How Associations Are Reimagining Event Experiences

A person attends a virtual event.
Find out what other associations are doing to reimagine event experiences through the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Brian Smith, Communications Specialist

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen resilience and innovative breakthroughs from associations as they continue to support their members and respective industries. Perhaps nowhere is that more obvious than in the way organizations are hosting their meetings, events and conferences.  

Associations are quickly realizing the value of hosting a virtual event. They typically attract a wider demographic due to discounted (or free) registrations and there are no burdensome travel costs. Such was the case for ASAE during their 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting & Exposition, setting attendance records with over 13,000 people attending 

Did your association quickly transition to a virtual event on Zoom? Or did you decide to postpone the date to 2021 so you can (hopefully) host a hybrid event experience with both in-person and virtual attendees? Either way, we remain in mostly uncharted territory. We are all exploring and experiencing this together.  

While many of us continue to get acclimated to virtual event environments, the question for many association professionals has now become, “How can we reimagine the event experience for 2021?” 

To help the member-based nonprofit community better answer that question, Protech hosted a webinar and invited a panel of technology experts from Association Analytics, Guidebook and Higher Logic to discuss some trends that are transforming the event experience landscape. 

Here are a couple of ways your association can leverage the software you may already have to make future events the high-quality experience that your members expect. 

Use Mobile Apps as a Hub for Member Collaboration and Engagement 

The way association professionals adjust their event strategies to the newly engaged audience – from the high-level executive to the recently hired project coordinator – will be key to providing a high-quality event experience. One popular change is incorporating mobile apps as a key technology component to the experience, not just an add-on that’s a nice way to look up the agenda for the day. 

Matthew McHugh, Sr. Manager of Customer Success at Guidebook, sees associations utilizing mobile apps to help complement a hybrid event experience for two reasons:  

  1. Because people are on their phones now more than ever. 
  2. Apps typically have flexible integrations with other third-party systems 

Members can log in to your association’s mobile app, check the event calendar, reach out to sponsors, collaborate in chat rooms with other members or search for and share content among membership groups. 

As the market has evolved, Matthew says, “the bar is higher, we need to be good stewards of our dollars and justify the use of whatever [technology] we deploy.” These are a few metrics you should track in your mobile app to ensure ROI: 

  • Of the people who downloaded the app, how many opened it? 
  • How long are users staying on the app? 
  • What pages are they navigating to? 
  • Are they coming back to the app? 
  • What are the click-through and download rates of banner ads for your sponsors?

It’s also important to keep track of meaningful connections – likes, shares, comments, Q&A chats, community board posts and livepoll survey entries between different member types, members and non-members, thought leaders and session attendees, speakers and sponsors, and association staff. These connections will spur new ideas for future event experiences. 

It hasn’t taken long for the association community to adopt new technologies while working remotely. Mobile apps are the next step in the evolution of events and will be a driving force in bringing together the in-person and virtual event experiences. 

Integrate Community Platforms and Event Management Software 

Your members and non-member prospects alike are working remotely, and they want to connect beyond just the few hours they get to meet during the virtual conference. This is why the trends we see in the mobile app space are also happening for online community platforms.  

In our webinar, Higher Logic’s Online Community Manager Kaila Timmons said that she has noticed an increase in integrations between online communities and event management software because association members are increasingly leaning on their communities to support their professional development and networking needs 

Other associations have decided to open their online community to the general public to broaden audience outreach with searchable content, drive the sales funnel, discover new industry trends for educational program development and obtain additional engagement data. 

Online community platforms, along with mobile apps, will give associations and their members more opportunities to connect, collaborate and create content that can then be later repurposed after the event for long-term engagement. 

Where is the Event Industry Headed? 

When new technologies that impact the event industry are first introduced, professionals like to predict that their developments and innovations will lead to the end of physical in-person events. Why go to the event in-person if you can just open your laptop and watch the livestream from the comfort of your couch, right?  

Since there truly isn’t replacement for meeting someone, shaking their hand and getting to know them at a tradeshow in a large conference hall, we know that in-person events will eventually make a strong return. But instead of virtual and in-person events being siloed, association managers will develop best practices in each approach for the optimal event experience. Whether it’s a mobile app that links out to industry resources or an online community platform that integrates with your event management software, your association’s annual event will not look like it used to. 

Now is the time to be fearless in your approach. Experiment with out-of-the-box strategies. The association industry won’t be able to learn what works or what doesn’t until those experiments are done. Give it a try, obtain feedback and make the necessary adjustments so that your next event is one that all your members will remember. 

Interested in learning more about virtual events? Download our webinar, Lessons Learned: How We Took Our Event Virtual in 5 Weeks.