This year during The International Confex someone tweeted a tweet that made me feel a bit uncomfortable “associations are old fashioned but networks with people are great”. This tweet was quoted during a panel of event graduates and this quote came from a young professional.
I have huge respect for all event associations such as MPI, SITE, ILEA and EMA, but I’m not a member. I do attend their events occasionally and many of my colleagues work for associations, volunteer or hold board member positions. I worked for an association myself and see the benefits, as well as the challenges they are facing. The main challenges being attracting new members and increasing event attendance.
I don’t think that associations are old fashioned at all. In contrary, there are numerous benefits of being a member and expanding personal and professional network, as well as getting education. But suddenly, associations are in a new and very competitive environment, and this is not with each other, but with other networking groups for event professionals. Content is no more exclusive, neither the networking.
Only in recent years we see the rise of independent networking groups such as #EventPlanersTalk, Event Huddle, Citizen Event, The Delegates Wranglers, to mention a few. Event planners don’t need to pay to be a member of the community. Nevertheless, they have access to all events, chats and discussions, online group membership (e.g. – Facebook or LinkedIn), newsletters and offers. #eventprofs run these communities for #eventprofs. These are a mix of informal and formal gatherings that happen once in a month or so. Often, the people who attend these events are the same people who also attend association events. Suddenly, associations are no more exclusive.
I think that associations will face challenges if they fail to engage with the younger audience who think that associations are old fashioned. What should associations do to fight this image and attract new members?
Choose speakers who walk the talk
So many times I attended an event where the speaker was claimed to be an expert in something. After listening to him/her for some time, I quickly realised that, even thought they were knowledgeable on a certain topic, they were far from being an expert. The most common example is everything to do with event technology. Speakers who talk about VR or any other piece of event technology after reading a press release and haven’t even tried it themselves, or claim to be a social media expert with small number of followers.
Attendees value their time, so before attending an event they will research the speaker and if there are gaps in their bio they will not attend the event.
Another challenge I see with the choice of topics is that they are driven by personal agendas, because someone knows someone who knows someone. This causes repetition of topics and poor choice of speakers, and as a result no added value to members.
Stop with the #AllMalePanel
Both the events industry and non-events industry are voicing the lack of diversity when it comes to panel discussions. I don’t want to name and shame here, but many in the industry are guilty of putting together a panel comprising only of white, middle aged men (I hope that someone will read it and stop this bad practice). Why are we failing here? Maybe that’s a topic for another post, but nevertheless we, as an industry, must take an action now and look how to diversify our discussions. There is nothing that puts off a younger audience more than an #AllMalePanel.
Use technology other members can relate to
I keep seeing associations that offer their members “exclusive networking platforms to connect with other members and share information”. I think that there is no need to reinvent the wheel and offer members a new and close platform to connect with other members for exclusive information. Rarely today any information is exclusive, and often information is also free.
If association members are on Twitter, reach them via Twitter, if they are on LinkedIn, then via LinkedIn. I haven’t seen yet the benefit of creating a new platform or an app, and unfortunately saw it fail on many occasions because lack of engagement and adoption.
Let me give you an example of event technology that works – Slido, the interactive Q & A platform that increases audience interaction. The good thing about Slido is that attendees are not required to download an app and can access it via the internet browser.
Increase the number of collaborations
People like to belong to multiple organisations or associations. They might be a member of one association, but also members of other industry groups. I think that associations should be more open to collaborate with other associations or membership groups to diversify their offering. I’m pleased to see that next year SITE and MPI will host a joint event in Rome and #eventwell held an event in partnership with ILEA UK during the first event well-being week in September 2017.
If young members think that associations are old fashioned, associations should reach out to other networking groups and see how the association can create a partnership and collaboration and give a more innovative and entrepreneurial image.
I remember that one day there were four industry events on the same day in London. That was the moment I thought to myself that the industry should collaborate more with each other, be it an association or not. While everyone is trying to push their own agenda, we won’t be successful if we don’t open to new collaborative opportunities, instead of competing with each other.
With the high membership fees and the growing number of free networking groups, event associations will have difficult times to attract new members unless they do something differently that will appeal to the younger and more diverse and savvy audience.