With the explosion of social media comes the expectation that content should be free.
How do you embrace that as a way to create greater demand for your face-to-face events — and attract new members?
This past summer we’ve experienced a confluence of events with significant implications for the future of the meetings, events and association industrries. Attendance declined sharply at most events as associations struggled with the economy and the challenge of finding ways to attract new constituents.
Meanwhile, the controversial book Free: The Future of a Radical Price was published; in it, author Chris Anderson makes the case that many times businesses can profit more from giving things away than they can by charging for them. In our own corner of the business world, MPI offered a Virtual Access Pass (VAP) for about half the costs of attending its annual convention live.
These events led to passionate discussions about whether offering free content could help build loyalty, create evangelists, and drive future attendance. This topic was explored on this blog in the following posts:
- Should You Make Your Valuable Online Content Totally Free?
- The Rise Of The Gift Economy And Freeconomics
- Does Live Streaming An Event Cannibalize Its Face-To-Face Attendance?
- Are Nonprofit Associations Headed Down The Path Of The Boxing Industry?
- Free Versus Paid Event Live Streaming: A Twitter Comparison
The quote that applied best to our industry came from Seth Godin, who said, “People will pay for content if it is so unique they can’t get it anywhere else, so fast they benefit from getting it before anyone else, or so related to their tribe that paying for it brings them closer to other people.”
In tough times, successful organizations take on more risk. I’m a big believer that by offering exceptional content via online channels – for free – you will generate greater interest in future in-person participation. It’s a bit like the “freemium” approach outlined in Free (e.g., offering Flickr for free while selling the superior FlickrPro to serious users). And beyond growing in-person event participation, it has the long-term benefit of increasing your organization’s overall value proposition and improving membership retention. Here are some of the avenues you can take:
Not only has the cost to stream live decreased, many associations are soliciting sponsors to cover speaker and production expenses. Consider requiring that virtual attendees register to participate, and offer it free to members and at a modest fee for non-members. Archive it so people can consume the content (after registering) at their convenience. Give your sponsors the leads for those who access the online content.
Offer select sessions from your annual meeting in a “best of” series in order to extend the life of your conference. If the session is sponsored, don’t charge your members: It comes across as double-dipping and lowers sponsor ROI.
- Embrace social media
Blogs and Twitter are movements that can’t be ignored. Find trusted industry influencers (such as Jeff Hurt), and fund their participation at your conference. In exchange, they can blog and tweet before, during, and after your event. Make sure to nail down details like #hashtag utilization for Twitter. Don’t try to influence their opinions. If the feedback isn’t authentic, the strategy will backfire.
- Slide decks and handouts
Make these widely available. Consider newsletter, blog, and e-zine articles that highlight a specific session and include links to the handouts. Make sure that you highlight the session takeaways that were meaningful for in-person attendees.
Word-of-mouth advertising is reaching new heights.
Associations that are able to leverage their offline content by engaging their online community have the greatest chance of winning the race. By allowing your conference content to spread virally, you will create a greater desire for face-to-face participation.
How does your organization use free content to attract people to the face-to-face event? What concerns or delights you most about using the freemium model?
This post was modified slightly from its original published in Convene. It was reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2010 pcma.org.