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The pandemic has changed how associations fulfill their missions and serve their members and it continues to do so three years later. 

In 2020, the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians (ACOFP) had a 90% attendance rate for its virtual conference, ACOFP '20 Virtual, which the organization created to replace its annual in-person convention. That kind of number is astonishing, even considering how many people have been searching for development opportunities while working from home. 

As new variants continue to threaten any plans to return to normalcy, ensuring your association has a strategy to increase registration for virtual events is more important than ever. 

Related: After a year of virtual events, here’s what this marketing expert learned Learn More >

5 Strategies to increase registration for virtual events

Coming up with creative events, webinars and training is only half the battle. Knowing how to streamline the registration process and market your event is key to boosting registration. Here are six strategies associations should consider to boost virtual registration.

1. Make the decision to register easy

Every association is different, and you'll have to try different methods to increase sign-up rates for your events. But Wild Apricot found that 70% of organizations with "much more" attendance at their virtual events than they would have had at a live one featured a guest speaker, so it’s important to tout who will be speaking at your events.

It's so powerful that Luigi Benetton, technical director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, found that guest speakers were also one of the major ways associations attract new members into their organization.

In converting its annual conference to a virtual event, the American Psychological Association decided to figure out how to make it even better than a live event. One of their main strategies was addressing past attendees' concerns about missing out on programs during the conference because some of the programs run simultaneously. In their virtual event with on-demand viewing, members would get extended value out of their registration without fear of missing out.

Their efforts resulted in thousands more registrations than their in-person conference, including a 320% increase in student registrations, a 170% increase in international attendees from 101 countries, and more than a 300% increase in non-member participants.

2. Follow-up is essential for increasing attendance

As mentioned earlier, ACOFP had a whopping 90% attendance rate for their conference. (Out of 1,050 people registered, 944 of them showed up.) Their key strategy was a smart and assertive follow-up campaign. 

ACOPF got these numbers by sending several emails, and texting and calling registrants who hadn't replied to the emails. 

Many associations are concerned about sending "too many" emails and messages and coming off as spammy. But did you know that research shows automated emails get 119% higher click rates than emails that aren't part of your automation workflow?

Analysis done by Campaign Monitor, an email marketing automation software, found that following up with email positively impacts event registrations. And, according to GoToWebinar, email drives 57% of webinar registrations, so it’s incredibly important to review your email strategy before, during and after each virtual event.  

3. Consider incentivizing event attendance

Some additional ways to improve the attendance rate for virtual events is by finding ways to motivate members to come to the event for specific reasons or purposes. Wordstream, a marketing company, recommends creating cool swag or materials that are unique to the participation in the event, like editable PDF guides attendees can download and take notes. Bonus points if you print out the worksheets and mail them with additional promotional materials to all attendees before the event!

Another way to make attendance more appealing is with gamification. This can be as simple as awarding points based on interaction and as complex as integrating trivia into the sessions. The point is the more fun an event it the more memorable and engaging it will be.

Related: 5 Ways to Gamify Your Virtual Event Learn More >

Of course, you need to ensure you include this information in your marketing materials. Be sure to highlight all your Q&A’s, workshops and even virtual happy hours in your marketing campaigns – everyone wants to be a part of a fun event!

4. Leverage your attendees and speakers

Your attendees are excited and so are your speakers – so why don’t you make them a part of your marketing efforts? As many associations have dedicated social media presences, using those spaces for marketing can help increase registration for virtual events. Some simple ways to do this include:

  • Create unique graphics for your speakers that they can share online
  • Use private groups and fan pages to get all your attendees in one place
  • Create a fun hashtag that your attendees can include in their posts

As mentioned above, gamification is a fun way to keep your attendees engaged. So be sure to make social media posts an easy way to earn points – it’s a win-win for everyone. 

5. Allow access post-event

Even though many of your attendees are working from home, they may not be able to dedicate the time needed for your event. This can be a dealbreaker for some attendees and may even prevent them from registering. 

Enter on-demand content. 

Chances are you have either pre-recorded some sessions or will be recording those sessions during the event. Make sure all this content is available to your attendees and make sure there’s a location on the site and registration page that outlines that access. 

Additionally, for many associations, this is an opportunity to encourage membership as you can restrict the availability of this content based on membership status. 

Your virtual event of the future

While the future may continue to be uncertain, for associations the mission remains the same, adding value to members. Virtual events are an amazing way to grow and empower professionals, and ensuring you have the biggest reach possible is just as important. Whether you’re streamlining your registration process, looking for gamification opportunities or simply leveraging your keynotes on social media, there are plenty of ways to increase registration for virtual events. 

Michael Rincon
Post by Michael Rincon
November 4, 2020
Michael Rincon is a freelance writer, podcast host, and the founder of Michael's Business English. He has a passion and curiosity for finding out the truth as well as helping others achieve success in their career and business goals.