Long Live The Learning: A Year-Round Content Strategy

The valuable knowledge delivered at your conferences deserves a life that lasts longer than a few days. From livestreaming and hashtags to webinars and podcasts, associations are getting savvier at making conference wisdom part of a year-round content strategy that adds value for attendees and engages a wider audience.

For association professionals taking time away from home and the office, a three- to five-day conference can feel like a long stretch. But from a content perspective, those few days can be frustratingly short. So much valuable knowledge is shared at keynotes and breakout sessions, and it’s at risk of all but vanishing in less than a week.

Alicia C. Aebersold, senior vice president of communications and strategic development at the National Council for Behavioral Health, has been trying to keep the conversation around its conference—and the content delivered there—going year-round. At its 2017 annual conference, the National Council launched the hashtag #BH365 alongside its conference hashtag to press the message that the material presented during the event is designed for discussion 365 days a year.

Nobody can force a hashtag to go viral, but the National Council has succeeded at stoking that conversation through Twitter chats with speakers before and after the conference and by assigning staff members and volunteer “ambassadors” to keep conference content in circulation. “We learned that people were craving that year-round conversation around behavioral health,” Aebersold says.

That’s just one example of the ways associations are advancing well beyond the familiar business of selling recordings to keep conference content working. The new tools of choice range from Facebook Live sessions to podcasts to video segments and newsletters. Meanwhile, they’re dispelling the myth that extending the reach of conference content cannibalizes attendance: In fact, meetings professionals say, the extra effort to increase the lifespan of content also increases attendee engagement—and encourages nonattendees to engage as well.

Setting Strategy

The tactics that many associations have used to bolster and repurpose conference content can be more complex than they seem. Online chats, webinars, 30-second videos, and similar efforts feel like quick-hit content extensions, but they can challenge the staff’s organizing powers and typically require cross-departmental coordination involving the meetings, learning, web, and IT teams—and possibly others. Planning ahead is critical, even for the (seemingly) small stuff.

For instance, the Public Library Association made plans after its 2016 conference to host a series of webinars drawn from three of the event’s most popular sessions. The webinars were a hit, with attendance doubling with each successive offering. But because the webinar planning wasn’t built into the conference planning, they took place later than PLA had hoped.

“It requires a lot of input from a lot of different staff people, from the continuing ed side, from our web and technology side, from the marketing and communications side,” says Angela Maycock, manager of continuing education at PLA. “We find that any webinar, no matter how small or how seemingly easy to put together, ends up requiring at least three or four people’s fingerprints on it to produce.”

Asking how conference content fits into an association’s wider content strategy can help focus re-use and expansion plans. Holly Amatangelo, director of education at the Legal Marketing Association, used 150 video recordings from two years’ worth of conferences to build up LMA’s content on industry competencies. Videos of relevant sessions in each of six “body of knowledge” domains are available for sale alongside webinar recordings and other supplemental materials.

“When we market our products, everything is available in our learning store under those domains,” she says. “We wanted to hallmark the body of knowledge with [conference] content as well.”

Because video material is a good fit for people who can’t attend a conference, it’s a good fit for an association’s international strategy as well. In 2015 the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST) began packaging video recordings of conference presentations under the “Best of CHEST” banner and marketed them to international practitioners. The packages have become a solid source of revenue for CHEST, says COO Robert A. Musacchio, especially from corporate partners who want to sponsor presentations outside the U.S.

Selling conference content overseas requires some negotiation over pricing, Musacchio says, and there’s no magic formula for determining what conference content can be most effectively resold to which audiences. But Amatangelo notes that developing a clear sense of what audiences want, and building a strategy around it over time, can reap dividends.

“If you think about it as building more of a content and learning strategy for your members over the long run, and you’re building up your library of resources, then I think those [investments] are going to come back tenfold over the course of time,” she says.

Push that content out through the year like it’s brand-new content.

Before, During, After—and Long After

A great speaker is gold during a conference and can be equally valuable before and after it.

Lydia Kamicar, education and learning senior manager at SmithBucklin, encourages associations to lock in additional commitments for prize speakers when they sign contracts, “not just letting it happen as a one-off, 60-minute session and then forgetting about it.” Those requests can be low-impact for the speaker: for example, availability for an interview with an association editor for a magazine story, blog post, or short video, timed for release at a particular moment in the conference promotion cycle, such as an early-bird registration deadline.

Kamicar also recommends recording short videos of speakers onsite, which can be edited and posted to YouTube quickly. And Aebersold of the National Council for Behavioral Health says the association has enjoyed success with even more immediate Facebook Live streams. Dedicated livestreams on a conference website are common, but a Facebook Live session exists where attendees (and nonattendees) often visit anyway, and Aebersold found that its sessions with keynote speakers such as outgoing U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy were remarkably sticky. (See “A Big Impression,” at left.)

“A couple of thousand people were watching each session, even more than our [website] livestream,” she says. Remarkably, most viewers stayed on to watch the entire session. Aebersold says the National Council may opt for Facebook Live over other livestream options at its next conference.

We’re not just here for the ones that have travel budgets.

The Western Veterinary Conference goes to similar lengths to get videos to attendees. A dedicated WVC-TV channel is available during the conference in a viewing lounge and throughout the conference center. Videos are made available through a mobile app designed for the conference, then in an online learning library that contains conference content going back to 2009.

Though access to the library is available year-round, WVC incentivizes engagement—and purchases—around the meeting. For instance, WVC offers discounts on access for attendees who sign up within a month of the conference, says Marketing Director Julie Jensen, and access to presentation notes are free, “which drives people to the platform.”

All of those recordings set the table for the marketing work the association does after the conference. Kamicar recommends mapping conference-related recordings (whether they’re in podcasts, quick-hit YouTube videos, or other formats) to the association’s editorial calendar. Aebersold likes to have relevant videos and other conference materials ready to use in email newsletters, especially if they address topics that are getting a lot of media attention. “Push that content out through the year like it’s brand-new content,” she says.

Just make sure that delivering content year-round doesn’t diminish attendees’ feeling that going to the conference in person had special value. “Think about what you want to reserve for those who attended the conference,” says Kamicar. “That might be that only attendees see the PowerPoint handouts for the first couple of months. The public only sees the short videos.”

The combination of an exciting in-person experience and remote, year-round engagement makes for a powerful learning content strategy, Kamicar says.

Those extended learning opportunities “are ways for nonmembers to see the value of the organization,” she says. “It’s a way to say, ‘We’re not just here for the ones that have travel budgets. We’re here for everybody.'”

(Vision4ry-L4ngu4ge/Getty Images)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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