Getting Started With The Digitalization Of Associations

This article about the digitalization of associations was first published on Boardroom, provided by IAPCO, author Frank M. Waechter, Founder and CEO of | Digital Marketing.

According to the World Economic Forum, digitalization is one of the key disruptors of the 21st-century. This process has caused profound changes in the way we interact and go about our lives. And has also transformed the nature of work and organizations. Ernst & Young suggests that the digital transformation is here to stay, and so it’s essential for associations to jump on board, embrace the digital mindset, and bring added value to their members – especially to new generations who are digital natives.

Digitalization, and thus digitalization of associations, is already underway, so embracing it is not a matter of if, but instead of when and how. In this post, we take a look at the most effective strategies and solutions that associations can use to achieve this.

Related: Digital Transformation in the Meetings and Events Industry

Should Your Association Go “All Digital”?

The first step is to kick-start a digital transformation strategy is deciding what to implement, how to do it, and on which time frame. Although it might be tempting to go “all-in” on digital, this isn’t always practical or necessary. Implementation success rates seem to be rather low – under 30% according to this McKinsey survey. On the other hand, those who are successful take an incremental approach to digitalization. Digital organizations don’t become so overnight, but they work and rework their strategy. Until they’re able to create new and stronger forms of engagement with their members. Therefore, it’s wise to make gradual changes strategically, using carefully chosen digital tools to enhance existing and more traditional operational models.

Low-Cost, High Impact Solutions

Mindset is as important as tools when it comes to the digitalization of associations. The process starts with building digital skills into the association’s culture, bringing key stakeholders on board, and breaking down silos before going all out. You can achieve this with limited financial resources – it all starts with the right mindset and with the disposition to make small-scale changes that have a significant impact.

Free content analytics tools are an excellent place to start. These tools enable data-driven decision making, which forms the basis for digital strategy. With this anticipatory intelligence, you can discover which content drives interaction best and which digital technologies your members are already using. The information can be used to predict what your members need. Also to formulate digital marketing campaigns using the format and channels your members prefer. For example, setting up an online community on a social media platform allows members to share and network 24/7 using tools they’re already familiar with. Some organizations, like the Association for Clinical Research Professionals, have created their online community platforms. Whereas others (like Trades Union Congress) offer their members online training in a webinar format, all through their website.

Related: Marketing for Associations: 4 Reasons to Use Google Analytics

Automation and Digital Tools

Another cost-effective tool is marketing automation. While not free, these software packages can save on labour costs. At the same time, deliver highly targeted communications that reach the right person with the right message at the right time. Also, consider the products or services your association already offers and how can they be digitalized. With marketing automation, it’s possible to segment members based on their interests and goals. And offer them tailored content.

Digital tools like machine learning or artificial intelligence have enormous potential for success, and they don’t need to be costly. Chatbots can be quickly built on social media platforms and drive a conversational approach to member interaction. And since they can learn autonomously and become more accurate over time, they are a sound investment.

Related: Does Your Associations’ Website Meet 2019 Standards?

Conferences and events are other areas of opportunity. Event apps are replacing printed conference guides, making them more portable and user-friendly. 

Examples of Digitalization of Associations

Organisations like the National Association of College and University Business Officers are building membership value into their events using year-round, multi-event apps that not only deliver smooth registration, networking and personalized content but also engagement, interaction and intelligence.

Another example of how digitalization can strengthen the reach of events: BILD, a Toronto-based land management association went paperless for its annual awards event. To do so, they implemented a CSP (content services platform), which bridges the gap between digital experience management (DxM) and content management. For the annual event, this move allowed members to submit and manage applications on a self-serve basis. Also reducing greatly time-related inefficiencies and risks of human error. Content management systems can be pricey, but there are affordable options too. In the beginning, association leaders may want to explore basic packages and solutions. Thus making sure their features target the most important goals for a particular event.

Related: 4 Concepts To Understand Digital Transformation in the Event Industry


The digitalization of associations is complex and multi-faceted, but its benefits outweigh the challenges. Taking a gradual approach to digital transformation can help your association remain competitive, future-focused, and member-oriented. Start taking steps now to give your association a strategic advantage and establish it as a trusted leader in your field. It’s never too late to become digitally aware and lead transformation successfully. If you are looking to give your association a digital strategy, get in touch with me. We offer digital solutions specifically tailored to multiple sectors in the MICE Industry.

Networking Technology and Events: An Overview of the Key Trends

Networking Technology for conferences and events is changing at speed of light. Over the past decade, we have witnessed how the transformational power of technology has revolutionised many industries, from commerce to education and leisure. As a result, the events industry is not an exception. In recent years a series of new trends have emerged proving that technology can improve the quality of networking events and, as a result, bring higher returns on investment.

Networking Trends

One of those trends refers to how individuals attending an event are increasingly becoming perceived as active and engaged participants. Rather than as mere receptive audiences. People no longer attend events for the sake of attending or networking: they want to become an active part of them and have more control over their experience. The widespread availability of mobile devices and the adoption of social media for business purposes are one of the main reasons behind this qualitative change. Gamification is another key trend that has the potential to transform the way we think about and organise events.

Related: Mobile App Marketing for your Business or Organisation

Event planners have begun to realise the power that games have when it comes to motivating and engaging people. Event and conference mobile apps are part of the most popular ways of gamifying an event and of incentivising productive interactions. Lastly, digitalisation is playing a crucial role in shaping the way we produce and consume large amounts of information. There is a growing awareness about the possibilities that digital technologies can offer to events management, with a focus on enabling meaningful interactions and helping discover opportunities for collaboration. Below we discuss some examples of how to use technology for networking at exhibitions, conferences and events to benefit both event organisers and attendees.

Event Planning & Networking Technology

Networking technology can provide a useful platform that makes event planning more efficient, less time consuming, and more engaging. Therefore, for the majority of event planners, it has become common practice to focus on the social aspect of things, using social networks to promote an event, interact with participants to create a sense of community, get a dialogue going, and build enthusiasm before the actual event. Big data can also be used to improve the effectiveness of networking at events. Information collected through social media profiles can be used to target the interests of participants and create activities based on common interests.

Big Data and more

Use big data to let attendees set up and edit profiles before the event, and so find participants with similar interests, making face-to-face interaction easier and less awkward. Other event organisers are already experimenting with technologies like iBeacons, Bluetooth, and NFC in an attempt to make a more efficient use of big data. In addition, some typical applications include badge collection, surveys, digital vouchers, and the delivery of push notifications. These are all especially relevant ways of using networking technology at events to deliver a targeted experience and to transform interactions by giving them a personalised and meaningful edge.

Related: Social Media Marketing for the MICE Industry

Focusing On The Experience

The fact that event attendees are now considered active participants has put additional demands on organisers. Consequently, many planners have been focusing on architecting memorable experiences. Instead of simple events that can be ticked off a calendar. Some emerging trends with regards to this new emphasis on the experiential side of events include:

  • Wearables
  • Smart conference badges
  • Digital business cards
  • Social WiFi
  • Event communications tools


Use wearables e.g. as a wayfinding tool, to make check-in faster and easier, or to quickly arrange meetings with other participants.

Smart conference badges

Smart conference badges rely on RFID technology to collect and store vital information about attendees. Helping to keep track of things like who they interacted with. Or which sessions they attended, or which vendor booths they visited. As a result, event organisers can also use the data collected by smart badges to generate analytics for subsequent follow-up.

Related: Lights, Camera, Action! The Why and How of Video Marketing

Digital business cards

Digital business cards are another smart application of networking technology at events. These cards allow attendees to exchange and manage contact information seamlessly and to take advantage of “matching opportunities”. Furthermore, organisers can use them to build digital directories based on common interests or other relevant information.

Social WiFi

Give participants the chance to get online using their social network logins. This puts a wealth of useful data at the fingertips of event organisers. This data could include:

  • the duration of interactions
  • which sessions are more popular
  • the type of spontaneous web searches prompted by different talks

Event communications tools

Some organisers are already using in dedicated event apps that offer seamless communication opportunities between participants (such as app messaging tools or proximity networking apps) and between speakers and attendees, such as apps that filter the most relevant questions during Q&A sessions.

The article Networking Technology and Events: An Overview of the Key Trends was first published on Author Frank M. Waechter.
Frank M. Waechter |
Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Inbound Marketing, Growth Marketing, Data Analytics for the Meetings Industry, Events Industry and Associations. Conference and Event Activation, Live Marketing, Onsite Engagement.
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