first glance, consider how colors, logos, fonts and overall design elements are used consistently across communication platforms.
  2. Differentiation – Briefly scan the professional development landscape and you’ll find fierce competition all around you – colleges and universities, other associations and even your own members. Event messaging must clearly illustrate in both quantitative and qualitative terms how your event is different from the rest.

  3. Value proposition – Every event comprises some combination of learning and networking. One way to elevate yours above the others is to demonstrate the value attendees can expect to gain in both the short-term (e.g., contacts, ideas, goals, objectives) and the long-term (e.g., strategy, tactics, products, services, profit).
  4.  Voice – If your event could talk, what would it sound like? An elderly grandparent? A progressive hipster? Ensure written collateral closely resembles the tone and sophistication of your audience. As appropriate, add in elements of levity, informality, slang and pop culture to also make them fun and interesting to read.
  5.  Brevity – Promotional pieces are not the place to be long-winded. Prospective attendees are inundated with messaging each and every day, so make it easy for them to cut through the noise and connect with your publications. Don’t be surprised if fewer words result in improved open and click-through rates, too.
  6.  Channels – Determine how your association communicates. And don’t just think in terms of print communications – include all digital and social media platforms, as well. Optimal event marketing is multimedia in nature and should include messaging in most – if not all – of these communication channels.
  7. Testimonials – Never underestimate the power of an exceptional experience, particularly by Generation Yelp. Gather and share both written and video testimonials from attendees, sponsors, exhibitors and speakers. Ultimately, it means more coming from their peers than it does from you.
  8. Images – We know a picture is worth a thousand words, so ditch the clipart and invest in a professional photographer to take pictures during your signature events. Use these photographs throughout your marketing materials to tell your event’s story: who attends, how they engage and what they learn.
  9. Sample content – Sometimes prospective attendees and their supervisors are looking for added insurance your event will be worth their time and money. Sharing sample content in the form of slide decks, handouts, executive summaries and video clips may be just the ticket to secure their participation.
  10. Engage volunteers – Identify your repeat attendees and arm them with the tools needed to promote your events. Consider guest blog posts, social media chats and featured magazine columns. Likewise, remove as many barriers as possible to encourage easy sharing of member-generated materials.

While you may not have the resources to employ each of these tactics between now and your next annual meeting, take some time this month to identify and address the low-hanging fruit. Then develop a long-term strategic plan for implementing the remaining marketing and communication ideas, remembering to include representation from both the meetings and publications teams.

At the end of the day, you simply can’t afford to ignore what your events are saying about you, your department and your organization.

Aaron Wolowiec is founder and president of Event Garde, a Michigan-based professional development consulting firm. Event Garde works with association leaders who want to deliver dynamic, meaningful and compelling education and networking experiences. Email: aaron@eventgarde.com

Six Ways to Intersect Publications and Education Events

by Kim Howard, CAE

Delivering content to your members is one of the cornerstones of not only your publication program, but your education events. We all know that not all of our members attend our events. In a perfect world, they would. Because they do not, how do we share that information while not reinventing the wheel? How do we help sell the value of our education events? How can we showcase the content in the best possible way before, during and after our programs? Here are some ideas.

  1. Go beyond an ad. Cross-promote your events in the publications that you have. When you have a regularly published magazine, your content, if it’s mission-aligned, will likely fall in line with topics discussed at your education events. Is your editorial calendar in line with broad issues that are discussed at your conferences? Are you covering your content through the applicable lens for your members? Many associations have membership that runs the gamut from students to c-suite executives. While it is difficult to serve them all in one publication or conference, you can successfully integrate your content to cater to the cross-section of members. I use the term education events loosely because this could mean an in-person conference, webinar or podcast, lunch and learn or brown bag, etc. Have staff, freelancers or volunteers cover the event and write an article about the topics and subsequent discussion during the event. This is an excellent way not only to generate content for your publication, but to showcase the discussion. It’s also a great way to showcase your volunteers. Many members covet a byline on your association’s blog or in your publication. Covering select sessions at your events drives home the message to those members and the profession in general who did not attend that the event’s content is something to take note of and hear first hand. Think of it as your indirect sales guy.
  2. Give sidebars new meaning. Sidebars help break up your content and add an element of information that otherwise may be awkward to include in the main story. You are likely housing your speaker’s content somewhere on your website and the subject will also pertain to something you are covering in your publication. Remind your readers that the content is still there and provide access to it by showcasing it in a sidebar. You could have content available from a webinar, a whitepaper or a slide presentation from an annual conference session. Use it. You don’t have to showcase the entire resource—just use a link, headline and blurb. And don’t forget your association’s other resources such as white papers, reports, webinars, podcasts, blog posts and other gold nugget of information that shows your members that they have access to solid industry or profession information.
  3. Ask speakers to convert their presentation into an article or interview them. This approach works best if you have your editorial staff attend the selected sessions and figure out which ones will translate into content for your publication. It also helps to weed out the presenters who were less than stellar—you probably do not want to showcase their content in your publication. It’s unlikely their content would translate well in a new format. Add an editor’s note at the beginning or the end of the piece letting the readers know that this topic was first discussed at XYZ conference, webinar, etc. I have used this approach for years and our publications have received many excellent articles that we published.
  4. When you have a hot, timely topic of discussion, ask the speaker or panelists to write blog posts about the subject before the event. There is always some piece of relevant information that he or she wishes they could include, but can’t because of time constraints or it diverts from the subject a little too much for an event. Not only is this a good way to showcase the content, but it creates buzz about your event and may even increase the numbers from last-minute registrations or day-pass registrants.
  5. Cross-promote your education event through Twitter. If you know that certain members are into social media, especially Twitter, and they have fast fingers, ask them which sessions they would consider covering for you. This approach works best live, but after the event, consider picking out the top five or 10 tweets from the meeting and using that information as a sidebar to post-event coverage. The great thing about this approach is that you are covering yet another session that may not be covered any other traditional way. It’s yet another insight into the education content that your meetings and events offer.
  6. Additional ideas might include:
    1. Videos or other enhanced content in digital publications. Careful planning and scheduling can yield good video clips from members when they are onsite.
    2. Executive summaries of content, ideas or discussions to share with attendees/those who were unable to attend as resources rather than simply as informational articles (think of this as a note-taking service or perhaps even enhance these notes with new information to make them that much more useful).
    3. Leverage sample content/learning outcomes/ROI/testimonials in next year’s event marketing materials to make the promotion that much more compelling.
    4. Consider year-round opportunities to position your annual meeting vs. only the 2-3 months leading up to the conference; keep the conversations going.
    5. Consider repackaging content into an infographic or other visually interesting format to help members/attendees digest the information in a new way.

Even if you cannot implement all of these ideas, pick one that you know will work with your membership and any internal constraints you may have. Starting small will be the first step to yielding better results for your educational events and content that you are delivering to your members.

Kim Howard, CAE, is an award-winning publisher and president of Write Communications, LLC. Write Communications works with association leaders to create mission-aligned content for every channel for measureable results. She is the immediate past president of Association Media & Publishing. She can be contacted at kim@writecommunicationsllc.com.


6 Simple Steps to Help Your Organization Interact, Engage and Celebrate with Members via Social Media

by DJ MullerMuller Headshot

For years member-based organizations have existed to bring together a group of individuals with common interests, attitudes and opinions.  Fittingly, they have long represented the traditional network and served as the ultimate way for people to connect.  However, as technology has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on the ways that we interact and communicate, we have come to expect information with the snap of a finger.

Your members are no exception to this trend.  Luckily for you, in today’s tech-driven environment there are a multitude of cost effective tools that you can use to communicate and engage with your audience.  One of the most well known and widely used is social media.  From Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter, the creation and implementation of a social media strategy that attracts, retains and engages an audience is critical to maintaining member relationships and heightening the exposure of your organization.

Here are 6 simple steps to help you maximize your social media communication efforts:

  1. Set Goals. First and foremost, you must establish your purpose and set goals designed to accomplish that purpose.  For example, you may desire to increase your member’s engagement and interaction across your social media channels.  As a means to measure your progress, and ultimately success, you could set a goal to increase the amount of likes, shares and retweets that your connections and followers post.

 Always remember that your goals should be specific, timely, relevant and attainable.  You do not want to set your self up for failure and setting SMART goals will help to ensure that you are on track to implementing a social media strategy that drives results.

  1. Make a plan. With your goals set, you must now design a plan that will help you meet those goals.  Planning can often be overwhelming, especially when you are creating and developing a strategy that is subject to the unpredictability of the human behavior.  Despite this, you must realize that if you are patient and take the time to actively listen to and observe your audience, you will be more likely to realize success in the long run.  The following tips will help you get started:
  • Gather Data.  Before you can begin to maximize your communication efforts, you must gather data that will aid you in making informed, strategic decisions.  Use the tools that you have readily available, including the information in your current association management software (AMS) and web analytics, to collect information that reveals which social media platforms are the most popular among your members.  Additionally, consider creating surveys to ask members their preferred means of communication.  After performing the necessary research, you can choose which social platforms will best meet your organization’s needs and the needs of your members and target audience.
  • Name a Manager.  Once you have established your primary social media platforms, you should appoint one person to manage all of the accounts.  This will prevent the duplication of information and ensure that your organization maintains a consistent tone, voice and personality across all channels.
  • Create a Calendar. Beyond designating a single social media manager, it is important to create a calendar that will help you get organized. You can use tools such as HootSuite, Sprout Social or Buffer to schedule the times and days of the week that you want to post specific content. Make sure to observe and note the days of the week and times of the day that your members are the most active.  Additionally, don’t be afraid to test and experiment with the timing and types of your content posts.
  1. Create Quality Content.  Content is king when it comes to effectively marketing your organization and engaging your target audience.  Make sure that you showcase your expertise within the industry by posting original content.  Master the art of content creation and curation, share relevant content from thought leaders within your industry, include images, videos and links in posts, ask questions, be responsive to your members and celebrate your organization’s and its members’ achievements.  

Download the e-book, 6 Ways to Produce Content Your Members Will Value, for more tips and techniques on how to create content that engages your target audience.

  1. Follow Through. Creating a plan is one thing, sticking to that plan and following through is a whole new ball game.  To keep your organization’s audience energized share company and member stories, respond to comments and questions, create contests, sponsor giveaways, participate in chats and, most importantly, be yourself!  Social media is great opportunity for you to increase the exposure of your organization and let your personality shine through. 
  1. Monitor Behavior.  Monitoring the behavior of your social media accounts will help you determine where to focus your future marketing efforts, as well as provide you with insights into the performance and effectiveness of your different content campaigns.  Make sure to use monitoring tools, including Facebook Insights, LinkedIn Analytics, Google Alerts, TweetDeck, Klout, Social Mention and Pinterest Web Analytics, to help guide you in your efforts.
  1. Measure Your ROI. After you have set goals and initiated a plan, it is time to see if that plan is working.  Measuring the ROI of your marketing initiatives is essential to justifying both the monetary and time expenditures of future plans. Although there is no universal way for each and every organization to measure the ROI of its social media, and accurately measuring its value can be tricky, there are a few tools that you can use to help get started.  For example, you can use your existing AMS to track social media profiles, try the social reports feature within Google Analytics or access online calculators such as HubSpot’s ROI calculator that can help you measure your social media traffic conversions and quantitatively place a value on your social media efforts. 

Unfortunately, social media strategy is not a perfect science. In order to get it right you must be open to experimentation.  The six steps outlined above provide you and your team with the foundation that it needs to start maximizing your social media presence.  Make sure to set SMART goals, design a plan, execute that plan and use the necessary tools to track your progress and, ultimately, measure your success.

Additionally, never forget to engage, interact and celebrate with your members, after all they are your most important assets.

DJ Muller is president and founder of WebLink International, the creators of WebLink Connect™ the innovative, insightful and intuitive association management software with superior customer support. WebLink empowers hundreds of trade and professional associations and more than 500,000 small and medium businesses to help them acquire and retain more customers. Learn more at weblinkinternational.com.

Big Data for Associations

by Jim Thompson, IOM, CAE

In the association community, there is a lot of buzz around the term “Big Data”. According to Wikipedia, Big data is the term for a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, transfer, analysis and visualization.

For most in the association world, our challenges come with the curation of our data, being able to search to find the information you need and once you find what you need, trying to analyze what the data is telling us and then communicating that to our key stakeholders.

There are so many examples of things you can do with big data. You can measure the engagement of your membership, you can define demographics (career level, age, geographic location, specialty areas, etc.) and you can use data to determine potential product offerings.

The good thing for associations, unlike those in the private-sector, association members tend to more freely share information with members than most. Of course, these days, it’s not to hard to collect data on your members, potential members and companies. Using companies like Acxiom, Infogroup, or Infutor, you can not only access the data of your potential members, you can also get more detailed demographic about your existing membership.

So, what are some things that “Big Data” can tell you and how can you use that data. One of the most common communications tools associations use is email. Using email companies like RealMagnet, iContact, Constant Contact or even your own AMS email, you can track open and click through rates. However, a lot of folks get excited when they see their open rates, for example are averaging 30%, which is well above the industry average. The problem with that data is that 70% of your audience isn’t seeing your message. To use that data more effectively, review a months worth of your emails and see who isn’t engaged and figure out how you are going to communicate to them more effectively.

Additionally, there are a lot of stats on when the best time to send email is, however, you should really be using your data to find out that answer. Send emails at different times over a few months and then go back and review your open rates and click through rates. You should begin to see a pattern emerging. If you have good data, you may even be able to determine what type of member opens what type of email and when.

One great thing about data is to pay attention to things members don’t want, in addition to the things they do want. This is very helpful when it comes to things like killing the “sacred cow”.

Although, once you determine you have the data, the other challenge for associations is how to visualize that data for your stakeholders, particularly committees and the board. One way is to use visualization tools. Many of those can be obtained fairly inexpensively and can work with the data in your AMS. Tools Tableau, QlikView or Spotfire. It is extremely hard to look at a spreadsheet and see trends. Tools like this can help you visualize your data.

 Jim Thompson, IOM, CAE is the Executive Director of the Association Executives of North Carolina and is a great resource for all things related to association management. 

Are You Exceeding Their Expectations?

by Jacquelyn Manson

An exciting thing happened on November 1,2013.  AENC launched its first ever Marketing & Communications Conference, better known as M&CC.   I asked Jim Thompson, Executive Director of AENC, why the association decided to take a chance and launch a new event.  This was his response,

“In late 2012, AENC conducted a comprehensive professional development survey for our association management members. One thing became very clear. Most folks didn’t find value in our Speakers Showcase. So, we went back to members again and asked if they thought we should eliminate the program and if so, what would they replace it with. We got an overwhelming 65% that said eliminate the event and many of those suggested we offer a Marketing & Communications program. Our Professional Development committee got to work and created the program and we are all really excited about the launch!”

Over 185 people agreed and attended the M&CC at the Sheraton Chapel Hill hotel.  Attendees learned about the Communication Challenges Facing Today’s Association when Charles Popper, Naylor LLC, presented the 2013 Association Communications Benchmark Study. Then they chose from six breakout sessions to attend to learn a number of marketing techniques from conducting a communication audit, using the mass media to communicate your message to marketing on a budget and understanding when to hire an agency versus completing a marketing campaign in-house. 


After all that listening, learning and absorbing, attendees got a chance to network and visit some of the exhibitors before heading upstairs to hear Stan Phelps of 9 Inch Marketing give the keynote lunch address on Creating the WOW – Little Things Make the Biggest Difference.

Stan explained to the crowd why he named his company 9 Inch Marketing – because it is the distance from the stem of your brain to the top of your heart. According to Stan, it’s the longest and hardest distance to travel in marketing because marketing has become full of hype, offers and programs.  These campaigns attract people’s eyes and ears, but not their heart. They are not sustainable nor can they be reproduced on a small scale.

Stan went on to say we need to return to creating an experience and focus on retention. A referral is 4-times as valuable as a cold lead.  When associations/organizations asked their members the following question in a survey, “How likely are you to recommend this organization to a colleague or friend?” here were the results:

On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being least likely to recommend and 10 being most likely to recommend the association to a colleague or friend.

  • If a 9 or 10 was checked, these are your promoters and biggest fans. Focus on exceeding their expectations.
  • If a 7 or 8 was checked, these are passive members – not likely to promote or say anything negative about the association.
  • If a 6 or below was checked, these are detractors.

To sum it up, either you are exceeding the expectations of your members/customers or you are not!

Stan told us about a journey he undertook to search for 1001 examples of businesses and associations that exceeded his expectations – little things that made a difference to him. It took him 27 months to finish the project he now calls, The Purple Goldfish Project.

Stan came up with the name from an experience he had and a custom he learned about during his travels.  First, the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurants has a program in place where they will bring a goldfish to you to keep you company during your stay.  Second, there is a custom in New Orleans where the merchant gives a gift to a visitor/customer called: Lagniappe.(pronounced: Lan-yap). 

Stan categorized some of the experience that exceeded his expectations. Here are a few examples of how companies and associations exceeded his expectations during the 27 months:

  • Throw in something extra: Doubletree Hotels offers guests their famous chocolate chip cookies.
  • Sampling:  Izzy’s Ice Cream shop gives you a free small scoop of ice cream on the top of your order – it’s call “the izzy”.
  • First and Last Impressions matter!  Zappos shoe company offers free shipping and returns throughout the year.
  • Always follow up: Simply saying thank you or writing a handwritten thank you note will never go out of style.
  • Added service:  Safe Light Repair will come to your office and repair your window. While you are waiting for the repair to be completed, they clean your windows and vacuum your car.
  • Recognition: North Carolina Technology Association nominates members for various business and community awards throughout the year.
  • Handling Mistakes:  Sending a handwritten note saying you are sorry can make a difference in retaining your member/customer.

In the 80s, Walt Disney decided to host a parade for their guests on Christmas day.  His idea was met with skepticism from every department. They felt the customers would not even notice they were missing this experience.  Walt felt this was exactly why they needed to do it – to exceed their expectations.

Executives and customers were asked the following questions in a survey: do you think you are providing superior service to your customers/members and do you think you are receiving superior service from the company/association?  The results show a huge gap in perception and reality.  Eighty percent of executives thought they were providing a superior experience to their customers. While, only 8% of their customers said they were receiving a superior experience.  Creating the WOW takes research, time, training and buy-in from the staff, executives and boards. But, when you discover your Purple Goldfish, design a program to execute it and then deploy it, you will see results in your retention.

Stan surprised everyone at the luncheon when he went the extra mile and offered each person a free copy of his book, What’s your Purple Goldfish, How to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth, if redeemed by midnight on Amazon.com.  Now, that is how you exceed expectations! 

Thank you to the following M&CC sponsors:  Sheraton Chapel Hill, Host Sponsor; Colonial Williamsburg, Program Sponsor; A&V Company, Audio-Visual Partner; Vernon Computer Source, Technology Partner

Are You Hiring a Consultant to Help With Your Strategic Initiatives?

Are You Hiring a Consultant to Help With Your Strategic Initiatives?

Here are 8 Tips

by Christina Motley

Determining whether to keep projects in-house or outsource can be tough decisions. Three communication experts presented 8 tips during AENC’s Marketing and Communications conference and luncheon Nov. 1, 2013 at the Sheraton in Chapel Hill.

Lisa Ward, Director of Communications  and Government Affairs for the North Carolina Dental Society; Laura Nakoneczny, Member Services Director of North Carolina Press Association and Lorrie Leonhardt, Communications Manager of the North Carolina Association of CPAs held an open dialogue about “In-House vs. Agency: When Does an Outside Consultant Make Sense?”  Here are their suggestions.

1. Conduct an internal evaluation.
Consider the importance of the initiative and its alignment to your strategic business and marketing plan. Rank key factors such as the level of in-house expertise available, the tools and funds allocated to the project and the impact on your membership growth and retention.

2. Tap into your team’s network and referrals.
Chances are you already have an existing network of professionals who may be able to help. Trust in the consultant’s ability to perform and complete the initiative is critical to achieving your desired outcomes. If you have time to issue an RFP, great but if not, you’ve got a place to start.

3. Talk to more than one individual, agency, or firm.
Different people or companies will bring different skills sets and unique approaches to the table. This process may also generate additional ideas, or bring up questions you may not have thought of previously.

4. Review their work and credentials.
Has the potential candidate demonstrated a proven track record for completing similar projects? How fast can the consultant get up to speed on your industry and organization? What is their approach, process and most importantly results produced?

5. Ask for a proposal, including a timeline and rough budget estimate.
This gives you objective data to share with your team and executive leadership to allow for cross-functional input.

6. Interview 2-3 top candidates.
Not only are trust and talent important, but you will be working closely with the consultant you choose so it’s important to feel good about and like the person you will be working with.  The chemistry may be stronger with one candidate when compared to others.

7. Make your hiring decision.
Now it is time to be confident in your decision and let the work begin.

8. Ask for a Statement of Work Agreement.
This document will spell out what is to be done within a defined scope, how many revisions will be allowed, key deliverables, client expectations and estimated compensation to protect your organization and the consultant.