Thursday, 26 June 2014

Best Practices to Maximize Conference Value

In this industry, we attend many conferences; our own, those for our association memberships, and those relevant to our area of work.  Here are 10 tips to maximize your attendance at a conference, and make it the best one yet:

  1. Do your research before the conference: Even before you register, you should put in some time to maximize the value you should (and, need) to receive.  Why are you attending it?  What do you want to accomplish?  Attendees should set goals (in writing if you can, it is easier to be accountable this way); so that you can track your experience, and make sure the time away from the office is effectively used.
  2. What can you do?  When planning on attending a conference, or selecting the sessions you want to learn from, determine what contribution you can add to it, not just what you want to get from it.  Determine what questions you might have based on the topic and description.  Ask your industry peers what they are attending, and what they want out of it.
  3. Put down your phone!  We are not suggesting that you cannot use your mobile device during sessions to tweet, connect, and share, but we all know that the real value of a conference is the human interaction.  It is easier to connect with people when you are not on your phone during breaks and lunch.  Meet new people, have conversations, share experiences.
  4. Manage Expectations:  Everyone has attended a session or two where the topic, or the speaker did not meet your expectations.  If you find you are in one of those sessions, you may start thinking negatively and not want to listen to the speaker anymore.  I recommend re-framing your intention – even if the session was not what you expected, you may still be able to draw key pieces of information that you did not expect to get.
  5. Go All In…: Attend everything you can, and avoid staying in your room, answering emails or taking calls.  Engagement is key to maximizing your conference experience, and you cannot do that alone.
  6. …But Stay Healthy:  If you are not a huge fan of large crowds, or are an introvert by nature, pace yourself, and set aside some downtime.  Take this time to plan the rest of your social and educational activities, and review your goals.  When out and about, dress comfortably, but appropriate – being yourself will be less exhausting all around.
  7. Make a lasting impression:  Be the best you can at connecting people, meeting new people, and collecting cards/contact info.  ALWAYS use a person’s name, and be interesting and have engaging conversations.  
  8. Leverage Your Attendance with Content:  How can you blog, write an article, or document what you have learned?  Who will you share it with?  Your members, your colleagues – both?  Depending on the conference you are attending, you may be the only one representing your organization.  Ensure that you take back everything you can, and outline it appropriately, so that all can benefit from your time out of the office.
  9. Follow-Up…:  Whether you have re-connected with a long-time industry peer, or met someone new, follow-up should be mandatory.  It can be a quick note to thank them for their time, or show a supplier/sponsor/exhibitor some appreciation for the demonstration/conversation/social function.  Personal follow-ups go a long way.
  10. …And Be Useful:  When sending your follow-up, especially if you have permission to by email, include a reference if you can to the conversation you may have had, and provide them with something useful (for example, a link to an article they may find interesting, or that information on your company that you promised).  Determine next steps in the relationship, and stay committed to following up.

What else could you be doing to maximize YOUR conference experience?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Membership in the age of Google: What are you serving up?

Do you have an information desk open at all hours?  Is your website an open book for your members and the general public?  Or do you keep reports, whitepapers, podcasts and other benefits of your membership hidden behind walls on your website – only available to your dues-paying customers?

Google is available 24/7 to answer questions from your potential new members or clients.  Before you even sit down at your desk with your first cup of coffee, there may have been several potential clients sizing up your business or association without you ever knowing about it.  So how are you capturing the attention of these potential members?  And how are you retaining members who know that they can probably access all you offer through some other on-line source in this age of Google?

This was the topic earlier this Spring for the Marketing & Communications Group in CSAE Ottawa-Gatineau.  While they didn’t come up with all the answers, they did have a fulsome discussion on the tactics you could use to encourage non-members to become members and those you could use to reinforce membership with existing members.

Information on websites can answer immediate questions.  Whitepapers can solve immediate research needs.  But are you giving all your value away without capturing something from these transactions?

When we focus on what matters to our members, perhaps it’s a bit like that old sitcom Cheers where at some point during the opening minutes of the show, Mr. Peterson walks into the bar and all the regulars should out “Norm!”  Are you ready to capture information that will give online visitors that “Norm” feeling about your organization?  Do your existing members that have that “Norm” feeling about your organization?

During the session, they looked at how you can begin to create engagement with current and future clients. Here are a few of the possibilities discussed:

  • If you sell things through your website – books, promotional items, events or other – are you capturing any data through these transactions that could help you build a relationship with the buyers?
  • With your existing members and clients, have you ever done any data mining to build more complete profiles of them?  What specific interests do they have? Do they belong to other organizations? When is their birthday?  Some of these questions might seem frivolous but it helps you develop a more complete profile.  They become human to you and you to them.
  • Build sub-groups.  This type of niche knowledge could lead to news-sharing, events and meet-ups in communities which reinforce the value of your organization.
  • If a non-member attends an event, is it purely financial or have you made a connection with them during attendance? (This could include a special welcome at the event; a buddy system; a personalized survey afterwards, etc).

Many of these ideas are certainly possible with technology.  But you, the organization, need to have a plan for data collection and usage.  How will capturing information help you transform your clients’ transaction into an experience that they will want to repeat?

Many member-based organizations used to be able to provide one-size-fits-all programs to their members. That game has been upped.  If you buy books online, you’ll know that you will receive future promotional emails based on your previous purchases.  Can you say that you know your members this well?

Sure Google is open for business 24/7 and commercial websites can create “personalized” experiences. Technology has provided the tools for data mining and resultant niche marketing.  Anything that you can do to add “warm and fuzzies” to your stakeholder transactions, will put you a step above Google, Wikipedia or any other online experience.  It’s important to remember that transactions do not equal engagement; human relationships do.  After all, Norm didn’t just want a beer at Cheers, he wanted the camaraderie; it could have been any bar.

This article was originally featured in the April-May issue of CSAE Ottawa-Gatineau Executive, and was written by Jennifer Hagen, CAE, Director, Chamber Development & Services with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Beyond Social Media 101: Meeting Member Needs & Facilitating Communications

In the Spring, members of the CSAE Marketing & Communications Group met and held a roundtable to discuss how to use social media tools in a more focused way to support organizational communications objectives and meet specific, defined member needs.  Here are the highlights of the discussion:

  • Everyone noted that finding out what member’s needs and wants from their association is not an easy task.  It’s difficult to know if we are reaching the opinion leaders among our members, particularly for those with institutional membership rather than individual.
  • It was suggested that, despite the prevalence of electronic communications, old-fashioned paper and phone surveys might still be necessary in addition to email and social media, in order to obtain an accurate representation of member wants and needs.
  • Draws and contests remain a good way to evoke a response from otherwise un-engaged members.
  • In the absence of good data about member needs, most association communicators are simply trying to build audiences on the “big three” social networking platforms: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, on the assumption that if we want members to talk to us, we need to provide multiple opportunities and meet people where they are.
  • At minimum, associations should maintain a “placeholder” presence on these three platforms, lest their name and identity be used by someone else.  For example, one association has been unable to register a LinkedIn group under their name as it is already in use by a similarly-named group overseas.
  • Once established, these networks can be used to seek input from members regarding what they want and need from their association.  This is particularly important for associations with non-mandatory membership.
  • Although these sites are free to use, the cost of staff time must be taken into account, and communications staff do need to monitor traffic and remain regularly responsive to members who communicate with them via these platforms.

The goal for everyone, it seems, is to move from pushing information to asking members what they need and then seeking solutions to fulfill those needs.  Social networking could provide the answers in some cases, but perhaps other needs can be fulfilled by more traditional means.  We won’t know until we ask.

This post was originally featured in the April-May issue of the CSAE Ottawa-Gatineau Executive, and was written by Alison Larabie Chase, Communications and Membership Coordinator, with the Canadian Association of University Business Officers.