There are a number of vital services an association can provide its members, including continuing education, certification, networking, and industry lobbying. Many of these offerings are facilitated through live events, either in-person or virtual. In fact, for many associations, their annual conference is one of their biggest revenue drivers and the most substantial endeavor they’ll take on. Conferences as a whole generate $14 billion annually and over 33 million Americans attend some kind of conference or convention every year.
Yet even though live events are such an essential feature for most associations, many aren’t taking full advantage of the tools available to market those events and improve their offerings. Instead of merely blindly sending out emails and social media posts encouraging people to attend, these associations should be leveraging their association management software before, during, and after the events to collect as much data as possible and take actions based on that data.
David Teske has adopted this approach in his role as director of finance and administration for the Association of College Unions International, which offers services to the staff and student volunteers of about 500 college and university unions. ACUI puts on one national and eight regional conferences every year, and as the person in charge of IT, Teske is focused on how to get more out of the association’s AMS — Microsoft Dynamics CRM — when planning them. Here are four practices he regularly employs:
Allow attendees to edit their registrations
For any conference or event your association hosts, it may offer any number of special activities your attendees can register for, whether it’s a pre-conference dinner or a special panel. Because these registrations are often made months in advance, your members might not know which events they’ll end up attending. “It’s critical that they can go in and edit their registrations,” said Teske. “People’s plans might change, forcing them to drop or add activities. And allowing them to register for specific events is really critical in terms of providing accurate information to us as we go forward, such as whether they have special disability or dietary needs.”
This also allows for follow-up targeted email marketing. For example, you can use segmented lists to target members who meet certain characteristics for specific events that are most likely to appeal to them. “As a second iteration of that, once people have registered, we also look at whether there are things they’d be interested in attending but haven’t signed up for,” explained Teske. “For instance, there might be a dinner that’s included for free but they didn’t sign up for it, so why didn’t they sign up? Did they even know it existed? We might send a follow-up email that says, ‘Hey, I wanted you to know you’re invited to this event at the conference, all you have to do is RSVP.’”
Use past attendance data to market future conferences
If a member attended a conference in the past, then there’s a good chance they might want to attend it in the future. “We try to really use the data from their past interactions to help target the future ones,” said Teske. “For anyone who went to the conference last year who isn’t registered for this one, we might send them a customized message that says, Hey, you were here last year, you’re not registered yet, here’s some information about it.’”
Give conference program managers real-time access to data
Any sufficiently large conference requires a small army of program managers and volunteers to manage it, and it’s important that each person working the conference has instant access to any attendee information. “We want them to have real-time access to that data,” said Teske. “And so we’ve created a web portal that gives them access to all the registration stuff. That way, if they want to work tasks like printing name tags or attendance lists then they can easily do so.”
Make use of AMS dashboards
One of the primary reasons an association adopts an AMS is for its reporting and intelligence capabilities, and it should certainly use this toolset not only as it’s promoting an upcoming conference, but also for a postmortem once the conference is over. “We look at not only who was at the event, but we also try to do analysis based on some of the other demographic information we have. We take a look at the types of people who attended so we can justify or alter our plans for future events in terms of who we target to.”
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