For many association communication departments, the annual conference once meant hosting press conferences, scheduling interviews with reporters and producing daily convention newspapers.
But associations who are holding tight to these traditional ways and not experimenting with social media may see their meetings slink into “dulls-ville.”
So how do you create a buzz around your event, generating enthusiasm and cultivating the feeling that you just can’t miss out on this conference? I spoke to David Fouse, director of communications at the American Public Health Association (APHA), whose team has homed in on several ways to use social media to engage their attendees and create excitement even among those not in attendance.
APHA’s social media is not controlled by one department. An inter-department team meets monthly to discuss new platforms and ideas, review analytics, and evaluate efforts. “It’s more of a users’ group approach, so when we hear about a new tool someone looks into it,” Fouse said.
3 lessons your team can learn from APHA:
1. Don’t be scared; be first.
If not exactly the team’s mantra, this lesson seems to encompass everything APHA tries in the social media world. About five years ago, APHA created a blog when few in the association world were doing so. Staff had wanted to reach out to the public more, so APHA created the Get Ready Campaign, an all-hazards preparedness initiative—at a time when the H1N1 flu hit hard.
From there, a Get Ready blog was launched. Then, when the annual conference rolled around, the Communications staff decided to create a daily annual meeting blog. “It was a great way to share real-time content with our attendees without the cost and overhead of a print convention daily,” Fouse explained.
APHA has also been able to capitalize on a jealousy-inducing Twitter following of more than 230,000. APHA was an early adopter of Twitter and snagged the handle @publichealth before anyone else thought to. The foresight to grab that handle instead of one encompassing APHA’s name showed attention to the issues instead of the association. Time magazine recognized the handle as one of the 140 Twitter feeds to follow in 2011.
It helps that APHA staff receives strong support from its executives for its entrepreneurial spirit. “We take the ‘fire, aim, ready’ approach” to trying out our ideas, Fouse said.
2. Know how to recognize a “moment.”
At APHA’s 2010 conference, professor and activist Cornel West was the keynote speaker. “Cornel West is not a wallflower—he’s a vibrant and provocative speaker,” Fouse said.
APHA recognized a “moment.” Staff quickly posted video of West’s speech on its YouTube channel and wrote a blog about it, including clips from the videos. Then, they tweeted about the blog post. And then, Cornel West retweeted it—to hundreds of thousands of followers. “That really helped amplify our message,” Fouse said.
More recently, APHA took note when the lights went out during the 2013 Super Bowl, tweeting: “Power outages can disrupt more than football games. Know how to be prepared with our @getready fact sheet: http://goo.gl/6BtSs #SuperBowl.”
The tweet received numerous retweets, clicks and replies—all because the APHA account manager was paying attention to a “moment” at home on a Sunday night.
3. Connect your channels.
The Cornel West moment is a good example of how associations can do more than just upload a video. Blog about it, tweet it, embed it on Facebook, post related images on Flickr and Pinterest. Tell the story through Storify. “We try to integrate the channels as much as possible so it’s not just a one-off,” Fouse said.
And don’t forget about connecting social media to good ol’ fashioned print. Create a list of the “tweets of the day” for your convention newspaper. Print photos from users, using their social media handles, in your magazine’s convention wrap-up.
At its most recent annual meeting, APHA launched three new channels: Instagram, Storify and Pinterest. The team is still evaluating the success of these and how to link everything. “As we move ahead, we want to tie our messages together more strongly and to evaluate our tools,” Fouse said. “The true test is: Are you sparking a conversation?”
How does your association use social media to generate buzz around your annual conference? What new platform are you trying out this year?
Share your ideas in our comments section below.
[image: Adriaan Bloem]