Re-engage Your Members with Virtual Networking Events

How one group used technology to stay connected throughout the pandemic.

By Aidan Crawford

Social network scheme, which contains flat people icons.

With more than two years of constant disruption to in-person events, delivering value to members is more difficult than it has ever been.

As more and more of us have moved to a full or hybrid model of remote work, one of the unintended consequences is that we are physically isolated from the “community” of the office.

And as soothing as it may be to hear the rumble of the washer and dryer as you sit through your fifth Zoom call of the day, it can’t replace the casual day-to-day interactions with colleagues at work.

This disconnection from our work community is isolating. And no doubt it is a contributing factor to what has become known as “the great resignation.”

Someone once told me that people quit their jobs long before they ever stop collecting a paycheck. Could the same be true of association members?

Your engagement is a lagging indicator for actual member retention. And eventually those who aren’t engaged will question the ROI of their membership dues.

But there is an opportunity for associations to step into the void and deliver value through community to members. In-person conferences and events are where your members find community and build lasting business and personal relationships with colleagues.

And as much as webinars and virtual events try—most of them don’t come close to replicating the experience of mixing with colleagues over drinks in the hotel lounge.

In January 2021, as the pandemic crept into its second year, a colleague and I started a virtual networking event. This was not a group Zoom call. It was real networking using an off-the-shelf technology that allowed us to bring in a speaker and then randomly pair our attendees off into private 1-on-1 video conversations.

The best analogy I can think of is speed dating. Short, private, video conversations on a timer. Just enough time for introductions and finding out a bit about each other’s businesses. It was a lot like the end-of-day mixer at a conference!

Colleagues who were strangers quickly became friends and business connections were solidified.

It was a community.

The results were amazing. And, nobody else seemed to be doing this. So, we had people signing up from across the US, Canada and Europe. It was also incredibly simple to set up and manage.

The technology for these events is affordable and accessible to everyone. We used both Hopin.com and RunTheWorld.Today as our platforms and found each to be excellent (although Hopin works much better with mobile).

Obviously, the format has evolved since the first events. Now we start each event with some welcoming comments before delivering 15 or 20 minutes of educational content. Then we set everyone loose to network.

I’ve connected with other speaking professionals—many of whom I’ve known for years – in a deeper, more personal way. I’ve found out about their businesses, and they’ve learned something about mine.

It’s certainly a lot more engaging than sending out another bland email trying to get people to sign up for a webinar.

Here are some of the things we’ve learned that you should really consider as you develop a virtual networking event:

  • If you have noticed that your membership has become increasingly disconnected or disengaged, virtual networking events are a great way to warm it up
  • Make it a regular event. Let folks know when to expect your events (ours are the last Friday of the month)
  • Charge a nominal fee. We started charging $4.99 to cover costs. When we charged $0 more people signed up – but fewer showed up. If folks have a bit of skin in the game, they’re more likely to attend.
  • Be a gracious host – but don’t hog the spotlight. Remember it’s not about you. Introduce your speaker and ask them to keep it “Ted-Talk Short.” Twenty to 25 minutes tops.
  • Two hours is the sweet spot. Our statistics show that most people stick around until the 90-minute mark. So we leave it open for an additional 30 minutes after that.

After years of uncertainty, illness, and loss, your membership needs more. And you are in a unique position to step up and deliver for them.

Creating engaging virtual events that combine education and networking is your opportunity to create the community so many of your members have been missing from both their personal and professional lives.

The technology is affordable and available. And the reward of increased retention and growth are waiting for you.

About the Author

Aidan Crawford is an author and Virtual Speaker with a focus on creating a culture of connection that drives member engagement. Aidan shows organizations how to use simple and affordable technology that goes far beyond Zoom to increase engagement and build community. You can visit his website at https://shortcircuitmedia.com

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