Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

Senior Association Leaders Geek Out at digitalNow

by By Kate Mulcrone | Jul 01, 2014

In May, some 250 senior association leaders gathered at the new Omni Nashville Hotel and the Music City Center in Nashville for the 14th annual digitalNow conference. Presented by Fusion Productions, the three-day event featured experts who shared the latest technologies and strategies that organizations need in order to keep up in the rapidly evolving digital sphere. This year’s theme was “G.R.I.T.” — galvanized, resilient, inspired tech — and it was brought to bear in each day’s keynote lectures, panel discussions, and breakout workshops. Hot topics included mobile apps, data analytics, and ROI for digital-engagement campaigns.

Mitch Joel gave the second day's keynote at digitalNOW. Photo by Ann Richardson.

Adam Braun, who founded Pencils of Promise, an education nonprofit that he grew largely through social media, spoke on the value of passion and purpose in digital strategy, while Mitch Joel, who heads up digital marketing agency Twist Image, delivered a talk on how an association can “reboot” the direct relationship with its membership to better facilitate member-to-member open dialogue. Futurist Marina Gorbis expanded on this theme, sharing several real-world examples of how social hierarchies and infrastructures are becoming decentralized to the point that small groups now can have the same or even greater impact than large organizations do.

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Both digitalNow’s panels and its breakout sessions were built around case studies. Topics included securing funding for digital initiatives to grow membership, harnessing tech developments to directly benefit members, and engaging potential leaders. Practical sessions like “Surviving a Social Storm,” led by Stacie Saunders, senior manager of social business and member engagement for the American Institute of CPAs, gave attendees action plans for dealing with digital snags.

Several sessions centered around data, giving both a 360-degree view of current advances in information-gathering and showing how associations can better crunch their own member data. In one breakout, John Clese, of Avectra, a company specializing in data analysis for organizations, pointed out that most associations collect vast amounts of data, organize it — and then don’t use it. He stressed that metrics selected for analysis must reflect organizational goals in order to drive engagement.

The final day of the conference included a preview of the digitalNow Association Leadership 2020 study, a national study being conducted by Joel Albizo, CAE, executive director of the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards; Don Dea, cofounder of Fusion Productions and digitalNow; and Pamela Kaul, president of Association Strategies Inc. Scheduled to be published later this summer, the study has been designed to tease out the challenges of engaging emerging leaders by focusing on intergenerational shifts in values.

Music City Meetings

DigitalNow highlighted Nashville’s Music City Center, the 1.2-million-square-foot convention center that opened last year, but there are plenty of other great local spaces for groups. The Omni Nashville, which acted as the headquarters hotel for digitalNow, has more than 80,000 square feet of meeting space as well as a direct connection to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which boasts nearly 70,000 square feet of event space.

Off-the-beaten-path venues include the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, which opened in 1996 and features several event spaces. The main concert hall can lower its seats to reveal a flat ballroom floor, accommodating 1,844 attendees theater-style or 1,524 seated at tables. And the 122-year-old Ryman Auditorium, dubbed “The Mother Church of Country Music” by locals because of the legendary performers it has hosted, can accommodate 2,362 attendees and even cater  onstage dinners for 120.

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