Just like event staff had to learn how to pivot from in-person to virtual, marketers had to figure out how to promote these new events to audiences that hadn’t experienced them before. A new toolkit provides examples of strategies that worked in 2020.

When the world shut down in March 2020, many associations were left to consider how to turn an in-person meeting into a virtual event that still educated its audience. Marketing staffs also had to shift their strategies to both attract and educate potential attendees to this new meeting format, as well as create engagement with attendees during and post-event.

A subgroup within ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council put together the “Best in Class Marketing Toolkit for Virtual Events” [PDF] to capture and share effective marketing tactics implemented by association professionals in 2020. These best practices examples were culled from outreach to the association community and a Virtual Hack-a-Thon hosted in conjunction with two other ASAE councils: the Meetings & Expositions Professionals Advisory Council and Membership Professionals Advisory Council.

The toolkit focuses on three areas: pre-event messaging, during event engagement tactics, and post-event follow-up strategies. Each section includes an image example, as well as what the result of that marketing tactic was for the association. Here’s a look at some of the key findings for marketers in this new toolkit.

Pre-Event

Prior to the event, it’s important to create a consistent message to engage the audience. To do that, focus on two key areas:

Assess and modify your message. With the new virtual event format, the American Concrete Institute decided to market to a new segment and broaden its reach to an international audience. This strategy increased student registrations, first-time attendees, and nonmembers seeking to engage with the association.

Provide opportunities to keep members engaged in a virtual world. The Post-Tensioning Institute provided “insider” boxes with exclusive mystery benefits to promote early registration and feed engagement throughout the day. They saw an increase in registration and generated additional profit.

During the Event

Once the event has begun, associations need to orient their audience to the platform they’re using, use their social media toolkit, employ gamification strategies, and incorporate daily touchpoints. Here are two themes that can help associations:

Define best practices for the best virtual experience. Insights Association provided an orientation guide full of tips, links, and information about the event. Attendees were impressed with the thoroughness of the guide, thus improving the user experience during the event.

Encourage engagement with attendees and attendance with exhibitors during the event. Three associations provided examples of engagement strategies:

  • The American Society for Nutrition curated a Live Online Social Media Toolkit for attendees. It included sample post ideas, digital backgrounds, profile frames, and handles for all social media platforms, resulting in the milestone achievement of surpassing 10,000 followers on Instagram.
  • Veterinary Medical Association Executives provided its tight-knit community of registrants an “at-home experience” hat not only captured their tastebuds, but also left a priceless experience for their first virtual event.
  • The National Council of Structural Engineers Associations provided exhibitors with an opportunity to market their presentations a month prior to the event (open to all) and during the event (only open to the attendees). This new approach resulted in a 65 percent retention of their original exhibitor base and acquired attendees who were not in their database or had attended an event in the past.

Post-Event

After the event, associations need to consider how to use communication channels to further the reach of their virtual meeting.

Centralize Post-event communication. AHRA: The Association for Medical Imaging Management provided an easy and centralized location for their attendees to access and view content. This strategy allows the association to continually engage with their members, keep a pulse on what content is relevant to their users, and promote the next conference.

Offer VIP promotions to incentivize early registration. The American Academy of PAs (AAPA) developed a VIP promotion to bridge the gap between their event closing and the launch of the next event. This promotion provided AAPA with a new list of contacts for early purchasers’ segment with a 12 percent conversion on the first-year execution of the program.

Nikki Golden, CAE

Nikki Golden, CAE, is a strategist with Association Laboratory in Chicago, and is a member of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.

Villy Savino

Villy Savino is vice president of technology transformation at CoreNet Global in Atlanta, and is a member of ASAE’s Marketing Professionals Advisory Council.