association growth conference attendance membership

Earlier this year, we published our annual State of the Conference Industry Report which tracks the evolution of conference content and the role it plays at an annual conference.  While there are several key takeaways and opportunities highlighted in the report, there is one that association leaders should take particular note of: to achieve association growth goals, conference and membership teams need to collaborate more.

The link between conference attendance and association membership

Since the report was first published in 2015, meeting planners have consistently indicated that their top goal for the annual conference is to increase attendance. However, the data also demonstrates that conference attendance trends and membership growth trends are closely linked.

For the meeting planner, an increase in association membership provides a larger pool of prospective conference attendees. Conversely, for the membership team, the annual conference provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate the association’s value to a prospective member before they make an annual commitment to the organization. The conference is often the primary way a member stays connected to and engaged with the organization, which helps to promote member retention.

As you’re getting ready for your next conference, consider ways to more tightly connect the value of the conference with the value of membership to increase conference attendance, grow membership and create more engaged members.

Here are a few ideas to help get you started:

  1. Experiment with creative pricing strategies

One local chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) generated a significant spike in new memberships when their annual conference registration opened. The reason? They created a conference pricing structure that made it more lucrative to attend as a member, plus bundled the pricing with a limited-time discount on membership fees. Because the chapter has a strong member retention rate, the initial discounts created a long-term return on investment.

  1. Create unique member benefits through post-conference programming

The meeting planner looks for ways to extend the conference experience long after the closing keynote session. The membership team looks for ways to increase the value of membership. By providing exclusive access to post-conference programming, associations can achieve both.  One idea: host small, post-show virtual discussion groups for attendees to share ideas, apply learning on the job and connect with peers. Social platforms such as House Party, FaceTime, Workplace by Facebook and Google Hangouts are low-to-no cost tools that can help facilitate this.

  1. Use the conference as a forum to connect with members

Unless your association has local chapters or sections, you probably don’t get much face time with your members. And these individuals who are already inundated with email, direct mail and other marketing messages could be missing key information about your organization. The annual conference is the perfect opportunity to connect with members and remind them of the benefits of their membership. Find ways to include member touchpoints as part of the conference agenda and use them as an opportunity to educate (or, re-educate) on member benefits.

  1. New members: welcome them early and often

Many organizations provide special programming for new members or first-time attendees at the conference, such as a welcome reception. But walking into this reception can be a bit overwhelming and intimidating for a newbie. What if you could put them at ease and make them feel like an important member of the organization before the conference starts?  Consider hosting a pre-show virtual meet-and-greet with fellow peers. Introduce them to some of the conference speakers and key staff. Create conference liaisons to help break the ice and facilitate introductions while at the conference. This small extra step will go a long way toward creating a positive on-site experience.

There is a strong connection between a successful conference and association membership growth. The notoriety of your conference is what helps to attract new members, and it’s how existing members engage with your organization. Conference and membership teams need to work together to leverage this relationship to provide increase member benefit and attract new audiences.