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Build Community through Conversation - 2/23/2016 -


Build Community through Conversation

Your meetings and conferences are where members come to learn, connect, and do business. Here’s advice from two marketing experts and a leading association publishing executive on how to give your members a head start by getting the conversation going before they get there.

By Kate Achelpohl

From the first mention through the follow-up surveys, your annual meeting communications plan can build up excitement for the meeting by building up your association community — the individuals who make up your membership, their peers, and their industry. Here are a few ways to get them talking about the meeting before it begins.

Give Them Something to Talk About

"The challenges around engagement come before, during, and after the meeting. People struggle with getting the community involved in all three,” says Scott Oser, president, Scott Oser Associates. That’s where content marketing comes in.

Where traditional marketing focuses on the who, what, when, where, and why of the meeting, content marketing makes it buzzworthy. It’s a way to use your association’s content resources — an article by a speaker or data from an association study, for example — to spark discussions that lead to clicks on the "register now” button.

"Engage your members by putting some juicy tidbits out so your attendees know what’s going on and are actually discussing it before they get there,” says Oser. "It becomes a conversation, not just a marketing tactic, but something that will continue after the event.”

Show emails are one medium to convey these messages. Blogs posts, magazine articles, public relations, and newsletters are other vehicles.

"By taking a content marketing approach, you’ll be spreading information about your meeting over all your communications vehicles. You’ll also be pulling information from all over the association,” Oser notes. "This is not a one-person job or a handoff to marketing. It’s an entire-association effort.”

The challenge is helping your team understand what you’re doing and how it works. The thought process is very different than traditional marketing. Rather than focusing on registration and logistics, you’re covering a topic area.

"You need to get editors, meeting planners, marketing, and media relations on board. Your newsletter, website, and other publications become content mechanisms rather than push mechanisms. What they’re going to relay isn’t strictly tactical anymore, so they’ll need revamping,” Oser says.

Establish Connections 

"Events, historically, have been for education and networking, but now information is cheap. It’s knowledge that is dear,” says Corbin Ball, president, Corbin Ball Associates, a former meeting planner who speaks, consults, and writes about using technology to improve meetings and trade shows. The difference: You can pick up nuggets of information anywhere online. True knowledge comes when you understand what to do with them.

The need for understanding increases the value of networking — especially at meetings — and the best way to begin networking is to start online. Ball emphasizes social media and mobile-first delivery platforms in what he calls this "post-PC world.”

"There’s a transition happening right now; as we enter a post-PC world, more people are accessing the web through mobile devices,” Ball says. "Increasingly, the more mobile the social media channel, the better. Look at what millennials are using.”

Ball recommends using Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Establish an event hashtag — something that’s short, memorable, and unique — and promote it throughout your media channels. Stay active and encourage members and attendees to broaden your social footprint by making it easy to share, like, and retweet postings.

"Associations need to emphasize networking, and one way is through social media,” he says, noting that there are even registration systems that integrate with Facebook.

The National Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing (NACS) has taken its social media approach to new levels leading up its show in October 2016, bringing on Social Driver, a cross-functional agency partner for social mediastrategy, research and analytics, creative design, and campaign execution.

The NACS show is large — 400,000 net square feet, 1,300 exhibitors, and 25,000 attendees — with roughly one-third of attendees new to the event. That makes for challenges in promotions, says Vice President of Publishing for NACS Media Group Erin Pressley.

"We’re reaching out to potential members, potential attendees, and people who don’t even know what the show is. How do we get them excited? Social Driver is already helping us promote the show and raise awareness on social media, much earlier than in previous years.”

It’s part of a content-heavy approach. The association begins talking about the show in its magazine months ahead of the event. They’ll run articles on an important topic or a pre-show interview with a big-name speaker. They also use the content in their daily newsletter, social media, and advertising.

"In the three and four months leading up to the event, we’re using all our media platforms to get the word out about the NACS show,” she says.

Go Small 

Ball is particularly interested in micro social networks, platforms built around specific events or organizations, and he’s working with developer Skoop to build such a network around meetings technology.

"There’s great opportunity for it. Associations can use the content they generate to populate the network. There’s the ability to push out content, to invite others to get involved in the conversation, which fills a gap for associations,” Ball says.

Micro networks begin on mobile platforms, and they provide attendees an easy way to pose questions. Staff then can respond in real time from their mobile devices.

"Social media gives people a greater say. Instead of information flowing from the top down, it’s coming from the bottom up, and ‘participant’ is then a more accurate term than ‘attendee,’” he says.

Now that’s engagement!

Kate Achelpohl is a freelance writer in northern Virginia and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.


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