This guest post was contributed by Pathable.
Associations have been hosting virtual and hybrid events for more than a decade. They’re keenly aware of the potential to expand event reach, curb on-site costs, create community, and drive overall member engagement.
Now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s an unprecedented demand for virtual events. Attendees need these options. Boost engagement and retention by incorporating virtual components into your events.
What is a hybrid event?
Simply put, a hybrid event consists of both live in-person and virtual components. While some attendees may enjoy the on-site experience, others can tune-in via livestream or pre-recorded videos. With innovative event tech, including event websites and mobile event apps, the definition of association event is evolving. Planners and meeting organizers across sectors and industries have seen the growing advantages of hybrid and virtual events.
These event formats are by no means new, but the recent disruption around the global health crisis has accelerated their growth in the market.
Then and Now
As far back as 2010, leaders in the events industry saw value and flexibility in hybrid events. In this 2-part slideshow series originally published on LinkedIn, renowned event management publication Velvet Chainsaw explored strategies for success. Remote formats like livestreaming, webcasting, webinars, and virtual conferences were in early stages but growing.
Many of the same tactics and recommendations for these formats apply today. While mobile devices have essentially replaced landline phone connectivity, one primary rule still rings true: content is king.
Now, event organizers better understand engagement. There are more tools and resources available to help planners engage attendees than ever before. With a greater emphasis on attendee experience, today’s virtual and hybrid events must focus on building community and creating connections— bridging communication gaps among remote and face-to-face attendees.
3 Key Strategies for Increasing Attendee Retention
Virtual and hybrid events should help you connect your audience with information. As you build the event experience, consider the following three strategies to keep attendees wanting more.
1. Collect feedback from attendees
Listening to your audience is key. Offer multiple channels through which attendees can share their thoughts. Mechanisms for collecting this feedback vary widely, but common examples include:
- Net promoter
- Social media
Analyze the results from previous events: are there common themes among attendee responses? Use the data from evals, surveys, and polls to inform planning for your next event.
Put together top-level insights from attendee feedback and take action on those event-over-event. This will demonstrate to your audience that they’re part of the experience; you value their input.
2. Build a portfolio of evergreen content
We know that content is still king. We also know that attention spans are shorter than ever. Members’ inboxes are flooded. Cutting through the noise is tough. Building a portfolio of content that’s timeless, relevant, and contextual to your specific audience is a great place to start.
Consider all possible formats. Get creative and don’t be afraid to show a little personality. The more authentic, transparent, and entertaining you can be, the better. Attendees will appreciate it which will, in turn, create a greater connection. Here are some examples to guide your thinking:
- Blog posts
3. Engage your audience year-round
Build communication workflows that leverage your member data to personalize messaging. Send regular updates to members that deliver valuable content in snackable portions.
Here are some examples of high-impact assets that can help you foster community and boost engagement:
- Resource library: Dedicate a page on your event site to resources. Use hyperlinks and index information by subject matter, role, and industry.
- Webinars: Educate and inspire attendees with free webinars that challenge their thinking. Partner with member organizations for double the value and reach!
- Content offers: Checklists, templates, and ebooks are great examples— keep it relevant and contextual based on what you know about your audience.
- Micro-moments: Encourage your audience to post event photos and quotes across social media channels. Curate these as “micro-moments” to share on your own branded channels.
- Gamification: This concept can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. Consider what your audience values, and leverage that to drive them toward your virtual event content.
Shortly before COVID-19 was officially declared a global pandemic, Web Courseworks published their annual “eLearning Hype Curve” predictions for 2020. It showed that all industries are riding a wave of digital transformation. On the other side of that transformation lies a digital-first world in which business must adapt or risk obsoletion. The same is true for events.
Looking ahead in 2020, many best practices for successful virtual and hybrid events mirror those of distance learning and member engagement in general.
As attendee expectations evolve, so should your strategy. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, lean into virtual and hybrid event experiences.
Future-proof your association events by going hybrid. Consider implementing a solution that can give attendees robust virtual experiences with built-in communication tools, embedded live webinars and video hosting, live polling, attendee surveys, virtual exhibitor booths, and more.
About the Author:
Jordan Schwartz is president and co-founder of Pathable, an event app and website platform for conferences and tradeshows. He left academic psychology for the lure of software building, and spent 10 years at Microsoft leading the development of consumer-facing software. Frustrated with the conferences he attended there, he left Microsoft in 2007 with the goal of delivering more value and better networking opportunities through a next-generation conference app. Jordan moonlights as a digital nomad, returning often to his hometown of Seattle to tend his bee hives.