Over the last eight months, we have all learned a lot about the pros and cons of opening events to virtual conference attendees.
On the one hand, virtual attendees can add a lot of value to your event.
When you open your event to virtual conference attendees, you will attract people who could not travel to a live event, or who worry about their health, or who simply prefer a virtual experience.
By bringing these people in, you will increase your event’s total audience size. And that means you can generate more revenue, offer more value to your sponsors, and grow your membership.
On the other hand, virtual attendees have their own unique needs.
They need the right infrastructure to connect to your conference…
They need to feel like your virtual or hybrid conference still adds value…
And they need to be engaged differently than in-person attendees.
In this article, we will focus on this last point, and step you through:
- Why it can be so hard to keep virtual attendees engaged.
- How you can keep your virtual attendees engaged.
- What you can do today to improve virtual engagement at your next event.
Let’s get started!
Why It’s So Hard to Keep Virtual Attendees Engaged with Your Conference
Before we dig in, let’s be clear about one thing…
You will have to fight to keep your in-person attendees engaged too.
Yes, your in-person attendees will be physically present at your event. But the whole time, they will retain their own contact with the outside world.
They will bring their phones, tablets, and laptops into your event space, and most of them will check their devices every chance they get.
And that means they will get distracted by texts, emails, and a wide range of personal and professional fires to put out during your event.
This can be a real problem. But it’s one you know how to deal with.
You can impose rules on device usage.
You can see when someone is getting distracted and redirect their attention back to your event.
Or you can simply trust that when someone is in the same room as other speakers, sponsors, and attendees, they will naturally focus on the real, live people around them as much as they possibly can.
Unfortunately, these approaches don’t really work on virtual attendees.
You can’t impose rules on device usage. You can’t easily monitor their engagement levels. And you can’t re-engage someone who loses focus.
To make virtual attendee engagement even more challenging, these attendees face even more distractions than their in-person counterparts. They face the same texts, emails, and phone calls— plus a bunch more distractions generated by their own unique environment.
- If they are attending your event from their office, they have colleagues, clients, meetings, and deadlines grabbing their attention.
- If they are attending your event from their home, they have family members, pets, deliveries, and entertainment grabbing their attention.
- And if they are attending your event from vacation, well, they probably would rather hang out on the beach than listen to a presentation.
In short: keeping your virtual attendees engaged is a big challenge.
But you must find a way to overcome this challenge ASAP.
Why You Must Keep Your Virtual Attendees Engaged at All Times
Simply put— the less your virtual attendees engage with your event, they less value they will derive from it.
Every time they get distracted they will absorb less information, participate in fewer discussions, and lose the chance to form meaningful connections.
These problems will compound on each other, and create a cascade of issues that can impact all of your stakeholders.
- Your attendees will feel less invested in your organization. They will become less likely to attend future conferences, or to become members.
- Your speakers will become less engaged. They will have a smaller audience of focused attendees to share information and conversations with.
- Your sponsors will want to pay lower fees. They will have fewer targets, receive fewer clicks and conversations, and generate a lower ROI.
- Your own people will get frustrated. They will pour their heart and soul into putting on a great event, and feel like it didn’t really come together.
These are big problems.
You must do whatever you can to prevent them.
Here are a few ways you can engage your virtual attendees, prevent these problems, and make them a valuable addition to your next event.
How to Engage Your Virtual Attendees: Simple Tactics
To start, just keep things simple.
Review the following list of small tactics.
Select one or two that you can easily bring to your next event.
And then, evaluate which kept your virtual attendees more engaged—and thus are worth keeping—and which to replace with new tactics to try out.
Considering starting with just a one or two of these:
- Reconsider Your Event Schedule: Virtual attendees tend to have shorter attention spans than in-person attendees. In response, consider scheduling shorter sessions, and shorter days, with more breaks.
- Incentive Engagement: Offer your virtual attendees continuing education credits for engaging with your event. For example, you can attach credits to participation, or even give exams on session content.
- Feature Your Attendees: From time to time, take the attention off your content, and onto your attendees themselves. Run live polls, create relevant competitions, or host awards and nominations.
- Take the Pressure Off: If you make your event all work and no play, then your attendees will naturally get bored with the grind. So organize extracurricular activities like virtual coffee breaks and happy hours.
These tactics sound small, but they do work.
Each of them will create little moments that reengage your virtual attendees, and pull their attention back into the world of your event.
However, if you’re looking for something bigger— something that will really capture your virtual attendees’ attention at all times, and make them engage with your event at an even deeper level— then read on.
The Best Way to Engage Your Virtual Conference Attendees
Deep engagement takes many forms.
Your virtual attendees can deeply engage with your content, sharing their own reactions, takeaways, and favorite snippets.
They can deeply engage with each other, sharing conversation around your event’s core themes, ideas, and experiences.
And they can deeply engage with your speakers, your sponsors, and your organization itself, and find new long-term partnerships to explore.
From our experience, you can drive each of these forms of deep engagement—and more—through one channel…
When you leverage social media properly, you can:
- Give your virtual attendees a way to engage directly with your sessions, and to share the quotes, clips, and takeaways they find most profound and useful.
- Make it easy for virtual attendees to share their insights, discuss what they have found interesting, and connect through real content.
- Construct a new channel where virtual attendees can directly connect with your speakers, your sponsors, and your own organization.
- Create a single “home” that your virtual attendees can connect to during your event, and feel like they are part of a unified experience.
Social media can also provide value for the rest of your stakeholders.
Your speakers will have the chance to connect with more attendees and see the conversations their presentations sparked.
Your sponsors will gain more opportunities to share their offers, deliver their messages, and connect with potential customers.
And your own teams will see the community that all their hard work helped to build.
All of this is possible with the correct strategic use of social media.
Here’s what that looks like.
The Right Way to Use Social Media to Drive Virtual Attendee Engagement
Now, social media is not a silver bullet.
And leveraging social media does not guarantee increased engagement.
You cannot just build a few accounts for your organization, create a hashtag for your event, and then expect to deeply engage your virtual attendees.
If you only do that you will run into a few problems:
- All of your virtual attendees must have their own social media accounts, and then find, follow, and connect with your accounts and hashtags.
- Your attendees will have to connect with everyone else at your event, or they will miss out on privacy-protected content.
- You will spread your content between multiple social media channels, and exclude attendees who do not have all of those channels.
In short: You will create a mess. Your virtual attendees will have a hard time finding, collecting, accessing, and contributing to your event’s content.
Thankfully, there is an easy way to leverage social media for your event, without creating a mess in the process.
All you have to do is utilize a social media aggregator tool.
These tools collect social media posts from multiple channels, and then present them in a single feed that anyone can access.
With a social media aggregator, your virtual attendees can access your event’s social media content— even if they don’t have their own accounts. You can host your feed publicly on your website, or on its own website, or you could even project it onto a wall for your in-person attendees.
No matter where you share your feed, your attendees can check it at any time. They will see what others are saying, connect with their conversations, and add their own thoughts and insights.
In other words— they can use your feed to engage on a deeper level with your other attendees, speakers, sponsors, and internal teams.
How to Bring the Right Social Media Aggregator to Your Next Event
Social media aggregator tools are easy to use.
They were designed for non-technical users— such as event organizers— and can be simple to set up and manage.
For most of these tools, all you have to do is:
- Grab for a free or paid license.
- Pick your social media channels.
- Choose where to host your social media feed.
- Moderate posts and comments to keep everything relevant.
With the right tool, you can set this up in minutes, for free.
There are a few of these tools out there, but our favorite is walls.io.
In full disclosure: We do have a friendly relationship with the people at walls.io, but that’s it. We do not have any business partnership with them.
We have just seen our customers use walls.io to drive more engagement at their events. We have seen it deliver results, and we can recommend it.
So, if want to leverage social media to drive deeper virtual conference attendee engagement, then reach out to the good people at walls.io.
And if you’re interested in a more general discussion about hosting an engaging hybrid or virtual event, then reach out to us at Slayte.
- Learn more about our core conference platform.
- Shoot us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org