A Return to Its Roots: How Engagement Drives Virtual Events | Marketing Maestros | Blogs | ANA

A Return to Its Roots: How Engagement Drives Virtual Events

May 27, 2021

By Allie Magyar

Lightly Stranded/Shutterstock.com

In some ways, the events industry returned to its roots over the past year. At their core, events are all about bringing people together and fostering new relationships. So it should come as no surprise that organizations rushed to adopt technologies that help bring people together virtually. As an industry, this has reminded us that a physical venue is secondary and that the real essence of an event is the connection it fosters.

But that doesn't mean that it has been easy for event planners to create a virtual environment connection. There's been a lot of growing pains in figuring out this new format. Given that the event sector is on track to be a 1.5 billion industry globally by 2028, up from 1.1 billion in 2019, according to a forecast by Allied Market Research, planners must continue to experiment and improve. It is not to say that there hasn't been success. If anything, the biggest surprise for many of us was discovering just how good a virtual event could be. While virtual events can't wholly replicate a packed convention center's energy and excitement, they offer unique advantages of their own. At the top of the list is more profound engagement because technology makes it possible to give each participant an experience tailored to their needs and preferences.

So here are some strategies that I have tested over this past year to boost engagement in virtual events:

1. Create community before the event.

Provide opportunities for attendees to meet or interact with each other before doors are opened. There are a number of ways to do this by offering social media competitions, small networking groups, and assigning "teams" based on the audience segmentation. If attendees can connect in a meaningful way and form relationships before the event, not only are they more likely to attend, but they will engage in a deeper and more meaningful way. This is the difference between attending a party with strangers and attending one with friends.

2. Better engagement.

Virtual events make it much easier to provide a unique experience for attendees. Someone who is shown the sessions they are interested in is going to engage with those sessions. They will likely energize the discussion, establish connections with others in the session, and want to attend more sessions. Some pre-work is required to create attendee profiles and design tracks based on those profiles. Still, once the data is gathered, it is much easier to slot the right people in the right places. Virtual platforms' recommendation engines can help with this mapping by using real-time data to make adjustments based on how they engage during the event.

3. Create a sense of place.

If attendees view a virtual event as just another of 22 browsing tabs they have open, then I can guarantee you they won't engage. It is crucial that they feel like they are experiencing something different from just another web page from the moment they enter. They need to feel like they are at an event. Custom branding, a welcome message, and pop-up tutorials can help provide that sense of place and give attendees a VIP experience that would have been impossible to do at an in-person event. You can provide incentives to explore the venue through gamification or Easter eggs. Each destination along this exploration should be designed to delight and engage attendees. It is not an easy thing to do, but when competing with 22 other tabs and all the other distractions of life, it is essential.

4. Provide intimate opportunities to connect.

Events are all about bringing people together, creating new relationships, and building business connections. The most successful events are the ones that match attendees with similar interests, break down barriers, and allow them to connect on a deeper level. In most cases, this involves an intimate and safe setting. One-on-one meetings, small group brainstorms, or social sessions are great places for this. These settings can foster small communities within your virtual event. Imagine the sponsored value of facilitating or leading one of these close-knit communities. Throw in the data collection of virtual events, and tailor these communities based on your sponsor's ICP. Not only will your attendees be deeply invested in your event, but your sponsors will see a significant return on their investment.

Engagement is more than a measurement of attendance. It reflects how invested an audience is in your event and whether they are getting a return on their investment. A more engaged attendee also will likely be more valuable to sponsors. It makes sense that engagement is the hot metric every planner is aiming to boost. With these strategies, promote deeper engagement at events and position yourself for continued success.

Allie Magyar is CEO of HUBB.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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