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Event #Marketing Begins with Great Conversations

Event #Marketing Begins with Great Conversations
After too many years of trying to attract attention with too many gimmicks and giveaways, event marketers are beginning to understand the blindingly obvious: That honest, respectful conversations are the best way to build an audience and earn lasting business relationships.

And none too soon. At a time when budgets are tight, customers are laser-focused on the bottom line, and ethical concerns cast a harsh light on even the most innocent gift, traditional incentives have less impact and carry a lot more risk. All the same factors make it even more important to differentiate your event, making sure it stands out in prospective participants’ minds.

You can do that by building deeper, more durable conversations with the audience segments that matter to you the most. And the cornerstone of those conversations is imaginative, original content that points them to the solutions they've been looking for—and that they’ll find most easily by attending your event and building a closer relationship with your organization.

But What Can We Talk About?

An event marketer in search of content is like a vegetable-lover at an all-you-can-eat salad bar. That’s because a well-organized conference program is a nearly endless source of smart, targeted content. (And it’s good for you, too!)

But it’s still rare for organizations to recognize the gold they hold in their hands: more often than not, conference content is presented once, then forgotten. It’s a terrible waste of a precious resource, but it gives you an opening to re-purpose your onsite content by:

  • Producing topical blog posts based on last year’s sessions
  • Posting Q&As with an upcoming speakers
  • Connecting an educational session or track to a burning issue in your industry or profession
  • Interviewing participants to find out what they did differently or better after attending last year’s conference
  • Finding members who couldn't attend your last event and asking them what they missed most (particularly if they plan to be there this year).

It’s All About Respect

The best way to earn respect from your participants and prospects is to respect them in turn. That means communicating in a way that treats them as serious members of a serious profession or industry.

The right content marketing plan operates at two levels to build profile and participant numbers for your event: It delivers valuable knowledge, with the promise of more for anyone who goes onsite, and it positions the conference itself as a place where worthwhile knowledge is shared. Not a bad place to start, when more organizations are asking what they’ll get back from their investment in your next event.

Want more information?  Come check out the Greenfield Services booth (number 137) at iBE 2013 this June in Toronto!

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Effective Associations: Making Your Conference a Powerhouse

Making Your Conference a Powerhouse
Imagine an association that has built its conference or conference series into an annual powerhouse. 
Members count on strong educational programs and intensive professional networking to keep them up to date on the latest trends and topics. Employers willingly pay registration fees and travel costs because they see the events as an essential investment, not an optional cost. Exhibitors and sponsors step up year after year because they understand the benefit of supporting such a dynamic community. Everyone gains, so the conference is largely insulated from the ups and downs of a shaky economy.

We know several associations and conferences that fit the description, and they’re a glorious sight (often meeting at glorious sites) to behold. 

But for many other organizations, the tough question is how to get from here to there.

Getting Participants to the Table

Conferences work best when three key ingredients - audience, content, and funding - come together in a complete, integrated package. But the audience has to be the first step. If you can get participants to the table and keep them there, you have a far better chance of putting all the other elements in place.

The most effective associations treat audience promotion as a permanent campaign. Gone are the days - if there ever was a day - when organizations could promote their conferences for two or three months, then bask in the glow of a well-attended event. 

Today’s participants plan their calendars and budgets far in advance, and many of them may want to attend virtually rather than going onsite. So the two to four weeks after an annual conference are not too soon to send out a Save the Date announcement for next year: Ideally, you should have announced next year’s dates and location while this year’s participants were onsite.

Giving Participants What Matters Most

Conferences are all about conversations and relationships, but they boil down to a basic transaction: Participants commit their time, money, and days away from home when they get what they need in return.
But how will you know what your participants need and want if you don’t ask?

We’ve talked about the value of regular membership surveys, but it’s especially important to probe the strengths and weaknesses of your conference. Meeting organizers are gradually moving beyond generic “smile sheets” that ask deep, probing questions about whether the room was cold enough or the coffee hot enough, but some associations are still learning how to gather the right information to keep on improving and delivering outstanding results.

The Investment to Match the Return

Regular contact - before, during, and after a conference - is also the gateway to strong, long-lasting relationships with exhibitors and sponsors. If you want funders to treat your organization as a strategic partner, you have to demonstrate that you appreciate them as a member of your community—not just as a source of cash. That means nurturing the partnership all year round, so that both parties get the breakthrough value they need and want.

Building the Powerhouse

It takes all three of the key ingredients to build a conference powerhouse. But the most effective associations are living proof that it can be done. By bringing the right tone to all your relationships, you can turn your conference or conference series into a huge source of value for your members, sponsors, and exhibitors.

Effective Associations: Your Online Brand is Your Magnet

Your Online Brand is Your Magnet
The association world is at the centre of a shift in marketing philosophies that works in favour of organizations that genuinely want to listen to their members, learn from what they hear, and deliver better, more targeted services.

The trend is called inbound marketing, and it’s creating new expectations for the way organizations of all kinds communicate with their members, customers, and stakeholders. The new marketing approach is about magnets, not darts: Rather than hunting key contacts down, you attract them by offering irresistible value.

Building an Online Profile

Nowhere is this change more visible than in the communication tools associations use to attract, engage, and retain their members.

  • Optimize Your Presence: Your website and mobile platform have to be optimized to draw members’ attention and stand out against a din of competing content and messaging. Your sites should be easy to find and a pleasure to navigate. And you have to use the right analytics to understand who’s visiting your site and what information they find most useful once they get there.
  • Get Social: While the large majority of Canadian associations are engaged with social media, and most of them are satisfied with their results so far, the majority reported last year that 10% of their members or fewer were participating in their social sites. To boost your presence on social media, you’ll want to build a campaign that uses compelling content to draw them to your website.
  • Keep Asking Questions: The most effective associations conduct regular surveys to take the pulse of their members, spot emerging trends and issues, and show that they genuinely want to deliver the best possible services and value.

Make the First Move

Inbound marketing is about making the first move. When you reach out with something your members need and value, it needn't and shouldn't carry an obvious sales message: your immediate goal is to earn their trust, confidence, and appreciation. For most of us, time is the scarcest commodity of all, and if we find a reliable, convenient path to the information and resources we need, we aren't likely to forget it.

As my colleague Doreen Ashton Wagner told hospitality executives in a blog post last year: “With inbound marketing, you get back the attention and engagement of your target audience—and, eventually, their buying power - by giving away something they need and want in place of a standard, outbound sales pitch. Offer them knowledge. Point them to resources. And make it clear that you ask nothing in return, that the conversation is its own reward.”

For associations that really have their members’ best interests at heart, that strategy shouldn't be a hard sell. But it can and should be a gateway to stronger, more meaningful member relationships that make everyone more resilient at a time of rapid change.

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Using Twitter for Events – Part 3: Engagement

This post was written by Gwynydd Murray, Client Care Specialist with Greenfield Services

Using Twitter for Events – Part 3:  Engagement
Social media and mobile solutions continue to change the way people communicate and how organizations engage with patrons and draw in new interest. Twitter provides endless opportunities for collaboration, efficiency, innovation, and promotion. Used effectively, social media and mobile technology can significantly improve productivity, as well as enhance audience awareness and participation.

About a year ago I took great interest in The June/July 2012 edition of CSAE’s Association Magazine (, which discusses at length how to optimize the use of a number of social media channels for events. Everything from LinkedIn and Facebook to SlideShare and YouTube will help organizations disseminate key messages to a plethora of followers and potential attendees. The Feature Article, The Role of Social Media at your Next Conference outlines perfectly how “The proliferation of social media has made it possible for us to capture meaningful information and respond to it – in real-time.” (page 28). Nothing is better in real-time than Twitter.

In my previous blogs, I’ve already explained the importance of Preparation and Tools. When thinking about Twitter for events, there is nothing more important than Engagement. The great thing about Social Media is the back and forth between originator and audience. The message does not exist in a vacuum, but is expected to foster conversation and encourage sharing of the message outside its original sphere.

When considering using Twitter for events, the first thing to remember is it is not solely for the day-of, on-site reporting. You need to draw in potential attendees’ right from the beginning. The event ads, program, website and emails should all publicize the Twitter @handle and #hashtag. You can then reach out to potential attendees and engage those who have already registered.

Tweeting before an event is not only about advertising. Content about speakers, schedules, exhibitors, accommodations, and deadlines is important to keep people informed. Keeping up a conversation will get them interested. Ask questions about what people are looking forward to and encourage them to ask questions themselves. Do not forget to keep up with those posts, and always respond to those who have taken the time to reach out to you.

While at the event, talk to and take photos of exhibitors, attendees, and presenters to get “nuggets” to post. Explain what you’re doing and encourage them to do the same. Even if someone does not use Twitter, gauge their interest and encourage them to look into it.  Recently, we planned Caesars Windsor’s Meeting Planner Symposium, and our friend and colleague @JeniseFryatt joined us as a virtual panelist for social media.  Jenise suggested having a “social media concierge” booth for newcomers to social media, and the concierge’s purpose would be to walk them through the set up and how to search for specific hashtags to tweet and re-tweet what is happening.  What better way to engage them in the social media process than in person and on-site?  It was a GREAT idea, and well supported by the other panelists and the audience of meeting & event planners, and association executives! Talking to visitors ensures better engagement next time. Draw people to an interesting booth or Tweet a speaker’s line that made you LOL.

Again, constantly check for re-Tweets and mentions, to keep the conversation going and let people know it was not a one-way medium. Even from off-site, the right Tweets can make you feel like you’re there.

Finally, remember the Twitter feed exists after the event. It’s a great way to measure people’s opinion after the fact. How did they like the sessions? Who were their favourite speakers?  How many people got to the early morning breakfast?  This will not only keep people engaged, but ensure future great events. Think of it as an instant survey.

The adage of quality over quantity could not be truer for Twitter. It’s not about a 140 character “info dump”, but having a conversation. It’s not only about making information accessible on the day of, but engaging with people who want to participate long after the booths are down.

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Effective Associations: Using Member Surveys to Open a Conversation

Using Member Surveys to Open a Conversation
If only you had asked…

Those are the words you never want to hear when you’re talking to members about the services or opportunities they would have liked to see. Or when you’re asking former members why they never renewed.

The right series of questions is one of the simplest, most powerful tools for turning your member database into your best source of strategic intelligence. If you know what members need and want, you have a far better chance of delivering it. If they've spotted a new opportunity, you’ll want to tap into it. If they've got their eye on a trend that could be threat to your sector, you’ll want to know about it.

And at the most basic level of all, if they can see that you care enough to ask those questions, they’ll be more likely to pay attention when it’s time to renew.

The Art and the Science

An effective member survey is part art, part science. The best surveys:

  • Have a clear purpose and focus on a specific set of programs, services, or issues
  • Give members a compelling reason to respond, backed up by even a small incentive if possible (a $5 gift card is enough to boost participation rates)
  • Involve a first announcement and at least two reminders (as long as you take care not to keep promoting to members who've already responded)
  • Have been field-tested before they’re deployed
  • Are built on survey tools that make it easy to track individual responses
  • Are distributed by multiple methods, from e-blasts to social media to sample telephone outreach.

Striking the Right Balance

Associations have to value their members’ time as well as their opinions. That means striking a fine balance by asking enough questions, frequently enough to take the pulse of your membership, without making people feel they've been surveyed to death. But the right survey strategy will keep members engaged and deliver the unmistakable message that they matter—which really is the cornerstone of the relationship you want to build with them.

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Effective Associations: Beating the Odds to Boost Your Membership Numbers

Beating the Odds to Boost Your Membership Numbers
These aren’t easy times for associations to try to increase their membership numbers. But with a strong message and smart strategy, you can beat the odds and be the organization that everyone in your field wants to join.

We all know the challenges, and they won’t be going away anytime soon. Budgets are tight, so companies and organizations are hesitant to pay for association memberships. Time is scarce, so people are less likely to join when they doubt they’ll have time to participate. And much of the information and networking we used to receive from our associations is now just a few mouse clicks away, at no cost.

Keeping the Connections Open

Here’s what some of the most effective associations do to keep their membership numbers strong and healthy.

  • 30% per year: That’s the astonishing rate at which business databases go out of date. Without accurate contact information, you’re bound to lose touch with your members. But it takes eight to 10 touchpoints to reach a target audience with a message that requires a decision and action. A regular data cleansing program is the only way to keep in touch with any membership association’s most important list of contacts.
  • The permanent campaign: Most associations sign up only a small percentage of the prospective members in their professions, sectors, and supply chains. That’s because it takes time and consistency to reach out to membership prospects, find out what motivates them, and help them arrive at the inevitable conclusion that they really ought to have joined years ago. New member outreach works best when it’s a permanent campaign that stresses listening over selling and shows the powerful benefits of working together.
  • Personal contact: It’s the price of entry if you want a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with the members you’ve already signed up. You should be thinking about renewing and retaining your members from the day they join, and reaching out to them with a contact program that shows you’re listening to what they need and want.

Thriving in Tough Times

It’s a tough landscape out there for associations. But your organization can thrive with the right plan for recruiting and retaining members. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when those members are so actively engaged that they become the cornerstone for your next wave of outreach, and for the idea generation that will carry you into a more certain future.

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