Archive for the 'Marketing' Category


If Events Could Talk: 10 Strategies for Fueling a Powerful Voice

Content-AuditHas your association conducted a communication audit within the last three years? More specifically, are your meetings and publications teams working together to ensure your association’s events are effectively marketed?

If your events suffer from stagnant or declining attendance, sponsors or exhibitors – or if you have difficulty securing quality speakers – the answer lies not in a silo, but rather in your team. Following are 10 strategies your association can immediately implement to boost the reputation of its signature events and, in turn, its bottom line.

  1. Branding – A uniform event name, acronym or hashtag from one year to the next is just the beginning. To ensure your members easily recognize an event at first glance, consider how colors, logos, fonts and overall design elements are used consistently across communication platforms.
  2. Differentiation – Briefly scan the professional development landscape and you’ll find fierce competition all around you – colleges and universities, other associations and even your own members. Event messaging must clearly illustrate in both quantitative and qualitative terms how your event is different from the rest.
  3. Value proposition – Every event comprises some combination of learning and networking. One way to elevate yours above the others is to demonstrate the value attendees can expect to gain in both the short-term (e.g., contacts, ideas, goals, objectives) and the long-term (e.g., strategy, tactics, products, services, profit).
  4. Voice – If your event could talk, what would it sound like? An elderly grandparent? A progressive hipster? Ensure written collateral closely resembles the tone and sophistication of your audience. As appropriate, add in elements of levity, informality, slang and pop culture to also make them fun and interesting to read.
  5. Brevity – Promotional pieces are not the place to be long-winded. Prospective attendees are inundated with messaging each and every day, so make it easy for them to cut through the noise and connect with your publications. Don’t be surprised if fewer words result in improved open and click-through rates, too.
  6. Channels – Determine how your association communicates. And don’t just think in terms of print communications – include all digital and social media platforms, as well. Optimal event marketing is multimedia in nature and should include messaging in most – if not all – of these communication channels.
  7. Testimonials – Never underestimate the power of an exceptional experience, particularly by Generation Yelp. Gather and share both written and video testimonials from attendees, sponsors, exhibitors and speakers. Ultimately, it means more coming from their peers than it does from you.
  8. Images – We know a picture is worth a thousand words, so ditch the clipart and invest in a professional photographer to take pictures during your signature events. Use these photographs throughout your marketing materials to tell your event’s story: who attends, how they engage and what they learn.
  9. Sample content – Sometimes prospective attendees and their supervisors are looking for added insurance your event will be worth their time and money. Sharing sample content in the form of slide decks, handouts, executive summaries and video clips may be just the ticket to secure their participation.
  10. Volunteers – Identify your repeat attendees and arm them with the tools needed to promote your events. Consider guest blog posts, social media chats and featured magazine columns. Likewise, remove as many barriers as possible to encourage easy sharing of member-generated materials.

While you may not have the resources to employ each of these tactics between now and your next annual meeting, take some time this month to identify and address the low-hanging fruit. Then develop a long-term strategic plan for implementing the remaining marketing and communication ideas, remembering to include representation from both the meetings and publications teams.

At the end of the day, you simply can’t afford to ignore what your events are saying about you, your department and your organization.


On target and in the money

11272851-concept-success-red-dart-hitting-a-target-vector-signNow that you’ve settled into 2014 (maybe? sort of?), you’re probably planning an exciting lineup of events.

Maybe your goal is to attract as many participants, from as many demographics, as possible. After all, hundreds of attendees translate into thousands of dollars, and everyone loves a strong revenue stream. Right?

Not necessarily, according to Jeff Hurt, executive vice president, education and engagement, for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.

“When you create education sessions for everyone about everything, you can’t go deep into the issues and challenges that your audience craves,” he said. “You miss the opportunity to create programming that participants feel was prepared just for them, and ultimately, your conference programming becomes generic. It’s vague and feels like wet, soft, mushy Melba toast.”

So instead, take a lesson from successful marketers. The golden rule of marketing is to identify your target audiences, which are the groups of people who are most interested in your product or services. They’re also the most engaged in your messaging and marketing efforts.

A good example: education tracks. Segmenting sessions into audiences – administrators, planners and vendors, for instance – allows you to cater to specific needs. So when another need arises, these grateful participants may turn to you for business, membership and additional educational opportunities.

At the same time, it’s a good idea to keep vendors’ interests in mind.

Hurt said some associations with significant tradeshows make 60 to 70 percent of their revenue from exhibit booth sales, while another 10 to 20 percent of revenue comes from sponsorships and advertising. According to Hurt, usually exhibitors want: qualified leads; face-to-face time with purchasers, decision makers and budget officers; and the opportunity to bond with current clients.

Jeff Hurt

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

“If you see your conference audience as a homogenous, faceless clump of people, you’ll have a hard time selling them as the right audience for your exhibitors and sponsors,” he said. “Instead, think of them as a long line of individuals waiting to have a conversation with you. Do you want to talk to every one of them? Or do you want to seek out the individuals who have the authority and responsibility to purchase products and services for their organizations?”

In short, target audiences at conferences and expos should comprise those groups that are most important to your exhibitors and sponsors. Once you determine those audiences, focus on their needs when developing educational content and choosing speakers.

In other words: You’ll generate the most revenue when you determine which customers will have the greatest impact on your exhibitors and sponsors.

A little market research will go a long way when planning your conferences and events, so for starters, pick up a good marketing book to learn more about target audiences.

Make sense? How do you meet the needs of your target audiences?


Snow day productivity: Briefer, clearer, funner communications

First, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2014. Both Kristen and I, together with the Event Garde team, appreciate you following our blog, sharing your comments and post ideas and paying forward those posts that resonate with you most.

snow-day-games-425a-102909This week the combination of snowfall and bitterly cold temperatures delayed back-to-school and back-to-work activities for many in the Northeast. For some, that means a snow day (or two) home with the kids. For others, it means a roaring fire, a cup of hot chocolate and a “Judge Judy” marathon on the television.

And for still others, it means a time to catch up, organize and reflect.

It’s in these moments of reflection I’m reminded that in 2014 we must be briefer and clearer. Forget the top 10 lists and the crystal ball predictions. Forget even the larger-than-life New Year’s resolutions. This year I’m recommending in your communications with members that you simply emphasize brevity and clarity.

So what does that look like?

It means sending fewer communications (electronic and print) that are consistently branded in both look and tone. It also means scaling back those we do choose to send (e.g., limiting our conference brochures, marketing prospectuses and even our one-page letters to only the most pertinent information).

Likewise, I’m advocating for clearer communications. And by this I simply mean identifying and promoting only key messages in our communications with members. When we become too verbose or attempt to share too much information, we often muck up the waters and turn off our audience.

Every couple of months, as I write my column for Michigan Meetings + Events magazine, I have the opportunity to practice this very same exercise. I must routinely edit down a draft of 1,000 or more words to just 400. Ultimately, though, the result is briefer and clearer – and thus more useful and interesting to readers.

wiifmThink about it: As the lines between our personal and professional lives continue to blur, there’s certainly no excess of time or attention as it relates to consuming our various collateral pieces. So if we intend to be briefer and clearer this year, we must think more like a member and less like staff (i.e., What’s in it for me?).

Finally, as someone who often wears the marketing hat by default, allow me to boldly recommend being funner in 2014. Before crucifying me for my use of this non-word, I’ve used it here to illustrate the following point: Have fun, occasionally break from the style guide and use an authentic voice that’s relatable and engaging.

Used together, I’m certain the briefer-clearer-funner approach will increase open rates and readership across your various communications. And, ultimately, this will snowball into engagement, attendance, membership and other success metrics identified by your organization.

Tell us in the comments what you discovered in your moments of reflection this snow day. How might your organization employ the briefer-clearer-funner approach this year?


A Tuesday ‘thank you’

GivingTuesdayEditor’s Note: As Thanksgiving approaches, we all start thinking about our blessings. So it seemed appropriate to dedicate this week’s blog post – and probably next week’s – to the topic of saying “thank you.” For next week, I’d like to write about how you thank your customers and/or give back to your community. So please drop me a quick note at!

But for now, one way to give back and say thanks: #GivingTuesday. This week’s guest blog post is from Kate Olsen, vice president of strategic projects for Network for Good, a technology platform that facilitates online fundraising and giveback opportunities. She tells us how your association/organization can participate in #GivingTuesday.

For more information, check out the #GivingTuesday Facebook page and the Twitter feed and use #GivingTuesday and @GivingTues.

Kate Olsen

Kate Olsen, vice president of strategic projects for Network for Good.

#GivingTuesday occurs on Dec. 3 this year and is an opportunity for companies, nonprofits and individuals alike to get involved for the greater good.

For those not in the know, #GivingTuesday is a campaign to add a national day of giving to the lineup of shopping days Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. It’s a prime opportunity for nonprofits and companies (and individuals) to collaborate for the greater good. Here are four steps to ensure your partnership’s success.

1.  Seek mission and values alignment.

There are many reasons to form cross-sector partnerships: promotion to a bigger audience, inspiration from new ideas and approaches and access to additional skills, more resources and knowledge. And there are also just as many reasons not to partner: Support can come with strings attached, lack of trust, conflicting goals and mission creep.

To ensure you create a winning partnership, take the time to make sure there’s a good fit between your mission and the corporate partner’s brand identity and goals.

Luna’s Pure Prevention campaign provides a great example of nonprofit-corporate alignment. As a provider of nutrition for active women, Luna teamed up with the Breast Cancer Fund to find and eliminate environmental and preventable causes of breast cancer—a major health issue for women. It just makes sense.

2. Leverage complementary assets.

Assets are any resources that you and your corporate partner bring to the table. In addition to funding, assets can include people, skills, audience reach, relationships and technology.

A partnership is not just about getting access to corporate philanthropic dollars: It’s about true collaboration. Think about what assets your nonprofit has that will be of value to a corporate partner, and vice versa.

You have invested in a brand, program portfolio, supporter base and other resources that will help make the partnership a success. Never discount what you bring to the table.

3. Design the right partnership architecture.

Thinking through the goals of the partnership and designing a measurable campaign will help ensure transparency and focus, especially if you use those measurements to tell stories with impact. How can you engage supporters in relevant and meaningful ways? How will you measure their participation and communicate results?

One framework to help structure the partnership is the ladder of engagement. Offer your audience multiple ways to participate with your partnership based on their level of passion and commitment to the cause.

The No Kid Hungry campaign, led by Share Our Strength, does a great job of offering multiple ways to take action: donate, advocate, sign a pledge, spread the word and raise money for your cause.

How can you offer a ladder of engagement for #GivingTuesday? First, understand where your supporters congregate online; then design calls to action that leverage those channels. Here are a few ideas:

  • #GivingTuesday Twitter chat (Encourage corporate sponsors to pledge $1 per tweet.)
  • Random Acts of Kindness Facebook campaign (Have supporters share acts they performed or  witnessed.)
  • Inspirational generosity pins on Pinterest (Have supporters share what generosity means to them.)
  • Kind deeds caught in the act on Instagram (Feature photos of generous acts and giving.)
  • Messages of hope and generosity on YouTube (Feature testimonials about how giving affected their lives.)

Network for Good 4. Measure and communicate accomplishments.

Evolving a partnership requires taking the time to understand where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished and how you can keep improving. Communicating impact to partnership stakeholders is a vital piece of that process. It’s also important to communicate that to your donors, and never forget to say thank you!

If you need inspiration, just check out the A Day Made Better thank you video for a refresher on powerful storytelling and expressing gratitude. You can also see how Phoenix House recapped its 2012 #GivingTuesday campaign and closed the loop for campaign participants with a heartfelt response from program beneficiaries.

Remember: Corporate-cause partnerships are all about relationships, collaboration, execution and impact (and fun!).


Stop spamming your members

internet_abuse_spamI’ve had the good fortune to work for and with associations my entire professional career. So it’s fair to say I understand and value association membership. That’s why I’m a card-carrying member of several professional societies. And while I join these organizations for very specific reasons (with very specific goals and outcomes in mind), it’s clear to me that at least one of them has no idea who I am.

Most of us have at least two email accounts that we check on a fairly regular basis, each receiving dozens (if not hundreds) of emails a day. That’s a lot to read and process. Recently, among a flurry of other emails (some important and some not) I received a communication inviting me to sponsor an upcoming event. There were a number of issues, however, with this specific ask:

  1. My consulting practice doesn’t align with the vendor categories they’re seeking for this event.
  2. The language that was used to describe sponsor ROI was both vague and unremarkable.
  3. The event topic is not relevant to my company’s mission.
  4. The list of sponsorship opportunities were presented as a menu rather than as a customized recommendation within my budget capabilities.
  5. Some of the benefits (e.g., complimentary registrations) were unusable given my company’s size limitations.

What it comes down to is this: the opportunity was not vetted for me. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for this particular association. But I believe that similar practices occur in our organizations on a daily basis, as well. While we don’t intend to spam our members, these emails—poorly disguised as member outreach and relationship-building—are nothing more than disruptive commercial messages.

Every couple of days I receive similarly ineffective communications that do not align with my company’s goals and objectives. Is this because two years ago I crossed the aisle from association staff to industry partner?  Is the assumption that I’m hoarding bags of money like Ebenezer Scrooge? More importantly, is this the way we treat our suppliers – like bottomless piggy banks?

Or do association staff have a similar experience, replacing sponsorship inquiries with countless invitations to attend the latest and greatest professional development conferences that don’t align with their interest areas?

Assuming we can all agree this is a problem, let’s reflect for a moment on the solution. What can you do today to ensure you’re not spamming your members? Following are just a sampling of ideas:

  • Have a volunteer read and comment on major solicitation communications before they’re distributed.
  • Slow down and don’t just get something out for the sake of checking an item off your to-do list.
  • Mass customize your emails and other communications – gather more data about your members either in person or by survey and ensure they’re receiving opportunities that align with their individual needs and interests.
  • Deliberately schedule emails internally to ensure members are receiving only a certain number of communications a day/week/month.
  • Always include an opt-out option when sending mass emails.
  • Add a staff person to the distribution list to ensure quality control; this person should monitor communications with the member experience in mind and raise any concerns to improve future practice.
  • Know the preferred delivery methods of your members and send communications in that way, even if this means sending fewer pieces in several different formats.
  • Write compelling communications that clearly spell out your value proposition and give both members and sponsors the information they need to make informed decisions.
  • Strike a careful balance when crafting communications between professional and playful; use a voice that appeals to your target audience and fits the intended goals and objectives of the message.
  • Avoid faux personalization (e.g., masquerading an email with a mail merged name block as a personalized email). If the body of the email is too generic it will only undermine your message and the organization’s integrity.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of brevity.
  • Demonstrate ROI with post-event surveys, satisfaction/reach statistics and personal testimonials.

The bottom line is this: stop spamming your members. They’ll thank you for it. They only have so much time, money and patience – and would rather receive a few, hand-selected opportunities than every single communication your organization writes. It demonstrates you understand the uniqueness of each organization and increases your likelihood of a sale.

And, for the record, this goes for just about everything. My example specifically references sponsorship opportunities; however, we could just as easily have been talking about conference registrations. So, my question to you is this: Are you spamming your members? What policies have you instituted to stop or curtail this practice? What other effective marketing techniques might you add to this list?


The many hats of marketers

Scott Oser

Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates

Editor’s Note: This week’s guest blog post is by Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates. He’s speaking this morning at the ASAE Annual Meeting in Atlanta. Follow along in real time on Twitter using #asae13  and continue to monitor Twitter for feedback from Oser’s session.

A couple months ago I wrote an article for “Associations Now” about how marketing requires different skills than it once did. As more potential tactics and options for marketing have emerged, more is expected of a marketer.

You can read the full “Associations Now” article here, but following is a quick summary of just some of the roles marketers are now expected to play:

  • Channel expert. It’s the marketer’s job to be informed about all the traditional and new marketing techniques.
  • Implementer. Marketers must have strong implementation and project management skills.
  • Data analyst. Association marketing professionals must understand how to read and interpret the numbers.
  • Brand champion. In most associations it’s the job of the head marketing professional to make sure the essence of the brand is reflected in everything the association does.
  • Community creator. The stronger your community and member engagement, the more effective your marketing will be. So it’s up to the marketing professional to help create that engagement.
  • Cheerleader and politician. Marketing requires trying new things and some staff members are more resistant to change than others. Therefore, it’s necessary for a marketer to get people on board even when they’re skeptical.

While I was at the beach a couple weeks ago on a brief vacation I re-read the article I wrote. I thought about how even though the role of a marketer has changed and the number of ways in which we market has grown, the goal of our marketing has remained the same.

Regardless of which of the roles above we play and regardless of which medium (direct mail, email, telemarketing, word of mouth, social media, etc.) we use, our main goal is to show recipients the value of what we’re asking them to do so they’ll act.  With all the competing products, services and marketing messages, this has become increasingly difficult – but increasingly important – to do.  Unfortunately, many marketers focus on the role they play and the tactics they use but don’t always do a great job of knowing their target market, the different needs of the segments within their target market and the messaging they need to use.

You can be the best marketer in the world but the bottom line is that value drives response.  Do you understand your value proposition and are you communicating it well?  If not, I recommend you take a step back and start working on that as soon as you finish reading this sentence.

Scott Oser Associates
Scott Oser Associates was formed in 2006 to develop customized solutions to solve unique membership, marketing and sales challenges. It has partnered with a large number of associations, for-profit and non-profit organizations to increase their bottom lines from memberships, marketing and sales efforts. Oser has more than 17 years of marketing experience in the association and publishing industries. Before starting the firm he worked for market leaders like National Geographic Society, AARP and Science. You can follow him on


Enhance your online education strategy in 90 days

Webinar Poll Questions

Webinar Poll Questions

It’s no surprise to discover that most associations are guided by a strategic plan carefully crafted by key leaders and stakeholders. This plan often does not drill down, however, into the specifics of education strategy (and the chances it extends to digital learning are equally shaky). This is despite the prominence of professional development in both the organization’s mission statement and annual budget projections.

On Feb. 28, I had the opportunity to deliver a Wit and Wisdom webinar for my friends at CommPartners. During this session, I shared a more intentional approach to meeting the unique needs of association constituents. We discussed simple, but effective tactics for evaluating and developing relevant content, effectively marketing programs, and leveraging innovative instructional strategies to pique member interest.

At right, you’ll find the results to two different poll questions on the topic of education strategy. The first queried participants about “a separate strategic education plan.” Those answering “yes” have a strategic education blueprint separate from the organization’s comprehensive strategic plan. The second question asked participants about “a separate online education strategy.” Not surprisingly, the breakdown of responses was similar.

Should you be interested, the webinar is available on-demand. Likewise, the worksheets and presentation slides are also available for download. I’ve also curated the stream of participant comments shared in this program’s chat feature. Organized by topic, following are the lightly edited participant insights I think you’ll find invaluable:

Identifying relevant content

  • We use an advisory committee of member experts to help identify topics and speakers.
  • I do an annual education survey via email. The subject line reads “15 second education survey” and I ask for their top three education topics. Our response rate is overwhelming.

Effectively marketing programs

  • I gather emails for all education attendees and do a lot of contact via email.
  • We have done a member email swap with other associations for one-time use to advertise. We don’t do it consistently, but strategically.
  • We offer team discounts for groups of five or more.
  • We ask attendees for referrals (e.g., names, emails and phone numbers) for those in their company or other peers who might be interested in the course they just completed.
  • We actively engage our speakers and have them leverage their relationships in trade magazines to announce their presence on a webcast.
  • We offer snippet previews of past webinars. We also select older recordings that have broad appeal and offer them as a free benefit to show the target audience what we offer.
  • We have the luxury of on-air talent for our radio webcasts, so we aim to get one popular on-air personality per webcast to address the topic in a five minute promotional video.
  • Find the stars in your industry and try to feature them in a way that’s easy for them, good content and easily promoted.
  • Marketing and education departments should work hand-in-hand because the marketing department is the one responsible for getting the event or education offerings out there. The main goal should be the bottom line.


  • Our association has to compete with companies in our industry that offer free CE. This makes it more difficult to offer quality at low rates.
  • It’s hard to beat free. Try stressing that the CE you offer is a true *investment*, where free CE might lack quality.
  • Try to ensure your program is a lot more robust than what your competitors offer for free.
  • We had to stop trying to compete with others and simply offer the best education out there in our industry. People return to our programs because of the background and expertise of the instructors/speakers, as well as the ability to interact with the other attendees. Interaction matters.
  • We don’t address the “free” aspect because it puts us on the defensive. Offer a quality product and those that are looking for “real” professional development from quality speakers are your target audience.
  • Make your program more interactive, and provide tools and resources your competitors cannot provide with free CE programs.
  • A quality product is the key. There are members willing to pay for quality. It’s also important to know who’s doing the speaking or the teaching.
  • Both collaboration and communication are necessary to ensure you’re not competing with other departments within your own association in promoting events.

Innovative instructional strategies

  • Providing a constant stream of content outside of the webcasts helps.
  • We encourage live tweeting during our conferences, and are evaluating the live tweeting during our education courses. However, social learning is difficult to explain up the chain.
  • Our association offers live tweeting, but it is still not completely catching on. We are engaging content experts to do the tweeting.
  • We’re exploring gamification, such as offering “badges.”
  • We do promote live tweeting during our live annual meeting; however, not many members participate yet.

Economies of scale

  • One association I’m aware of gets the top people to do live webinars in one room over the course of a day, such as at their annual meetings where the speakers are already onsite. This is a great way to capitalize on having people accessible and to record the webinars for later delivery.
  • We actually do webcasts with multiple people live in a studio at once. And taking advantage of travel schedules is paramount to maintaining a shoestring budget.

So, my question to you is this: Does your organization have a separate strategic education plan? What about a separate online education strategy? How have these documents elevated the quality and sophistication of your programs, built the reputation of your meetings department and/or improved your organization’s bottom line? Likewise, how did you convince your organization’s leadership (staff and board) to expend more resources/time on creating these documents?


Transforming your community into a collaborative learning environment

On Dec. 4, I had the pleasure of presenting a breakout session on collaborative learning environments during the 2012 Higher Logic Super Forum. Early in the presentation, we discussed the expanding role of content curation and how it can serve as a valuable tool for associations who wish to make meaning of the sometimes excessive information, content and messaging they share with members.

Simply put, content curation comprises three elements:

  • Sorting through vast amounts of content.
  • Organizing it around a specific theme.
  • Presenting it in a meaningful way.

And it’s valuable because:

  • We live in an era of content abundance.
  • Content curation offers high value.
  • Content curation maximizes resources and builds community.

Simply consider the more formal education programs your association offers each year. This likely includes face-to-face programs, digital learning, other meetings and events, and any certification, accreditation or licensure programs. Now multiply each of these programs by three marketing touch points and it’s more messaging than the average association member can reasonably absorb.

And we’ve not yet even considered the informal learning opportunities generated within our industry’s peer networks. So, it quickly becomes evident that a simple content curation strategy could easily help qualify some of this information, further promoting the organization as a valuable resource and content expert. Content treasurers may take many forms. Following is a partial list:

  • Guest bloggers/journalists
  • Slide decks/executive briefs
  • Handouts/resource materials
  • Discussion boards/online communities
  • Podcasts
  • Audio/video recordings
  • Social media feeds/conversations
  • Participant discussions/chat transcripts
  • Question/answer summaries
  • Program outlines/white papers
  • YouTube videos
  • Newsletter/magazine articles
  • Facilitator interviews
  • Case studies

It’s important to note here that true content curation requires some sort of transformation. It’s not about simply posting a slide deck to a website for someone to download. Rather, curating a series of slide decks from a single conference on the same topic might result in an executive brief highlighting only the key points/images from each.

Besides, when’s the last time you downloaded every single slide deck from ASAE’s annual meeting? Okay, it’s possible; I’ll give you that. Let’s take it a step further. When’s the last time you then reviewed, considered and implemented the ideas from each? This, my friends, is nearly impossible. Not to mention, the thought alone is purely overwhelming.

But it’s not enough to simply create content – curated or otherwise. You must then communicate and share this content with others. Otherwise, why do it? Following are just some of the ways you might consider sharing your content with association constituents:

  • Newsletter
  • Magazine
  • Blog
  • Website
  • Online community
  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • Social media

When utilizing these communication channels to share content, consider these tips:

  • Utilize a consistent learning, education or content brand. This may include a clever name, logo and tagline, as well as certain graphics, colors and fonts.
  • Identify your organization’s available communication channels and draft a comprehensive marketing strategy that utilizes multiple media.
  • Develop an editorial calendar that focuses on a specific subject each month or quarter based on the volume of content you have to share.

Finally, creating a collaborative learning environment requires the engagement of your community. There’s no need for this responsibility to land squarely on the shoulders of staff. Consider your target audience. It’s likely bigger than your current membership. Some examples of your organization’s various constituent groups may include:

  • Subject matter experts
  • Board members
  • Speakers/facilitators
  • Legislators
  • Sponsors
  • Vendors/suppliers
  • Members
  • Staff
  • Volunteer leaders
  • Components

You’ll note here that not every constituent group will be interested in the same content or should be communicated to in exactly the same way. What’s the right combination for each target audience? When you are able to curate the right content and share it with the right constituents via the right communication channels, engagement soars.

Furthermore, utilize these individuals as content experts. Whether this means recruiting them to serve as presenters, facilitators or curators, or simply featuring their blogs and industry resources within your established community, bring them into the fold. Develop file sharing, communication and collaboration tools that makes this process even easier and less cumbersome.

So, my question to you is this: How does your organization curate content? Likewise, how have you transformed your community into a collaborative learning environment (or what strategies are you considering for 2013)?


Practice what we preach: Breathing life into curated content

On July 26, I had the good fortune of presenting a webinar for Higher Logic. Titled “Curating Conference Content to Promote Member Engagement,” this session delivered five simple, but effective strategies for curating conference content. A link to the presentation – complete with examples and case studies that may be easily adapted for implementation within your own organization – is available here for download.

During the program, a simple poll question was asked: “Does your organization currently curate content in some way following your major annual meeting?” Here, major annual meeting was defined as the meeting with the largest attendance, the meeting that produces the most revenue or the most strategically important meeting. To my surprise, 73% of attendees (65 voters) said their organization currently does curate content in some way following its major annual meeting.

With such a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw upon, you can imagine my delight when so many contributed to discussion in the attendee chat box throughout the program. So, I thought I’d conduct a bit of my own content curation and share with you highlights from the webinar chat transcript as yet another example of how organizations can curate content (and, subsequently, add value).

Organized by topic, following are lightly edited participant insights:


  • We have individuals in each room provide input and then develop a blog post or update in a newsletter of what takes place.
  • We offered the 2-3 guest bloggers a comp registration to the conference and require at least 1 post a day. It seemed to work really well and we got a ton of interest for just 2-3 positions. The content that was provided was incredibly meaningful.


  • Reframe the PowerPoint in other ways and post them in our knowledge center.
  • Sharing PowerPoints as PDFs after the conference and executive briefs from concurrent sessions.
  • We also offer speaker handouts for download to attendees (before and after the conference).
  • We send out an e-survey after the conference and offer materials on our website from the conference.

Online community

  • We ask presenters to upload their own session materials to our Connected Community.
  • Offering content from our conference in our e-prof development portal.
  • We are working on goals and measures for our online community.


  • We offer for sale audio and video of conference sessions.
  • Podcasts, videos, meeting materials online.
  • We’re just starting plans to video.
  • We capture synched voice and PowerPoint presentations from sessions, but want to expand to the informal aspects of the conference.
  • We capture audio, video and presentations, and sell them to those who are unable to attend the conference.
  • We also share the videos from our plenary sessions with attendees and our members (when presenter contracts don’t prohibit it).
  • We have materials printed beforehand, and sell videos/materials after, but that is just the packaged product.


  • We’ve been asked by members to begin archiving all tweets related to the convention.
  • We have experience using Twitter Fountain.
  • One conference displayed the Twitter feed during the plenary session.
  • We do live Twitter feeds on large LCD screens spread throughout the conference venue (screens also include housekeeping items like room changes and a general schedule for the day).
  • We add Twitter handles to badges.
  • Have a tweet up with special prizes.
  • We do have a good population that uses Twitter and our conference planning team specifically appoints members before the event to be active on Twitter.


  • We currently offer sessions as webinars after our major events.
  • Have offered concurrent sessions as live webinars;  have the sessions archived for sale afterward.
  • We select key presenters from the conference and have them re-present as webinars post-conference. Our chapters will also ask presenters to come in and re-present.
  • Online learning, recordings of sessions, continuing education opportunities.
  • We’ve actually started working on the marketing campaign for our new on-demand product.

Other insights

  • Because many organizations are steering away from snail mail [see slide 18 in the PowerPoint presentation], your mailing piece is more likely to stand out a little more. It’s easier to delete an electronic piece.
  • Idea swaps would be a terrific idea for our association’s conference… and would lend well to post-conference learning.
  • We’ve been capturing content for some time. We have flyers ready and launch them the day of the seminar.
  • After one chapter event that featured speakers from the conference, we heard from several people they would make attending a conference a priority.
  • I am interested in capturing content that happened live at the event, whether it is during live presentations or conversations/interactions that happen during the live event.


  • It’s always a challenge at my organization to capture takeaways and continue programming after the program ends.
  • We actually started capturing content last year. We did well with repackaging, but the number of sales was lower than we expected.  We’re trying it again this year.
  • We have recorded a session and then used it as a webinar for those who did not attend the conference. It didn’t work well, but it was our first attempt.
  • We plan to have some extra staff members at our conferences to capture content. We need extra people since the organizing staff member is often so busy administering the logistics of the conference!

Among the numerous ideas shared during this webinar, there were also a handful of questions that went unanswered during the Q&A portion of the program. Following are those questions and my responses:

  • How do you measure increase in engagement for events? What are you measuring? [The answer will be different for every organization, and is based upon the goals that you and your leadership team set. It may be higher attendance at the conference overall, it may be a higher percentage of attendees participating in a particular session/event onsite, it may be increased attendee satisfaction or it may be something altogether different – and less measurable or concrete.]
  • What type of feedback is received from non-participants when they get feed from the event? Are they more willing to participate the following year? [Whether they’re willing to participate the following year in-person or not is really of little consequence. If they’re participating at all – live or via the conference feed – they are engaging with your organization. This is a win-win all around. Remember, quality experiences yield loyalty and loyalty yields engagement. Once you've secured engagement, you can expect continued membership, as well as other subsequent purchasing decisions.]
  • How do you encourage attendees to participate in tweeting, posting to Facebook and writing a blog? [I think these are three separate questions – and should be handled differently based upon the characteristics of your target audience. If your audience isn’t active on Twitter, your conference incentives likely won’t be enough to get them engaged. Facebook, on the other hand, is a different story. Die-hard Facebook posters only need a bit of encouragement to share their favorite conference moments. With regard to blogging, see the ideas provided earlier in this post.]
  • Does he suggest having a dedicated person to execute some of these strategies? [If by “he” you are referring to me, then the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” No conference organizer has the time to dedicate to conference curation – at least not onsite. The right number will be different for each organization, though, depending on the breadth and depth of the curation you’d like to facilitate both onsite and post-conference. In addition to curation, you should also consider communication and marketing. It’s not just an “education” responsibility.]
  • We currently have paper evaluations – all electronic evaluations would be disastrous, but can you give me a few concrete actions to take to drive engagement and feedback? [Both the webinar and this blog post speak to concrete engagement examples, so I’ll tackle feedback here. Get testimonials from attendees while you’re at the conference. Record and share these testimonials following the event and when marketing the following year’s conference. Pictures and videos are especially effective. Following the event, hold a focus group to glean additional insights about the attendee experience. Above all else, be sure to actually do something with the information you gather.]

So, my question to you is this: Which of these ideas resonates most with you and your organization? How will you curate conference content during or after your next major annual meeting to promote member engagement? What challenges still exist in effectively sharing (e.g., communicating, marketing, leveraging) curated content with your members?


Return on learning (ROL): More than a boring statistic

Fireworks in Grand Rapids on July 4, 2011.

It’s Tuesday afternoon, the day before Selma’s favorite holiday: Independence Day. He claims to “love this holiday because it celebrates the journey of our country and there’s no commercial mandate for superfluous gifts. No running from one house to the other because of tradition. It’s shorts, t-shirts, beer, BBQ, friends and fireworks.”

For me, it means a much-needed couple of days off as conference season ramps up. Next week I have the pleasure of participating in the Michigan Society of Association Executives’ annual convention, colloquially known as OrgPro. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to develop a set of concurrent breakout sessions that everyone will participate in Wednesday morning called, “The Solution Room.”

I’m also very much looking forward to Ignite. It’s been many months in the making, but the day of reckoning is nearly here – and it’s go time for 11 very excited association and supplier professionals who are eager to hit that stage and share with the world (yes, we will be broadcasting live!) their personal and professional passions related to the theme of transformation.

The following week, I once again make friends with my mobile office. This time, it’s a road trip of epic proportions (for me, at least). I’m headed down to Muncie, Indiana. A simple check of Google Maps indicates that in relation to Grand Rapids, Muncie is nearly due south – though, of course, the route will be slightly less direct. When you factor in road construction, there’s no telling what to expect.

Nevertheless, I’ll be speaking at the Indiana Society of Association Executives’ (ISAE) annual convention Thursday afternoon. My closing keynote presentation – Return on Learning (ROL): More Than a Boring Statistic – is intended to be a highly interactive session explaining what exactly ROL is, how to calculate it and why it’s important.

I’ll start by defining return on investment (ROI) as a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment. To calculate ROI, the benefit (return) of an investment is divided by the cost of the investment. (Hang in there!) ROL is simply a derivative of ROI that sheds a spotlight of laser-like proportions on an organization’s learning investments.

That’s great, but what does it mean in practice? For those who know me well, the concept of bridging theory with practice is one I often preach from my soap box as an essential conference deliverable. So, we’ll use the ISAE annual convention as a case study. This will allow participants the opportunity to experiment with ROL and begin to uncover innovative ways to calculate and market ROL for their own events.

The first step in calculating ROL (or ROI, for that matter), is examining the cost of training versus perceived/actual benefits. Training “costs” may include registration fees, training materials, transportation, lodging and meals, as well as time and lost productivity.  On the other hand, training “benefits” may include session content (e.g., tools, technologies and processes), association contacts, vendor contacts, best practices and skill development.

Obviously, placing a dollar value on benefits such as networking and knowledge acquisition can be tricky, particularly in the short-run. However, long-term value is a bit easier to calculate and generally manifests itself in terms of products and services that are then sold to association members and clients for a profit. In other words, this is where conference learning (unique for each attendee) intersects with his or her organization’s mission, vision and values to create a value-add.

With the volume of education programs available today, it’s clear to see how understanding and effectively sharing your meeting’s ROL with your target audience could impact not only program attendance, but ultimately perceived value and your organization’s bottom line.

Finally, I intend to conclude with a brief discussion about staff learning investments, inherent benefits and tips for maximizing staff ROL. For example, learning organizations accept a set of attitudes, values and practices that support the process of continuous learning that could result in improved decision-making skills, future cost savings, increased productivity, higher quality work and better efficiency.

Conversely, organizations deficient in professional development competencies are unable to overcome poor quality, inefficiency, low staff morale, communication issues and turnover/high recruitment costs.

Ultimately, learning investments are the right thing to do and the effects of learning on business performance are cumulative over time. Organizations can expect a financial return on investment, as well as a multidimensional return on their commitment to learning (e.g., culture, reputation and productivity).

Following are three tips for maximizing staff ROL:

  1. Create individualized development plans for each employee focused on specific leadership competencies defined by the requirements of the position, team, organization and profession.
  2. Establish management champions and mentors that support employee learning.
  3. Blur the lines between classroom, workplace and relationships, ultimately promoting the immediate application of learning within your organization.

So, my question to you is this: How does your organization leverage ROL when marketing programs and events? How does the learning environment of your organization impact work performance? What would you add to this discussion about return on learning?

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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