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Deirdre Reid

Deirdre is a freelance writer, blogger and copywriter. The association community remains her professional home after spending ten years at national and state associations overseeing membership, vendor programs, marketing, publications, chapter relations and more. Away from her laptop, you can find her hiking, doing yoga, cooking new recipes, volunteering at the history museum, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and glass of wine or craft beer.

Build a Year-Round Conference Community with Content

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices, Events

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Imagine transforming your annual conference into a year-round experience. Instead of only occupying a few days in your audience’s life, your conference compels their attention and participation throughout the year.

“A typical event marketing model or cycle means…you go dark again for six months [after the event] and there’s no interaction between your brand, your content, your speakers, your company and this key audience until the next time you start ramping up for your on-site event,” says Cisco Live’s global marketing manager Staci Clark. To keep their audience engaged, Cisco Live hosts monthly online events and provides access to on-demand sessions throughout the year. You can do even better.

Reap the benefits of a 365-day conference community.

By building a community around conference-related content, attendees, sponsors and exhibitors can deepen the relationships kindled during the few days on site. As conversations and learning continue, their conference ROI increases.

Instead of an onslaught of marketing emails hitting inboxes in the few months before the conference, content marketing occurs organically throughout the year. You can spend more time marketing to new prospects.

A year-round flow of content confirms your association’s status as the voice of the industry. You’ll expand reach and increase awareness outside your existing marketing lists. A 365-day conference community also counters the impact of competitive content. Your conference is no longer “out of sight, out of mind.”

You’ll reach different audiences – those who can’t afford or don’t have their employer’s permission to attend events, and those who haven’t developed the conference habit.

New revenue streams will flow. Think about the kind of value you can create for your audience year-round that makes the main event the next natural step in their buying process. With year-round content marketing, conference attendance is likely to grow. New virtual events throughout the year will generate registration and sponsorship revenue.

Develop a year-round content strategy.

Know where your audiences hang out online, for example, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other online platforms. But drive everyone back to a content hub that you own, not rent, like your website, a conference microsite or online community.

For those of you who read Avectra posts as soon as they’re published, you’re in luck. Pathable is hosting a free webinar today, Wednesday, April 23 at 12:00 p.m. EST: Creating Year-Round Community: Event Marketing Nirvana or Pipe Dream? The guest speaker is Ben Martin of Online Community Results who also provides tips for creating a year-round event community in a guest blog post for Pathable.

Spend time developing a content strategy that aligns with your association’s strategic plan. Consider the needs and interests of prospects, members and attendees as well as sponsors and exhibitors.

Invest in the resources needed (staff or contractors) to gather content during the conference, for example, posts and videos of session recaps and highlights, and interviews with speakers, attendees and exhibitors. Speakers have to be willing to share. If they won’t share slides, ask them to provide something else, for example, guest posts, videos, podcasts or interviews.

Post content on your site for everyone to see for free. This approach won’t cannibalize show attendance because people who go to conferences want the face-to-face experience.

Adopt or tweak these ideas for 365 conference content.

TED is a great example of a conference with a year-round impact. New videos from the main conference and TEDx events around the world appear daily on their blog. The blog also shares selections of videos around a theme or topic in the news.

Content Marketing World uses their blog and a Twitter hashtag (#CMWorld) to engage their audience throughout the year. Weekly Twitter chats with conference speakers and other thought-leaders make their hashtag a must-follow for content marketers.

What else can you do to engage your conference community year-round?

  • Publish blog posts, magazine and newsletter articles related to conference or emerging topics.
  • Organize book clubs.
  • Host webinars, webcasts, online courses, Google hangouts and virtual town halls.
  • Publish a curated selection of links to posts by others, especially speakers.
  • Interview speakers, exhibitors and sponsors about industry trends.
  • Use the conference mobile app to encourage attendee networking, notify users of relevant news and content, and provide an entry to the conference community.
  • Involve the community in planning next year’s conference. Give people the chance to vote on topics, venues and keynote speakers.
  • Ask regularly if any attendees have implemented or changed something because of the conference. Find out what worked or didn’t work. Interview them or help them write a guest post about their experience.

During your conference’s closing session, tell attendees the conversation will continue. Take advantage of their conference buzz and find out what they want to learn more about, what projects they’d like to work on together and who might want to step up to be a community leader.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a normally frugal freelance writer with an expensive conference habit.

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Use Data to Provide a Personalized Online Experience

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices, Strategy

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“When it is used well, data is a guaranteed disruptor.”

     ~Marius Moscovici, founder and CEO of Metric Insights, a business intelligence software company

Being a disruptor can pay off. Brands like Amazon, Netflix, Spotify and LinkedIn use data to provide a personalized experience to their users. In return, their users visit more often, stay on their sites longer and provide these companies the loyalty needed to make even more revenue.

Moscovici says every company is now a data company because of “the Spotify Effect.” The new standard of business success is based on how well a company uses “personalization, coupled with built-in social capabilities” to find and retain users.

data handshakeThis approach to the user experience “compels users to interact with the company’s software. A network effect takes place, and the company finds itself with tens of millions of (subscribing) users.” He puts “subscribing” in parentheses, but it’s key. It connotes a loyal, deeper relationship, not quite membership, but getting close.

Build and nurture your online community.

I wonder if CompTIA, an association profiled in a recent Associations Now article, is feeling the Spotify Effect. They’re redesigning their website after moving in March to an open-access membership model. “The new model will allow anyone, in or out of the IT industry, to register for access to the organization’s content, including educational resources, industry research and news, and a selection of business tools, at no-cost.” 

Steven Ostrowski, director of corporate communications at CompTIA, told Associations Now, “We’re hoping that once they get a taste of the free stuff and see that it’s good-quality material that can help them run their business better that they’ll find value in becoming dues-paying members of the organization.”

An open-access membership model, like CompTIA’s, helps an association increase their community of users – future purchasers, attendees and/or members – while collecting data about those users. That data can then be used to provide a personalized online experience for registered users (or subscribers) who get partial access and members who get full access.

People increasingly expect a personalized online experience. In a national survey last year, 74 percent of consumers expressed frustration with websites that don’t recognize them and adapt to their interests. Does your website recognize members and provide a personalized experience for them? What about other repeat visitors?

For members who don’t volunteer or go to events, your website is the association. Imagine if your website combined personalized content with a social community — it could become a regular fixture in your members’ lives.

Get down and dirty with your data.

How do you take your website from static membership brochure to dynamic membership experience? It helps to have an expert by your side, someone who can guide you through the strategy (digital/content) and technology (AMS, CMS) involved, but you can lay the groundwork on your own.

Think about your goals. What types of activities do you want to help different segments of your membership and audience do? What do you need to learn about them in order to help them do that? What type of data might help you provide that experience?

Do an informal data audit:

  • Identify the data you have, how you collect it, where it lives and whether you’re using it.
  • Identify obstacles to effectively using the data you have. Are there missing links between systems or shortcomings in any systems?
  • Review your existing data collection processes.  
  • Take a hard look at data-sharing within your organization. Is data stuck in silos? Does anyone share with others what they learn from data?

Many organizations don’t use the member data they do have, for example, data from website, social media and email analytics. Or, they collect data from members once – when they join. I know my online habits, interests and needs have changed from a few years ago, and your members are no different.

Give members (and website users) the ability to update their online profile. Every now and then, when they come onto your site, ask them, like LinkedIn does, to answer a few questions that will help fill in some empty data fields. Or, if that’s not possible, ask them to update their profile when they renew their membership or subscription.

Data and trust are intertwined. People want a knowing website, but if they feel you’ve gone too far, like pushing too many promotions and not enough content, their trust will erode. Focus on increasing the value of their visits, not upselling them. If they enjoy the appetizer, they’ll come back for a meal.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer with some pretty grand ideas about the future membership experience.

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Forget Flappy Bird. Get Members Addicted to Your Association

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices

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Otherwise reasonable people bombard us on Facebook with Candy Crush Saga requests. Your spouse plays Angry Birds in bed. The colleague who scorned Spider Solitaire has succumbed to the sweet Call of Duty.

Why do people get addicted to games, but can’t be bothered to read your newsletter or participate in your online community?

flappy birdHuman behavior is endlessly fascinating – and puzzling. If we figure out the attraction (and addiction) to games, we can apply those principles to the membership experience. Members join with the intention of fully taking advantage of their membership, but then life gets in the way. Maybe we can help.

In Fast Company, business strategist Daniel W. Rasmus identified a few reasons for Flappy Bird’s immediate success in addicting players.

Simplicity. The game was extremely understandable and accessible. He suggests examining processes, for example, new member onboarding, “through the lens of simplicity and strip out superfluous elements” so you can “expose the most important, and therefore most likely to engage, elements.” Members might be overwhelmed with the menu of association benefits, programs and services. If you truly know your members, you’ll know what would be most valuable to them – start them there.

Early wins. Change management experts recommend celebrating early wins when implementing a new process or system. If you want to introduce change to a new member’s life, provide “rapid gratification” for new habits or behavior related to membership. Rasmus says, “Products that make people wait for the payoff may lose customers due to lack of patience.” Think of the non-renewing associate members who complained about not getting any new business during their first year of membership. We know trust and relationships take time to develop, but what kind of early win can you give to them?

“Apple designs the box experience separate from the device user experience because opening the box is the first win that any product offers its owner.” Do you think about the design of your welcome experience? Or does your association do what’s expected? Why not unexpectedly delight that new member?

Serendipity. No one would have bet on Flappy Bird – an unexpected success from an unknown developer. Many people didn’t think Twitter would last either, but part of its success is based on the serendipitous pleasures it provides: random articles, news, people and conversations. Is there space in your association for the serendipitous encounter between people and/or ideas? Are members given the opportunity to hear or test new ideas, or do you offer them the expected industry topics and speakers?

Exploring beyond Rasmus’ article, I found a few other reasons for game addiction that could be applied to associations.

Reward. When we’re repeatedly rewarded for accomplishing a task, our brain builds the connection and craves more rewards and, therefore, the opportunity to win them. Regular volunteers keep coming back. Online community participants check in regularly. Find out why – the reward – and market that to others.

Call of duty. Gamers feel obligated to go online and play because others on their team are relying on them to take out the enemy. The community values and needs their contribution – collaboration is necessary for everyone to move forward toward victory. How can you replicate that?

Belonging. People want to belong. Merely joining an association doesn’t provide that sense of belonging. How can you help a member truly belong – to be known, trusted, appreciated and, yes, loved.

Social affirmation. Some avid gamers are introverts or people with poor social skills. Games give them social affirmation without the discomfort they normally feel in social situations. Many of your members might be more comfortable participating online than showing up in “real life.” How can you make sure the membership experience is just as meaningful to them?

Personalization. A study on sports video games found that users who use personalization options enjoy the game more and spend more time playing it than those who don’t. Can you give members the opportunity to create their own personalized learning experiences?

Escapism. Another study said escapism was the largest reported factor for addiction. Not relevant, you say? Think about it this way: how can you provide a professional sanctuary for members? Be a resource to help them cope with stress, work/life balance and other issues related to their work. Can you provide a forum where members can anonymously seek advice from other members? Also, keep this yearning for escapism in mind when planning conferences.

Gamers share their favorite games through word of mouth and social sharing. If you create a membership experience that is just as addictive as a game, your members will spread the word too.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who doesn’t admit to any game addictions.

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Old Paywalls and New Membership Models

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices, Money

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Associations aren’t the only ones trying to identify membership models that are still alluring and valuable enough to attract and retain their target audiences. Many media platforms are moving beyond the traditional paywall or metered model to a membership model.

paywallSlate is the latest media company to join the membership crowd. A few days ago the editor-in-chief of the digital magazine introduced their new membership program, Slate Plus. Members who pay $5 a month or $50 a year will receive:

  • “Special access to the site’s editors and writers” – details weren’t revealed, but “special access” to decision-makers and thought-leaders is always a good sell.
  • Members-only discussions with Slate’s advice columnist – the data must demonstrate her popularity if that’s part of the deal.
  • Invitations “to give advice on which politicians or entertainers they would like to see profiled” in Slate – very smart to give members the opportunity to weigh in on decisions.
  • Access to advertisement-free podcasts and additional audio segments, plus reserved, discounted seating for Slate events.

Slate’s editor-in-chief said, “We…think it’s important to give readers a stake in the journalism they value, which is why we’re asking them to pay for membership.”

Why did I take notice of this news and why should you? After all, it’s just another media platform going from free to fee. Huffington Post made a similar announcement recently. Nothing ground-breaking there. And that’s exactly why I took notice: it is no longer news when a free media platform starts charging its readers.

We’re getting used to paywalls. Either we’re figuring out ways to get around them by erasing cookies (no, not me!). Or, we’re sighing and clicking away when we find ourselves facing one. Or, if we really value the content, we pull out our credit card and sign up for a subscription or membership.

Associations have traditionally erected paywalls around “members-only” content. Some pundits have argued that paywalls are antiquated, but that’s a hard argument to support in the face of the rising number of them elsewhere on the web. However, I would bet much of the content lying behind association paywalls doesn’t need to be there. Unless it’s unique, valuable content – something that members can’t get elsewhere – why hide it?

The new reader revenue model

Another reason to keep your eye on the developments in digital media: watch how they deal with a changing revenue model. They’re now relying on reader revenue, not advertising, to keep them in business. Newsweek’s chief content officer said, “80 or 90 percent of the new Newsweek’s income will come from readers, with only 10 to 20 percent from advertising.” We’ll see if that works.

The recession did a whammy on many association revenue models too. For some, revenue from exhibitions, sponsorships, advertising, royalties or registrations dwindled and has not reappeared as before. Why not take a look at what publishers are doing to readjust their revenue mix? How are they continuing to serve their readers and stay viable?

Digital media companies are investing in star journalists in the hopes of bringing their readers along with them. For example, Nate Silver left The New York Times to head up ESPN’s new FiveThirtyEight site and Ezra Klein left The Washington Post to join Vox Media. Who are the “stars” in your industry or profession? Do you feature their articles, posts, reading selections, interviews, videos, opinions or work on your website? Why not?

Media companies are becoming digital publishing platforms. They host traditional news, videos, photo galleries, chats and events. Even brands are getting in on the publishing business because of the effectiveness of content marketing. What about associations? You’ve always been publishers, but are you the first place that members and prospects turn each day for industry, business and career news and information? If not, why not? Why can’t you be that place? Shouldn’t you be that place?

The new online reader membership model

Don’t give all your content away, no no no. Give most of it away – after all, that’s good for marketing and SEO. Offer an online membership or subscription for those who aren’t interested in a traditional membership. Give subscribers access to online content and parts of your online community – let them have a taste of the membership experience.

You could also offer the subscriber rate for some of your webinars and other online events – a rate in between the full member and non-member rates. But reserve the full membership experience – leadership, volunteering, voting, decision-making, community access and exclusive events – to those who pay the full membership rate.

Associations are very different animals than newspapers or magazines, but they’ve found themselves in similar situations – new online entities making inroads on their traditional realms of influence and an old audience that’s dwindling while a new prospective audience is developing different habits and lifestyles that don’t yet include you. Maybe it’s worth keeping an eye on how traditional and new media companies are attracting and retaining their audiences.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who is >this< close to getting a digital Wall St. Journal or New York Times subscription and giving up my cookie deletion habit. Maybe.

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