Live events retain their position as the top-rated member engagement tool for associations, but new digital engagement tools are gaining ground the fastest.
Live events are still the number-one channel for associations to engage with their members, according to the 2022 Association Benchmarking Report compiled by association services company Naylor Association Solutions. The survey, which closed in April 30 this year, tempered that good news with a finding that the perceived value of those in-person events decreased 10% over 2021, the first decline in years. The report cites difficulties in attracting participants for both in-person and virtual events as the reason for the slippage. In fact, even as in-person events begin to come back post-pandemic, attendees still struggle with travel concerns and budget restrictions. This could be one reason improving member attendance was one of the top challenges respondents cited.
Even so, 82% said that even with those challenges, traditional conferences and events were still their most valuable way to engage members — and more than 70% said events were an important way to assess member engagement as well. And they’re a top source of non-dues revenues as well, with sponsorship and exhibit sales being the leading NDR resource for 24% and 22%, respectively. This could probably improve a bit if more associations customized their offerings to those sponsors and exhibitors. This is something that only one in five currently do, as opposed to offering a default tiered package of options. Other types of events beyond traditional conferences also made the top 10 member-engagement list, including committee meetings, webinars, training and certification events, and networking events.
As events begin to slip a bit, newer digital engagement tools are on the upswing in perceived value. The survey found apps, text messaging, career centers and podcasts making the biggest year-over-year gain in perceived value. Older school channels — including email blasts, websites and enewsletters — also are still good engagement tools, the survey found.
And adding a digital element to in-person events also is a good way to engage members, with almost two out of five respondents saying hybrid events are very/extremely valuable. More than half said they planned to host hybrid events this year and into the future, compared to a third who say they will just offer in-person events and just 8% that are going digital-only.
While the percentage of those who use video for continuing education through videotaping portions of their largest live events has slipped from 68% to 64%, that still means that two-thirds find this to still be a good strategy to engage members. As to what parts of their conferences associations are making available via video, only half now are offering digital access to keynotes and breakouts, and just a fifth make the expo hall available to virtual attendees.
It does take a village — or at least a well-staffed meetings department — to keep that top engagement channel open and effective. While 51% of respondents reported they were understaffed overall this year, and 59% said they’d use any unexpected budget surplus or windfall to beef up their hiring, association meetings and events departments were feeling the least understaffed right now. While it may not seem like much if your association is among the 28% who feel understaffed in the events area, they look pretty healthy overall, employee-wise, compared to areas like data/strategy and publishing/content, where those departments are deemed understaffed by almost half of respondents.
For full results of the study, visit the Naylor website.