How the American College of Surgeons Pivoted to Find New Revenue Streams on LinkedIn

August 13, 2021

Man and woman working together in office

The American College of Surgeons (ACS) is a scientific and educational association of surgeons that has existed for more than 100 years. The College’s more than 82,000 members gain access to a wealth of resources and networking opportunities. Events are foundational to the ACS community, but with the 2020 pandemic forcing a major pivot, the organization needed to rethink its approach.

Goal:

  • Pivot an in-person event to a virtual event to drive registrations.  

Strategy:

  • Implement a full-funnel approach on LinkedIn.
  • Use Single Image Ads to build awareness and drive registrations.
  • Leverage the Insight Tag and conversion tracking to continually engage prospective paid members.

Results:

  • Drove 541 Registrants 
  • Achieved 130% ROI on post-event campaigns using LinkedIn
ACS saw this as a huge success. It really set the stage for future virtual Congresses, how we can promote those, and what's the best way pre- and post-campaign to get people to engage with the content.” – Michi Gupta, Digital Strategy Lead, American College of Surgeons

From Fees to Free: Regaining Revenue Streams

The Clinical Congress is the biggest annual event for ACS. In past years, it had always been an in-person event with registration fees, representing a key source of engagement. When the event was moved into a virtual format last year, ACS also made it free to attend.

  • To make up for lost revenues from ticket sales and prove ROI, ACS and agency Weber Shandwick shifted to a different monetization strategy, seeking instead to engage attendees and drive sign-ups for paid memberships, which are another key revenue source.
  •  ACS got granular with targeting, using a combination of first-party audiences uploaded via Matched Audiences and retargeted website visitors via the Insight Tag.
  • They also divided their list of event attendees into current members and non-members, so they could engage the latter in a specific way to spell out the value props of joining.

Following Virtual Event Best Practices

Like many companies, ACS was unexpectedly thrust into unfamiliar territory when the pandemic ruled out in-person gatherings last year. Planning, promoting, and executing a virtual event is a different animal, even for organizations like ACS that are highly experienced with premium large-scale conferences.

As one resource to inform their efforts, they turned to LinkedIn’s pocket guide, Turning In-person Events into Virtual Experiences on LinkedIn. Drawing from examples of other companies and teams that were forced to pivot in the face of 2020’s challenges, the guide offers practical tips for connecting and interacting with their communities in this new paradigm.

Tapping into Global Audiences

One discovery that surprised ACS during this process was how much they were able to broaden their reach internationally. In the past, the organization’s live events were mostly localized in the U.S., but one benefit of transitioning to the virtual format was the removal of geographic barriers. With the ability to invite attendees from anywhere in the world, ACS expanded its targeting beyond borders, and found tremendous resonance.

This meant more net-new names that could be added to the CRM for nurturing and relationship-building, with an eye on the big picture.

“Audiences outside of the U.S  were actually much more engaged and drove a majority of the conversions versus our U.S.-based surgeons,” explains Kate Demery, Senior Manager of Paid Media Planning & Buying for ACS’s agency, Weber Shandwick. 

Optimizing for Future Conversions

Looking ahead to a future where cookies will be phased out as a tracking mechanism, Kate[DK(W9]  says it’s more important than ever for marketers to be thoughtful about capturing quality data and managing their pipelines strategically.

By loading its first-party contact data into LinkedIn and building lookalike audiences with support from the Insight Tag, as well as connecting with international surgeons through expanded ad targeting, ACS greatly enriched its pool of prospective candidates. This sets them up to continue reaping rewards in addition to the success metrics cited above.

Tips for Fellow Marketers

What were the key learnings that Kate and the team at ACS took away from this experience, which might help other marketers aiming to make similar moves on LinkedIn?

  1. Stay nimble and adaptive. This is a common thread across success stories in our current environment, and was something Kate emphasized. Taking advantage of the ability to target and engage with surgeons outside of the U.S. is a great example of a situational pivot that paid off.
  2. Use targeting tools amply and proactively. “Leverage all of the targeting that's within the LinkedIn platform as much as possible, especially retargeting and the Insight Tag,” Kate recommends. “And if you know you have a virtual event in a few months, get the tag on there and start building those audiences early on.”
  3. Customize language for audience segments. Tailoring minor tweaks to the copy for specific audiences — like calling out orthopaedic surgeons versus plastic surgeons — was another step that helped drive outstanding results.
Social Media is becoming a bigger deal for ACS, especially LinkedIn and other platforms, because one of their primary goals now and into the future is getting younger and diverse surgeons to join, and we need to meet them where they are.” – Michi Gupta, Digital Strategy Lead, American College of Surgeons

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