Proven Strategies for Associations to Run Successful Online Events: Part 3

Can associations generate revenue with online events? Yes, of course!

Can associations use the same strategy to market online events as they would in-person events? Well, not necessarily.

Welcome back to our conversation on proven strategies that associations have used to run successful online events with Dr. Laurelle Jno Baptiste, Vice President of Professional Services at Vocalmeet. In Part 1, we focused on the key factors that associations must explore before choosing an online platform. In Part 2, we discussed the different hybrid formats and how associations can offer hybrid events cost-effectively. And last but certainly not least, in Part 3, we address how associations can generate revenue with online events.

Q: Many associations fear that members do not see the value in paying for online events, and so they decide to offer these online events for a significant discount or even free. Consequently, some associations haven’t been able to generate the same level of non-dues revenue from online events, as they would with in-person events. Based on your work with association clients, would you agree that online events should essentially be offered for free?

A: That is 100% a myth that must be demystified. Helping members and other attendees see the value in online content requires a shift in mindset. And that shift in mindset must start with the association. What do I mean by that?

  1. To start off, the traditional in-person format means that the financial benefits of these in-person events are singular and often marginal, as in-person events cannot be recreated once completed.
  2. With online events, associations can get a longer-lived value from the investment of time and money. This means that with pre-recorded sessions or sessions that are recorded during the live events, associations can continue to generate revenue by selling these sessions on-demand long after the event has ended.
  3. The shift in mindset comes from understanding that there is value in convenience, reduced expenses of attending online events, and flexibility for members to access on-demand sessions at any time afterwards.

In fact, through our work with association clients, we see first-hand how much members do see the value in convenience and not having additional expenses around travel, accommodation, and taking time off work. For example, associations we work with typically attract about 10% of their total membership base to in-person conferences. Of course, you can argue that members who attend in-person events regularly value the in-person networking opportunities. But what about the remaining 90% of members?

Well, I mentioned earlier in Part 2 that although some members are eager to network, others may simply wish to attend education sessions. Removing the traditional barriers to attending events, and offering sessions on-demand afterwards, have certainly helped our clients significantly increase the percentage of the membership that are engaged in their events and programs in general.

Q: That’s a great point, and engaging more members throughout the year with online events will surely help with membership retention as well! You mentioned that associations need to help attendees see the value in online content. Can you share some strategies on how to accomplish this?

A: It all comes down to marketing, and I can’t stress this enough: marketing online events requires a different strategy than marketing in-person events. It’s not enough to simply rebrand all in-person events as “virtual” without any additional information. Be mindful that some attendees may not be comfortable with technology and especially with attending online events. That said, it’s critical that associations outline the benefits of online events:

  • Address the technical concerns by letting attendees know that it’s easy to sign up for online events and that there’s technical support if they need it.
  • Highlight the savings they obtain from not having to travel and still getting the value of the education sessions (not to mention access to the on-demand recordings for as long as the content remains relevant!).
  • Remind attendees how the online sessions can help them improve their skill sets for their professional work; this is even more important if the sessions are voluntary and not for continuing education credits.
  • One of my colleagues wrote an article for the American Society of Association Executives on Why Associations May Be Disappointed in Their Online Course Sales – it’s worth reading! The article covers how associations can mitigate the challenges around having to compete with so much content available online today.

That wraps up our conversation! Thank you for joining us, and we hope you gained some valuable insights on running successful online events. We understand that every association has different goals and mandates. If you’d like a second opinion for your upcoming events, send us a request and we’d be happy to share additional insights into what our association clients have done.