A Virtual Meeting Success Story

By: Samantha Whitehorne

One association's hybrid event adds value. [Titled "Virtual Success" in the print edition.]

Increased government scrutiny and sequestration have started and will continue to affect in-person attendance at association meetings. As a result, more organizations are turning to hosting virtual events, whether online-only or hybrid (a blend of face-to-face and virtual).

But for the American Payroll Association (APA), that's old news. It added a virtual component to its Annual Congress back in 2010, recognizing that many of its 22,000 members could not attend.

Called the Virtual Congress & Expo, it's an online companion to the in-person conference. The event, which includes educational webcasts, a full-service expo hall, and virtual interaction and networking opportunities, is free for APA's members and $299 for nonmembers. Revenue is generated from exhibitors and sponsors who participate in the virtual exhibit hall.

While the virtual component happened on the third day of the in-person event last year, this year's took place a little more than a week after the face-to-face conference in May. This was the result of feedback from exhibitors, who said it was difficult to staff their booths online and in the in-person expo hall at once.

Final numbers for this year's event weren't in as of press time, but last year 2,100 people participated online on the live day—about 9.5 percent of APA's members. More than 1,000 additional people accessed it while it was available on demand for 90 days after the event.

Even more promising is that when APA switched to a new online platform last year, the Virtual Congress saw 50 percent more virtual booth visits and a 105 percent increase in average visit times at the virtual booths. To motivate people to visit the booths, APA used a virtual badge system, which awarded attendees each time they visited. The badges appeared in the attendee's online profile, and an online board kept a tally of leaders, adding a competitive element.

This year's Virtual Congress upped the ante by adding payroll trivia and memory match games. Even better: Game winners didn't go home empty handed, earning free registration to APA's 2014 Annual Congress in Minneapolis.

Samantha Whitehorne is deputy editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now in Washington, DC.