By Guest Blogger:
Emma Thompson, Director
Most – if not all – membership organisations offer events for their members, from international technology congresses to fungal forays in the woods. The purpose of the event can vary, but when can a physical event – where the underlying aim is to connect people face-to-face – be supported or replaced by a virtual one? And what effect could this have on your attendee numbers?
Event attendance: the facts
Firstly, let’s look at some data. In our 2015 Member Engagement Survey, we asked professional bodies to supply data relating to event attendance. Average figures and ranges were as follows:
- 15% of members attended the last main, annual conference. (Range = 1% to 70%)
- 15% of members participate regularly in branch/local/regional events (i.e. take part in at least 1 in 10). (Range = 2% to 36%)
- 10% of members participate regularly in special interest groups (i.e. take part in at least 1 in 10). (Range = 1% to 49%)
- 4% of members participate in webinars (average for all webinars held in 2014). (Range is 1% to 8%)
What if members stop coming to events?
Virtual alternatives to physical events are increasingly important for busy professionals. In recent membership surveys, the top two reasons for not attending events are given as being too busy/having no time and the event being too far away/not local.
For many organisations, event bookings are a significant source of income, so a serious concern is the effect that offering virtual alternatives could have on the number of people actually going to meetings.
The findings of a short survey conducted by US company Digitell Inc were recently reported in Associations Now. Steve Parker, Digitell’s VP, said: This survey showed that 83 percent of the virtual attendees had no intention of attending the physical event, demonstrating that the virtual audience is a completely different market and a new market for associations to tap into.
Their survey also found that 77% of professionals said attending the virtual conference made them want to attend the physical conference, with 68% saying they either did or will probably attend the physical meeting in future years.
Virtual as an opportunity, not a risk
Membership organisations should consider virtual events not as a risk, but as an opportunity for increasing connectedness and providing equal access to knowledge, learning and information to everyone, wherever they are.
Before embarking on a new programme of physical or virtual events, find out exactly what it is that your members want or need. Find out why they do or don’t attend existing events or participate in webinars.
At the top level, you are almost certainly going to hear the same reasons: no time/too far away. So look a little deeper. Investigate what capacity they have for virtual participation. What day of the week, time of day, how long can they spend? Would they prefer to read, just listen or take part in two-way dialogue? When might they prefer to meet in person? What technology do they have access to while they are at work, on the train, or at home?
There’s also no harm in asking how much your members would be prepared to pay for the convenience of accessing an event remotely. After all, they’ll be saving precious time and travel expenses if they do.
With some carefully tailored promotion and marketing, longstanding event-goers will sign up to your webinars. And virtual attendees might occasionally be encouraged to book a place on a physical event, so they not only receive the event content, but they get to eat the sandwiches and talk to some fellow members in person too.
Ashridge Communications deliver insight, ideas and strategic solutions through bespoke research and valued consultancy for the membership sector.