Growing and retaining membership is undoubtedly the top priority of association stakeholders. As events provide an excellent channel to attract new members and keep existing members engaged, they are an effective way to achieve association membership growth.

In line with this, Whova recently hosted an Event Insider discussion panel focused on how to grow association membership through events. The session featured guest speakers Lisa Kraus Gardner, David Crandall, Pamela Bertelson, and Georgia Mauney, who are experts in running events for associations.

During the panel discussion, these industry leaders shared their best practices on how to organize events that attract new members and deliver maximum value to existing members. They highlighted strategies that not only drive event attendance but also help retain and attract members in the long run. 

Two Facts of Running Association Events

Prior to the panel discussion, we polled the audiences with two important questions, “How much of your association’s budget is allocated to events?” and “How many events do your current members attend?” and hope to get some insights on growing association membership through events. 

With the first question, we noticed that 67% of responses said their members attended at least one-third of their event. In the meantime, almost half associations allocated 30%+ of their annual budget to events, with 13% even higher than 50%. Both stats remind us how important events are for associations to grow their membership.

Now, let’s dive into the tips shared by the speakers.

Tip #1: Consistency is the Key for Event Promotion

“I would say consistency is key with all of it, the marketing plan for your event cycle and your membership cycle is year round, and it is through multiple channels, and it is never ending. As soon as you wrap up one event, you’re off to the races marketing the next event.”

– Lisa Kraus Gardner

Through consistent marketing efforts, you can create a sense of excitement and anticipation for upcoming events, keeping your association top of mind. This involves leveraging various channels such as email marketing, social media platforms, website promotions, content creation, and targeted advertising.

Maintain a steady level of effort. Consistency is key when it comes to marketing activities for association events. It’s essential to maintain a continuous presence throughout the year, leveraging multiple channels to effectively promote and engage with your target audience. By implementing year-round marketing activities, you can build brand awareness, generate anticipation, and maintain a strong connection with your members and prospective attendees. That in return, will help your association to grow membership.

Keep your email list clean.  Maintaining an up-to-date database is essential for effective event marketing and communication within your association. A comprehensive and accurate database allows you to segment and target your audience with relevant messaging, maximizing the impact of your email marketing efforts.

Best leverage social media: One powerful way to amplify your event’s reach on social media is by tagging exhibitors, sponsors, partners, and speakers in your posts. This encourages them to actively participate and share their involvement with their own followers, extending the event’s visibility to a wider audience.

Tip #2: Encourage Word of Mouth Referrals

“So we’ll maybe asking an Oregon board member to get in touch with a new CEO from, say, in a Portland Community Health Center, just because I think that word of mouth, from peers does a lot more than necessarily a word of mouth from a speaker or from our staff if that if that connection is not already made.”

– Georgia Mauney

The panelists unanimously agreed on the pivotal role of word-of-mouth referrals in driving event attendance. They stressed the importance of encouraging association members to extend invitations to new individuals, harnessing the power of personal recommendations.

Get referral from exhibitors/sponsors/speakers: Some panelists proposed involving exhibitors in the event invitation process. Pamela offered a practical example where a health center’s medical director could receive a discount code for their invitees. This code enables tracking the number of attendees invited by the medical director. This approach creates a win-win situation: the exhibitor feels valued, and the invited individuals feel special, knowing they were personally invited.

Make it easy for them to share: Panelists also suggested distributing shareable graphics to registrants and sponsors, urging them to share these visuals with their colleagues. Providing pre-written social media copy examples makes it effortless for participants to spread the word about the event within their networks — and lead to your association membership growth.

Cross promotion with friend organizations: Another valuable strategy discussed was forming partnerships with like-minded organizations to engage in cross-promotion. This collaborative approach involves mutually promoting each other’s events, broadening the reach to a wider audience. Such alliances enhance event exposure and add value for attendees.

Leverage personal touch: Additionally, Pamela highlighted the significance of maintaining a personal touch. Reaching out to important association members not only touches base on event attendance but also fosters ongoing communication and gathers valuable feedback, strengthening relationships with key stakeholders.

Tip #3: Maximize Networking and Collaboration at Events

“Networking is one of the biggest things that bring people to events. One of the ways we encourage networking besides receptions is through the Whova App. It’s very simple and straightforward. They interact, they comment on each other’s photos. And then I’ve noticed that they have been organizing things themselves in the community section.”

– Pamela Bertelson

The panelists leveraged Whova’s attendee engagement tools to enhance attendee interaction and create a vibrant event experience before, during, and after the events. Great experiences can often drive the membership growth.

Photo sharing: One popular feature is the photo section of the Whova app. Attendees often immerse themselves in photo sharing, capturing exciting moments and event highlights. As Lisa mentioned, candid photos can be particularly effective for event marketing, showcasing the energy and excitement of the event to potential attendees.

Community Board discussions: The Community Board is another valuable tool that allows attendees to actively participate in discussions and express their interests. Attendees can have a dedicated space where they can connect with like-minded individuals, share their experiences, and exchange valuable knowledge and ideas. 

Real-time Q&A: The session Q&A functionality is another powerful tool provided by Whova. Attendees have the opportunity to pose questions during sessions, and speakers or organizers can respond in real-time, fostering engagement and facilitating meaningful interactions. 

Meet-ups: Events can also facilitate informal networking and coordination among attendees. Pamela shared an example of people from Alaska using the app to organize a dinner together. By allowing attendees to connect and plan activities outside of the scheduled sessions, you can strengthen the sense of community among members.

Tip #4: Create Meaningful and Sleek Event Experiences

“We used to publish our agenda online as a PDF. But now we switched over to using Whova as our marketing formatted agenda. And it was really much better, because we can update it much faster, we can also tag sessions for the tracks for people to see which CEUs are eligible.”

– Pamela Bertelson

One of the key elements in creating a successful event is offering valuable educational sessions and workshops for attendees. These sessions provide an opportunity for learning, skill development, and knowledge exchange. By curating high-quality content and engaging speakers, you can ensure that attendees gain meaningful insights and takeaways from your event.

Make your event content easier to navigate: Panelists utilized the Whova platform to optimize the attendee experience. For example, Pemela used Whova’s “marketing formatted agenda,”, a.k.a “agenda webpage”, to easily edit and update the agenda, and give attendees the latest information at any time. Additionally, she tagged sessions for different tracks, making it easier for attendees to navigate and choose the sessions that align with their interests.

Enhance attendee experience with data analytics: Lisa leveraged Whova’s event data tracking capabilities to analyze attendee engagement, session popularity, and feedback, to gain valuable insights into what resonates with her audience. This data-driven approach helps her refine her event strategy, tailor content to attendee preferences, and ensure that future events continue to meet the evolving needs and interests of her audience.

Grow Association Membership with the Best Event Technology

Events serve as powerful platforms to attract new members and deepen engagement with existing ones. By leveraging advanced event technology such as Whova, you can enhance the attendee experience, streamline operations, and drive significant membership growth.

If you’re interested in exploring Whova’s comprehensive suite of features designed to maximize the success of your association events, and its intuitive interface and robust functionalities to provide a seamless experience for both organizers and attendees, contact us today!

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