Beyond Conference Proceedings: Six Ways to Engage Audiences and Generate Revenue Even After Your Virtual Academic Conference
Prior to March 2020, academic societies could more or less count on conferences as a source of revenue (sometimes even ~1/3rd of their annual revenue). But now, most conferences are virtual or hybrid (online + offline), thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and international travel restrictions. Societies have to grapple with cancellation costs and the complexities around pricing virtual conferences. Yet, the virtual environment opens up new opportunities, by making the conference accessible to a much larger and more diverse audience and by facilitating the use of innovative content formats. Accordingly, conference organizers need to explore new revenue sources and avenues for audience engagement. One often-overlooked opportunity is the post-conference phase. Although some societies do publish conference proceedings, there are several other ways societies can continue to build audience engagement and generate revenue, after their virtual conference ends.
An online library
After a virtual conference, societies can set up an online library and provide tiered access to conference videos, posters, and slide decks (free for attendees, paid for non-attendees). Much of the research presented at conferences is evergreen and has long-term relevance. The Endocrine Society, for example, has set up an online store where users can purchase access to over 250 session recordings from the conference ENDO 2021.
The virtual chat rooms or threads generated during the conference can form the basis of Q&A-type articles featuring the most popular speakers. These articles could be circulated in the society’s newsletter or even mainstream media, depending on their relevance and the quality of the questions and responses. One has only to look at how many full stories have been sparked by Reddit threads (for example, a post about an ectopic pregnancy post IUD insertion was expanded into a full article on ectopic pregnancies in Prevention).
Societies can prepare and distribute press releases on the most exciting or impactful research presented. These can be shared with not just local or national media, but also international science-based wire services and news portals.
Many societies and institutions are still grappling with the bare basics of how to run a virtual conference. So even the website analytics on attendance or engagement can be used to create valuable articles. For example, data from the online conference of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour formed the basis of a handy guide for virtual academic conferences.
Social media contests
It is difficult to generate much audience excitement or “buzz” through a virtual conference, but not impossible. Social media is an effective way to connect with the audience and boost participation. For instance, societies can host a scavenger hunt or selfie competition, like the American Society for Engineering Education did on Twitter. Virtual games can generate a lot of buzz, like this Bingo game devised for the 2020 Photonics Online Meetup, where the boxes included “cat enters screen”!
Pro tip: Time your conference-related social media posts to suit a variety of time zones. Content on Twitter, for example, can easily get “lost,” so you might want to retweet key updates even up to 5 times for an international audience.
Follow-up networking events
Since researchers attend conferences to network, which can be challenging during a virtual event, societies can organize one or more follow-up networking events after the conference for attendees. Alternatively, they can set up a forum where a moderator can start threads, enabling participants to freely exchange views and comments even after the conference. For instance, the Society for Social Work and Research offered a range of follow-up workshops and special interest group meetings for its conference participants.
An advantage of a virtual conference is that it doesn’t have a clear “end” in the minds of participants because they have to catch a flight or check out of a hotel. Thus, conference organizers can utilize the post-conference phase to maintain engagement and generate additional revenue. At the ISMPP Virtual 17th Annual Meeting, society leaders concurred with the concept of no end date for virtual conferences and that they saw traffic and attention to the conference site or app even a few months after the conference. Virtual conferences have brought about not just new formats and new audiences but also new opportunities for societies.