This post originally appeared on the Social hour blog.
As marketers have matured with their virtual events strategies, many of the initial challenges they faced have become significantly easier to solve.
Most event planners know that it’s essential to set clear goals to guide their planning and support those goals with effective virtual trade show agenda elements. The best event planners collaborate with their exhibitors and sponsors to additionally ensure the planned schedule of virtual activities meets their needs.
But there is still one major challenge that even the most experienced virtual event planners struggle with: attendee engagement.
Cracking the code to engage your virtual audience is a significant opportunity for marketers and event planners. This post discusses current best practices for virtual event attendee engagement, drawing from recent successful virtual or hybrid trade shows and industry membership association experiments.
How to Engage Your Virtual Conference and Trade Show Attendees
Every successful virtual event includes a conference hub that facilitates interaction between all attendees and enables them to access key event details. Create a page for your event site and event app that outlines how attendees can engage with each other and speakers throughout your event.
These opportunities should include live chat and messaging capabilities in your event platform, social media communities tailored to your event community, dedicated rooms for attendees to network 1:1 or in small groups, and interactive exhibition halls where attendees can meet with vendors.
Expand on these essentials to deliver a truly engaging virtual event experience for your attendees by following these best practices to garner engagement:
1. Promote attendee engagement opportunities throughout—and leading up to—your event.
As simple as it may sound, an essential step to garner engagement at your event is to prime attendees for these opportunities in all pre-event communications and during the event.
Spotlight your event engagement details in a series of pre-event attendee emails. In these emails, further explain how attendees can actively participate during the event. In addition, we recommend you share at least one email exclusively dedicated to answering questions about the engagement opportunities available at your event.
During your event, ask session speakers to encourage attendees to submit questions in the virtual event platform messaging interface (as appropriate). Conference speakers should also guide attendees to their next experience after that session, including the open networking spaces that attendees can join to keep the conversation going.
2. Offer gift cards.
Incentivize attendees to register for your event, join sessions, meet with exhibitors, or engage in sessions by offering a gift card. For example, we’ve seen several conferences incentivize registration by offering as little as a $5-$10 gift card to major retailers (frequently Starbucks) or randomly selecting a few attendees to receive $100-$500 gift cards.
However, you do not want to set an expectation that every attendee interaction will reap a reward. Instead, you want to provide an incentive to encourage attendees to engage, with the potential for a surprise.
If your event technology allows, track how many times individual attendees join sessions or exchange messages within the platform to enter attendees into your raffle. Your team could also randomly give gift cards to attendees who actively talk about your event on social media, which could, in turn, encourage more attendees to post for a chance to win.
3. Host partner and exhibitor raffles.
Alongside (or in place of) gift card giveaways, partner with event sponsors and exhibitors to give away swag, product demos, or other items from those event partners. This builds a more authentic and immersive experience for your attendees compared to providing random giveaways.
An example of this was CXEnergy2021 Virtual Conference’s Tech Showcase, where attendees received prizes for joining and engaging during presentations. In addition, after every demonstration and Q&A, vendors held brand raffles, such as a one-year subscription for their software. These giveaways will likely boost lead generation and brand awareness efforts for your event partners, too, which will elevate their event experience.
4. Coordinate a scavenger hunt or BINGO board.
Encourage attendees to explore every part of your event platform and use each feature to its fullest by hosting a scavenger hunt or BINGO board of actions to complete. Ask attendees to snap photos or take screenshots during sessions, visit specific event pages, or complete activities that you can track.
Reward attendees with gift cards or partner raffle items, or create exclusive prize packages—such as registration for next year’s event—that build additional excitement for the game.
5. Enable attendees to pre-submit questions.
Set the expectation with attendees that they can ask questions both before and during event sessions. Enable attendees to pre-submit questions to help speakers finalize their session content and help Q&A moderators prioritize questions.
At the end of each session, address a selection of the pre-fielded questions, and encourage attendees to submit more questions via the chat app. This way, your moderators can organize new questions while the speakers address the pre-submitted ones. Not enough time to get to all the questions? No problem! Give the speaker the list of all the submitted questions, and encourage them to create their own content to address those elements.
6. Strike up conversations on social media.
Use an easy-to-remember hashtag to help your social media moderators actively find and engage with attendee Tweets and other social media posts. Ask attendees to share their favorite breakout session takeaways, and be ready to answer their event questions. Amplify their Tweets to encourage them to keep posting throughout the event.
Post polls and quizzes to directly encourage engagement, and use event videos, GIFs, or visuals to stir up excitement for the experience.
Choose a Virtual Event Platform That Enables Attendee Engagement
By thoughtfully creating opportunities for attendees to engage with your virtual event content and activities, you transform them from a passive audience to active participants in your event.
But even the best-planned engagement opportunities can fall flat if your event platform is not up to par. You need a virtual or hybrid event platform that enables built-in messaging capabilities within sessions, as well as a way for attendees to find and connect with each other.
With Social hour, you can deliver the engaging virtual trade show experience that your attendees deserve. The platform includes audience polling capabilities, robust chat features, and essential metrics that help you keep attendees engaged and uncover ways to improve their experience. Learn more and get started today.