American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) Conference Business Manager Laura Rednour wanted members to network with subject-matter experts and each other before and after AACN's 2013 National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition (NTI), held May 18-21 in Boston. AACN members, Rednour had learned through experience, are not especially active on social networks — the association had used Facebook and Twitter in the past to engage attendees before the conference with limited participation. So AACN launched a proprietary solution.
The community platform, created by digital event experience provider Pathable
, debuted a month before registration and was marketed to registrants as a tool to pre-plan their NTI experience. With 300-plus education sessions to choose from, NTI is a scheduling challenge. Using the tool, attendees could view sessions by track, level, facilitator, or a number of other options, such as age population of patients or type of health-care facility. And they could read comprehensive session descriptions and learning outcomes, as well as in-depth information about the facilitators.
More than 4,600 registrants — 64 percent — opted into the platform to plan their schedule. And because the platform allows registrants to see who else is attending and set up meetings with each other to add to their agenda, NTI participants soon were making connections. They also started joining group discussions — another platform feature — that were pre-populated by AACN and monitored by committee members and chapter volunteers, who initiated conversations about specific sessions.
“It didn't take long for conversations to start organically,” Rednour said. “Seasoned alumni were sharing tips with first-timers, and discussions have extended well beyond the conference, with attendees posting information and sharing knowledge and best practices.” Access to subject-matter experts was also critical to engaging attendees. “It's one thing to put up a facilitator bio and a list of sessions he or she is facilitating,” Rednour said, “but by also allowing attendees to network with these experts, you're giving them something they've never had before. It's very valuable.”
AACN has now launched a learning network using a Pathable community as a part of knowledge and resource sharing for its monthly educational webinars. An exhibitor tool is being added for NTI 2014 this month in Denver, allowing attendees to see who is exhibiting, schedule appointments with them, and download materials.
“The Pathable community has proved to be such a powerful tool for us,” Rednour said. “We might never have gotten some of the nurses to sign up for a ‘social’ community. But we brought them in through the scheduling tool, and they discovered and loved the networking component. It's the best of both worlds.”
The Pathable community platform offered “early insight on hot-button topics,” said AACN's Laura Rednour. “We knew in advance what people were thinking and discussing, [so we could] address issues and do our best to meet their needs.” The scheduling tool helped Rednour's team predict which sessions would be popular and require more space, and made for easy communication with participants. “We had a facilitator break her arm the night before her presentation,” Rednour said, “and we were able to alert attendees on the spot. We also added a renowned speaker to the program late and were able to really pump up his presence and pack the room for his session.” Using a private discussion group on the platform, AACN's staff and volunteers access updates and documents in one place.
Rednour's team is now promoting the platform on AACN's website and in email blasts. “We have also provided more ‘how-to’ information,” she said, “so they can take advantage of all the community has to offer.” Donna Sanford is the founder and former publisher of EXPO magazine.