Passive to Participant: How Association Communicators Build Engagement at
how the National Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing (NACS) and
the American School Counselors Association’s (ASCA) get members talking at
their annual meetings.
since Google became a verb, your members have had access to terabytes of data.
That means great education is no longer enough to make your event successful.
What attendees really need — and what an association’s annual meeting is
uniquely qualified to provide — is a community that will help them translate
knowledge into understanding.
as true for trade shows, like the NACS Show from the National
Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing (NACS), as it is
for professional conferences, such as the American
School Counselors Association’s (ASCA) Annual Conference.
Both of these associations are finding new ways to create communities that take
visitors from passive attendees to engaged participants.
COMMUNITY MEANS VALUE
crown jewel of NACS’s member events is its annual NACS Show. With more than
400,000 net square feet, 1,300 exhibitors, and 25,000 attendees, it’s among the
50 largest trade shows in the country, as ranked by Trade Show News Network.
Education is a key component, with over 50 workshops taking place throughout
the event. But that’s not the focal point, says one of the association’s top
NACS Show is where our industry comes together,” says Erin Pressley, vice
president of publishing for the NACS Media Group. "Our value proposition
comes from bringing our member groups together at our events.”
uses a number of tools — such as social media and its show app, Freeman
XP’s FXP Touch— but central to everything is an
association-wide commitment to engagement.
culture on site is to be proactive in engaging with our members,” Pressley
says, noting that NACS CEO Henry Armour empowers staff to approach
"orphans” — people who seem to be alone and unengaged — and help them find
exhibitors, solutions, and other members.
it’s NACS staff engagement or bringing a retailer and supplier together on the
EXPO floor or at a reception, we try to facilitate that as much as possible,”
she says, underscoring the importance of the staff-wide effort. "The whole
staff is involved, all 80-plus of us. It’s important to think holistically
about the event. Certainly, the expo is vitally important, but then we also try
to make it fun and provide moments of intimacy.”
NACS HQ booth is central to the effort, so staff gets creative to attract
attendees to it. At one show, an artist translated attendees’ business
challenges into infodoodles. The experience gave staff a chance to talk with
members and better understand what keeps them up at night. Board members are
invited to attend the New Member Reception, and everyone at the show is invited
to the opening party.
measure the effectiveness of its efforts, NACS uses Net
Promoter and its Net Promoter Score®, which employs
a 10-point scale to calculate responses to a single question: "How likely
is it that you would recommend [insert brand] to a friend or colleague?”
NPS has shown that the NACS staff has a direct impact on engagement and
satisfaction,” Pressley says. "So we know, as a staff, that our
participation has a really positive effect on someone’s experience.”
home, NACS staff looks closely at NPS and other metrics, such a show size,
exhibitors, and attendance, examining who’s new to the show and who’s
returning. Pressley says, "We have a very successful show, so it’s more
about innovating around the edges. We’re trying these little things and we’re
looking very closely to see if they’re successful or not.”
ENGAGEMENT EXTENDS OFF SITE
to furthering the needs and mission of school counselors, professional
development (often required for licensure) is key to ASCA’s reason for being.
Networking shares top billing, however, at the ASCA Annual Conference,
according to Director of Communications Kathleen Rakestraw.
the conference, our goal is to help attendees realize they can get so much more
out of attending our conference than just sitting in a breakout session taking
notes and keeping to themselves.Many school counselors, especially in
elementary schools, rural schools, or smaller schools, may be the only school
counselor in their building — or even their community. Giving them a chance to
meet other school counselors to call on throughout the year when they have
questions is a huge benefit of attending the conference,” she says.
social media isn’t the pre-show tool of choice for ASCA — "School
counselors don’t have a lot of time during the workday to spend on online
communities or keeping up on Twitter or Facebook,” according to Rakestraw —
it’s proven effective during the show.
contests during general sessions ask members to respond to a conference-related
question with a prize for a randomly chosen winner. Tactics for 2016 will
include a daily question on a chalkboard in the conference bookstore. Staff
will post attendees’ responses on Facebook and Twitter to generate
Twitterhasgenerated conversation. "A few years ago, we
were using the #ASCA14 hashtag for our event when suddenly a new hashtag sprung
up from people following all the posts at home: #NotAtASCA14. Since then, we’ve
capitalized on that idea, and encouraged members who couldn’t be there in
person to follow us on Twitter and join in on the conference excitement and
learning,” Rakestraw says.
has also created an option for remote participation — live streaming of
specific sessions, promoted as virtual attendance.
first year, we promoted ‘Buy the live stream,’ but last year, we changed the
marketing pitch to ‘Register as a virtual attendee,’ and we saw an increase in
members choosing to register for the live stream,” Rakestraw says. Virtual
attendees are able to ask questions and participate in the Twitter contests
ASCA hosts during general sessions. Again, it’s about creating a community
around the event.
THE MOST OF THE MEETING APP
likely attended (or hosted) a meeting with an event app that helps you organize
your show floor itinerary and meeting schedule. "It’s a great tool,”
Pressley says, "but the question is how to get people to use it. We sound
a constant drumbeat, and while regular attendees are more likely to use it,
newbies need to be educated. We have not found that silver bullet yet.”
says ASCA has also had mixed results with conference apps. "We’ve been
using conference apps for about the past five years, and we have yet to find
one that meets our needs. This year, we’ve built our own app, which will give
us all the features that we’ve been missing in previous years. We intend to
include some gamification on the app as well.”
meeting technology expert Corbin Ball of Corbin Ball Associates is
watching meeting apps evolve into something bigger. "What you’re seeing,
especially with associations, is multi-event apps. Members can download an app
for an association rather than a specific event. It resides on the phone and
can be used — judiciously — for feedback and content,” he says, noting that the
app then becomes a distribution channel for the reams of content events and
can also be community builders, Ball notes. "There are myriad technologies
that can exist for engagement on site. Most of them are mobile.”
Touch, a second-screen technology from Freeman XP, can engage workshop
audiences with polls and questions. NACS adopted it for the 2015 NACS Show, and
used it after the show to distribute presentation slides and solicit feedback.
The technology, which can use attendees’ smartphones as the second screen, also
provides engagement data.
apps, a kind of attendee matchmaking technology, are small, "digital
lighthouses” that notify attendees when they’re within range of someone with
similar interests. Notification can come in the form of an alert to the users’
smartphones, such as with Eventbase, but wearable beacons are also available. LiGo, for example, embeds its beacons in wristbands and badge clips that light up
when a "match” is within range. Some beacon apps will synch with the
attendee database, allowing participants to have a record of whom they’ve
connected with and exhibits they’ve visited.
meetings provide more than business opportunities or continuing education —
they foster relationships. Whether it’s high-tech or high-touch, your strategy
for building community strengthens those bonds, your event, and ultimately,
Achelpohlis a freelance writer in northern Virginia and a member
Association Media & Publishing’s Content Creation Committee.