Your events can be the highlight of your member community experience! Especially for communities spread out over a wide geographic area, a monthly or yearly gathering is an exciting event to look forward to.
To keep members excited about attending, your events need to be better every year than they were the last. On one level, that means bringing back the most popular sessions, speakers, and sponsors your attendees loved.
But the member experience is more than just speakers and merchandise. You also need sustainable, behind-the-scenes management processes and tools to help you pull off a seamless event every time.
When you’re looking at your next event, plan on including these five expert strategies to ensure your event is smoother and more successful than your last:
- Choose the right event software
- Integrate membership benefits
- Support online community spaces
- Segment and tailor communications
- Plan for sustainability with analytics
Ready to take your events to the next level? Read on!
1. Choose the Right Event Software
Finding the perfect software for your association is never an easy task, but it’s the most important step in a streamlined event management process.
Using the right software ensures all the information about your event is centralized and exactly where it needs to be for both your event team and your attendees. When everyone is on the same page through every step in the planning and execution stages, your team will have fewer questions to answer from confused attendees.
The exact features you’ll need to look for will depend on your association and the type of event you’re hosting. Trade associations with thousands of members across the United States will have different needs than the local chapter of your university’s alumni association.
That said, there are some features and considerations every association that hosts community events should keep in mind.
On the administrative side, look for:
- Hosting: To ensure your attendee list and event details — and your software — are always up to date, opt for a cloud solution instead of a locally hosted one. You’ll get more storage and lower upfront costs without missing out on functionality or security.
- Branding: You need your attendees to immediately connect your association with the event microsite, registration form, or ticket they’re looking at. Levels of customization will vary depending on your organization’s budget
- Integration: After a membership event, you’ll have a mine of valuable data at your fingertips. Make sure the software you choose can produce intuitive reports or can quickly and accurately export your data to a trusted third-party reporting system.
On the attendee side, consider:
- Registration: To encourage attendance, make registration easy for your members. Opt for software that offers custom registration forms, complete with branding and mobile responsiveness.
- Online store sales: Attendees are proud of their membership in your association, and what better way to show it than with some great swag? Take advantage of the free advertising opportunity by offering branded merchandise through your software’s online store option or provide an in-person ‘swag’ shop at your event.
- Social media integration: Why stop the free advertising at physical merchandise? Encourage attendees to spread the news of your event to their social networks with social media integration and public RSVP pages.
Another element of association event software that you can’t miss out on is membership program integration. It’s so important we gave it its own section in this blog post.
2. Integrate Membership Benefits
The reason is simple: When you make it easy to redeem valuable membership benefits at your event, you encourage members to attend and nonmembers to register for membership.
Some of the most common membership benefits to offer in conjunction with events are:
- Early registration
- Discounted registration
- Invitations to special events
- Free merchandise
- Hotel or transportation vouchers
- Premium meal options
These benefits are commonly offered for events where both members and nonmembers can attend. But even if you don’t have members and nonmembers alike in attendance, you can use membership benefit integration to your advantage.
Associations with members-only events can offer earlier registration times, larger discounts, and higher-value merchandise to attendees at higher membership tiers or who have been members for a longer time than others.
3. Support Online Community Spaces
One of the best ways to increase attendance is by promoting and supporting events in your online community spaces. Online spaces connect people from across a wide geographic region, giving them a sense of community even when they can’t easily meet up with other members in person.
If your association provides a supportive community that your members enjoy online, they’re more likely to turn up for your in-person events! You can even set up private communities open only to members who have registered for your event.
Online spaces can encourage a strong feeling of community through:
- Inclusivity: Being invited to or accepted into a special member group makes your members feel included.
- Public directories: When members can see which groups other members belong to, they want to join, too!
- Messaging: Online communities connect members with new colleagues and friends they wouldn’t have met otherwise.
- Events: Enable local chapters to hold their own meetups to continue conversations they start online or at national events.
- Committees: Events committees, volunteer groups, even your board, can organize their plans in online groups.
- Promotions: Add a banner CTA to your community homepage to promote your events and its keynote sessions.
All these features contribute to your members’ feeling of belonging. The happier they are when engaging with your association and other members online, the more engaged they will be in the long term. They become more invested in your cause.
Your association can set up the infrastructure – let your members do the rest.
4. Segment and Tailor Communications
Members can’t show up to events if they don’t know one is happening! Further, they won’t have the best experience possible if they don’t arrive with realistic expectations.
When it comes time to market your next event, don’t stop at simply spreading the word. Make personalized marketing a priority.
Take a closer look at your membership database. How can you tailor communications to different member segments at different stages of the registration process?
Here are a few ideas, considering members who have attended events in the past and those who have not, as well as members who have already registered as separate segments:
- Before: Invitations for members who have attended past events should look different than invitations sent to new members. As an incentive, offer returning members a discount to your next event if they present their ticket to a previous event. New members’ invitations could emphasize new member meetups or other first-time perks.
- During: All members who have registered will need updates about the venue, such as parking logistics or local meal discounts. For members who do not register and attend your conference, take advantage of FOMO (fear of missing out) to encourage them to register next time. Send pictures of attendees enjoying themselves and bulletins of any big news that was revealed.
- After: Thank members for attending, but don’t just thank them. Send feedback surveys, links to photo albums, and any other materials they might want to access. Keep the FOMO going by sending ‘sorry we missed you’ roundups of the event to non-attendees, stressing the great networking opportunities they can take advantage of if they register next time!
Depending on the size of your membership database and the percentage of members who attend your events, you might want to target other segments as well.
For instance, you could send messages about volunteer committee signups to your regular attendees, or you could encourage more attendance in high-turnover segments with greater registration discounts.
However you divide your members into segments, always follow best practices of member communication: address all letters and emails with the recipient's first name, don’t flood their inbox with excessive messages, and sign communications with the name of a real person (preferably a high-ranking member) on your team.
5. Use Analytics to Plan Effectively
Making your events better each time doesn’t happen without data. You need to be sure major changes are for the better before investing time and money in them.
We mentioned feedback surveys in the previous section. These post-event surveys are a great method for gathering qualitative data about how much members enjoyed your event and what they would like you to improve for next time.
Ask questions like:
- What were your favorite sessions/speakers/activities?
- What sessions/speakers/activities should we include next year?
- Was the venue well-maintained and easy to access?
Consider offering a discount on your next event’s registration, a coupon code for your online store, or some other incentive to encourage attendees to provide feedback. Your association will need a significant number of responses to make informed decisions for next time.
Planning requires some quantitative data, too, which doesn’t require any action from your attendees. Instead, you can pull the following from the event module of your AMS or event software:
- Registration statistics for the event as well as any additional meetings
- Demographic information about attendees, including home location and age
- Attendee relationships with your association (e.g., prior event attendance, membership tier)
- Membership benefits redeemed, especially for events open to non-members
This quantitative data will help your planning team decide which speakers and sessions were the most popular and need to be included again next year.
Your marketing team will also appreciate this data when they put together next year’s communication strategy. They’ll be able to segment your membership database most effectively and emphasize the most popular aspects of the event in their messages.
Improving Your Events Improves Your Association
Your members won’t attend events if they don’t increase in perceived value every year. Follow these strategies to deliver what your members are looking for every time! If you continue to improve year-over-year, you’ll see increases in attendance, membership, and event revenue to boost your association and its impact.