How this Annual Meeting Succeeds Thanks to its Online Community

Many associations have embraced the social learnings of their members and created private online communities. They recognize them for the effective engagement tools they are but they are also effective recruiting, publishing, and event-building tools as well.

How this Annual Meeting Succeeds Thanks to its Online Community

How to Create an Effective Event Tool Using Your Online Community

First, you cannot decide upon, design, populate, and launch an online community a week before your event. Creating an online community takes time. You need features that will appeal to your members, quality content, a marketing strategy, and support from your executives.
Wishing doesn’t build an online community. Consistent hard work does.

But assuming you have one in place, you can leverage it to take your event to the next level. You can create buzz and excitement, as well as educate, and make your conference run more efficiently. In this article we’ll follow the efforts of an association that uses their online community for every stage in their conference planning: pre, during and post conference.

The Higher Education User’s Group (HEUG) is a 32,000-member strong international organization for people in higher education who use application software from Oracle. They average between 4,200-4,500 at their annual Alliance conference and because of their international membership, they rely heavily on their online community and digital media to generate interest.

HEUG leverages its online community and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. They create a communication plan with detailed information to be shared on their online community as well as a social media plan.

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Putting Your Online Community to Work Pre-Conference

It’s Never Too Early to Get Your Members Excited About Conference
HEUG’s annual conference, Alliance, is held every March in a different host city. Beginning in April of the prior year, they begin building a buzz about the host city. To build excitement and drive attendance, they select a theme that ties into the city and use it in all of their communications. Alliance 2016 will be held in Seattle. The theme? ‘90s music, of course!

Next they begin creating and sharing content in their online community. Content includes “must visit” opportunities in the host city, hotel information, videos, trivia, and more. In addition to content being tied into the host city, they use the theme to create pieces members love. This year ‘90s music lends itself to things like Flashback Friday and Throwback Thursday. The aim is fun in order to build excitement and generate interest in attending.
It’s never too early to build interest since most of the attendees will need to get sign-offs from managers to go. The earlier information is shared with members, the more of them will be able to attend.

Generate Buzz with Giveaways

Next up, they hold several contests that get people excited about the upcoming conference. Usually the prizes come from the host city, hotels, and other convention organizations. They market the giveaways on their online community and through social media. Members love this and they often pick up 500-700 new likes and follows on their social profiles.

At the Conference: How to Use Your Online Community

Keeping it Fun and Encouraging Desired Behavior Among Attendees
Staying connected with efficient and fun communication is important when managing a 4,200 person event. HEUG, like most associations has a list of activities they know will make the conference more enjoyable for everyone. These activities include networking, visiting vendors, participating in surveys, and meet-ups. In order to incentivize these actions they’ve create a point system that bestows awards/badges on attendees who partake in these desired behaviors. This is a benefit to everyone. The organization gets a successful conference and the attendees enjoy it very much.

Organizing ListServs by Track

HEUG also uses ListServs in their online community as an efficient way to communicate before, during, and after the conference. It creates groups for each one of its conference tracks, which encourages networking and sharing with people who have seen the same session that you have. It also helps for those who wish they could be a part of more than one track and gain some knowledge from the track session they haven’t attended.

Sharing Critical Information

Changes come up at conferences often. An online community helps to get the word out on room changes, scheduling changes, and impromptu meet-ups. Agendas can be shared easily and attendees always know where to find the most up-to-date information. No more searching through the tote bag for information that was left on a session table somewhere.

A Good Online Search is Critical to Good Networking

HEUG’s online community search allows attendees to search on an array of demographic information for easy connecting. In addition to the average demographic data, members can search by things like country and university to find out who will be attending from a given school to increase networking opportunities. Members can reach out directly to one another through the private online community in order to arrange meetings.

Post Conference: Keep the Buzz Going all Year

An online community becomes a particularly useful tool in between conferences. It keeps people connected and excited about their experience at conference. It also becomes a learning portal. HEUG uploads all of its sessions to its online community making them accessible to attendees as well as those who couldn’t make it. Materials include videos of some sessions, audio of all sessions, and slide decks, when available.

In Conclusion

Association event planners place considerable resources behind building a buzz. An online community allows them to ride that wave of excitement right into next year’s conference. Attendees are able to stay connected, and continue learning and exchanging year round. Best of all, you can watch them doing it and customize your offerings to what you see in community groups or the survey feedback you get from them through your online community.

About The Author
Christina Green
Christina R. Green is a digital storyteller and writer for associations and businesses, including journals such as the Midwestern Society of Association Executive's magazine and industry blogs. She's a voracious reader but has been known to stop reading if there are too many exclamation points used.
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