Month: March 2020

How Associations Can Use Technology to Add Value for Their Members

While there may not be a lot of events happening right now, there is no better time to plan. As you think through your event plan so that you are ready as soon as things happen again, knowing how technology should be implemented is imperative.

Leveraging technology can assist associations in attracting and retaining members. In today’s current environment, it is essential. As the makeup of membership and even human interactions change, associations face several challenges. One way they can meet the challenge is to strategically leverage impactful technology to create experiential events.

Technology Can Create Challenges for Associations …

1. As the workplace requires employees to do more, and employees want more of a work-life balance, people are pulled in many different directions. Whatever outside associations they choose to give their time to must provide significant added value.

2. Social media channels make it easier for people to network without needing the framework of an association.

3. At the same time, the types of content, insights, and training that used to be available only through association memberships and conferences are now available online, often for free.

4. Younger members of the business world grew up with technology, using it for everything from educational learning, communication, social networking, shopping, and recreation. These digital generations have shorter attention spans than prior generations because they filter through information faster. Associations can struggle to capture – and keep – the attention of up-and-coming members.

… But Technology Also Creates Solutions

To reach modern audiences, the experiences an association offers need to transform from one-time events into something that creates enduring connections. By integrating technology into convenings, associations can:

  • Generate excitement before the event starts.

  • Continuously engage people during the event.

  • Build year-round connections and a way to continue to work together after the event has ended.

Generate pre-event excitement.

  • Post photos of the meeting or event location on Pinterest or Instagram. This works especially well if the venue is something unique or special, like a historic building, refurbished warehouse, museum, or art gallery. Tweet or text links to association members months before the event. This allows them to “explore” the venue before they arrive and already feel a connection to it.

  • Use a dedicated event app to send information about speakers, early-bird specials, and unique attractions to members, speakers, and sponsors. As the event approaches, information can be updated in real-time to give everyone a definitive and reliable place for up-to-the-minute information.

  • Host a pre-event Twitter chat or webinar featuring short interviews with keynote speakers. This gives attendees an insight into the great content they’ll be receiving by participating in the event.

Let your registration process do double duty.

  • A facial recognition application can be downloaded by event attendees, which “recognizes them” upon entry to the event. The app automatically generates a printed name tag and sends a schedule and map to attendees’ phones, shortening check-in lines and giving them more time to interact with other guests. This also allows attendee info to be uploaded to association databases immediately, so you have a real-time list of who’s on-site.

  • Chatbot apps can answer attendees’ logistics questions, like “What time is the keynote,” “Where are the restrooms,” or “What time is the next hotel shuttle?” The ability to have questions immediately answered gives members further confidence in the association and its ability to meet their needs. This also gives the association a record of what the most frequently asked questions and needs were, which will help in planning the next event.

Continuously engage attendees throughout the event.

  • Use 3D projection mapping to create a unique backdrop as members enter the event. Projection mapping technologies make it possible to create “moving” ceilings, borderless spaces, and objects that transform beyond physical limitations. The backdrop can be related to the theme of the association or be completely different.

  • “Meetup” topics and locations can be tweeted and texted throughout the event, inviting those participants interested in a specific topic to a small group setting to network and share ideas. This is a great way to start to build communities that can be nurtured after the immediate event ends.

  • Incorporate augmented reality and virtual reality experiences to engage participants, share more details about sponsors, attractions, and capture attention that can wane later in the day. For example, attendees might be virtually transported to another part of the world or have the ability to customize a new product.

Keep the excitement going after the event.

  • Post videos on YouTube or Vimeo of specific highlights and spot interviews with attendees and speakers. These can be embedded on your website, in e-newsletters, and shared on social media.

  • Invite event attendees to your association’s LinkedIn and Facebook groups to do a debrief about the event and network, interact, share, and engage with peers and subject matter experts.

  • Launch a membership community app. Great conversations start at your events, and people often want to keep those connections going. Allowing your members to continue to talk in a branded value-adding space is a great added value.

Leveraging technology increases engagement and ROI.

Studies show that using event technology can increase attendance by 20% and increase productivity by 27%. From improved website communications to email marketing and everything in between, incorporating digital technologies and digital communications is essential to maintaining membership and growing it.

Incorporating technology into events not only helps extend the experience of the association, but it also helps:

  • To augment meetings if circumstances prevent in-person interactions.

  • To allow people who can’t attend the event to participate.

  • To ensure a better event experience with seamless registration, updatable event schedules, and access to event materials without the expense of printed materials.

Creating engaging events that integrate strategy, engaging content, logistics, and technology to meet association member needs is going to remain an essential value for any organization. While it is not always easy to know what is right, it is important to have a solid plan. Wellington specializes in helping associations grow and strengthen connections with members through unique, “can’t miss” events that also provide lasting value. Learn more about what we can do for your association.

Gifting Peace of Mind

In difficult times it’s even more important to create and nurture relationships with employees, members, and other audiences. People are looking for comfort and hope, and gifting is a good way to say, “I’m thinking about you.” Whether given out at an event or sent to someone’s home or office, companies can still engage with their audiences through thoughtful gifting:

Help Them Take Their Mind Off Right Now.

Gifts can serve as the positive equivalent of shaking a can of pennies. Twenty-four hour news cycles and uncertainty can cause people to fall into a routine of worry, and the surprise and delight of a gift breaks that cycle. Boxes from Amazon and other delivery services have become common sights, so for extra joy, send your gift in a special, fully-branded box that doesn’t look like a “normal” delivery.

Help Them Feel More Connected.

Going from in-person interaction to primarily virtual interaction overnight can make people feel anxious, scared, and lonely. Creative ways of digitally connecting people can make a big difference. Low-stakes photo contests, online scavenger hunts, or instructions for sharing ____-On-The-Shelf (using objects readily available at home) are all ways to help your employees, members, or audiences feel less alone.

Focus Them on the Future.

If you’ve had to postpone an event or meeting, give your guests a taste of what they can look forward to when the event does happen. As an example, a client had to postpone their golf outing, so the custom golf balls we had created for the event were repurposed as gifts sent to guests’ homes in a custom box with a note that read, “Keep practicing until we do this again!” For another client whose postponed meeting was to be held in Indiana, we created a customized “Taste of Indiana” basket to send to each guest. This sneak peek of what’s to come can remind people that the current situation is temporary and wonderful things are still to come.

Keep Them Motivated.

If your employees or members depend on face-to-face interactions and a convivial environment for motivation, social distancing and working from home can take an emotional toll as well as a financial one. Send them a small reminder not only of your appreciation, but of your belief in them. “I know you can do this” is a message that no one ever gets tired of hearing.

Build Company Spirit.

Most people’s work-from-home spaces aren’t going to have the same company presence that their offices do. Help your employees feel like they’re a part of something bigger with gifts that boost company spirit. Notepads and journals, phone cases, laptop sleeves, apparel, and even whimsical items like snowglobes can remind people that they work for a company that cares about them.

Make It Personal.

Our business is rooted in creating personal connections, so this is a message we deliver frequently. Especially now, though, when in-person interactions are restricted, the gift you send can – and should – feel highly personal. We recommend including a note, handwritten if possible, simply stating the intention of the gift (“We’re thinking about you,” “We wanted to bring a little joy to your day”).

Create Alternatives.

With opportunities for in-person meetings not as plentiful right now, gifts can help bridge the gap. Used to meeting with business prospects over coffee? Consider sending them a coffee mug with a bag of your favorite coffee blend and a handwritten note inviting them to “virtual” coffee over video.

Ultimately, gifting can be a small way to have a big impact on relationships now and in the future.

5 Ways to Build Community Amid a Crisis (And Why It Matters)

We live in challenging times. But in any challenge also exists an opportunity.

Today, it’s the fear and uncertainty sparked by the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak.

Tomorrow, your organization — or entire swaths of the population — could face another challenge.

That’s just one reason why building and cultivating a community is more important than ever.

Consider these words from Helen Keller: “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” The ability to build and grow in challenging times, just as you would in the best of times, is made easier and more meaningful within a community of shared intentions.

Communities provide support, connection and relief. They allow the most powerful unit, the small group, to accomplish things together and then scale within the larger group. Within a community, people feel just as comfortable celebrating as they do commiserating. Communities help people feel like they belong, that they have a voice, that their actions matter. Those feelings are powerful on an average day. Amid challenging circumstances, they can be the glue that holds fast, keeping your brand and audience together and working toward a common goal.

Your goal? Work on strategically building your community. Right now, this might even be more important if you had to or are considering canceling or postponing key annual meetings or gatherings.

Whether you’re a community building novice or expert, you can take steps in the coming days and weeks to strengthen the connections among your employees, members, audience and/or stakeholders. Start with these five tips.

1. Define your community — Before you can start conversations and help facilitate connections, you need to know your audience. Consider answering these questions:

  • Who does your community include?

  • Why are they an important part of your community?

  • What are some of their challenges?

  • What methods of communication do they prefer?

You could even take this visualization exercise a step further and sketch out personas of your key community members. This helps you understand them, their motivations, their role with respect to your organization, how to best reach them and what applicable questions or challenges you can help them solve.

2. Identify your community’s goals — Now that you have a clear picture of the people that comprise your community, use that insight to help collaboratively develop some strategic goals for your community. These goals should be driven and informed by the community members themselves.

  • Who can you tap from the community to be their voice in this conversation?

  • What information do they need or what do they want to accomplish?

  • Why?

  • And how can you help?

As you create these goals alongside the community, it helps to also reference strategic goals your organization or business may be working toward. Giving your community a chance to form goals that help accomplish these goals not only makes your work easier, but also gives community members a chance to feel truly invested in what you’re doing. The feelings of ownership and pride that come from being a stakeholder will not only help members of your community feel appreciated and recognized, but also that they have a seat at the decision-making table right next to you.

3. Start the conversation — By understanding your audience and what you hope to achieve together, you can start to create ways to converse, share and engage.

This is especially important in times of global uncertainty, such as what we’re facing now. Social distancing is keeping many people away from offices, gatherings, meetings and events. Seize the opportunity to let your community know you’re still invested in bringing them together, even if that unity is happening largely through digital methods. Consider tools like email newsletters, video chats, blog posts, social media channels and a branded mobile app to keep your community informed, engaged and invested.

Of course, you don’t need to deploy several types of communication at once! Take the following steps to start the conversation:

  • Revisit your community profiles and understand how they prefer to converse and be contacted.

  • As you experiment with these methods, understand that community building is a continual work in progress.

  • Refine your methods and tactics as you progress and learn even more about your audience.

  • Be receptive to feedback, and make it easy for community members to provide that input.

  • Better yet, ask your community members to be the ones to lead these conversations and reach-outs, giving them the stage to talk about the things that matter most to them.

4. Approach your calendar with flexibility — Convening is leadership. This means that events are typically a significant part of community building. Conferences, meetings and work sessions give community members a chance to learn, share, build relationships and solve problems face-to-face, strengthening not only individual connections, but also the entire community.

Yet when you’re forced to cancel, postpone or rethink an event, that can throw your community-building strategy into a tailspin. Take some deep breaths and a few steps back and reassess how you can still bring your community together in a different way.

Look at what you have scheduled and what you need to modify.

  • What did you want to accomplish during that event?

  • How can you still work toward those goals in a different format?

Can you:

  • Bring together smaller groups in virtual workshops?

  • Keep your community updated with recurring conference calls?

  • Foster virtual discussions or working sessions in places like a mobile app or a dedicated LinkedIn group?

Think of it this way: by keeping your community connected and engaged amid difficult circumstances, you’ll help strengthen those bonds and provide some much-needed stability and reassurance to those who need it. And you’ll also position your community to hit the ground running when challenges ease.

5. Keep the momentum going — Consistency is key to successful community building. Think of it this way: you can’t simply start a conversation and then walk away. Instead, outline the steps you’ll take to keep community-building a continual priority. Build a calendar for your communications, for example, so you can track the what, when and how of your outreach. This can also help you identify what sort of messaging, content and assets you need to keep your community informed and connected.

If community-focused gatherings and events aren’t already part of your strategy, start to think about ways you can bring your community together, even if those gatherings look a little different right now than they normally would. And again, don’t forget to encourage feedback and leadership from your community directly to more effectively measure your efforts and what you can change or refine to make them even more successful.

Do you remember the old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day?” Well, the same applies to your community. You aren’t going to build a community in a day, especially in the midst of challenging circumstances. Instead, focus on the small steps you can take now to bring your community together. Those small steps often lead to bigger actions, and that’s what community building is all about.

What we know is this: organizations that focus on strength in community in times of triumph are the ones that thrive in times of crisis. In addition to these helpful tips, are you ready to talk about your community as a whole and how we can best continue to strengthen it? Wellington can help you get there.

What to Do If You Have to Postpone Your Event

Across the country, many events are being postponed or rescheduled because of public health concerns over coronavirus. If you are one that has had to make that difficult decision, there are steps you can take to help make everyone feel good (or at least less bad) about the change.

Identify everyone who will be impacted.

This includes attendees, speakers, the venue, event staff, hotels, transportation providers, and any other vendors. They’ll need to be notified, and you’ll need to work together on the logistics of the rescheduled event.

Figure out your “Plan B.”

Focusing on the purpose of the event will help you quickly identify the best alternative format, dates, or location. That way, you can announce the big picture of your Plan B when you announce the postponement. This helps reassure guests that the event will still happen. Every important objective will still be met.

Communicate clearly and often with attendees.

Once you’ve made the decision to postpone and have your alternate plan, communicate that in an email to your attendees as soon as possible. (Email is available on multiple devices and can be referred back to over time.) You don’t want your guests to hear the news from someone else or on social media, which will make them feel like they don’t matter. Even if you don’t have all the details to share with them at this time, let them know that – then give them a date when you’ll next update them and make sure you follow through. The frequency of communication should be relative to how close the original event date is: an event originally scheduled for two days from now could require almost hourly messaging, while the postponement of an event a month from now could be messaged once or twice per week.

Communicate with your team.

Make sure they understand the internal plans, to both help manage their stress and to empower them to communicate effectively with attendees, vendors, and contractors.

Be consistent in your messaging.

This will help everyone feel confident in your plan and will help you keep track of what’s been said. Make sure all of your messaging, from social media to the person answering the main phone line, conveys the same information.

Find something you can do in the meantime.

Even if you can’t hold the event you planned right now, there are many things you could do to stay connected to your audience and give them a bright spot in what might otherwise be an incredibly stressful time. Things like webinars, virtual meetings, or even simple giveaways can help people feel cared for and part of a larger community.

Be a source of calm.

People were looking forward to attending your event, so on top of being generally anxious they’re also going to be disappointed. Remaining calm in your messaging, approach, and demeanor is an act of kindness that will be remembered long after the event has passed.