By Rachel Stephan on 1/28/20 7:36 AM
For many associations, events are key strategies for member outreach and growth. To increase event attendance, yearly conferences must consistently achieve their goals for growth and evolution.
Reaching new attendees remains a consistent challenge for 90 percent of meeting planners, and it is of critical importance.
It means the world to attendees, who crave meeting new people at events: 75 percent of them said that networking and making connections was important to them.
Networking with the same crowd every year is not a productive use of time. How can event planners identify new sources of attendees and increase event attendance?
There are 4 surefire ways to keep tabs on your evolving community and target market:
- Good design
- Willingness to change
Let’s dive into each strategy and outline the path towards increasing event attendance.
How can you keep your eyes peeled for new potential markets and attendees?
Even if you feel far removed from the community you are serving, you still have various tools at your disposal you can use to stay up-to-date with the sentiments and overall direction your community is headed in.
Listening is key to help increase event attendance.
Stay connected with the people and groups relevant to your industry on social media.
Think that your community doesn’t use social media? Think again! Social networks just keep growing, and even if certain individuals don’t use social media, their company or affiliated institution likely does.
It would be best to follow them, along with any LinkedIn/Facebook groups or hashtags that have been purpose-built for members of your community to connect.
You will likely notice that certain people emerge as thought-leaders because they post frequently and their content receives much engagement.
Partnering with them may prove to be a great way to increase event attendance.
Many event planners don’t use surveys to their full advantage.
When you get the opportunity to release a poll for members of your community, try asking questions about methods of expansion.
What would they like to see more of at future events? Which interdisciplinary industries are becoming more prominent as points of contact in their everyday work?
Consider assembling a focus group to brainstorm ideas on how to increase event attendance.
Involve key stakeholders from conference management, science, logistics, attendees and other players to maximize the chances of landing on a-ha moments.
Some tips from Stephanie Selesnick:
Analyze the event data from years past to track any trends related to new sources of attendees.
Determine whether or not the pace of new attendee acquisition has stagnated and to what degree.
Was there a particularly fast-growing segment of participants over the last few years?
If other segments have been on a downward trend of late, devise a plan to recover these losses and appeal to them once more.
Identifying different avenues for expansion is only the first step. In order to make an impact on new groups of attendees, you need to connect with them through different forms of engagement.
Exhibit at other events
Find events designed for the kinds of new attendees you want to attract and exhibit at these. If this is not possible, find other arrangements that will get you visibility among their network, including in-kind promotions.
Year-round social media
Event marketing runs on a 365-day cycle, and your social media strategy must include messaging that is appropriate for each phase of your campaign.
Your channels should not go silent for too long at any point during the year. The call-for-abstract period is a particularly good time to reach new prospective delegates, especially if you make sure your message is seen in the right groups, by using the right hashtags, and by tagging key parties that can help you spread the message.
Other pre-event periods are great for sharing photos from previous events and building anticipation.
Join hashtag discussions
Social media sites such as Twitter sometimes host discussions or chats on a regular basis that gather members of a certain industry to discuss key challenges.
These chats are scheduled in advance and are simple to join.
By joining a chat that caters to new potential attendees, you’re positioning yourself at the forefront of innovation and having real discussions with real people that will have a great impact on them and other relevant people who may stumble onto the posts later on.
Network at other events
Besides exhibiting at another event, you can also join as an attendee and get a feel for the social and educational appetites of the folks in your community.
Of particular interest to you are any “young professionals” streams since those in attendance are more likely to explore other options for conferences they attend.
The key is to look for parallel industry events.
Sometimes event planners encounter cases where new attendees don’t return in subsequent years. This may be down to event design.
Make sure you show this critical segment of participants that you care about their experience with the following tips.
People are unique. Event planners who fail to consider the diverse personalities and needs of their attendees will make many of them feel out of place. This is why it’s important to consider the different personas of your delegates.
To effectively map out and cater to various types of new attendees, come up with a few prototypical personas that take into account their differing personalities.
Perhaps you have noticed the “cautious Cameron” type at your event doesn’t take advantage of all your conference offerings, while “opportunistic Oscar” tends to be the center of attention.
Once you have your various personas, write down what makes each of them tick, and what a typical day in their life looks like.
You’ll quickly see that their styles of learning and socializing are very different, and you will be better prepared to make each of them feel more at home the next time you get to work on designing the various functions of your event.
Orientation and 101 sessions
It’s a great idea to have new attendee orientation sessions at all of your events.
This is a chance for them to get a lay of the land, make new acquaintances and ask questions.
With a 101 session, the first impressions of your event can be controlled.
In virtually all industries, mentorship is vital for growth and opens up many new opportunities for the mentee.
Your event can contribute to this great dynamic by pairing new attendees with conference veterans.
Mentors can show new delegates the ropes and provide excellent professional advice.
Event planners find this sort of program successful because it positions the event as a space conducive to growth.
Willingness to Change
Part of an excellent delegate outreach and satisfaction program is the successful identification of problems and the implementation of plans of action to rectify the situation.
Here are some things you can do to convince dissatisfied or on-the-fence attendees that it is worth returning to, or registering for your event.
Post-event survey action
Look at your past new attendee surveys and identify the negative reviewers.
Consider calling them for a brief chat about what went wrong.
Listening to complaints allows delegates to feel heard.
You’ll gain valuable insights into certain issues that are potentially blocking you from gaining new attendees.
You can also take the opportunity to address how you will fix issues in the future.
Capture testimonials from new attendees
Testimonials are powerful tidbits to use in your event marketing messages.
It’s all because of the power of word-of-mouth — testimonials are genuine and trustworthy.
People are 90 percent more likely to make a purchase based on a recommendation from a friend or colleague.
When it comes to capturing new attendees, seeing great testimonials can make all the difference.
New attendee ambassador program
Event planners can start a new productive committee formed by previous attendees, and give them each the role of ambassador.
These folks bring valuable insights and knowledge to the table and can help planners design options for new attendees.
They can take part in the first-time orientation as well. Don’t forget their power as influencers— encourage them to tell their stories through the event brand’s social media.
Ambassadors like these should be involved in internal and external event planning phases to help you gain new attendees, which are one of the most important groups in relation to your growth goals.
Adapting to what they want
Showing a willingness to change is only half the battle.
Event planners need to also prove that they can evolve with changing attitudes and trends, especially when the data reveals that this is what new attendees want.
Oftentimes, the status quo seems to work well and presents the safest option for keeping conference veterans comfortable. But without evolution and the adoption of new practices, you risk jeopardizing your ability to attract new sources of attendees and increase event attendance.
Stay on top of event design trends; while they might not all be worth implementing into your meeting, certain changes in seating layout or the use of immersive technology will enhance the attendee experience and provide a richer conference for everyone.
By listening to your community, engaging with them, catering to new attendees through good event design, and exhibiting a willingness to change, you can start to attract new sources of attendees and increase event attendance overall.
Maritz Global Events has the tools to increase event attendance that give meeting planners a competitive edge. Reach out to us to learn more.
Rachel Stephan is one part creative, one part entrepreneur, a 4-time mom (sensov/ event marketing, Charlie, award-winning #eventtech snöball event influencer marketing, and Grayson) and an event industry speaker. Rachel helps meeting planners grow their event attendance with results-driven event marketing strategies.