Not too long ago, Harvard Business Review claimed that “association membership is declining across the board.”
They chalked this up to the surge of social networks that provided a more convenient (and free) way for professionals to find information, meet peers, and access insights and training that was originally only accessible through association memberships and industry conferences.
Now more than ever, associations are having to step up their game to attract and retain members, and a key way they’re doing this is through meetings.
While this might sound like an easy solution, organising something of this scale can put a major strain on your secretariat – not to mention it’s a huge ask for your members.
You’re essentially asking them to take time out of their schedule to travel to Brussels for a meeting; something that might seem impossible if you haven’t mastered the knack of persuasion.
Unless you get strategic with your meetings.
Think of it less as a simple gathering of members, and instead strive to achieve a more strategic goal of delivering value to members beyond the agenda of the meeting. You want them to go away feeling like they’ve received real value and that the time spent travelling to Brussels was more than worth it.
Why Should You Be More Strategic With Member Meetings?
Associations rely on member meetings to implement their missions and visions, as well as communicate important information. And, for the most part, they have similar goals to businesses: to build brand recognition and engage and empower members.
Putting on a meeting that’s steeped in value will not only increase the attractiveness of your association, but it will also increase member loyalty and affect membership renewal rates.
But, more importantly – and this is where the strategic wins come into their own – it encourages members to actively engage and participate with your association. This adds to the value that all members get out of your association, which in turn compels members to return to Brussels, participate, and renew their membership.
You’re basically creating a virtuous cycle that places a heavy emphasis on returning members. In the Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo reminds association owners that “acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.”
And this all comes down to engagement, which Michael J. Brennan offers an equation for in his post Engagement Pyramid and Cycle: “Engagement = Relationship + Action.”
The simplest way of garnering a higher level of engagement from your members is to avoid focusing on just delivering value to your members. You also want to think and talk about how you can help your members deliver value to their customers.
How to Be Strategic With Your Member Meetings
This report states that the current structure of the membership events industry is “episodic, in that a show or event takes place at one short time period… and is unavailable the rest of the year.”
However, the key to being strategic with your meetings is to use them not as a standalone part of your business, but to incorporate them into other engagement strategies that you have planned for the rest of the year.
Think about it:
The growth of social networks and the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, means membership associations can keep the conversation going year-round. This will help you develop a dedicated database of members who will almost certainly turn up at your meetings every time.
Gone are the days of meetings that just regurgitate information to attendees through a series of static panels and seminars.
Instead, “current emphasis is being placed on the attendees’ experience,” says the task force. Over the next year or so, it’s predicted that meeting design and formats “will be driven by assessments of engagement and onsite experience.”
This takes into account models like hosted-buyer formats, gamification, and apps to help drive engagement and keep members connected before, during, and after they arrive in Brussels.
This is particularly true if you’re membership is predominantly made up of millennials. According to AMI Magazine, “recruiting millennial members involves keeping them inspired and engaged: activities and education should be purpose-led, fully immersive, disruptive in structure, digital, and reach diverse audiences.”
As an association owner, you’re not a stranger to the terms “legacy” and “impact”. But how can you even begin to measure the effect your association and its meetings have on your members and their own businesses?
According to Remi Deve of Boardroom Magazine, it’s important that we take on an approach that considers the broader range of output values associated with meetings, like what members will get out of the association in regards to their business, academic endeavours, and community.
This means considering the wider appeal of a meeting and the secondary value it will add to members on top of the obvious.
Sure, they might learn a new approach to an old system at a seminar, but what about the professionals they’ll have access to at the evening meal? Or how about the potential customers they can meet onsite?
The more value and legacy wins you can provide for your members, the more chance they will keep coming back for more. And, according to the Center for Association Leadership, around 44% of professionals surveyed said they anticipated an increase in the miles they travel to association meetings.
Remember, your members are actively choosing to invest in your association – and they don’t invest lightly.
In return, you should be providing them with the opportunity to connect with your association and its members in a way that is memorable and lasts longer than a single meeting.
New tools and technologies make it easier than ever to build connections with your members before they arrive in Brussels and long after they leave.
Creating a community hub or an app where they can interact with speakers, other members, and association staff provides considerably more value than scrolling through social media feeds trying to pluck out relevant information.
According to Mieke van Loenen, the Director of Events at the ICCA claims their Meetings App has been a huge success amongst their members.
“We centralise all our important information in the app, including a full listing of our education programme, floor plans, and delegate lists,” he says. “Delegates can also make appointments with each other, speakers, and ICCA Researchers via the app for effective business exchange whilst on site.”
These kind of technologies also make business intelligence easier through the easy access we have to data in all shapes and sizes.
According to Virtual, it’s important for member associations to build a customer information system to better engage their members. Tom Peters goes on to say that “it used to be ‘location, location, location.’ Today it’s ‘database, database, database.”
Your membership database needs to be more than just a list of members, though. Instead, you can use the data to determine who hasn’t attended a recent meeting and dig into why that’s the case to rectify it.
Build Engagement With Member Meetings
Member meetings are an integral part of running a membership association. They can be time-consuming and stressful to organise, but they have the potential to reap incredible benefits for both you and your members.
We’ve entered into an era where information can be accessed with the tap of a finger, so it’s more important than ever for associations to up the ante and provide an increasing amount of value to their members. Do this, and you’ll see engagement levels rocket, renewal rates increase, and membership satisfaction remain as high as it can be.