The pandemic has shifted how associations approach social and paid media. Nicole Quain, Digital Marketing Manager at MCI USA, works with numerous associations to strategize, execute, and measure their organic and paid marketing. Nicole has over five years of marketing experience in the association industry. She is well versed in leading associations through crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and coming up with innovative solutions to organic and paid social media challenges as well as opportunities. Recently, she interviewed her marketing colleague Joy Merten on social and paid media in the COVID-19 era.
Q: What effect has this past year’s switch to digital events had on social and paid media campaigns?
During the pandemic, I saw increased pressure put on marketing teams to create outstanding social and paid media campaigns for newly virtual events, often with tighter deadlines, fewer resources, and higher goals than ever before. Overall, of course, we delivered, but it’s been a tiring year for us marketers. On a positive note, more associations are learning about how effective these campaigns can be and are finding new ways to reach their members and engage new audiences. It’s encouraging to try new tactics and see them pay off.
Q: Can you share a recent example of an organization that is successfully pivoting to virtual events using social and/or paid media?
One of my clients successfully pivoted to a virtual Annual Conference this year. Their registration numbers were higher than they were for in-person events in past years and there was solid engagement throughout the event. They knew that the main audience for this event would be their members, so they focused solely on email marketing and organic social media and were able to save their paid media budget for membership drives later in the year.
Q: What are 5 tips you would give an association who is trying to pivot from an in-person event to a digital event from a marketing perspective?
Q: What aspects of social and paid media do you see associations struggling with or seeking help for the most?
- Don’t compare. Instead of presenting your digital event as another version of your in-person event, highlight the unique opportunities associated with your digital event, like easier access to sessions and lower cost to attend.
- Make a plan. Similar to my first tip, you won’t want to market your digital event the same way you would an in-person event. For example, since attending a digital event requires less planning, you might not need to start your marketing efforts as early as you would for an in-person event.
- Know your audience. Be sure to clearly define who you want to attend your event. Are you focusing on members only? Are you trying to attract non-members in a specific industry or first time-attendees? Determining who you want to reach will help you figure out the best ways to reach them and the right messaging to use.
- Don’t overthink it. Have you had success in the past using email marketing to reach your members? Do it again this year! Don’t get caught up in trying to add too many new channels or tactics, especially if it delays your launch or puts a strain on resources.
- Be realistic. There are lots of digital events happening right now and people may be experiencing “Zoom fatigue.” When setting your event attendee goals, don’t expect you’ll be able to reach every new audience you’ve been dreaming about reaching. Focus your efforts where you know you can make the biggest impact.
I would love to see more associations setting realistic, achievable goals based on analytics and data. It helps to use tools like Google Analytics to understand what your audience’s demographics are, how people use your site, and which search terms are bringing in the most traffic. For example, if your goal is to grow your membership, your website analytics can help you figure out what steps to take next. If the data shows that visitors are leaving your membership pages at a high rate, look into improving your site structure or page content to make information more accessible and relevant. Or, you can add a form to collect contact information of people who are interested but not ready to join yet. Sometimes a few small changes can make a big difference.
Q: What are some common misconceptions people have about social and paid media?
One of the main misconceptions I see regarding social and paid media is the idea that running a campaign or getting involved in a new social media platform is an end in itself. Instead, it’s important to look at what your organization’s objectives are and be strategic about where you invest your time and money. Always ask, “How can running this campaign help me achieve my overall goals?”
Q: What do you think is one of the most promising developments in social and paid media in the near future?
One of the most promising things I’ve seen come out of the pivot to digital during COVID-19 is increased accessibility. Digital events are open to a lot more potential audiences than in-person events, as they are usually cheaper to attend, can offer accessibility features like live captioning, and don’t require any travel. I hope to see that spirit of inclusivity incorporated into many more future campaigns.
This article originally appeared in AM&P Network's Signature magazine.
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