For many associations, conferences are an integral strategy to increase member engagement and grow non-dues revenue. They offer an opportunity to get your most engaged members together in one space, while simultaneously showcasing your thought leadership and industry expertise.
Of course, all, of that is only true if you can actually make your conference successful. That means not just inviting great speakers and streamlining the schedule, but also making sure that your audience actually has a great time. Attendees who love the event will not just come back, but actually recommend the conference to their peers and coworkers.
Recent technology developments have raised both possibilities and expectations for your attendees’ experience. That’s what makes it so important to look at these 10 best practices you can implement to improve member engagement and your association event.
1) Begin Your Work Before the Event
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your engagement efforts should start the first day of the conference. Instead, you should aim to ensure that your potential attendees are engaged and satisfied with their experience from the moment they learn about the event.
That, in turn, requires planning. Put a comprehensive strategy in place that determines when and how you will communicate with your audience. Take advantage of user groups and primary research to learn what types of communication will be most valuable to your audience once the event begins.
2) Streamline the Registration Experience
Another part of preparation should be making sure that your potential attendees can register as easily as possible. A centralized, intuitive registration is absolutely necessary. That should include the ability to register both online and in person, with multiple payment options.
Of course, the registration email doesn’t end there. Build a confirmation page and email that includes everything your attendees need for potential reimbursement. Then, enter registrants into a communication plan that will prepare them for the event as it gets closer.
3) Enable and Encourage Mobile Engagement
In the last few years, mobile apps have gone from a curiosity to an absolute must at association events. Especially for larger conferences, your attendees will expect the ability to learn about sessions, engage with other members, and check their schedule from their smartphone.
As a result, an effective event-based mobile app is absolute key. But that’s only the beginning. Once members register and especially once the event gets closer, encourage members to download the app by telling them about its benefits. You can even think about making it mandatory for session registrations.
4) Offer a Searchable Attendee Directory
Especially larger events and conferences are as much about networking as they are about professional development. One way to increase member engagement is to facilitate that networking ability as much as possible.
An easily searchable attendee directory is a core component of your online and mobile presence. Allow members to seek each other out, and they will become much more likely to take advantage of this feature. You can even think about opening up the attendee listing to members who haven’t registered yet, to encourage sign-ups from professionals who see their peers attending.
5) Host Networking Events After Hours
Speaking of networking: how much time are you spending on your attendees’ schedules after the official conference day is over? Hosting extracurricular events can build member goodwill while increasing their engagement in the process.
The nature of these events can differ widely. A wine and cheese reception is one option, as is a communal visit to a locally famous attraction. You can even split up your attendees in groups to visit different restaurants and get to know each other better.
6) Allow Your Members to Create Their Own Schedules
We live in an age of customization. Your members will intuitively drift toward events that allow them to build a schedule they perceive to be in their own, individual best interests. Through your mobile app and online presence, you can facilitate that process.
When you offer multiple presentation tracks, this is easy to do. But even if you don’t, the right functionality allows you to create a similar function. The goal is to help your attendees choose the sessions and events they want to attend, creating an easy overview they can follow throughout the conference.
7) Use Push Notifications for Reminders and Important Messages
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of push notifications in the course of your conference. In fact, they should be your primary means of communication with your audience. Your mobile app should include capabilities to send conference-wide as well as targeted notifications to your attendees.
A variety of messages are ideally suited for this communication channel. Use it to send session reminders, survey requests, and other calls for attendance. You can even link them directly into your app for more in-depth messages.
8) Connect Attendees and Exhibitors
Chances are your conference will have at least some sponsors and exhibitors to offset its cost and build revenue. These exhibitors also provide valuable services for your attendees. How can you make both happy?
The easiest way is to provide as many opportunities for both groups to connect as possible. Send resources to your sponsors on how to approach attendees and address their pain points. At the same time, build an interactive map of exhibitors into your conference portal or mobile app so that each member can easily find the resources they need.
9) Offer Intuitive Feedback Opportunities
One easy way to both improve future events and promote member engagement at your conference is through surveys. After each session, you can and should ask attendees about their thoughts on the value of the session and improvement suggestions. The same is also true for your conference as a whole.
But how can you make sure that attendees actually fill out these surveys? One option is to make it as intuitive as possible. Build it into your app, or send push notification reminders. The easier your members can find and fill them out, the more likely they will be to actually do so.
10) Build in Some Gamification
When looking for member engagement, why not take advantage of some game principles? These little incentives might just be all you need to get your attendees active and excited.
Gamification can come in a million ways. Encourage your members to tweet with a specific hashtag, and provide prices for the most creative messages. Promotional giveaways can also be possible for best question asked and other activities. More complex gamification opportunities include point systems based on various types of engagement, again resulting in small prizes.
How to Maximize Member Engagement at Your Conferences
All ten of the above best practices have two core components in common: strategy, and platform. Simply put, you need to have the technological capabilities to build a directory, send push notifications, and more. At the same time, that platform matters little if you don’t build a comprehensive strategy designed to encourage engagement and action.
With the right engagement strategy, you can maximize your conference success. Attendees will not only be more attentive, but also more likely to come back and tell their peers about future iterations. But it has to be just that – strategic. Put the platform in place, and build a strategy around it to watch your member engagement skyrocket.