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15 things to consider before starting an association podcast

podcast headphones

It seems as though you cannot throw a proverbial rock without hitting a figurative podcast; everybody seems to have one. Everyone from comedians to movie buffs and, yes, associations are trying their hand at podcasting. There are many blogs, videos and podcasts describing why you should, or should not start a podcast. 

Don’t be in a rush to hit record. It is fun and exciting to jump into a new project, but without extensive planning, you will be on the road to a destination with no map or GPS. Hang tight; let’s consider what needs to get done.

An association’s podcast is a communication, marketing, and membership development activity, and as a result, many departments in your organization should have input. 

1. Consider what you want to accomplish by starting a podcast:

  • Shape public perception/policy
  • Member business development
  • Reach new audience
  • Deepen your network
  • Get to know your members and industry leaders

Whatever your motivation, plan your content to align with your business goal.

2. Know your audience. Do not rush this step. A content marketing best-practice is to develop buyer personas. According to HubSpot, “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better”Many podcasters develop their content to an avatar. An avatar is a single representative of the large audience, similar to a buyer persona. The podcast is created for this person. Speak to this person. Will this person enjoy this episode, this guest or topic? If you think about and speak to this person when planning your content, you will create focus and a niche audience. 

Take a lot of care here. If you are doing an interview-style podcast, are there enough people in the guest-pool to fulfill your format and angle? If you begin the podcast without a clear avatar, your focus can drift, and potentially alienate listeners.

Do not be afraid to create niche content vs. for the masses. If the internet has taught us anything, it is that there is something for everyone. Case-in-point: Ever notice that there is an association for every profession or interest?

3. Commit. Weekly, monthly or by “season,” commit to the podcast. Without a plan, you may get the “seven-episode itch” and quit. Starting a podcast is relatively easy. Maintaining one is difficult. iTunes and other podcast directories are littered with podcasts that publish fewer than five or 10 episodes. About 10 episodes into this venture, you will still be figuring out your recording and editing workflow. It will get more difficult before it gets easier. While there are many resources online from expert podcasters, you still learn by doing and by going through your own learning curve. You will also discover this new venture is a lot of work and takes more time than you anticipated. If you commit to posting regularly no matter what, you will learn to streamline your workflow. 

4. How often will you publish? Establishing how often you post an episode correlates to the aforementioned “Commit” consideration.Whether you choose to post an episode weekly or monthly, once you commit, stick to your schedule. The key to building an audience is posting regularly. I expect a new episode every Monday on Bill Burr’s “Monday Morning Podcast.”

Want to take a break? Some successful podcasters produce “seasons” like TV shows. NPR podcasts like Serial and Invisibilia do this. 

If the content is not time-sensitive, you may want to “stock up” on a few episodes so you can take a vacation, or publish over a holiday. It is also common to upload a “rerun” of a previously published episode.

5. Who will host the podcast? While people might listen and subscribe to your podcast because of the title or the subject matter, they will continue to listen because they appreciate the host’s stance, opinion or style. The host or hosts tie(s) the show together. Ensure that whoever hosts the show, they are committed to the process of producing a regular piece of content.

6. What is the format and length of an average episode? You have an idea for a podcast and an idea of personnel involved. How will the information be presented? Will it be a highly produced NPR-style podcast, a single host speaking to the listener, or a host or panel discussing a topic? Perhaps you will consider a Chris Hardwick-style interview where a host has a deep conversation with a subject for an hour. Maybe you will have 5-10 minute episodes like former “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe reading an essay in his show, “The Way I Heard It.”It is OK to experiment with this a little, as your show “finds its way” eventually.

7. Script. One thing I love about the podcasts I listen to is I can always count on certain things happening or being said. As a creature of habit, I enjoy singing along with Kevin Smith’s opening theme on his show, SMODcast, or say, “Enjoy your burrito” on the ID10T (formerly Nerdist) show with Chris Hardwick. I always enjoy when Bill Burr gives uninformed advice at the end of his “Monday Morning Podcast” to listeners who write in. We all like routine and structure.

These shows are successful partially because famous people host them, but I would argue that listeners love their format, executed by their script. Having a script does not mean reading from a page word-for-word. A podcast script can simply organize intro and outro music, promotional reads, advertisements, when one speaks and the general flow of an episode. 

Our script helps layout the order of the episode long before we start recording. It aids in planning and gives the listener an idea of what to expect from your show each episode. Here is my script for our client’s show, Talking Industrial Automation which I based on this guide that the CDC authored.

8. Scheduling guests. If you do have guests on your show, then you will discover that scheduling a time is like scheduling any other meeting: there’s a lot of back and forth to find space on each other’s calendars. 

You want to make it easy on your guest, so use a tool like Calendly or other scheduler-app that will show your availability. Tools like this will integrate with your work calendar and allow the guest to book only on days or dayparts you choose. I record only on Wednesdays and Fridays, typically between 10-3 p.m. Central. My guests cannot see my other appointments and cannot book outside of these parameters. They can choose a time slot that works for them while ensuring I am not double booked.

9. Equipment. I have launched two podcasts in my career, and both were started with borrowed or already-owned equipment and free software. You do not have to go out and buy hundreds of dollars of equipment to start. You can begin recording a podcast with a smartphone. Add headphones which include a mic and record in a quiet space and you are underway. You will want to consider, though, if you will be able to budget for some podcast equipment. 

Once you have a budget to upgrade your equipment, you can start to add items to improve the sound quality and time spent editing. Adding some key things like a digital recorder (like an H4N Pro) and a few decent microphones will improve sound quality and are good first choices.
For under $500 you can own some decent equipment that is mobile and will set you up for success. Here’s a sample equipment list and what we use.

10. Technology. How will you conduct your podcast? Will you record in person or remotely? There is nothing like being face to face, but if your guests are international, it may be necessary to record over the Internet. This consideration goes hand-in-hand with equipment.

I like to use Zoom video conferencing, which is free to use for one-on-one meetings. You can set it to record individual video and audio files in case you need to do some advanced editing. If you also plan on a video podcast for YouTube or Vimeo, Zoom will record your respective webcams. Zoom has a built-in “director.” In other words, the camera shows whoever is speaking. If you plan to have three or more people then you will need to upgrade if your show is over 40 minutes. You can also evaluate Skype along with plugins like “Pamela” or “Evaer.” One other platform is Zencaster, an online podcasting-specific platform.

You can edit your podcast with the free software Audacity or a paid software from Adobe called Audition. Apple’s GarageBand has become podcaster unfriendly in the last few years.

11. Podcast hosting platform. Choosing the platform that works for your association is a big decision. There are free or $5/month platforms, and $15-20/month platforms. Consider how often you will publish episodes. Most podcast hosts have a tiered platform based on how many megabytes you upload or host per month. 

You do not want to move your podcast to another host without careful consideration, so choose wisely. It can be done, but you risk losing all of your hard-earned subscribers if you do not do your research.

12. Preparing the guest. Whether you have a guest host, panel or guest, ensure you are preparing them to hit the ground running.

I created a document I share with my guests that helps them book a time and prepare their surroundings for the best quality recording. Awareness of distractions and noise in their office will increase the audio (and video) quality of your show.

13. Consider slowing your roll. Are you ready to tell everyone yet? Hang on, you are almost there!

Make a list of podcast directories you will want to be found on. iTunes? Check. Google Play? Check. Those two might be obvious. You should research to find if there are niche podcast directories that align with specific formats and subject matter. Did you know that iHeartRadio and Spotify are growing their offering of podcasts?

Keep it all straight with a spreadsheet. Some directories will not accept you until you are one or two months old. Others may list your podcast only if they approve of your content.

Submit to directories and post a few episodes, but do not go “pedal to the metal” just yet. This gives you time to make tweaks and edits before you let the world know you have your own show.

14. Hard launch. Are you now listed in the most popular directories? It might take 1-2 months to be approved. Once you can confidently tell listeners that the show is found wherever they listen to podcasts, you are ready to go.

How will you get the word out? Here are the promotional activities I do for each episode:

  • Post to our online member forum
  • E-blast to all members
  • Post to association’s LinkedIn company page
  • Personal LinkedIn profile
  • Tag interviewee and your LinkedIn page.
  • Post to association’s LinkedIn group

Here is the email template I send to guests and their marketing contact, which asks them to participate in promoting their episode.

15. What about a news release? You should consider holding off on releasing this to the media. Ever see a blog or video series with only ONE entry that says, “This is my blog. Here I will… I’m going to…I look forward to…”

Your podcast isn’t anything yet, so why would a journalist want to cover something that you might do or say? After nearly 20 episodes, I still have not prepared a news release.

I’m reminded of Anthony Bourdain’s advice when cooking a steak: like a steak hot off the grill, let your show be. Just make new episodes. Concentrate on content, good guests and great conversation.

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Is Squarespace right for your association's website?

squarespace stories

If you’ve ever listened to a podcast, chances are you’ve heard of Casper Mattress, Blue Apron or Squarespace, the website design company that built their platform so that anyone can build a beautiful website. Their marketing was effective because I threw them into the mix of solutions to consider when two of my clients needed a quick and simple solution for a few websites. We looked into it and ultimately decided to try it out.

This was my first time working with this platform, so it was an exciting opportunity to learn a new way of building a website. Over the span of one month, I built three websites on Squarespace for two clients: one main association website, and two event websites, here and here.

Here is why Squarespace worked for these specific sites:

1. No integrations – None of the websites I recently built needed to integrate with an association management Sastem (AMS) or a learning management system (LMS). To be honest, I wouldn’t have even considered Squarespace if this wasn’t the case.

2. Limited content – The websites had really limited content, making Squarespace a great solution. At the minimum subscription level, you get 20 pages included in the template you choose. This did not restrict me from making the website I wanted; in fact, we were hoping to specifically make one of the websites more effective by removing excess content and adjusting the layout, so the page limit forced me to strategically layout the website.

3. Simple design – The sites I built needed fairly basic features. They did not need pull in multiple social feeds, include custom coded features or tools, have a blog, differentiate between member/non-member content or include sub-sites for association chapters or events. Again, if these had been requirements, I would not have even considered Squarespace.

4. Cost effective – The lowest subscription comes out at $144 a year (if you pay upfront). This includes 20 pages, mobile optimization, a free custom domain, integrated e-commerce and hosting fees. They do offer another level that allows unlimited pages, promotional pop-ups, and other features for a little more. Depending on your website needs and the designers you work with, sometimes a website redesign can cost upwards of $8,000!

A few notes on why it is not a solution for everyone:
1. Integrations and custom coding – If you have an AMS or require a single sign on for your association to offer member benefits, this is probably not the solution for you. If you have a lot of custom coded tools or features on your website that you would like migrated to a Squarespace site, you might want to do some research and/or contact support to see if that is possible before making the jump.

2. No access to html – I didn’t realize how much I depend on html to make quick changes if things are not formatting properly, until I was unable to. Squarespace does not really function like this, and that was definitely something I had to get used to. Luckily, you can still add blocks of code onto the pages. For example, I like to use tables when laying out our event schedules or listing the board of directors and Squarespace does not have a table block. I ended up entering a code block onto the page and just designing the entire page with html.

3. Limited templates - There aren’t a ton of templates to choose from, so if you have a specific vision for the design of your website, this isn’t the platform for you. You have to take what they give you and build your vision around that.

Here are some cool features about Squarespace:
Permissions – You can assign different administrative roles to users. The site makes it extremely easy to grant and restrict access to anyone. For example, if you just want to give the chair of your website subcommittee access to review the reporting in Squarespace, this is a permission you can easily setup.

Forms – You can easily create customized forms in Squarespace which are built with blocks, just like the pages. We used the form feature so that our attendees could request meeting space during our event.

Block layout – You create your website by simply adding blocks of content. Squarespace makes it easy to add blocks between other blocks and reformat them on the page with drag-and-drop functionality.

Mobile responsive – One of our websites really needed to be upgraded; some of the features were breaking each time we added a new plugin or update, and the site was not mobile responsive. All of the Squarespace sites are mobile responsive and you can edit how the site appears on mobile devices. This ended up being a HUGE upgrade for that client at a reasonable cost.

Support – Squarespace has a great support team available to email or chat any time. I’ve been able to resolve questions through their chat support and felt that they were responsive and attentive.

I really enjoyed learning about Squarespace through this process, but it is not the answer for all website needs. For many, it can a quick and easy solution toward a beautiful website. And if it isn’t a good fit for your association, perhaps it could be a solution for a personal website.

 

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Why you should attend user conferences for your technology platforms

AUDC IIBack in April, my colleague and I traveled to Nashville, Tenn. to attend AUDC 2017 – Abila’s user conference. Several of our clients use Abila’s NetForum product as their association management system (AMS). It was an extremely busy time of the year to be out of the office for the full week, but I am so grateful that we went. We learned a ton, made valuable connections and met face-to-face with our Abila contacts to address some issues we had been experiencing.

Here’s why I’m happy we went and why you should consider going to user conferences for any technology platforms used in your association:

Meet face-to-face with your account managers: Honestly, I would say that this was the most valuable part of the conference for us. We were able to sit down face-to-face with our account manager, product leads and developers to discuss concerns we had over the way some modules in the system worked. It was so much more efficient for them to be able to ask questions and get a better understanding of why something was an issue.

You don’t know what you don’t know: Between the two of us, we have a combined 13 years' experience using NetForum. Does that mean we are pros? We’d like to think so, but we know that isn’t true. The fact is, we are so entrenched in the day-to-day procedures for our clients, we aren’t always immediately aware of updates to the system that create more efficient ways to do things. In fact, we were so excited about one particular item we learned that we spent the next 45 minutes playing around with the feature and immediately sent it back to our colleagues at the office.

Learn from other attendees: We learned so much just by listening to other attendees ask questions — questions that we may not have thought of, but that sparked new ideas for us and our clients.

Network: It was also helpful to attend for the networking aspect of things — finding other people like you or the clients you work with — and expanding your network of peers. On the flip side, it’s also extremely helpful to network with the vendors that attend the conference. The other technology vendors in attendance likely already “play well” with the system, so it’s a good way to narrow down your search for conference apps, abstract management systems, web platforms and more.

We have multiple clients using Abila’s NetForum Pro, and since attending AUDC 2017, they have all implemented at least one specific thing we learned there. By attending, we strengthened our relationships with our Abila contacts, peers, and other technology providers. Definitely worth the trip!

Have you attended a user conference recently? What did you find most valuable?

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Badges on-demand: A game changer for attendees and staff

badge on demand

As my wonderful colleague Brittany Marsala Olson suggested in her recent blog post [March 23, 2017], once you make the transition to badge-on-demand printing, you’ll never go back. I agree so strongly that I decided to rave about it, too! As excited as I am about how smooth the onsite registration attendee experience was, I am even more excited about how this technology changed staff’s experience as well.

1. No more organizing badges onsite – No more badge organizers, no more alphabetizing, no more pulling VIP badges or badges with open invoices, and no more printing badges onsite for last minute registrations. As you might suspect, this saves you A LOT of time to focus on other things – like stuffing registration bags, organizing your daily signage and making sure your speakers have everything they need.

2. No more fussy reprints – Is an attendee’s name in all caps? Was their name misspelled? Did they lose their badge the night before during your awesome welcome reception? Having on-demand badge printing eliminates the hassle of juggling reprints with limited badge stock on a foreign printer and trying to remember which way to load the tray.

3. No more guessing and counting – This one is my personal favorite. When you move to this registration model, you have access to amazing data collected when your attendees check-in. Instead of an attendee walking up to the registration counter and giving you their name, they are given a personalized QR code and registration ID for check-in. Having that assigned information allows the system to track when they check in. This is powerful information when applied to your whole meeting and it gives you important statistics for planning future meetings. You can track how many of your attendees checked in, how many did not and who those attendees are. You can see what date and time registration check-in was the busiest. You can see how many attendees staff assisted and how many onsite registrations you had per hour - which leads me to my next point…

4. No more paper registration forms – With our badge on demand partner, Expo Logic, the kiosks allow for check-in and badge printing for both pre-registered attendees and onsite registrations. This was a huge improvement from last year where staff processed onsite registrations. While it was amazing to have roughly 100 onsite registrations in 2016, it required the use of paper registration forms just to keep the lines moving and staff spending hours processing those registrations so that we could print their badges and assign their registration IDs. With the new setup, registrants entered their own registration information quickly on the self-registration screens and then our system printed and assigned registration IDs for us in real-time, freeing staff to assist registrants with questions.

5. No more data clean-up for badge printers – Our vendor offers integration with AMS or registration systems, which means that your registration information automatically flows to their system for on-demand badge printing. This eliminates the need to pull a final registration report after online registration closes and spend hours formatting your data before sending the information to a badge printer. It also means that the onsite registration and payment data flows back into your AMS or registration system. We were unable to use their full integration this year, so we still had to dedicate time to data clean-up, (as advised by the data expert at Expo Logic, because in his words “garbage [data] in, garbage [data] out”), but the clean-up took place within our registration system. We understand how powerful the full integration is and are excited to see what next year will bring. Regardless, clean-up was much easier than it had been previously and some of the stress was taken out of the process knowing that reprints would be hassle-free.

The badge-on-demand printing service was convenient, seamless and efficient onsite for both attendees and staff and I whole-heartedly agree with Brittany when she said that it is “AN. ABSOLUTE. MUST.” I am excited to continue using this technology and hopefully implementing it for all of our clients!

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Convo: An app to keep staff connected in and outside the office

convo

We live in an app-dependent world these days. Whether it’s Doodle to help determine a meeting time, Evernote to help us remember what might otherwise be a fleeting thought, or Google Drive to give us instant access to our most important documents, we’re relying on apps more and more these days. On our desktops and mobile devices alike.

Apps help us stay organized, stay on task, and perhaps, most importantly, stay connected. While many social media platforms can provide a great distraction if used during the work day, there are other apps that help keep you connected to those who are most important during the workday…your coworkers! As someone who works remotely part of the time, I rely heavily on Convo to keep me in the loop about what’s happening back in the office while I’m away.

From important office-related news like phones being down for maintenance, to non-work, but equally important news like treats in the break-room, Convo provides a platform for relaying messages that make everyone feel they are in the office (minus the fact that they may be missing out on those treats if they’re working remotely, of course).

With a main page feed, similar to Facebook, Convo posts are public by default and may be seen by the entire staff. You can tag specific people to ensure they don’t miss your post, or make it only visible to specific people if it’s not necessary to include the whole team.

Additionally, you can create private, client-specific groups, adding only select people. The different groups are easily navigable on the Convo interface.

Convo chat allows you to communicate one-on-one with a coworker you might be assisting, or group chat if you need to have a conversation with a smaller team of coworkers.

Convo can be integrated with your company Facebook, Twitter, etc. so that all posts make it to each individual platform in real time.

Accessible on desktop and mobile, Convo doesn’t clutter up your email, keeps you connected, and can facilitate camaraderie, even with remote employees.

What apps is your association or AMC using to keep the whole team connected when, physically, they are not?

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Live chat for associations: How to incorporate it into your member engagement strategy

live chat quote

We all want instant answers when we go online, and our members (prospective and existing) are no different. B2B and B2C companies have long known that quick service enhances the customer experience, leaving a positive overall impression. That’s why live chat has become so popular in online commerce. Live chat may not be new in the for-profit world, but for most resource-strapped, small/medium staff associations and AMCs, it is. 

According to Insite Software, live chat on your website can directly lead to “better member engagement, higher conversion and member satisfaction.”

  1. Live chat increases conversions by 20%. Live chat helps answer customer questions, removes buying objections and results in a more confident consumer.
  2. Customers who chat are three times more likely to buy. Live chat provides a method for more direct and personal interaction with customers, resulting in an increased likelihood that they will make the purchase.
  3. Live chat improves customer satisfaction levels. Chat offers customers a more immediate way to get their questions answered. As a result, customers walk away from the interaction feeling more satisfied and positive about your brand. While percentages may vary by industry, it is clear live chat’s instant gratification increases satisfaction and shortens the sales cycle. Data shows that as many as 59% of people who would have otherwise called, were completely satisfied with their online interaction.

Live chat for associations
For associations, live chat can lighten the load of your call center and administrative staff. Plus, because live chat is mobile friendly, association staff can easily monitor activity and answer questions anytime, anywhere. That doesn’t mean live chat requires 24/7 chained-to-a-desk service. Many companies staff their chat during business hours only and offer the option to leave a message in the off hours. This is totally acceptable. 

An added bonus to being instantly accessible is the ability to see where your web visitors come from (a Google search or referring site) or what organization they are with. It’s gratifying when you recognize returning visitors by name.

Most live chat services are relatively inexpensive, starting $5 or $10 per month. Many have a free trial or “freemium” model. Some even integrate seamlessly with Wordpress, Hubspot, Salesforce, and other online tools you’re already using.

Enhancing member satisfaction
Live chat gives our staff the opportunity to engage with our members in real time. Thanks to a small piece of code that I installed on our association website, I’m alerted instantly when (“Ding!) a member is having login problems that cannot be fixed by the “Forgot Password” button, (“Ding!”) a member has a question about completing his online profile, and (“Ding!”) a prospective member has some questions before submitting an application for membership.

With live chat, I enjoy being able to quickly help our members go about their business with usually little impact on my day. In my experience, most of the interactions involve some online technical issue, finding a resource for a member or nurturing a potential sponsor or member relationship. Like any good customer experience, listening and providing decisive help is key.

If you use live chat, you will notice patterns in the questions you get. They may help identify problems with your website, conference registration site or learning management system. Perhaps a web page is confusing or lacks some information. Share what you learn with your marketing or web person to ensure that information or the customer-flow through your website is optimized.

While some days are busier than others and it appears as though I am falling down a rabbit hole of busy work, I know that, with live chat, I am directly affecting the bottom line of the association by enhancing customer satisfaction — for only a bit of labor and little if any monthly fee.

Source: B2B Marketing, American Marketing Association, Pekala, Nancy

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Chrome’s Momentum extension: A to-do list wrapped in a fortune cookie

momentum

I recently set a goal for myself — a goal to set goals. This was a challenge given to me by my boot camp trainer. What she really wanted were long-term goals: this week, this month, this year. But I told her, I have enough trouble committing to what I’m making for dinner, much less what I plan to do with my life a month from now. So she suggested I keep it simple and shoot for daily goals.

Always looking for tools to streamline and add fun to my day, I went in search of an app. There were a lot of them. I wanted it super simple, motivating and free. What I discovered was a really cool Chrome extension called Momentum.

Morning Zen
Momentum is brilliant in its simplicity. Each morning, I open a new tab in the Chrome browser and up pops a stunning zen-like photograph and a welcome, “Good Morning, Jeanne.” Then it asks me, “What is your main focus for today?” I type in my answer and then all day long, each time I open a new tab, I see that beautiful photo and a reminder of my goal. And as if it can read my mind, Momentum also reveals a relevant, motivational message of the day. It’s like a fortune cookie for my soul.

A “to-do” list sent from heaven
The simple and beautiful structure of Momentum would be enough, but what really gets me excited is the to-do list feature embedded to the right of the screen. It sounds silly, I know, to get excited over a to-do list. But this one is so freaking easy to use! When I discovered it, it was like a “where have you been all my life?” moment.

I juggle dozens of requests from multiple clients all day long. And I need to keep track of all those tasks so that at the end of the day I can report the time that I dedicated to each. With the Momentum to-do list, I just enter the tasks as they come to me and check them off as they are completed. And the best part is that anything that wasn’t accomplished is carried over to the next day. No more writing and re-writing lists in a notebook.

Cue the angels singing.

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7 tips for selecting the right abstract and speaker management for your meeting

abstract management

One of the most important components of my job is abstract and speaker management, because our meetings wouldn’t be anything without the invited speakers and the submitters interested in presenting their research at our meetings. There is a trick to finding the most efficient and intuitive way to collect your submitter and speaker materials while still getting everything your planning team needs. And while I think I have room to grow, here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. Revisit your contract and review any new or updated features
Revisiting your vendor contracts is important to see if you have features that you were contracted for the previous year but never used, or if there was a feature you wished you had previously. Also check with your vendor to see if there are any new features you should know about, because their technology is always being updated. Consider how these changes to your contract impact the build of your system. For example, this year we are using a feature that allows system access to volunteers so that they can schedule the abstracts into the program. And while it slightly changed the meeting timeline, this is going to be a HUGE time saver for everyone in the long run.

2. Consider the requirements and the type of people who are submitting
Do you have an extensive application where each question requires a text box with character limits, or do you have something as simple as one file upload? Do you need to have header validation in a text box because there are five criteria that a submission must respond to? Does it make sense to ask award questions on the "author information" step because the awards are author-specific or separately because it is submission-specific? Do you need skip logic that only asks certain questions dependent on speaker roles or do you need separate submission portals for each speaker type?

I don’t really have a roadmap to figure this out; I just know that this forward thinking is crucial for your submission system from start to finish. The magic lies within creating an intuitive system that asks the submitters the questions your organization or committee wants to ask, while being mindful of limitations your vendor might have.

3. Have your colleagues/committee test
I work in our abstract management systems day in and day out, so sometimes I gloss over steps that might appear confusing for submitters because I understand how the system works (and I’ve already tested it 18 times). One of our clients had pretty significant changes to their submission site this year, so I had six people in my office test the new version. This was extremely helpful because the associate director tested from the perspective of what the committee wanted, another colleague tested from the perspective of functionality, while yet another looked for spelling or grammar errors, and they collectively made the submission site better with the variety of edits and suggestions they provided.

4. Do not launch until your submission site is complete
This seems self-explanatory but in an effort to meet deadlines, we’ve made this mistake. Some systems allow you to make live edits but I’ve learned that this isn’t in our best interest. This might be my best piece of advice (next to having everyone and their brother test) for those working with a new vendor, doing a complete overhaul of the submission system, or creating a new submission process for a new meeting. In our case, we were creating a new submission system for a new meeting with a new vendor from the ground up. We realized as we went along that there were items that we would have wanted our submission site to collect and when our vendor updated the site live, it impacted those who had already submitted. It all worked out in the end but that experience now impacts how early I build and/or review the submission site before opening.

5. Build your review system in tandem with your submission system – or at least keep the review process in mind
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Forward. Thinking. Even though review comes after submissions are received, it behooves you to either build the review system side-by-side or at least know your review process. Why? Because this will help you determine if there are any crucial questions your submitters need to answer during the submission process to pair them with an appropriate reviewer.

We pair submissions to reviewers based on topics or keywords and we determine those lists prior to opening the submission site and build them into the submission process. Once our submission site launches, we also promote our “Call for Reviewers” and request the reviewers to indicate which topics/keywords they feel qualified to review. This helps us prepare for when the submission site closes and automatic review assignments are made, which saves us time.

6. Keep track of withdraws outside of the system once the submission system closes.
You can track withdraws in your abstract management system and you should. However, in addition I keep an Excel document to track withdraws so that I can include a date, reason, session they were originally scheduled to, and any other information I know my colleagues and Board will want to know. This is also a helpful tool to reassign presentation dates or times because I know where there is space. But I think the biggest reason I do this is so that I can double check my work in the abstract management system, as well as in any meeting publications or mobile app.

7. Think about output: mobile app, proceedings, web apps
Unless you’ve found the unicorn vendor that does it all and does it well for your meeting, this is important because what you gather during the submission process is ideally what is used for everything after that point: mobile app, proceedings, web app, website, etc. For example, one of my vendors allows me to collect speaker information in a speaker portal after a submission is accepted, while another requires all information to be collected during the submission system and this determines how each system is built. Just keep in mind what you may want to appear in the meeting materials so that your vendor can provide thorough reports or API feeds for any other third-party vendors you may have.

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Going green in 2016: How we ditched paper and went mobile at our association meetings

206 app collage

Meeting season is winding down here at AMPED and aside from our usual awesomeness, I am pretty proud of our success in transitioning most of our clients to paperless meetings. Gone are the program and abstract books, restaurant lists and printed maps. We moved all of that information (and more) to mobile or web apps. Andoverall, the feedback from attendees was positive. Here is what I learned along the way:

Native vs. web apps: Three clients utilized a native mobile app that was downloadable via app stores. The upside to this is that, generally, once these apps are downloaded to mobile devices, attendees are able to access the schedule, speakers, maps, etc. without Wi-Fi or eating up their data plans. That said, providing strong Wi-Fi is crucial for a paperless meeting, especially for those attendees who download onsite or if the app houses external links.

One of our clients used a web app that was built for mobile devices and was provided free of charge through their abstract management system. This app was not downloadable and required Wi-Fi to access. It offered many of the same features of a native app, but was a little more complicated to access regularly. As this client had not originally planned on going paperless, this was the most cost-effective alternative to a native app.

Scheduling: All of our apps offered a personal scheduling tool, which is (in my personal opinion) one of the biggest benefits of moving away from a printed program. Allowing attendees to schedule their participation at the meeting and view it all in one place is more convenient than taking a pen and circling sessions in a program book. Whether this feature is solely housed in the app or connects to the calendar on the user’s phone, attendees are able to receive reminders and enter in personal meetings or events that are not listed in the formal program.

More information, less space: There is a limit to the amount of information we can print in a program book before it becomes excessive; with a mobile app, we can include it all and it remains compact and robust without taking up a lot of storage space on our attendees’ phones. The app we used for our client Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS), housed session titles, presentation titles, authors, bios, photos, abstract texts, presentation slides and/or electronic posters. Imagine trying to carry a print version of that!

The social network: Event mobile apps provide a method to easily engage attendees and allow for networking — directly linking to social platforms, offering a photo gallery or incorporating an in-app newsfeed. Our client Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) used a mobile app with a newsfeed that promoted discussion and photo sharing, and a way to measure the most “influential attendees” based on their activity.

Doing it live: In event planning, there are ALWAYS last-minute cancellations and requests. The beauty of a mobile app is that it can be updated in real time and eliminates the cost of printing a program book that might be outdated the moment it gets off the press.

Easing the transition: Some attendees still prefer something tangible. In lieu of a full program, we designed a “pocket program” with a very high-level schedule of the session titles, names, and rooms that fit in the back of the registrant’s badge sleeve. Attendees really appreciated this as an alternative and loved that it wasn’t bulky.

After working with four clients, three platforms and two mobile app vendors for this transition, I learned so much from going green in 2016, and am excited to grow and improve the process for 2017!

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The search for the perfect AMS

AMS search

If you are in association management, then I’m betting you are familiar with Association Management Systems (AMS). They are catch-all software systems that are crucial to tracking everything from membership dues to event registrations to e-communications. Whether you are starting a client on an AMS for the first time or find yourself in the market to switch over to a different AMS, whatever you choose is a crucial decision that impacts your day-to-day operations. Here are some things to consider when searching for your perfect AMS:

1. What is the strength of the AMS and how does it compare to the goals of your association?
Unfortunately, no one product will work for all associations. In fact, according to Effective Database Management, there are at least 52 different AMS vendors to choose from and each AMS has its strengths (and weaknesses) that should be considered next to the goals of your association.

Are you a member-based organization that needs an AMS with the abilities to track member renewals and activity? Do you have a robust volunteer structure with a lot of committees that need to be tracked? Are you a meetings-based organization that needs a system with a registration module and an easy way to track event revenue? Your answer to these questions will narrow the pool of vendors you should consider for your AMS

AMPED has used the same AMS product for all its clients with the exception of one: the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS). AMPED staff are currently in the process of acquiring an AMS for ACTRIMS and, while it might have been easier to just go with the AMS that we are most familiar with, the strengths of that AMS did not match the goals of ACTRIMS. Where our other organizations are member-based, ACTRIMS is a meeting-based organization, priding and sustaining itself on holding educational meetings, therefore, it needs a product that can support meetings technology.

2. What is necessary vs. desired with the new system?
As part of our search for an AMS, we hired a technology consulting firm, DelCor, to guide us through the selection process. To narrow our vendor pool, DelCor set up three meetings with ACTRIMS staff that lasted 2+ hours to discuss our day-to-day operations, how the meetings are structured, and other vendors the AMS might need to integrate with. Taking the time to thoroughly discuss these items clarified our “needs” versus our “wants” and helped us prioritize our selection criteria. These criteria have been the backbone of our, so far, seven-month search and we have found it helpful to reference them throughout the process as our priorities change.

3. Do you need a second demo?
Or a third? While we have not finalized anything yet, we are confident that we know which AMS vendor we will be using. I believe that we were collectively able to make a decision because we had requested a second demo. The preliminary demo process was extensive, with staff sitting through five different vendor demos. After that, we selected finalists to submit proposals. However, during the review process when we consulted our notes from the demos, we found that our memories of the different products were a little fuzzy. Setting up one more demo answered any burning questions or hesitations we might have had going with the vendor.

Plus, in the time between the first and second demo, upgrades had been made to the software, resulting in an AMS that ended up being an even better fit than expected!

 

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What summer break? New technology keeps us studying all year round

studying technology

It’s back-to-school season, and even though I’ve been out of school for a while now, I’ve found myself doing a lot of studying lately. Two of the online programs I use on a daily basis have come out with new releases so I’ve been spending some extra time participating in training sessions, reading release notes and occasionally, just staring at my computer trying to familiarize myself with the new layouts and features. After using a program daily it’s easy to become comfortable with the way it looks and operates. I try not to get too comfortable though. One thing I’ve found is that, even in the absence of a new version's release, there is always something to learn. Here are some of the ways I stay up to date with our frequently used programs.

Participate in training webinars. Anytime a training webinar is offered I make sure to listen in. I find these webinars to be extremely useful. They usually focus on one topic at a time so they’re not overwhelming. Most are scheduled to last an hour or less so they’re easy to fit into the schedule. The best part is they’re usually archived so I can always go back to them for reference.

Take advantage of the online support community. I log in to the online support communities that are set up so I can check for new tech support documents and learn about any upcoming training sessions. I also take a few minutes each day to read through the daily emails that arrive in my inbox overnight. These emails are compilations of daily support community activity. It can be very informative to see what other users are commenting on or issues they have run into.

Finally, one of my colleagues had the great idea to establish a how-to file. Anytime we learn a new procedure it is documented with quick step by step instructions and (when applicable) screen shots. Anytime I encounter an issue, the first place I look is the how-to file. When a new release comes out or a procedure changes we just update the existing instructions. The how-to file is a great resource for everyone in the office and a real time-saver!

I’ve found that these resources really help me stay up to date and provide me with the information I need to keep using technology programs effectively. How about you? Do you have any tips for staying up to date on technology and programs you use?

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Responsive design: Why you need to make the switch, now

responsive-design

Responsive design. It's all well and good. Your site adjusts to the screen size, and your users get a good mobile experience, without having two or even three separate websites. But the process for making your site truly "mobile friendly" is a bit more complicated.

Why would someone view your site on their mobile device? What info do they need? What do you want to offer them and why are they different from your desktop computer users?

All these questions need consideration when creating a responsive design.

What is responsive design?
Responsive design is a design technique for websites that allows a page to rearrange itself based on the size of the screen displaying it. Modules rearrange themselves or even hide themselves so that nothing gets too squished and too small to view on a smaller screen, meaning mobile users have the same viewing experience they would have when visiting your website on a desktop computer.

The introduction of responsive design solved a few problems for website viewers. First, they were able to see the proper display of the website. But another, perhaps more important problem this solved, was the need to have a separate, dedicated site for mobile viewers.

Most large, modern websites now use a content management system (CMS) of some kind. To have the same CMS service content for two separate sites — a normal desktop site and a separate mobile one — was an extremely complicated and frustrating task and required a lot of extra administration time, skill, and effort.

Responsive design solved these issues. Simply having a design or template capable of responding to any screen width meant that you needed only one site, and that site worked on any device.

But there are some other really important reasons why you should make the switch to responsive design for your website.

Mobile usage is increasing
Take a look around and you'll notice a lot of people on their mobile phones. In fact, it seems that just about everyone is attached at the hip with their phone, tablet, or other mobile gadget. Consider the following stats from Smart Insights.

• More than 20 percent of Google searches are now being performed on some sort of mobile device.
• In 2012 over half of all local searches were done on a mobile device.
• 25 percent of Internet users in the United States only access the Internet via a mobile device.
• 25.85 percent of all emails are opened on mobile phones, with another 10.16 percent opened on tablets.
• In 2014 mobile Internet usage is expected to overtake desktop usage.
• Out of the 4 billion mobile phones in the world, 1.08 billion are smartphones and 3.05 are SMS enabled.

Recommended by Google
We all know that Google is a really big deal. In fact, Google claimed 67 percent of the search market share in 2013, making it the most popular search engine in the world. So, if Google claims that it prefers responsive web design as the recommended mobile configuration, hadn’t we better listen?

Why does Google prefer responsive design? For starters, it's more efficient for Google to bot crawl the site and then index and organize all the content that is online. This is because with responsive design, all your sites have just one URL and the same website coding across all devices. When a business has a separate mobile site and desktop site, there will be separate URLs with different website coding for each. This forces Google to crawl and index multiple versions of the same exact site.

A better user experience
Responsive design gives users a better experience. For example, users don't have to mess around with zooming and shrinking, swiping and pinching, to see the text or images on screen. Instead, all of the content automatically adjusts to the screen of the device. This makes it easier and more convenient for users to read and navigate on your site.

And, there are stats to support why the experience of users is so important. According to Google's Think Insights on Mobile, when a user views your mobile website and is frustrated, or doesn't see the content that they are searching for immediately, there's a 61 percent chance they will head to another website. However, when a user has had a positive experience with your mobile website, that individual will be 67 percent more likely to buy a product or use a service. Further, 48 percent of users stated to Google that when a site doesn't function on their mobile device it makes them feel that the company does not care for their business or about their viewers.

Social media has gone mobile
I’m guessing that you're involved in some form or another with social media. But even if you're not, you still realize how important blogging and social media are in the 21st Century. And, social media has also now gone mobile, which you may have also noticed. How important is mobile for social media users? According to a study from ComScore, 55% of social media consumption happens on a mobile device.

When you have a single responsive site that will function on any device, it is much easier for your users to share, interact, and engage with the content of your site. For example, what if a user shares your mobile site URL over social media and one of her “friends” views the site on her desktop computer? The experience would be less than optimal if it wasn't intended for a mobile audience. This makes the user unhappy, and we all know an unhappy user will go elsewhere.

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