Then vs. Now: Supporting participants via your website and eCommunications

Posted on September 8, 2014

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This month, we take a look at how customer service and participant communications have changed for events over the past decade in our series: Then vs. Now. We’ll look at changes in technology, tactics and the state of the event industry.

I’ve been helping to create fundraising events for non-profits since 1998, before anyone slapped an “e” in front of “communication” to create a name for the work I do every day. Back then, we wrote and published printed newsletters, mailing them to participants’ homes. Because of the lead time involved in printed materials, it was difficult to keep the information timely. I painstakingly typed out the times and dates of training rides or walks, fundraising workshops and orientation meetings, only to discover that the details had changed before the newsletters ever hit the participants’ mailboxes.

The events I worked on had websites back then, but those were generally one or two pages with basic information including a phone number or address to contact if you wanted to sign up. We published the website once a year, and forgot about it. We didn’t start emailing participants until a couple of years later, and even then, most of our communication happened in person or over the phone.

Flash forward to 16 years later, when an online presence, both web and social media, and a fully integrated email plan are standard operating procedure.

The vast majority of registrations and donations are processed online. Budget and efficiency have created this person-to-machine interface, without anyone speaking to another human. Because of this, it’s important that your eCommunications have a personality. Your participants need to feel as if interacting with your website or reading your emails is like communicating with a person, and not just a computer.

How can you do this?

  • Keep your website and your emails timely and personalized. Provide the information that’s relevant for the participant – based on where they live, their past history with your organization and your event, and their connection to your cause.
  • Update your content regularly. Event dates, deadline dates, event details and other information should reflect the immediate future, not the past. Integrate with your social media outlets so both your emails and your website are talking about what’s going on over at your Facebook page, and vice versa.
  • Don’t be afraid to be friendly or funny. Ecommunications have been getting increasingly casual over the years. This isn’t a bad thing. Retailers like Zappos and social media outlets like Twitter are perfecting the art of giving a personality to even the most routine of emails, helping customers feel like the organization is that cool guy you run into at the coffee shop every morning. Don’t be afraid to inject a little personality into your communications, as long as it reflects the personality of your organization and your participants.
  • Put the information out there for people to find. Participants expect to be able to find the answers they need on your website. We’re used to interacting via text or email. Many of us (myself included) avoid talking to another human if at all possible. Honor that, and provide a way for your participants to get their questions answered without having to call you, whether it’s in a website FAQ, an online chat function or an email menu.
  • Don’t leave your participants stranded. As a corollary to the note above about being “self-service,” let people know how to reach you if they need to. Reach out to them proactively when you can. You’re growing advocates for your organization. They should get to know you.

If that last point feels like a throwback to the old days, it should. Just because computers can do everything for us now doesn’t mean that should. There’s a little piece of us (especially those old enough to remember the world before email) that misses the handwritten note. So don’t let your modern integrated eCommunication plan replace the personal touch, just bring a personal touch to your plan.

Don’t know where to start?

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