Not a day goes by without the importance of attendee engagement being hammered into our consciousness. The reality of conference planning is that there are only 24-hours in a day. How can we as meeting and conference planners participate in the latest trends, event technology and production while still getting our job done? It is not easy, and perhaps you cannot do it all. One thing is sure; engagement is becoming one of the key metrics whereby the success of conferences and events are judged. In this post we are sharing our top tips to insure engagement success even if you have little time or resources available.
Lets first address the meaning of engagement. In our interpretation we don’t look at this topic as attendee engagement, we call it stakeholder or participant engagement. Conferences, conventions and events involve much more than your traditional attendees. It includes your staff, vendors, volunteers, attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and the community you are hosting your event in. These are all participants who hold a stake in the success of your conference or event.
“At Eventinterface we are strong believers that the engagement process kicks off when a meeting or conference is announced, and a deeper involvement starts when the participants signs up to join the event,” said Al Wynant, Eventinterface Co-Founder and CEO. “It is no longer about what happens at the conference, it starts when the participant signs up and is truly never ending. At Eventinterface we believe in the creation of long-term communities around a brand, cause, product, company or organization through engagement pre-, during and post-event.”
WHERE TO START?
Engaging your participants requires a great deal of talent. You will need social media experts, content specialists, marketing and PR professionals to run an engagement campaign. The reality however is that many conferences are planned by volunteer committees, and if a professional planner is hired, their job will mostly focus on the logistics, leaving little time to focus on engaging participants. So where do you start? What will be your participant engagement strategy?
Right from the start, find out what you and your participants are comfortable with. There are no do overs in engagement land. You can start small, and as you become better at this, expand your engagement opportunities. Can you implement social media? Are you ready for apps? Are you aggregating content worth engaging with? How about gamification? What are your long-term goals and do you have the budget, people power and knowledge to accomplish all of this?
Lets take a look at all of the engagement opportunities and what you will need to do to successfully execute them. From there, involve the people on your team or committee who will commit to the execution of the plan.
A large percentage of people use social media privately, professionally or both, so it stands to reasons that social media will play a significant role in engaging your participants. As of the writing of this post, Facebook has over 1.7 billion monthly active users a. Twitter has about 313 million active monthly users b and LinkedIn has over 450 million registered users c. These numbers are staggering and social media can help your event from the ground up. You may get your participants to start talking about your event in their virtual circles, promote your project and engage their connections, driving attendance for your conference or event. It is however not as easy as it sounds. There are some key items you will need to know before starting your social engagement campaign.
Is your event a professional or social event? Your type of event may indicate the social channels you will need to use. Facebook is great for social events; LinkedIn may be more suited for professional events.
What social media outlets do your prospect participants actively use? Are they using the familiar ones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn? Are they using more obscure platforms geared towards a specific industry or cause? There are more than 200 active social media sites out there d. Utilizing a platform around a cause may provide for increased engagement since all users are interested in the cause versus a more general social media platform where you will have to find a voice amongst many users and causes.
Will you use social media to promote your conference, or ask for feedback to help create the program or theme of the conference?
It is key to have a good understanding of what you want to accomplish prior to starting your campaign. Define your end goal, then start creating the messaging that gets you to your goal. Assign the day-to-day management of your social engagement campaign to a committee or team member, or professional equipped to do the job. Plan on starting your campaign as soon as you start talking about your conference or event publicly.
A hashtag can be important to a project, so create one early and encourage your participants to use it. Social media may seem easy, it isn’t. This is not the place to do a mediocre job. This is your place to capture the attention of your prospect participants. You have a handful of seconds for the social media user to notice you and engage with your post.
Last but not least, you will need to assign someone to manage onsite social media engagement during your event. You will need to post, monitor and respond to participant posts throughout your event.
Looking for best times to post on the most popular social media sites? Take a peek at this infographic by Lindsay Kolowich on Hubspot’s blog.
MOBILE AND RESPONSIVE TOOLS
The next level of tools to engage your participants is mobile technology and responsive websites. Mobile technology and responsive sites are transforming how people use the Internet at a rapid pace. The abovementioned social media sites have mobile apps and most modern websites now feature a responsive version for access on mobile devices without having to download an app.
As you go by evaluating mobile apps for your conference or event it will be key to understand how you will want to use the app to engage your participants and accomplish other goals of your project.
The engagement aspects of apps or responsive sites can include a wide variety of options. Participants can scan QR-coded name badges, view programs with content and create itineraries. Chat or text with other participants, schedule appointments, ask questions of speakers, participate in surveys or polling for instantaneous access to results.
It is key as you review your options, that you understand your attendees and the rules around their mobile devices. If your audience is made up of individuals with corporate phones, many may not be allowed to download an external app on their phone. A responsive solution will be key for this group.
At the same time, understanding the app or platform you want to implement is key. Is it a self-serve tool, or will you receive support from the vendor in setting up the app or responsive site for your conference? What will you have to invest in time, resources and money to implement the app or site?
In a recent study conducted by Eventinterface we learned that slightly over 60 percent of participants download a mobile app created for an event with less than 20 percent of those actively using the app during the conference, and dropping to under 2 percent for long-term use e. We found that responsive website use via browsers on mobile devices had a use during conferences of over 70 percent of participants with long-term use at 40 percent e.
You have probably heard the word gamification, and yes technically it is all about games and play, but not without a purpose. Gamification is an engagement tool that allows planners to guide participants to a particular area, session, sponsor or exhibitor at a conference. It can also be used as a learning tool, allowing participants to soak up valuable content in a more playful atmosphere.
Gamification can be part of your mobile app or responsive tool. It is also utilized as a hands-on play tool encouraging movement and learning. Implementing this engagement tool is not as easy as it sounds. It is not as simple as creating a scavenger hunt. Each game must be designed around a goal and within the activity ample opportunities must be created for participants to connect with each other, work with one another. That way, the engagement becomes very valuable to the participant and provides long-term relationship benefits.
“Content truly rules,” Wynant says. “Conferences and events curate remarkable content, planners however do not always use access to this content to engage participants. It is rather stunning that so much effort is put into the selection of presenters and the materials they share, but little effort is put into engaging attendees with this content pre-, during and post-conference.”
Tools such as Eventinterface offer an opportunity for planners to aggregate content, then share that content and build engaged communities around this content that is never ending. Access to content can be made available to participants who could not make your conference, often for a fee, increasing conference revenue and at the same time increasing engagement and long-term participation growth.
BUT WAIT, THERE IS MORE
Multi-screen usage, where attendees use smartphones, tablets and computers to consume different aspects of your conference simultaneously to the use of Google Hangouts, Virtual Reality, iBeacons and more, the ever growing list of engagement options and tools will make your head spin. Become aware of the options and implement what you can realistically manage well.
As you can see from this article, engaging your participants can be quite an undertaking. This can be time-consuming and expensive. With engagement becoming one of the key metrics whereby the success of conferences and events are judged you will need to find ways to justify the investment and provide measurable results.
As you develop your engagement strategy discover what is important to your organization or company. Find out what you can measure and report on, then set goals you can track.
If you are starting the process, and your first step will be the use of social media, then your goals could be the number of unique posts. A total of desired interactions such as likes, reposts, comments. The number of registrations you have been able to generate from your social channels. Most social media tools feature excellent analytical tools for your to use. Use those in combination with your registration platform and Google Analytics to get a great overall picture of your successes and where you can improve.
Once you start using apps or responsive sites, you can track downloads and usage. How many connections are made, what content is being consumed. Analyze survey or poll data. How many discussions are generated, review pre-, during and post-event engagement. Drill into deal-flow generated and much more. Each solution has its own tools and items you can track and plan for. Here too, set measurable goals you can report on.
Each aspect of your engagement strategy should have a set of measurable goals you can review, will help you adjust strategy when needed and report on the successes.
TOP 5 TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL PARTICIPANT ENGAGEMENT
1. Understand your attendee and the social platforms they use.
2. Define the goals of your engagement strategy.
3. Develop a plan to execute your strategy including platforms, messaging and content, tools and activities to use to engage your participants.
4. Assign talented and committed individuals to execute your strategy pre-, during and post-event. Remember, engagement starts as soon as you start talking about your event and never ends!
5. Track, evaluate and adjust strategies when and where needed.
e. Long-term use in this study was defined by average monthly use of registered attendees up to six months post-conference.