Networking in 2021: Associations must go virtual.
In her best-selling book, Your Network Is Your Net Worth, entrepreneur and marketing expert Porter Gale wrote: “I believe that seeking out and working in collaboration with others who share your interests and values will provide a stronger foundation, enabling you to reach a higher level of success than you would have on your own.”
Gale is not alone in her conviction that personal and career growth comes from nurturing relationships with like-minded people. In fact, the majority of the 1,000 association members we surveyed in our latest study, Association Trends 2020: From Disruption to Opportunity, feel the same way.
Every year, we ask members what they value most from their associations, and this year the answer came back crystal clear: Networking, networking, and more networking. In the midst of the global pandemic, networking jumped up an incredible seven spots and is a key driver for new member acquisition and member retention.
During this time when in-person meet-ups range from rare-to-non-existent, members are urgently seeking pathways to new connections that lead to career advancement. And the truth is that looking for job prospects, advice, or collaboration on social media platforms like LinkedIn can be hit or miss. Sure, you might connect with smart people, but are they the right people who can really help you? Nothing beats talking with other professionals who live and breathe your industry. So whether it is through virtual or hybrid events or online community chat rooms, associations that want to grow must put their energy and resources into creating impactful networking opportunities—and lots of them.
Again and again, we heard from respondents that in the coming year, they want an increase in the frequency of networking opportunities, as well as in continued improvement in the quality of those touchpoints. In the early days of the pandemic, quickly pivoting from in-person to getting something—anything—streaming was seen as a victory. But now as we near the year mark of COVID, members want more from virtual conferences and networking. They want functionality that lets them see who else is attending the event and send requests for one-on-one video chats. They want Birds of a Feather sessions, where members can pose a topic they’d like to discuss and gather 20 or so participants for an informal chat. It seems we are still a ways away from being able to reliably and safely run the kinds of in-person events that allow for spontaneous conversations and serendipitous connections, so we must use technology to give members the next best thing. And going forward this opens the door to an overall increase in engagement and networking as we transition into hybrid events.
While a huge benefit of virtual events is that attendees don’t have to put their lives on hold and spend money on flights and hotels, that lack of financial and time commitment can translate to unengaged or absent attendees at virtual events. It’s easy to get distracted by what is happening in your work email tab or at your kid’s virtual math class two feet away in the living room. With that being said, giving members a specific agenda can go a long way to keeping those who signed up tuned in. Give them a clear program so that they can block out time for the sessions that matter most to them and use a platform that auto generates reminders. Give breaks throughout the event to allow attendees to deal with office issues (or school pickups) and when hosting a virtual event, don’t forget the drawing power of a dynamic speaker. If you can’t wow attendees with an amazing location, make sure you’re delivering information and insights that will stay with them long after they click the “leave meeting” button.
Of the members we surveyed, mid-career-ists (those who have been in the workforce for five to 10 years) and younger members gave virtual engagement the highest ratings. During the pandemic and after, they let us know that this is how they want to engage. They see these events as access points to the people and information that will open doors to the next phase of their careers. These members represent the future of your association, and so associations looking for success in 2021 need to adopt this mindset: virtual must be a component.
This article was brought to you by Community Brands, the leading provider of cloud-based software to associations. To learn more about the future of hybrid events, sign up for the Delivering a Successful Hybrid Event webinar.