Questions to Ask When Choosing an Online Course or Event Platform for Associations

At the CSAE Trillium Winter Summit 2021, our team at Vocalmeet had the opportunity to share our tips on how attendees can effectively navigate and get the most out of online courses and other virtual events that are offered by their association. In this article, we will share the top 3 factors for associations to consider when choosing the right online platform to use for continuing education or specific events.

Below are our insights from having helped numerous associations shift their courses and events online over the past decade. The key takeaway here is that there is no one-size-fits-all, and there are no shortcuts. Each association must go through the exercise of truly understanding their goals before choosing the technology platform(s) that will enable them to meet those goals. In other words, avoid falling into the trap of investing in a platform that may not demonstrate a clear ROI (Return on Investment).

Firstly, we advise associations to avoid trying to mimic every aspect of their in-person events when they transition to the virtually environment. For example, it’s not necessary to follow the exact schedule and timing of in-person events; attendees may not want to be seen via video; it’s not necessary to make attendees feel as if they are walking through a real exhibit hall. It’s important to understand that online events are different from in-person. 

When we work with associations, we start by going through a discovery process where we get an understanding of the key benefits of their online events, (i.e. why would a member or a non-member register). 

To do so, we ask associations to explore 3 fundamental factors that will determine the type of online platform that would best suite their goals and needs:

1. Target Audience – Consider who the main audience will be for your online event. They may or may not be comfortable with technology. Their schedules may be typically flexible and therefore they’re able to attend an event at a specified time, or maybe they prefer accessing content at their own convenience. Do they want to be able to interact with one another, or are they more focused on the educational content?
2. Level of Interactivity Required – The level of online engagement expected from attendees will be a factor. They also may be looking to have a discussion or simply watch a presentation where they are able to ask questions via chat. The content could be more informational and attendance is voluntary, or a mandatory requirement for the profession (e.g. ethics training, workplace safety training or continuing education).
3. Resources Available – Consider how many staff members you have dedicated to be able to plan and execute the event and their comfort level with technology. What is your budget and does your budget support a do-it-yourself platform vs. a managed service vendor who helps with the managing of your event? How much time do you have before your event?

The answer to the above questions will help determine factors such as whether you:

Offer more interactive on-demand content vs. live online events such as live webinars;
Choose a browser-based platform that is easier to use for attendees vs. a platform that requires downloadable software;
Use a platform that can track progress and attendance for continuing education purposes vs. a platform with no tracking capability;
Opt for a do-it-yourself platform where your association staff manages all aspects of the event vs. a managed service vendor to support your association before, during and after your event.

At the end of the day, it’s not about using an online course or event platform with lots of bells and whistles. In fact, from our experience, when an association uses a platform with too many unused or unnecessary features, both staff and users feel overwhelmed and frustrated. A high level of member dissatisfaction may then lead to decreased registration and non-dues revenue of future events, as well as higher member attrition. It is important to aligning the technology platform(s) with the goals of each event in order to deliver an online experience that members will rave about. 

If you are interested in having our technology consultant walk you through this discovery process? Send us an email here