Meeting planners, associations, presenters, and exhibitors alike have struggled with the same age-old question - how to foster engagement with attendees from the time they register through the time closing remarks are delivered. For most, it seems a lofty, unattainable goal. But, creating an event that drives this type of engagement is possible, and starts long before the event starts.
The good news - in this virtual event environment, the right virtual event software can spur attendee engagement from the time they register through the entire event. This can typically be covered with high-quality event marketing, working to engage attendees by soliciting their help in creating event content, and focusing on how to keep them primed before the event starts.
In this post, we'll cover the best way to drive engagement at your event - getting attendees primed before they ever enter the expo hall.
Marketing Efforts to Spur Attendee Engagement
There is a base marketing plan that most organizations have used for ages to promote their events after a possible attendee becomes a registrant. Send a thank you email, make a few posts on social media, send another email asking them to download the event app, sprinkle in some information about where to stay and the rates, and voila!
But, marketing can do so much more for event engagement. It can actively get event attendees engaged at an in-person or virtual event, and help them evangelize to others about the event. This results in a snowball effect that boosts event attendance and can lead to profound results when you measure audience engagement. Some of the most commonly utilized tactics are below:
Email is one of the most powerful tools for event engagement, as it allows organizers to reach out to attendees in a targeted and direct way. There are many different strategies that can be used to leverage email for event engagement, including sending invitations, providing event updates, sharing information about the event agenda and speakers, promoting networking opportunities and other attendee-focused content, and more.
But, breaking through the clutter with email marketing can be a real challenge. According to a study by Campaign Monitor, the average office worker receives 121 emails per day. Meaning that your email needs to check some serious boxes in order to make sure your message is one that actually gets read. You can make sure your email has a fighting chance by making your email has each of the following:
- An attention-grabbing subject line
- A clear call-to-action (CTA) that benefits the recipient
- Personalized, targeted, and segmented copy
- Formatting the email to fit all devices
- Engaging multimedia
- Reasonable incentives for engagements
Does checking all of these boxes mean that your attendees will immediately sign up for multiple sessions, download the mobile event app, or do a deep dive on your event details with the first send? Maybe not. For many event organizers, utilizing marketing automation as part of an event strategy might make sense. This will allow you to deploy messages to the right person at the right time, with the right message - giving you the best chance at reaching someone through email.
Putting aside the issues with getting individuals to open your emails aside, email is one of the best channels to begin driving both in-person and virtual conference engagement. By the time they've received these messages, they've already committed to the event - so they have some skin in the game. Now, it's the responsibility of the marketing team to get them excited until they swipe the badge.
If email is a channel to deliver information that stimulates event attendees, social media is a tool to continue cultivating excitement. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others to promote the event and connect with attendees, and organizers can help drive participation and excitement around their events.
Whether your organization is using ads to keep registrants warm until the conference, or you're creating event hashtags to amplify the message and get your attendees to evangelize for the event, social media is a great way pave the way for audience engagement.
A good social media strategy shouldn't just talk - it should listen and response. Hootsuite states that one of the major impacts social media can have is to humanize a brand. Ensuring you're not just there to post a blurb, but to actively communicate with your attendees and share in their excitement is important to the authentic use of the channel that provides a benefit to your organization and the attendee.
Remember email - where the average working person receives 121 messages per day? One of the most disruptive marketing technologies to date is something that was started by Sears & Roebuck in 1892... direct mail. While registrants' inboxes are overflowing with hundreds of emails, Adweek has found that direct mail has been powerful, but underutilized tool to reach your audience.
Direct mail is an effective tool for event engagement, as it allows organizers to reach out to attendees in a personal and direct way. Through the use of customized postcards, letters, or other printed materials, organizers can create communications that help build excitement and drive participation.
Additionally, direct mail can be used to gather attendee feedback and drive follow-up activities, helping to ensure that attendees have a great experience at the event. Overall, using direct mail effectively for event engagement can help boost attendee engagement and drive overall success for your event.
The objection to direct mail is cost and lead time. And, both of those are valid concerns. That's why crafting an event engagement strategy over time is crucial - you'll be able to fit items like direct mail into your annual conference budget, and you'll build in the appropriate creative development time into your organizational workflows.
An event website can be one of the most important tools for driving engagement at events, as it provides a central hub where attendees can gather information and connect with organizers. A well-designed and user-friendly website can help to build excitement and drive registration, while also serving as a valuable resource throughout the event itself.
Some key features that can help with event engagement on a website include a dynamic agenda, speaker bios and photos, networking opportunities, interactive sessions and activities, and more.
One consideration for organizations to keep top-of-mind when creating a website is the importance of not just having a mobile-friendly website, but having the site be mobile-first. According to Research.com, mobile devices account for 51% of all web traffic - meaning that the people who are viewing your site are more likely to be viewing it on a mobile phone than a computer. If you're trying to engage someone with your event website - pay special mind to how they are utilizing your site. You can also keep tabs on Google Analytics to ensure your statistics are in line with that statistic, and you can adjust if needed.
Involving Event Attendees in Content Creation
While pre-event marketing is a good start for driving engagement, involving event attendees and allowing them to share valuable insights to develop user generated content is one of the best ways to cultivate your pre-event engagement. Whether you are holding an in-person or virtual event, getting registrants in as some part of the event's planning process and letting them know they are integral to the event's success is paramount.
One of the best ways to do this is by having the event team reach out to registrants who have subject matter knowledge and pair them with a speaker who will be hosting one of the event's live sessions or leading breakout rooms. Not only does this give attendees an opportunity to engage before the meeting - it gives them the opportunity to have skin in the game and attend and encourage guests and colleagues to view the same sessions.
In addition to providing insights as part of a panel or roundtable, registrants can also be sought out to contribute to pre-recorded videos or on-demand content. This means that the attendee actually can see their contribution being shared with others, and that they will reap the benefits of notoriety. And, leading up to the event, they'll likely do a form of pro bono promotion work that will help increase engagement from other attendees.
How Virtual Events Help the Attendee Engagement Long-Term
Technology has blown the doors wide open on possibilities for audience engagement. Done right, it can blur the lines between the time someone registers for the event and the time the virtual event (or even hybrid event) kicks off.
With location and proximity being irrelevant, the idea that a registrant can sign up, give their areas of interest/expertise in the registration process and then become part of developing user-generated content after some vetting is a powerful way to help boost virtual event engagement. But, it can go much deeper than helping to create content for the virtual event.
Virtual events shrink distance and time and can allow individuals to begin participating immediately. Whether it's creating a profile on a virtual event platform, saying hello in an open discussion forum, or taking part in pre-event VIP mixers, fun runs, or other engagement activities, the book is more open-ended than it ever has been.
In the past, the thought of event engagement didn't enter the attendee's minds until they were printing their boarding pass. Now, the distance to get attendees engaged has shrunken considerably. As such, event success should be measured more as an aggregate of the attendee data from the time they registered through the end of the event (and probably through the feedback stage).
Special Considerations for Virtual Conference Engagement
Conference engagement has long been one of the concerns event professionals have sought to resolve. Event success is often directly related to audience engagement, regardless of if you're talking about in-person or virtual events. And, driving virtual conference engagement, even though it provides unique engagement opportunities not easily utilized in person, can have challenges of its own.
In order to provide attendees with event experiences that meet the same standard as an in-person event, engagement opportunities need to be readily available to the registrants of virtual events. A virtual event doesn't begin with a boarding pass, a registration badge swipe, or the first time an attendee walks onto the trade show floor. An engaging event begins the second someone is done registering for the event.
Organizations should look to future events, whether they are in person, virtual, or hybrid, and determine how they can immediately get their audiences engaged. Whether you're talking about in-person attendees or a virtual audience, the call to action is clear.
You should continue pursuing your registrants through valued-added marketing all the way from the time that they've registered for your in-person or virtual event, through the time the event has sufficiently ended (i.e. providing feedback).
Organizations should look to crowd-sourcing knowledge as a way to not only drive diversity of thought and inclusiveness but as a way to spur creativity and virtual event engagement. Event staff and organizations alike should be looking for ways to encourage attendees to feel like they are part of the action.
And, it's important for organizations to understand that the tone for engagement is set far before event day. Successful events are the culmination of planning and strategy. The virtual event space likely isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Creating a strategy aimed at enhancing the experience of virtual audiences will, by default, put you down a road to better levering emerging technologies to make your event engaging.
Boost Engagement at Your Next Virtual Event
Rome wasn't built in a day, and it's likely that your event engagement plan won't be built overnight, either. But, you can begin making positive strides so that your next event provides value for both you and your attendees.
To ensure your strategy supports premiere virtual event engagement for future events, we recommend finding a trusted event platform who can help solve the the event engagement puzzle.
At EVA, our skilled meeting professionals have decades of experience solving the event engagement question and would love to help. Book a demo with one of our seasoned meeting professionals to see how EVA might help meet your organization's needs by providing a high-quality event experience.