This new ASAE format had six Idea Swaps in four hours and I attended one on membership marketing and another on social media. The most useful advice was about boosting member attendance at meetings – a big issue these days.
Association professionals estimated their annual conference attendance is down 20-30%. So what are they doing to get more people to come? Here’s what I heard:
Try Going Regional - One association professional said she went from holding one annual conference attended by about 10,000 people, to four regional ones and each regional had 3500 people. Obviously, the regional conferences are cheaper to put on.
Rethink Marketing of Regional Conferences – Focus marketing to areas that are within easy driving distance to the conference – but further than you might have done in the past. Send driving directions from your office to the conference center with email marketing and point out driving highlights along the way to make it interesting and fun. One association told members about the World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle and a lot of people went to see it and talked about it when they got to the conference.
Using Facebook to Help Attendees Cut Conference Costs – With costs for travel and rooms at a premium, one association created a special Facebook page for ride sharing and room shares – kind of a buddy up site for the conference. Not only did members use it – they networked on it – and it drove attendance to the conference web site and increased the number of people who came.
Using Twitter to Share Conference News – A number of associations are tweeting to industry bloggers during their conferences. Many bloggers can’t attend but will re- tweet highlights from sessions. Some have created special hash tags on Twitter for their associations’ meetings and are telling members about them in other promotional materials and newsletters. This has boosted followers.
Finding the Optimal Marketing Mix for Conferences – One person said she cut out all direct mail and increased attendance by 7% through other means. Consensus was you need a mix depending on what your members respond too. Some tactics: Revisit your email opt-out list and open rate before you make your marketing choices. Older memberships still respond to faxes – one association is sending a fax one week before to boost attendance and its working. This was a medical society with a specialized physician membership.
To Theme or Not to Theme – Consensus was that no one chooses a meeting because of a theme and it's more of an industry/management choice. Many associations have moved away from the big picture themes and use a theme for the annual conference that stays consistent year to year. These are benefits driven.