Associations and their meeting strategies have
been evolving in recent years as more associations embrace
digital technology such as social media to augment on-site
meetings as venues for member interaction.
Associations have always been, by the very nature of their
missions, "social" organizations, but now the social benefits
have significantly evolved as associations leverage new digital
and program strategies for advancing their industries and the
professional development of their members.
The traditional value of face-to-face networking and
camaraderie with industry peers at events remains a strong and
compelling benefit for association members. However,
forward-looking associations are now striking a strategic
balance between in-person member events and the wide-ranging
deployment of digital engagement.
Associations are increasingly using online settings, whether
their websites or social media channels, to enhance their
organizational appeal to members and support year-round,
member-to-member connections and continuing education.
On-site Meets Online
Associations are a natural fit for social media. Strip the
intent of any association to its essence and the gleaming
nugget remaining is a fraternal alliance of individuals united
by an allegiance to common challenges and aspirations. Social
media energizes that impulse for camaraderie in the digital
space, enhancing connections between association members and
accelerating the exchange of ideas to advance an association's
mission and its success.
If association members are planning to attend an event, they
can connect with each other on the association's Facebook,
LinkedIn, Twitter, or Pinterest pages. This interaction drives
buzz about the meeting as members talk up the event before and
Social media tools are now as pervasive at meetings as the
ubiquitous smartphones that enable access to them. Twitter in
particular has increased communication among attendees as they
tweet about different seminars, speakers, and exhibitors.
Twitter also helps those unable to attend the event to stay in
the loop back at the office.
My company, CMA Association Management, has advocated
integrating Twitter contests into meetings to spur attendee
interactivity and instill an element of fun. The association
posts a list of 10 things for on-site attendees to accomplish
using Twitter (get your picture taken with the keynote speaker
or tweet your main take-away from a certain seminar, for
In addition to incorporating traditional social media into
their programming, associations are also establishing private
online communities, built around areas of specialization or
committees so members can chat with one another about their
areas of interest. Online communities foster real-time
discussions about marketplace issues, solution sharing, service
provider referrals, and the exchange of resources.
Planning Interactivity Into Events
The emphasis on social media interaction between members
on-site at an event is just one aspect of a growing association
focus on planning event components that encourage greater
face-to-face interactivity among members.
We counsel our association clients to move beyond the same
cookie-cutter agenda every year - the general session, the
sit-down dinner, etc. We work with associations to develop new
features each year that encourage interaction to change things
up. Attendees want to experience something different where they
have opportunities to engage more with other people at the
Changing up programming features could include a
speed-networking program between members and a series of
suppliers. Learning lounges encourage small group discussions
with vendors to learn more about their products or services. It
could be mini-roundtables with a small group of people
discussing a specific industry topic and then presenting their
consensus to the larger group. Try moving away from plated
dinners to buffet stations to encourage members to mingle.
Think of fun icebreaker features to add to receptions or
Additional opportunities for engaging members include
voluntourism activities - off-site opportunities organized for
attendees to advance a charitable cause that benefits the host
city's local community. A city's convention and visitors bureau
is a great resource to coordinate this. Such activities get
people interacting for a good cause and sharing the camaraderie
of helping to make a difference.
Striving for Greater Industry andMember Impact
Associations are re-engineering and transforming their websites
into robust, go-to portals for industry intelligence, on-demand
training modules, interactive member forums, and other dynamic
resources for connecting members in real-time. These websites
are virtual libraries packed with archived articles, webinars,
past conference presentations, interactive member directories,
and buyers' guides, all serving as an industry crossroads where
members can interact and advance their professional
Other association trends we see and work on with our
association clients are an increase in association professional
certification initiatives and awards programs recognizing
innovation and excellence in the products or services member
Professional certifications administered through an association
provide added member value and differentiation for members and
their employers. By meeting industry-verified certification
criteria, a member benefits from the association's trusted
third-party validation of the member's industry expertise and
professional knowledge. This is a powerful association benefit
that can be a significant membership and revenue driver.
In a similar vein, association awards recognizing member
companies' excellence, quality, or innovative products or
services raise a company's visibility within its industry and
its credibility in the minds of customers. Both of these
strategies are competitive differentiators that members value.
Such programs also fuel an association's public relations
With so many options and information chains available today,
associations stay poised as "the go-to resource."
Lynn McCullough, director, CMA Association Management, has nearly 25 years of association management and meeting planning experience. Accredited by the AMC Institute, CMA Association Management provides a comprehensive portfolio of association management and event planning services — including award-winning marketing communications and digital capabilities — to regional, national, and global association clients. Visit www.thinkcma.com for more information.