Despite increased attendance at virtual conferences in 2020 and 2021, academic societies might find it challenging to boost or retain membership in 2022. The surge in international attendees at virtual meetings has shown societies the importance of an often-overlooked source of members: international audiences. Let’s look at ways in which societies can attract and engage with international members.
1. Host Virtual Events
By and large, the biggest advantage of virtual events is how accessible they are. Travel, accommodation, and visa costs—all of which can be prohibitive for researchers from low- and middle-income countries—are eliminated. Keeping some events online-only and having a virtual component to offline events (i.e., hybrid events) makes society activities much more accessible to international researchers. It’s also a good idea to repeat sessions or webinars at different times and days, to cater to multiple time zones.
Pro tip: In emailers, notices, etc. about virtual events or webinars, use the 24-hour clock and specify multiple time zones in the description (e.g., 09:00 EDT, 13:00 GMT, 22:00 JST).
2. Actively Increase Diversity
Audiences identify with and engage with speakers of their own ethnicity or cultural background more easily. Virtual conferences make it easier for societies to recruit speakers from a variety of countries, and several societies also include an “international” component to their governance structures, such as an international councilor or international committees. In all this, however, it’s important to avoid token diversity (e.g., having just one member or speaker outside the dominant country or region).
3. Exploit Social Media
Judicious social media use can help societies reach out to and engage with members from a variety of countries. For instance, the European Molecular Biology Organization used the hashtag #ScienceSolidarity to promote its online list of resources for US researchers stranded by Trump’s 2017 immigration ban on 7 Muslim-majority countries. As a result of social media publicity, researchers outside the US made new contributions to the list as frequently as every 3-4 minutes. To cater to an international audience, Societies need to use multiple platforms and repost announcements strategically. For instance, a tweet posted at 11 AM ET might not be seen by an East Asian audience, for whom it is midnight or nearly so.
4. Translate Judiciously
For a society targeting a specific country or region, translating research content owned by the society into the local language is expensive and time-consuming. Many non-native English-speaking researchers, though capable of reading and following scientific information in English, would be comfortable if webpages related to registration, payments, etc. were in their native language. This allows them to navigate society websites and resources more easily, while reducing translation overheads for the society.
5. Price Equitably
Membership dues, conference registration fees, etc. can be prohibitive for researchers in the Global South, especially low- and middle-income countries. Societies need to explore various alternative pricing models, such as tiered pricing, travel grants, or support-a-delegate schemes. Providing society benefits to such researchers can also prevent colonialization of science.
Societies in the Global North can tap into the growing body of researchers in non-English-speaking countries (for instance, China now has more researchers than the US). Looking beyond one’s borders is a smart move for societies aiming to grow their membership base in 2022. International members can bring in new perspectives, thereby enriching and advancing research worldwide.