Author Archive for Kristen Parker

14
Apr
15

Can associations keep pace in the tech race?

This month’s guest blog post is adapted from an original by Hank Berkowitz, moderator in chief of Association Adviser eNews. He wears many hats, however, and to see those, visit his LinkedIn profile.

Hank Berkowitz

Hank Berkowitz, moderator in chief of Association Adviser eNews.

About 60 percent of respondents to our latest unscientific reader poll said they’ve encountered more surprises in technology over the past 12 months than in any other area of association management. That includes membership growth, non-dues revenue, social media and Big Data.

Associations are generally not early adopters of technology, but they are taking steps to close the knowledge gap.

According to Fara Francis, chief information officer of The Associated General Contractors of America, association leadership now welcomes IT to sit at the table to participate in identifying the organization’s business strategy and goals.

“With this posture, technology is now given significant consideration in most associations and as such, a plethora of technology trends are now being adopted and implemented,” she said.

Staying current in this age of “throw-away technology” is a huge challenge for every organization she’s involved with, said Patti Stirk, a long-time IT services entrepreneur and now an investor and adviser to AgeCheq, which creates technology to protect children’s online privacy.

“Not staying current with electronic payment methods and communication methods risks disenfranchising donors,” she said. “It’s no longer simply about email and a Web page.”

Mobile
Members of all ages, not just up-and-comers, are likely interacting with you via a mobile device. That wasn’t always the case five years ago.

According to Naylor’s chief innovation officer Marcus Underwood, as the typical screen size has grown rapidly, so has the way in which people use their devices.

“In the past, messaging and searching for quick answers (through search engines) dominated the usage,” Underwood said. “Larger screen sizes have led to increased consumption of in-depth content. The types of content (articles, video, blogs) allow associations to communicate with their members in ways never before possible.

“This larger screen size has also freed up space that can be used for advertising or sponsorship. This is key for many associations as the non-dues revenue model is often necessary to pay for these new content streams.”

That’s also why designing your sites with responsive design—the ability to experience optimal viewing of a website from any source: web, phone or tablet — is “now mandatory,” explained AGC’s Francis.

As David Trust, CEO of the Professional Photographers Association said, “Trying to do business without tapping into all of the ways people communicate these days is like trying to hold back the tide with a sandcastle.”

Of course, no discussion about mobile technology would be complete without a nod to the explosion of mobile apps. Nearly half (42 percent) of respondents to our unscientific reader poll said mobile apps have had a bigger impact on their association than any other factor. No other tech development came close.

Underwood said gamification is one way that associations have rapidly boosted engagement with their mobile apps. And he said associations can now make content mobile accessible without having to rely on native applications that must be managed through a third party.

“Making your content mobile and web-friendly is far more cost-effective, and it doesn’t require specific downloads,” Underwood said. “The vast majority of ways an association needs to communicate with its customers can be done through smart, adaptive mobile web design.”

technology-727x350Marketing Automation
Another important trend we’ve seen is the number of associations now using marketing automation platforms to automate repetitive member communication tasks. MAPs also enable you to market to members selectively and with more relevance on multiple channels, including email, social media, websites and more.

Chad Lloyd, marketing manager of Boxwood Career Solutions, said MAPs help associations connect to members at the “appropriate time” and on a “personal level” so that your communications seem as though they were created just for that one single member.

Whether built in-house or more often licensed from vendors, MAPs use “digital body language tracking” so you are able to understand exactly what your members and prospective members are interested in and customize your communications with them, Lloyd said. That, he said, has gone a long way toward helping associations avoid two of the biggest member long-time member irritants: (a) Marketing to folks who aren’t interested in what you are sharing and (b) burning your list by over-communicating with your contacts and causing them to opt out of your communications.

07
Apr
15

Social butterflies may learn the most

social_mediaMaybe one of the reasons I love Pinterest so much is that I’ve learned how to use basic household substances to remove stains; how to make cute Thanksgiving pinecone turkeys; how to make pasta from squash; and the list goes on and on.

In other words, I’ve admittedly expanded my horizons with social media.

By now, you know I’m an avid user of Facebook and Twitter, partly because I realize the potential of social media to educate. Yep, I said it: It’s possible to learn from social media.

In fact, the term is “social learning,” and associations are slowly embracing it as part of their learning efforts.

Last April, consulting firm Tagoras conducted an informal survey about associations’ use of social technologies for learning products and/or services, and shortly thereafter released a whitepaper on the topic.

Social technologies are defined as any technology that allows users to communicate with each other via the Internet or cellular networks to share videos, graphics, etc. Examples: blogs, discussion boards, social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn), YouTube and podcasts.

Of the 102 respondents, more than half reported they use social technologies for learning, with 25 percent indicating plans to do so within the year. Not surprisingly, YouTube ranked No. 1, followed by discussion forums and Twitter. Facebook and LinkedIn, thanks to their discussion capabilities, were also popular.

In addition, a placed-based annual meeting of members was the No. 1 type of learning product associated with social technologies.

So why should associations adopt social learning, according to Tagoras?

  • It’s a natural fit. Associations are social in nature, striving to connect people with similar wants and needs. So social tools – for which there are groups, pages and forums to bring together passions – simply make sense.
  • Social learning boosts retention. Discussion forums allow users to learn from each other by asking questions, sharing ideas and reinforcing concepts from classes, while also fostering the building of networks.
  • It’s ongoing. Often, learners attend a class and after it’s over never revisit the knowledge they gained. But by using a blog or WiKi, users can revisit archived topics anytime.
  • Social learning is motivational. It’s exciting to see classmates, colleagues and peers succeed and social media and social technologies make it easy to share such news.

social-learning_smallThe Tagoras whitepaper cites several examples of associations that have successfully used social learning. But in short: Twitter chats; Facebook discussions in which people answer a question or respond to a comment and to each other; and live-tweeting during a conference.

If participation is a concern, associations can require members to participate in weekly discussion forums, contribute blog posts and participate in Twitter chats or Google hangouts.

All this said, the Tagoras survey found most associations don’t have a social learning strategy in place. At the same time, respondents indicated lack of resources and budget as top barriers for dabbling in social media. And some associations fear their staff isn’t skilled enough to successfully engage in social learning.

Nevertheless, efforts don’t have to be expensive or complicated, Tagoras says.

“Given that social learning is effective, why not try it, if you’re not already?” it wrote. “To our minds, the case for social learning is made, and the question at hand is not whether to make use of it but how to incorporate it as effectively, as strategically as possible.”

31
Mar
15

Bonus Content – Event Garde e-news – April edition

Jeff Hurt

Jeff Hurt, executive vice president, education and engagement, for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hurt.

Q & A with Jeff Hurt, Executive Vice President, Education and Engagement, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting

Q: It’s a Saturday night. What would we most likely find you doing?
A: Catching up on a favorite series like “House of Cards,” “Orange Is The New Black,” “Scandal” or “How To Get Away With Murder” before I go out with a few friends for a quick dinner.

Q: If you had to title a book that best sums up your life, what would it be?
A: “From The Mixed Up Files of Windomere Ave.”

Q: What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without, and why?
A: Family and friends. We are wired to connect and I need their support, love and hugs often. I travel so much and give so much of my life away that I return home tired and emotionally drained. I need people surrounding me who will love and support me, even with all my cracks and imperfections.

Q: It’s a beautiful summer day and you’re relaxing in the park. Who do you hope sits next to you on the park bench, and why?
A: A total stranger who is willing to share something amazing and beautiful from his or her life.

Q: Tell us a little known fact about you – what makes you, you.
A: My waters run deep and I’m an introvert who has learned to be extroverted when needed. That being said, I spent four months as a rock and roll roadie running audio visual and sound for an unknown regional band.

31
Mar
15

Nonprofits and associations are hiring…even in a candidate’s market

Now hiringWe’re nearing college commencement season. In about six to eight weeks, excited college graduates around the country will don their caps and gowns, ready to hit the workforce with enthusiasm and a bit of trepidation.

And so, once again, we’re reading a lot about hiring – and in some cases, lack thereof.

But there’s good news for graduates and jobseekers in general: Associations and nonprofits are hiring.

According to a recent report by Professionals for Nonprofits, nearly 60 percent of nonprofits increased their staff size in 2014 and 55 percent plan to add staff this year. And, with demand exceeding supply, salaries are on the rise.

In fact, 70 percent of the organizations reported two to 10 vacancies in their organizations. As for hiring priorities, fundraising and membership tied at No. 1, with marketing and communications taking the No. 2 slot, followed by technology.

“In a major shift from 2014-2015, our survey results show that it has become a candidate’s market, increasing the challenge for nonprofit managers to find and hire the staff they need and to pay the higher salaries required,” the report says.

And demographics are shifting. Gen X – those born from 1965 to 1981 – still make up most of the workforce. After a few years under their belt, these employees are ready for leadership positions. That opens the door for Gen Y staffers – those 32 years old or younger – who now comprise half the workforce, as reported in the study.

Gen hiresWith the shift comes changing expectations and skill sets. Gen Y is ripe with entrepreneurial spirit, independence and technologically-savvy minds. They know they’ve got the leg up, which means hiring has become more difficult for nonprofits, the report found. Job seekers can afford to be a bit more selective. Not surprisingly, the top reason for turning down a job offer was compensation. The second reason? A perceived lack of growth opportunities.

So what does this mean for associations and nonprofits?

PNP offers some tips on hiring:

  • Pay competitive salaries
  • Foster a positive workplace culture and environment
  • Cultivate opportunities for growth, training and professional development
  • Avoid a lengthy hiring process so “the good ones” don’t get away
  • Be clear about job responsibilities and rewards
  • Look for potential leadership capabilities in staff and new hires

All this said, here’s my two cents. My first job out of college was working for an association, from which I moved to another association. Neither was afraid to take a chance on a recent college graduate, and showed it by offering me competitive compensation and fun, inspiring work environments.

Both jobs (in the editorial and communications division) were incredible experiences, so I encourage you to tap into the newly graduated young professionals in your area.

24
Mar
15

Time for a MOOC-like makeover

moocMassive Open Online Courses. The public seems to embrace them, while higher education remains skeptical of their educational value.

But either way, MOOCs probably aren’t going anywhere, so it’s wise to take some tips from their success.

So what’s a MOOC? Essentially, it’s a teaching format that’s open and accessible to learners around the globe, provided they have Internet access. A MOOC is a social, networked learning experience that blends a subject matter expert (instructor), technology and convenience. In other words: a hybrid-learning format that appeals to today’s 24-7 learners.

In the background, a successful learning management system is key to operating a successful MOOC. Many associations already employ a LMS, and since they retain experts in niche and trendy areas, they’re prime to offer their members a MOOC-like learning opportunity.

That’s according to Web Courseworks, a learning technologies and consulting company. It recently released a whitepaper with 10 tips for instructional designers and LMS administrators, inspired by the success of MOOCs.

There are MOOC-like things associations can do to entice learners. Since associations are nimble and can respond quickly to industry trends (much more quickly than higher education institutions can), associations are prime MOOC providers, the whitepaper says.

Associations need three things: people (SMEs, instructional designers, LMS administrators), processes (course development, marketing) and technology (video, left-navigation layout).

“Professional and industry associations … don’t have obligations to a tenured faculty, so they can recruit faculty based on what content is in high demand; and their members are applying new knowledge and techniques in the field, giving them the ability to provide valuable job-related training,” the authors wrote. “Learners should be turning to your association to fill gaps in academic training and address evolving standards and techniques within a community of practice. Use the promotional power of a MOOC to ‘claim’ a hot topic and gain recognition as the go-to source for related educational material. A timely MOOC is a great way to connect educational and marketing goals.”

Word of caution: A MOOC isn’t a webinar and it’s not a regurgitation of a PowerPoint presentation.

Yes, put your SME on screen, but involve your instructional designer. Rather than overloading learners’ brains with a massive amount of information, Web Courseworks suggests chunking up information – in short segments – based on learning objectives.

mooc.org_And it’s important to check in with your learners to make sure they “get” it. The whitepaper suggests offering two- to five-minute video segments, with a check-in wedged between segments. Simple multiple-choice questions, or weekly quizzes with unlimited attempts and feedback, work well. Of course, this means LMS administrators need to ensure systems are capable of importing and exporting questions and managing social learning elements.

Perhaps the biggest draw of a MOOC is its social learning function. It’s impossible for an instructor to answer all questions, so students rely on each other for assistance. Discussion forums, in which peer feedback can occur, are musts for MOOCs, the whitepaper says.

Of course, all of this is moot if learners aren’t motivated. So, try offering digital badges and certificates (shareable on social media) for credit completion or educational advances.

Oh. And MOOCs are generally free, or at least low cost.

“Think of a MOOC as an entry point for members into your educational offerings,” Websource says. “It can be the ‘loss leader’ that grabs the attention of learners and promotes premium items in a course catalog. Advertise related course offerings within a MOOC, or use it to satisfy prerequisites for a larger certification program. Transform ‘free’ into ‘freemium’ by offering a MOOC as a small piece of a larger professional development and certification puzzle.”

What do you think? Does your association offer a MOOC? Or, do you offer webinars that could be transformed into MOOC-like offerings? Share your advice here.

In the meantime, check out a previous blog post on MOOCs.

17
Mar
15

Your next event needs its own War Room

This month’s guest blog post is by Jordan McArthur, content marketing manager and event tech specialist at Guidebook Inc., which specializes in providing app technology for events. It was originally posted on the Guidebook Resources blog.

Jordan McArthur

Jordan McArthur, content marketing manager and event tech specialist at Guidebook Inc.

As we discuss ways to make events extremely personal and give our attendees true experiences that exceed their expectations, it’s hard not to wonder, “What do the actual logistics of something like that that look like?”

That’s where the concept of The War Room comes into play. That’s right – we’re talking about a central command center where all hell can break loose if it needs to. Just like in the movies.

A war room might be metaphorical at your next event – the name of your emergency game plan, for instance – but we’re suggesting you strongly consider an actual room. Choose somewhere out of the way – a utility closet, a hotel room, a conference room in the next building over – where a team of first-responders can work without the distractions of the event floor.

You’ll also want to make sure you’ve limited access to (and knowledge of) the room itself. This is not the place for the CEO – that will only cause major distractions and may entirely derail the whole operation.

Let’s be clear what we’re creating here. A war room exists at your event for the benefit of your participants. It is solely focused on making sure that the product you’re providing them is seamless, meaningful and tailored to their specific needs. A war room is a nerve center that can immediately and efficiently address the needs of your attendees and/or exhibitors, and it has grown out of an ever-growing expectation that events and meetings will be engaging, dynamic experiences.

Let’s take a look at the type of war room you might want to set up at your next event.

The Social Media Command Center

Your event will be social whether you plan for it or not. The fact of the matter is that people talk about their experiences on social media – all of their experiences.

Establishing a Social Media Command Center means that you’ve embraced social and taken a proactive role in guiding the conversation, rather than falling victim to it.

Talk to your participants

Conversation tracking can be done as simply as establishing an event hashtag to as robustly as using detailed visualization software (such as Buzz Radar). The key, however, is staffing people who are primed to respond no matter the circumstances.

Negative social conversation can alert you to a small problem before it becomes a big problem. For example, your attendees are likely to be the ones to tell you first if it’s too cold in the keynote. People may be discussing confusing traffic patterns or a lack of trash cans – all things that can easily be remedied.

But just as important as tracking the negative is responding to the positive. Liking, commenting on, favoriting and retweeting sentiments from your attendees will create a positive feedback loop and encourage more and more of your attendees to join in on the love fest – and that’s good for you, your brand and your ROI.

PrintCustomize your content

Now here’s where you can really take things to the next level. What if the social conversation started shaping the content of your event? With your Social Media Command Center in place, you have the ability to start dynamically integrating your attendees’ real time conversations into the event itself.

Knowing what’s being said means that a mainstage presentation can suddenly become interactive with immediate audience feedback – or that you could actually start shaping content on the fly based on what people want to hear about. Let your attendees vote on a session’s topic, or really live on the edge and leave a blank spot in your speaker schedule to develop a day-of session based on hot topics at the event. At the very least, curate the best of your social shares on a large screen in plain view so that people are inspired to join in.

The Crisis Management Center

There are going to be mistakes and mess-ups. Let’s all just admit that now and move on with figuring out the best way to handle them.

A Crisis Management Center is the most covert of all the war rooms. Its existence is known to few, and some of your most trusted people are there to make sure that anything that goes wrong is immediately taken care of in a way that draws little to no attention.

A Crisis Management Center will need a direct line of communication with the show floor. (May we suggest the app Voxer?) Once they’ve been linked in to monitoring the most important aspects of the event – time, flow, social, etc. – they should have the authority to make judgment calls as incidents arise.

One of the most powerful responsibilities of the Crisis Management Center will be the ability to actually change the program of your event. It may be as simple as a session time change, but it could be as complex as scheduling a completely new session and alerting attendees of its existence.

For this reason, it’s imperative that the Crisis Management Center has access to updating your event app. By doing so, attendees will always have the most up-to-date information and the team can send push messages as necessary to alert folks of the changes.

The Concierge Center

War rooms aren’t just for immediate reactions and handling problems – they’re also great for making the experience of your event excellent for everyone involved. A proactive mindset can go a long way toward making sure your participants are receiving the personal, experiential treatment.

Happiness on-demand

One possibility for a Concierge Center would be to create an on-demand service for your exhibitors using your event app. It’s inevitable that someone’s going to forget his or her charger or need a roll of duct tape. Allow yourself to save the day by being the provider of such things. Create a feedback form within your app where exhibitors can request commonly misplaced or forgotten items.

You could even take a cue from Uber and deliver fun items for a much-needed mid-show reprieve. Uber made headlines with its insanely popular kitten delivery and on-demand ice cream. Just imagine the wave of positive feelings that instant chocolate delivery would induce in your exhibitors, all at a relatively low cost to you.

banner_customer_serviceContests with purpose

Contests are a great way to get people engaging as well. You might try gamifying your event app in order to get people to follow a particular pattern around your show floor. Another option is to gather prizes beforehand that you know you will give away during the event. Then use your Concierge Center to identify certain objectives you would like people to complete and offer prizes for doing so. Use this to bring foot traffic to a dead area or engage with a sponsor that’s not getting enough love. It’s all about flexibility.

Unparalleled experience

The bottom line is that personalized events take resources. It’s going to cost you a little time, money and manpower to pull off any sort of hyper-personal experience. The payoffs in participant happiness and ROI, however, will be well beyond the upfront costs. Consider the war room structure at your next event and you’ll be looking at unprecedented satisfaction.

09
Mar
15

The public is listening and associations are spending

bigstock-Public-Relations-Concept-in-th-17050577As a public relations professional, imagine my excitement when I stumbled across a new report that found associations are spending an unprecedented amount of money to sway public opinion.

No, I’m not excited that associations are shelling out big bucks, but it’s validation.

It’s true that we’re spin doctors, but we’re there when you need us. It’s our job to help you sort through the clutter of public confusion, misinformation and media madness.

Last month, the Center for Public Integrity released a report on the PR spending of Washington, D.C.-based trade associations.

“It’s been well-publicized how much industry spends on lobbying the government, but little is known about how much money goes toward influencing the public,” the center says. “In an effort to find out more, Center for Public Integrity reporters examined the tax returns for trade associations that spent more than $1 million on lobbying in 2012. The IRS requires the groups to report their top five contractors.”

The report found that from 2008 to 2012, 144 trade groups spent $1.2 billion – 37 percent of the total amount spent on contracts – on PR and marketing. By industry sector, energy and natural resources associations were the big spenders. Business associations came in second, spending more than $200 million on public relations, marketing and ad services. And, perhaps of special interest to our readers: The food and beverage association ranked No. 4 in PR spending.

At one time, associations earmarked thousands of dollars for lobbyists. But that’s slowly shrinking, thanks to the advent of social media, blogs and citizen journalism. Whereas lobbying engages policy makers, public relations engages a public platform devoid of class, gender, race and socioeconomic divisions.

So why the shift to public relations?

“They certainly want to influence the general public because the general public will then influence the politicians, the lawmakers or the regulators in that particular industry,” said Steve Barrett, editor-in-chief of trade magazine PR Week.

154067314-about-us1And it seems Edelman is thriving. The nation’s largest public relations firm, which employs 5,000 people, netted the most revenue. According to the report, associations paid Edelman nearly $350 million, with the American Petroleum Institute carrying most of the load.

It’s important to note that the report measured only the most politically active associations in Washington, D.C., so some key players could have been left out of the analysis.

However, “the contractor information provides an inside look at the way trade associations use PR and advertising to ply the American mind,” the Center for Public Integrity says. “Trade groups determined to fight regulations and boost profits of their members have spent heavily to influence how the public perceives policies that affect everything from the air we breathe to the beverages we drink.”

A word of caution: Transparency is important. If you budget for public relations efforts, make sure your members know where your association stands.

So, all this said….what do we do?

prtopnewsimageEssentially, PR pros are message makers. In a sticky situation, it’s our job to help clients maintain their integrity. But we’re also storytellers. Earned media (or non-paid media coverage) is key to reputation building, especially in a market in which PR pros outnumber journalists.

Is your association setting a trend? Does your association have an awesome success story to share, i.e. outreach or community service? Do you have a member organization that’s doing something incredible? That’s where PR can help. For starters, check out Public Relations Society of America, which includes a directory of PR firms and service providers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to reach out to me at Kristen@eventgarde.com.




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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