Bye-bye Mr Association – we don’t need you any more…

Wow that’s scary.

According to the ASAE – American Society of Association Executives, in 2009 they had 90,908 Trade and Professional association members and 1,238,201 philanthropic or charitable association members.  That’s an awful lot of people.

But hang on a minute.  Let’s examine the individual’s motivation for joining an association.  For tradespeople and professionals it may well be that they are unable to practice without membership or affiliation; or that the letters they receive after their name are the kudos they need to get the job.  Within philanthropical or charitable associations the incentive is clear, an individual may be driven by personal circumstances or a desire to affect change in a certain area.

What we must examine is just what proportion of the membership actually participates in the activities of the Association and therefore has a real relationship with the organisation it gives its annual fees to.  At a recent conference we asked a roomful of event managers from Associations what proportion of their membership came to their conferences, meetings and other events.  There was an audible gasp when one individual said 50%.  Not in horror, but in awe.  Because no one else in the room was able to quote a figure above 5%.

Which means that for most Associations, the events, educational seminars and other niceties they spend the membership’s money and their time on creating are failing to engage 95% of their target audience.  If you have 5000 members therefore you can only really rely on 250 people when the chips are down.

Why bring this up?  Because if you are an Association you need to understand that unless you offer something that your members absolutely can’t do without, then they can go elsewhere, for free.  Social networking enables the creation of special interest groups, the ability to get expert advice from verifiable experts and be able to create meetings in venues that are convenient to all.  If you want to make sure that you are delivering something different, tangible and valuable then you need to embrace the new virtual technologies, like 6Connex, to create ongoing content, events, comment and advice that puts you right at the heart of your membership.

Otherwise, quite frankly, they are just going to go someplace else.

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Success needs nothing more than great content and good data

Simplistic – maybe?

Whether you are an event company or a publisher, it is these two elements that define you.  You need content specifically aimed at an audience which has been clearly outlined both in terms of demographic profile and in their ability to attract a pool of organisations willing to pay to talk to them in the environment you are providing.

Well-kept and nurtured data is absolutely essential, even in these days of disintermediation when everyone believes they can talk to their clients direct through social networking and marketing channels.  But it seems that we have lost sight of the importance of keeping data clean, updated and useful.  So often now we see clients who consider their database to be something that can be pounded with email messages or inappropriate advertising, taking barely a moment’s notice of the attrition of individuals.

Harping on about the current economic situation no longer seems to be generating a reaction from many in the B2B sectors, it seems they are too busy holding onto whatever business they may have left to take any notice.  But the fact is that events companies who are able to produce great content and understand the power of their data will be able to use the new virtual business solutions to add a series of events to their portfolio; and similarly event companies will be able to use them to create year-round content based on the great efforts they make for a few days a year.

Together these two groups could forge secure new businesses for themselves – embracing content delivery without being reliant on another to supply it for them.  Pity the guys they leave out in the cold.

Virtual set to become the norm rather than the exception

Six months ago, if you mentioned the word virtual event 5 out of 6 people would shrug, look sceptical or even splutter at your naïvety.  Like all new innovations, trying to explain the capabilities and opportunities created by this technology was easily lost in the objections.

Not any more.

While technology companies and those used to employing disparate, often home-based, workforces were eagerly embracing this new way of communicating, professional protectionism has held other sectors back in terms of both understanding and implementation.  Areas of business that could benefit hugely from the ability to disseminate large amounts of complex information, with the ability to receive live feedback and action plans were either unable to see the possibilities or quite frankly were singing with their hands pressed over their ears.

But the economic, business and learning opportunities offered by the very best virtual solutions platforms have been hard to ignore.  Recent research by e-learning consultant Jeff Cobb among associations in the US showed that nearly 20% had already held a virtual conference with a further 45% planning to do so.  Although it is the big organisations that have been the early adopters, this research showed that the smaller groups are also able to see the benefits that this could deliver to them and were looking to follow suit.

While virtual events can’t replace that impromptu chat, where they do win hands down is in their attendance figures.  Just as many exhibitions are currently struggling to convert more than 30% of their registrations into actual visitors, virtual events are seeing conversion somewhere in the region of 70%.  In fact we have one commercial event where 1300 registered and 1297 logged on to participate in the event.

But it is when you start to see organisations like the American Nurses Association adopting the technology to enable them to deliver one of their six-monthly meetings virtually and saving approximately $80K (and all those greenhouse gases) that you should understand how communicating this way removes cost directly from the bottom line, and yet affects service delivery not one iota.

Which is probably why no one is singing any more when virtual events are mentioned.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Social media has turned marketing on its head.  In every sense.

Marketing managers find themselves beleaguered by the number and complexity of media that they are expected to embrace and conquer even for what has always been the most straightforward sector – B2B.  As quickly as they understand the dynamics of one method of communication up pops another one – until the choice is both bewildering and extravagantly large.

Like children in a sweetshop, managers further up the chain, or stepped sideways from the marketing discipline, want it all.  They aren’t so worried if they are satifying a need, why just take the licorice when you can have the chocolate and the sherbert fountain, and the marshmallows and the sours, and the jelly beans…  But all this approach delivers is a stomach ache and no memory of the taste from each individual component.

Marketing for events has become a little like this.  Wanting email and direct mail and contra-deals and editorial and blogging and groups on LinkedIn…  but unless you stop to work out the strategy before you start all that happens is you have run around like a headless chicken for a few months and guess what?  You still don’t have any delegates for your event.

But this is where the smart organisations are getting their act together.  They have taken a long hard look at what email and random social marketing hasn’t got them, and they are embracing once again the old school of intelligent PR and great direct mail to form the backbone of their campaigns.  They aren’t spending as much money on these elements, but they are creating targetted shots that are really hitting home on their targets.

These same organisations are the ones who are also investing in specialist knowledge to help them build and maintain a social media campaign, managed and directed by a marketing manager who is not expected to be all things to all media.

Sounds like the way things were done 20 years ago – only better…

At last the internet lives up to its early promise

When the first web site built at CERN was put on line on 6 August 1991 its aim was to enable participants to create real-time collaboration, potentially forging more open communication.

Since then, we’ve been having lots of fun creating masses of content for this beast, it has enabled more open access to information and there is no doubt that it has helped save a lot of people a fair amount of money on their car insurance.

But has it lived up to its promise?

Arguably no, because although the Internet has allowed everyone to become a publisher and a spectator, the collaborative element has been very much the poor relation.  While there are social networking sites and intranets which do, to some extent enable two-way interaction, the difficulty is that these are all micro conversations happening in splendid isolation.

Good business, medical science, research and project management of course do not run like this.  The conversations need to be linked, decisions made on sound judgement and a clear intelligence trail left behind should steps need to be retraced.  While there are many technologies that do individual bits, like TelePresence, online conferencing and networking groups, these hoover up precious time rather than creating it.

But the virtual solutions created by companies such as 6Connex, Ubivent, On24 and InXpo finally address this issue.  They bring all of the communication and social networking tools together in a single, easy to use interface that mean at last the idea that Tim Berners-Lee had nearly 20 years ago of transparent collaboration is now a reality.

The best things are always worth waiting for.