Virtual Tickets Can Make Your Association Money. No, Really.

Many associations assume virtual conference tickets are a loss leader designed to build interest and a wider audience. But they don’t have to be.

EMB_image_Virtual Tickets Can Make Your Association Money

How can your association make the virtual ticket appealing to those with budgetary and time constraints and still turn a profit? The answer lies in breaking down the components of a virtual conference as well as exploring and understanding pricing options.

Delineating the Components of a Virtual Ticket

Before an association decides how to charge for a virtual ticket, it’s important to understand there are two types. The first type of a virtual ticket involves (virtual) participation in the conference. Through this sort of ticket attendees participate online and “attend” sessions, contributing to the live conversation.

The second type of virtual ticket provides access to the content library of recorded sessions after the conference. Many associations make these conference sessions free for in-person attendees to watch/listen at their convenience upon returning home.

Tiered Levels for Virtual Tickets

Just as in-person tickets are often sold in tiers with different pricing based on early sign-up or increased access, your association can do the same for its virtual tickets. Tiers provide the ability to reach a larger crowd at a variety of price points. You can even start at free.

The Value of a Free Event Ticket

A free virtual ticket is the perfect way to offer a try-before-you-buy option for attendees and you can do it in a variety of ways. The most common way associations offer a free virtual ticket is to create free access to either the live conference or a portion of the content library mentioned earlier. The benefit to offering free tickets is that it increases your reach exponentially by making sharing frictionless and information available to anyone who is interested. Add in social media and social sharing of the conference content and your audience expands even more so. This expansive reach may help you increase next year’s attendance or even garner your association a few new members.

Can a Free Ticket Still Make Money?

It seems like an oxymoron that a free ticket can increase your conference revenue but it can, directly and indirectly. Indirectly, an association conference with superb content that is shared with the world can expect increased interest in next year’s event and may, as mentioned above, attract interest from several potential members. But since these sources of revenue aren’t guaranteed, and depend largely on your content quality and reach, it’s important to also address how your association can fund free virtual tickets in a way your board will find more appealing to this year’s budget.

With sponsors for web items like banners, ads and technology (such as the tech you use for the virtual conference or a private online community for virtual networking) as well as your in-person exhibitors, you can cover the cost of your virtual tickets. Once you have the technology to offer the virtual experience, your cost outlays are minimal so covering the tickets is not difficult.

Creating a Velvet Rope

Covering the cost of a virtual ticket is easy to do but you want to ensure there is enough of a difference between your free ticket and the content offered in-person that members still have a reason to come to the conference. The phrase “velvet rope” originates from a marketing tactic used by clubs where they allow non-VIPs to see enough of what is going on in the VIP area that they want to be a part of it and pay for access. Your free conference ticket should be structured the same way.

With increasingly hectic schedules and a decrease in allowable travel expenses, free complete access virtual tickets could begin to erode your in-person paying base. The intention of a free ticket is to expand your audience, not shrink it, so you will need to limit your free ticket in some way. You can do this by limiting the number you give away, give them away to only a specific type of person (such as students or by offering scholarships), or limiting access.

Limiting content access is another way to create a velvet rope and entice attendees to upgrade to a higher tier. You could give the virtual attendee ticket away but charge for copies of the content or provide the content for free but only after the conference is over. If you have multiple tracks you could provide one track option for free, or allow a free, basic tier of content access that provides recorded versions of up to 3 sessions to peak their interest.

The key to creating successful tiers of virtual attendance tickets is in allowing your lowest cost (or free tier) to partake in some of the conference but not all of the benefits. You must provide them with a reason to upgrade.

Virtual Tickets Have a Longer Shelf Life and a Broader Audience

Networking is one of the largest draws of an in-person conference. Session content and/or continuing education is a close second. While a virtual attendee won’t buy an in-person ticket for the same conference, an in-person attendee can buy a virtual ticket if you create a library of accessible content available afterwards. However, many associations chose to offer the content free (or deeply discounted if ordered before or during the conference) to their in-person attendees as an added bonus.

Offering live and recorded content appeals to different needs and should be marketed that way. First, a live e-ticket allows virtual attendees to join in the session (technology permitting) as if they were in the room on the day(s) of the conference. The second component of a virtual pass is access to the recorded sessions through an access code. This has broader appeal because it can be sold to those who couldn’t attend and those who did, as a reference library and way to experience the sessions they missed.

The content product portion of the virtual ticket has a longer shelf life than an in-person conference ticket and you can build upon some of the social media hype that hopefully surrounded your event in your marketing.

If you are selling content access after the event, you can also use content teasers. Creating the “velvet rope” referenced earlier. This partial availability of content will help you sell it with no additional cost to your association.

In Conclusion

With many employers continuing to cut back on conference and travel allowances, associations will be looking for creative ways to increase their conference/annual meeting attendance. Selling virtual tickets is a viable source of revenue and an impressive way to reach more attendees.

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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Julius Solaris
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