We’ve moved from paper to apps. We have gone completely paperless for our Inner City visits, DC Fly In and FAM Tour and now only use an app for everything, including the agenda, speaker presentations and attendee contacts. Last year, we even introduced an in-app game for attendees to compete and win prizes like plane tickets. Not only does this allow for last-minute agenda changes (because we all have them), but it also creates a better way for our members to interact with us and each other.
We have started using a special hashtag for all our large events. For a couple of the events that engage a public crowd, including Millennials or Gen Z, we incorporate a Snapchat screen. Videos have begun to be a staple at our Annual Dinner and Awards Celebration as a more engaging and personal way to highlight winners without long, boring speeches from a podium.
We have boosted our use of social media to promote our events. This move allows attendees to provide feedback and to interact with attendees during events.
Our largest event of the year – by revenue and attendance – is our Annual Gala & Auction. For the event we have an auction guide listing all 400 items available for bidding. Printing this piece each year has been cumbersome, it’s very extensive in listing all the auction items individually and acknowledges the donors. One digital trend we used last year to improve this process and engage attendees at the event is a custom QR code. The QR code was placed around the event venue and when attendees scanned it, it led them to an online copy of the auction guide. This allowed us to print less copies and simply ask guests to scan the code on their phone to view the guide digitally.
Our chamber recently went through a complete digital transformation to help us deliver remarkable experiences for our members. This provides us enhanced opportunities to engage our members and promote our upcoming events through social media platforms such as Facebook Events, LinkedIn and Instagram, and to cross promote them using digital outdoor advertising, more targeted emails and our website. We have also started shooting promotional videos with our featured speakers to help create a buzz around the event and circulate the videos in targeted emails and using social media. Since implementing Facebook Events, our attendance at events has drastically increased, and the usage of targeted emails and promo codes to attract prospects has resulted in more prospective members attending events and converting to membership.
Our chamber has taken advantage of sponsored posts on social media as an especially effective way to engage members for our events. We create our events on Facebook and encourage members and ambassadors to mark “Attending” to increase event reach and engagement. We use the Facebook targeting tools to promote these events to each specific audience we want to reach. In addition, we ask our keynote speakers to film a quick video promoting the event for us to use on social media and these have been very popular among our audiences.
Help your members see the value of your event by providing contacts, content and purpose they can’t get somewhere else. Business owners can network just about anywhere and anytime these days. Chambers must engage on a deeper and more meaningful way. What better way to do that then to give event attendees an exclusive or a reason to be at your event? Chambers have to host events with purpose and that tie specifically to your mission.
It is important to look at the crowd – What are the demographics? Are you growing? Does the content match the purpose? Then, benchmark your events against other community events. If you don’t stand out as a leader, people will lose interest and choose to spend their time/money in other ways.
By not being satisfied with the status quo, we’re constantly trying to evolve our events and solicit feedback from our attendees. This way, we’re able to naturally evolve our events to what our member want and expect. The chamber can no longer be simply known for providing networking opportunities; it must provide a unique value proposition and return on investment to retain members and investors.
Online surveys have become exceedingly popular in the chamber community. They not only provide feedback, but they also ensure that we are continuously providing value for our members. Our chamber recently began issuing post-event-surveys starting with our Leadership Conference. We sent this survey the morning after the event with questions on logistics, topics and planning ideas for next year’s event. So far, the survey has a response rate of 50%.
Video has become a key marketing piece for our chamber. Since video tells a story that a podium speaker cannot, we now give sponsors of our monthly Wake Up West Coast breakfast the opportunity to have a customized one to two-minute video (created by the chamber’s marketing team) shown at the event instead of having them speak at the podium. The videos add value to sponsorship beyond the event and assist in event promotions as we share them in emails and social media. They help us control time and messaging so that it looks best for the sponsor and for the chamber.
Keep your events mission-centric and cross promote different focus areas at your events, like advocacy, economic competitiveness, young professionals, etc. Highlight chamber achievements and reiterate the chamber's vision at EVERY event.
This year I presented a keynote address at the ACCE Events conference on our “Opportunities Guide” publication. This printed and digital guide was created to raise revenue with our membership and to help members plan and budget. Our 2019 guide can be found on www.lcoc.com/signature-events. This tool spotlights each event’s details, including the featured speaker, a brief synopsis, as well as the cost to sponsor and attend. This guide helps our sales and events staffs and members think proactively and gives members opportunities to engage with the chamber all year long. With ACCE’s noted heavy trend toward non-dues revenue generation, this can be a great tool to digitally leverage dollars.
Participation and attendance declined at our small business awards luncheon, and, as a result, we almost scrapped the event entirely. Instead, we changed it to an evening cocktail event, created an awards celebration format (no lunch or keynote speaker) and made the finalists feel like stars. Three years later, we have added two award categories and have sold out every year. It’s a special night for a special group of people.
Our Annual Dinner and Awards Celebration was in need of a fresh, upgraded feel that really celebrated our members in a special way. As a result, we added an annual theme and elevated the décor/lighting to a gala-style feel without the formal attire. The first year, our theme was Local Talent, Global Reach with sections matching countries around the world, a passport and more. This year, we eliminated our key-note speaker and opted for entertainment with the theme A Million Dreams, featuring a video of several members telling their dream for Wayne County. With a sold-out crowd of 600, the award winners have never felt more celebrated!
In Nashville we have a lot of competition for networking events. The traditional model for our Business After Hours event has great attendance but wasn’t growing in its reach. We’ve since changed things up for our Business After Hours and other events by partnering with existing organizations to host unique experiences within another community event. So far, we’ve held Business and Baseball – a partnered event with the Nashville Sounds – and Tailgate with the Titans – a partnered event with the Tennessee Titans. Soon, we’ll host Sips and Swings – a partnered event with TopGolf.
Two years ago, the Boise Metro Chamber staff met to review all of our events, deciding which ones were still serving our mission and which needed to be reconsidered. One event we discontinued was our Business Owners Success Series (BOSS) luncheons. The BOSS luncheons were too similar to our CEO Speaker Series’. Dropping the BOSS luncheons freed up more staff time to focus on growing the CEO Speaker Series both in attendance and caliber of speakers.
At the beginning of our 2017-2018 fiscal year, we made the bold move to completely rebrand our mainstay monthly breakfast networking event, formerly known as Early Bird Breakfast. In response to member feedback saying that the event was in need of a refresh, we delivered a completely new feel that included a new name – Wake Up West Coast. Event enhancements included a portable backdrop on stage to set the theme and ensure our brand appeared in photos and videos of the event, table top signage that further illustrates our core values, and upbeat music playing as guests arrive. A “Wake Up West Coast” video is shown to kick off each event with cameo appearances by our members and community leaders. Our members asked, and we delivered.
Each year, with the feedback of our members, we deliberately redesign our offerings. Each chamber is likely to have popular networking events as a mainstay, but these must be rebranded to keep them fresh and top of mind. For instance, we changed the name of our evening networking event from the traditional “Business After Hours” to “The LNK: (LNK is our city’s airport code plus a play on “linking” business to social hour) to give it a completely new look and feel. We also removed a networking coffee a few years ago, but with feedback indicating that there was a gap in our programming, we brought it back with a fresh spin. Our sales staff wanted a more intimate setting to bring prospective members (our afternoon networking brings over 200 attendees) so we created a new coffee opportunity called “The Hive”. These changes, plus removing the cost for our monthly networking events (offsetting the costs by bringing in dollars for sponsorships) have paid in increased attendee and non-dues revenue numbers and member engagement.
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