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The Effects of COVID-19 on Associations: How engagement flourished

Ashley Neal
August 6, 2020
The Effects of COVID-19 on Associations: How engagement flourished

Editor's Note: This is the fourth part to a five-part industry assessment on the effects of COVID-19 on associations. Find the third part here.

Because many associations were already using online platforms or were beginning to implement virtual resources since the COVID-19 pandemic, engagement in these products has held steady and met - if not exceeded - many association professionals’ expectations.

When in-person events began to be canceled, many association professionals grew anxious about the lasting impacts this could have on their membership, and worried about their engagement falling. Instead, the opposite seems to be the case. Virtual engagement has skyrocketed.

According to Association Laboratory’s Looking Forward 2020, “more than 1/3 (35%) of respondents say their members are increasing their use of online or virtual engagement.”

Lauren Precker with the American Society of Association Executives said many of ASAE’s virtual events exceeded engagement goals, in particular a condensed virtual Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference tailored to focus on relevant communications and membership issues of the COVID-19 crisis “that engaged 3x its face-to-face attendance.”

“We thought they would be popular, but we did not expect such sustained numbers,” Precker said. “Engagement in this COVID environment has been incredible with anywhere from 1x to 3x growth in virtual events.”

The Society for College and University Planning has also seen an uptick in expected engagement on their virtual resources.

“We’ve seen an increase in engagement, great registration on our Slack channels and great registration on our ListServs, with active use,” President Mike Moss said.

Moss also said about 70-80% of the people who had agreed to be in physical presence at their event are finding the time to either attend the live streamed virtual event, or watch a pre-recording. 

When the American Alliance of Museums took its annual meeting virtual, the results exceeded expectations there, too, according to AAM’s Director of Marketing and Communications, Natanya Khashan.

“In this unprecedented time, many of us are experimenting with new ways to connect, stay engaged, and provide meaningful online experiences,” she said. “We wanted to bring this same spirit to our Annual Meeting and rapidly pivoted to a virtual platform. With our new format came a new theme and programming adjusted to reflect the current global crisis.”

The AAM Virtual Annual Meeting and Museum Expo, which hosted more than 4,000 attendees, included a virtual exhibit hall, keynote speakers, over 70 breakout sessions, and online networking events to connect with museum professionals from around the globe. AAM’s website handled approximately double its normal traffic with webinars attracting thousands of registrants. 

“It was more successful than we could have hoped and a huge milestone in our 114-year history,” Khashan said. “The reaction was overwhelmingly positive."

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Ashley Neal

Ashley joined the Sidecar team as Community Coordinator in 2020 and spends her working hours focused on providing value to our members. In her free time, Ashley enjoys DIY crafts and playing with her puppy, Scooby.

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