Jul 8, 2020
Read Time: 7 min
Written by Carl Diesing, Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia
Is your association struggling to make the most of its member events? Learn how to create a digital strategy when planning your next association event.
Planning and hosting a large association event, whether a conference or a trade show, requires extensive coordination and resources from your association’s leadership. It’s a massive, often months-long endeavor.
This has become even more complicated in light of current events. With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the nation, associations are faced with an unprecedented problem— for the near future, all in-person events are canceled.
Associations now have a unique challenge. One of the biggest perks of association membership is events, which provide valuable networking and learning opportunities. However, these events (as planned) can no longer go on.
That’s where a digital strategy comes in. Put simply, this means putting your association’s goals (in this case, successfully hosting an event) into effect using digital tools. In the current event landscape, a strong digital strategy is more important than ever before.
At DNL OmniMedia, we specialize in helping nonprofit organizations craft their digital strategies— a process similar to how association events should craft their digital efforts. We’ve collected 6 tips to help your association create a digital strategy for your next event:
Let’s get started.
It’s imperative to outline the goals for your strategy before anything else, as these goals form the foundation for the rest of your strategy to grow from. Because so many associations are turning to digital-first events for the first time, clear comprehension of these goals is crucial to maintain the objectives when incorporating new strategies.
It’s okay to begin with a more general idea, such as:
After that, however, you want to nail down the specifics. You’ll want to identify measurable, actionable goals relating to the gaps in your current approach.
Begin by examining key metrics in your database related to your goal. If your goal is increasing webinar signups, for instance, you’ll want to examine the data from events past with a critical eye toward what worked, and what presented a conflict. Did you fail to market your event effectively and therefore had lower registration than you’d hoped?
Your goals should target these specific areas of success and struggle. For example, contacting X members by X date, with X response rate, etc.
Before turning fully to digital event management methods, understand your association’s current and potential digital audience.
The internet was already a cluttered landscape, and with so many organizations moving to digital means for the near future, you’re competing against more sites than ever before. Targeting your members as specifically as possible is one best practice to catch their attention.
Use your website, your social networks, and past data on digital interactions with your association stored in your Association Management System (AMS), to understand how receptive your audience is to digital advancements. This will let you know which digital tools to bring into your strategy (or not) and even how to go about doing so.
As you’ll see through this guide, there are a variety of ways you can take event operations digital. However, if you don’t have a solid grasp on each platform you plan to utilize and how it plays into your overall strategy, then you’ll waste valuable time and resources on dead ends.
Examine past efforts to take your event’s operations digital. You may find:
While a new tech strategy is likely to add massive efficiency to your event planning, incorporating these tools into your efforts can still be resource-intensive. Ensure you’re putting your resources behind the right tools and platforms by focusing on methods your audience is interested in.
Pivoting to digital events, especially if done on short notice, comes with unique challenges. Whether or not your association has hosted digital events before, it’s important to understand that there may be certain limitations that your association has to work within when planning.
There are three common constraints that can affect your digital event planning strategy:
While you may be excited to pursue an ambitious digital strategy, there are outside forces that can affect the effort. Understanding them now will prevent costly missteps down the line, especially if you need to implement new strategies on relatively short notice.
It goes without saying that your digital strategy depends on your software. There are quite a few different software solutions for associations— just check out this Web Courseworks guide— and it’s up to you to figure out how to make the most of them to improve your next digital event or engagement initiative.
This is two-fold. There are certain technologies that you’re probably already using, that it might be time for you to reevaluate and decide whether they’re still meeting your organization’s needs. On the other hand, there are other tools that you’ve probably never invested in before, that it might be time for you to consider incorporating as your strategy evolves.
With that in mind, consider the following tech tools.
Beyond choosing which tools to use, you’ll also want to make sure your software solutions are able to communicate with one another. The goal is to have one main database (like your AMS) collecting information from each solution, as well as connections between key tools (for example, your website and social networks).
As far as what’s currently trending in association event marketing, multi-channel strategies take the prize, and with good reason. Modern association members are no longer limited to one communication method and are collecting news and information through a variety of outlets, whether social media, newsletters, or even physical mailings.
As far as creating a digital strategy to promote your next online events and opportunities, communications need to be handled in a similar multi-platform manner.
This doesn’t mean attempting to use each and every platform at your disposal, however. When creating your digital strategy, choose which platforms would most appeal to your association audience such as:
Whether using social media (a key way to increase event attendance according to this blog post) or directing more traditional members toward your website, there are a variety of ways to incorporate technology in your communications plan.
The key here— where this all factors into your digital strategy— is that you need a comprehensive plan for how you plan to approach and balance each of these platforms. You don’t want to overwhelm members with an out-of-balance communications strategy.
Once you’ve invested so much time, energy, and resources into developing a digital strategy for your next online opportunities, it’s important to understand the success of those efforts. To continue improving going forward, you need to break down what worked and what didn’t.
From the start of your planning process, create strong data management protocols to track quantitative information associated with the effort. This data should be stored in your AMS in a uniform manner so you can evaluate it later.
From there, decide which specific conversion metrics you’d like to equate with success.
From there, break down that conversion metric. Consider each step needed in the process to convert a member. So, webinar sign-ups can be more closely examined by:
This method can be applied to any goal your association was trying to hit through this digital strategy. With it, you can discover which aspects of your digital strategy directly contributed to your event’s success.
With the COVID-19 crisis making in-person events impossible, associations have to quickly pivot to digital methods. To continue providing events to members, and doing so in a safe manner, going digital is a must.
The above strategies will help your association quickly switch to digital-based events as needed. Your members and other key stakeholders will appreciate the effort!
Carl Diesing co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with on-going web development projects. Together DNL OmniMedia has worked with over 100 organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their two children Charlie and Evelyn.