Tools, tech, plan for associations and conferences that need to get online, and FAST

Hosting a conference this spring and early summer? Worried about what you’re going to do now that everyone is quarantined? You have great options that can not only get you back in business, but will add increased revenue for your association for years to come.

You’ll need three things:

  1. A dedicated membership system on your website that allows for your members to log in to access protected content.
  2. Online registration – most of you already have this in place
  3. A plan!

Dedicated membership system:

A dedicated membership system on your web site is available on most platforms, with several options for WordPress and one for SquareSpace. Other platforms may be more limited in their options.

WordPress plugins we love for membership:

We love MemberPress and have had decent experience with Paid Memberships Pro. These two platforms are exceptionally robust apps in their own right, and run on the world’s leading CMS, WordPress.

MemberPress and Paid Memberships Pro both allow protected content access. You can import your members with a CSV file from other systems, although this is a project you will need help with.

The SquareSpace platform has an add on called MemberSpace for creating a membership site online.

Both of these options include extra fees but they’re well worth it, and for almost all associations we work with, it’s less than ONE new member joining for a year.

Online Registration

On the WordPress platform, EventEspresso is our event management system of choice, but there are MANY systems that are also good quality ones that might be a better fit for your organization. A good online registration system allows the following:

  • Individual class registration
  • Overall event registration/payment for the entire conference  including selected classes
  • Protected content  to allow only those registered to access the content
  • Online payment integration
  • Email management (sending information to registrants of an individual class)

A plan:

You’re going to need a plan to put your conference online. Consider all of the experiences.

Keynote speaker? Have them record your keynote session and send you the video. Online discussion? Course materials? A virtual trade show? Is it live or recorded?

Decide on the format of the conference you want, then begin deploying technology to deliver it. There are many, many tools for this, including standalone conference applications like Cvent, but if you already have a WordPress site and a member management system, you’re 2/3 of the way there.

Protect content to specific membership types
Those that registered for a specific class for CEU could be granted access to that specific individual class video and materials page to complete the program. Each page is protected by role (membership status or registration for that event status) so that only members who registered for that class have access to it.

Set up individual pages with content
Gather up recorded video from your speakers. All speakers could record using their computer and video recording / presentation software like Zoom or Free Conference Call, and distribute speaker notes/PowerPoint files to you. Link the video from the web site (please contact us about bandwidth allocation before you do this! Your server has to be set up to let numbers of people stream content at the same time!)

If you’re doing your conference LIVE (at the same time your usual conference is), these Zoom / Free Conference Call / Go to Meeting links can be placed on the course page for access by members who paid for them. Then, upon completion, these can be downloaded and archived there.

Link speaker notes and presentation files on this page as you usually would, PDF and PowerPoint.

Distribute the content to your members via e-mail
Send them links to log in to their accounts based on their membership registration OR send emails directly from the registration system itself to members of each session who signed up.

Setting up online member-only access to content isn’t that difficult, and you can stage it in over time, telling members when the content is going up and when it’s live based on the courses they registered for during your registration process.

Set up courses so people register for individual ‘seats’
If you didn’t set this up initially, you can go back into your event (if you’re using Event Espresso for WordPress, for instance) and set up the number of members allowed to access the content, and whether they need to register for this individual course. If they do, the individual course can be protected. Of course, if you choose that all content is now open, you don’t have to tag or protect these for each course, you can open up all the conference materials to a “registered for the course” content tag and allow member-login access to the entire course.

Set up a virtual “Conference Home” section on your site to hold the links to protected content. Organize it around topics, and link each course to the page. Record a video for each day of the conference, welcoming attendees to the new page of materials.

Set up discussion tools – do you want to discuss the content right on the page itself? We can enable discussion comments on content using discussion tools, OR you can utilize Facebook Groups to discuss content if you already have that set up for your organization.

You may also use Facebook Groups and their Units tool to create membership access to discussion areas too. Using the new Units sections, you can organize content into courses. Although you should be aware,  you cannot protect individual courses using this method, the way you can with the membership tools, and the membership to your group may already include people who have not paid for your courses, so we don’t advise this for your conference if yours is a fee-based event.

Online trade shows
Set up a dedicated page with sponsor information, and messages. Link each course page to specific sponsors, and let sponsors match their content to your individual sessions. For example, if you have a sponsor who has tailored materials to a specific course, put their materials (and messages, tailored to your audience) ON that course page. Include their 10-20 second video to the front of your recorded online course.

Dedicate a specific page to your sponsors, and every day of your virtual conference, highlight one of them in your communications online, via e-mail and social, and link back to your sponsor pages. Encourage sponsors to produce and distribute content behind your conference interface, and provide them with a list of attendees at the end so that they may follow up with them.

Now that you have ideas, get with your conference team to map out your plan
Setting up these tools is EASY and FAST if you already have online registration set up on your site. It’s moderately easy and slightly less fast if you need to deploy that part, but the best part is you create a much richer experience for your audience.

Now that you’re fully online, you have added a HUGE membership value! Your attendees and your members can access this content 24/7/365 (or whatever time frame you want them to access it.) This rich resource is amazing for adding deep value to your membership, and, in fact, can even be used to amp up your membership while reducing costs. A virtual conference costs a fraction of an in person one, and while not quite as experiential, is a great option to round out your association’s value to members not just now, but forever.

Can we put your conference online, fast? Yep! Message us now to find out how and when we can make that happen. It’s not too late, and it’s not too expensive.