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virtual events

4 Ways to Engage Membership Association Conference Communities Online All Year Long

Given the current state of industry trade shows and membership association events, teams must find new ways to generate revenue that would otherwise come from their traditional in-person conferences. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The best solution to overcome this challenge could also fast-track your community’s success. Savvy event planners are doubling down on their community by providing year-round engagement opportunities online, including member networking events, educational webinars, auctions and fundraisers, and more. 

Let’s explore how your organization can offer similar online opportunities to keep your community engaged without your usual slate of in-person events. 

How To Nurture Your Industry Trade Show or Membership Association Community All Year

Your community will weaken if everyone only meets once a year. Consistent events or webinars, content offerings, and other member-exclusive benefits are essential to spark engagement (which will help nurture and grow your community all year).

Plan a membership engagement strategy with at least one significant offering each quarter, like a webinar or virtual member meetup. Consider hosting an ongoing series like a weekly Facebook Live conversation or social activities such as a monthly trivia night. 

Start small with the number and diversity of offerings. Your team should experiment with just a few options at a time and strive to offer a great experience. Then, as your community begins to engage with these offerings, your team can refine your strategy.   

Consider any of these ways to engage your trade show or association community throughout the year (and we’ll explain a few of these in greater detail next):

  • Educational webinars
  • In-depth interviews with industry experts
  • Members-only discussions on social media
  • Participation in or access to exclusive industry research
  • Professional development opportunities, like training or certifications
  • Casual get-togethers and happy hours
  • Events and activities co-hosted with association partners and event exhibitors

Provide targeted content to help members overcome challenges

Not all of your community members will attend your webinars and members-only discussions. That’s OK, as you can reach these members through other targeted means.

Repurpose all your webinars and members-only discussions into blog posts that provide an overview of the discussion, plus a transcript and full video or audio recording of the conversation. Continue to spotlight this content across your channels, including your email newsletter, social media sites, and your membership website, to maximize the likelihood that it reaches your ideal community members.

Survey members to understand their needs

Survey your association members at least quarterly to understand their current priorities and how your association can help them accomplish their goals. Keep your surveys short and focused, and include open-response answers to ensure you don’t limit your community feedback to validating your team’s assumptions. 

Supplement surveys with one-on-one member conversations that reflect the diversity of your community. 

Elevate membership partners and vendors

Your association partners and vendors want to find new ways to engage with your association, especially given many exhibitors’ mixed results with hybrid event experiences.

As you plan your membership engagement activities, consider involving your partners and vendors in the following ways:

  • Offer a technology showcase day similar to a virtual exhibition hall, spotlighting select vendors and ecosystem partners. This can involve interactive booths, live demos, or casual Q&A depending on what will be most helpful to your members.
  • Use vendor and partner swag or product demos as giveaway items or raffle prizes for members that engage in your online activities.
  • Moderate multiple partners for a relevant panel discussion on a challenging tech topic.
  • Co-create content or co-sponsor research that provides an extensive look at a topic of interest for your community (ideally lending real-world challenges and solutions as relevant).

Host webinars and members-only discussions

As you build your yearly member engagement plan, webinars and members-only discussions will likely be the easiest (and most effective) to start with.

Brainstorm a list of topics to explore in these discussions and experts that can lend a credible perspective on these topics. Bonus points if these are experts that your community actively follows (or if those experts are part of your community).  

There are a few ways to build this list of content ideas:

  • Review the most-attended sessions from your last member event. What topics did your community rave about?
  • Collect any unaddressed questions or comments from your past event sessions. Can you address these in a webinar or discussion?
  • Conduct social listening within your online communities to see what challenges they’re facing and the topics they’re most excited about.
  • Review your association’s professional development and opportunities for continuing education. How can you extend this member value online?

You can easily host conversations on many social media channels, like a Facebook Live stream or a Twitter Spaces audio chat. Be sure to prioritize the channel(s) that your community is already most active on instead of trying to bring that community to a new channel or platform to host your content offerings. 

In addition to social media networks, you can explore a range of virtual collaboration and conversation options, like Social hour, to support your community webinars and discussions. 

Virtual Event Tools Bring Membership Association Communities Together

Your community may take some encouragement to join your initial member events, but these opportunities will gain traction if each one has a clear purpose and value add for your members. Actively listen to your community to learn how you can best delight them with online offerings. 

As you plan your events, your team needs to provide an effortless experience for your attendees. However, most virtual event platforms provide a mediocre user experience, leaving many attendees disengaged (and unlikely to attend your next event).

We’ve built Social hour to support any range of activities for your tradeshow community and keep member engagement at the heart of your event. Learn more about why we’re an ideal solution for monthly happy hours, webinars, and more!