On July 30, 2020, Socio Chief Marketing Officer, Corey McCarthy, joined Event Manager Blog editor Julius Solaris and other industry leaders for the Future of the Event Industry. Below is an excerpt of Corey’s Q&A on virtual event engagement strategy.

What is the role of apps in the virtual event revolution?

This is a great question. To be honest with you, I had a moment in early February when I freaked out and wasn’t quite sure. 

I started with Socio in January, and on February 10, I made a trip from San Francisco to Indianapolis to see my team. The airports were already slowing down, and travelers were starting to give each other the side-eye for sneezing or coughing. I’ve been in the media and event space since 2002 and know how finicky attendees are. It’s hard to get them to commit and travel to an event — even in the best of times.

When I landed, the first thing I told my team was that we needed to start writing about hybrid events. My team thought I was crazy, but we started to really think about an event app’s role in hybrid and virtual events. Once we dug in and uncovered the use cases, we quickly discovered that event apps were the foundation of any virtual event.

Here’s why:

  • A webinar on its own has no engagement.
  • An event landing page on its own has no networking.
  • Without networking and engagement, it isn’t really an event.

Looking back now, it’s funny to me that I was so panicked — I think that event apps are almost more important in a virtual world than in-person events, which they were still a must. The event app is the tool that powers this engagement, allowing attendees to connect and chat, compete in gamification, and interact with virtual content in real time.

Are apps effective in delivering virtual event engagement?

Yes! Because engagement lives in the event platforms and apps. Polls, surveys, chat, Q&A — it all lives in the app. How you access it is where apps and event platforms really shine. Giving attendees the freedom to interact interchangeably from their mobile devices or computers is important for enhancing the attendee experience.

Socio communities

I find myself using my phone for Q&A and chat while I watch the stream on my desktop. I’ll toggle devices while I am watching the stream. When a group of panelists goes live, I’ll head to the speaker profile section in the web version of my event app to check out their details. While I’m in that section of the app, the video converts to picture-in-picture so I can continue to watch the presentation. After I send the speakers a connection request, the video goes back to the full-size stream.

Those options offer flexibility and an overall better user experience.

A sticking point that I still see in virtual events is that we’re all using a number of different platforms, which creates a clunky experience for attendees. Not all platforms are created equal, so you’ll want to find a best-in-breed tool to integrate into your platform, or a platform that has top-notch tools that are inherently part of their technology.

The great thing about apps is that when the streaming ends, all of the content (minus the streaming chat) is still accessible to attendees. This creates more of a community feeling that people can continue to come back to.

Community is a big trend we’ve seen when it comes to delivering the highest quality attendee experience for virtual events.

Can you share some best practices on what works for your clients when engaging attendees?

First, start with strategy and event design. You need to think about the entire attendee experience. When you launch your event, will you jump right into your content, or is there a moment of delight you can create to set the tone? While people enter your event, play some music and ask a question to kick off the live chat.

It’s also time to think about upleveling your production quality, from equipment to speakers. Having a professional emcee, moderator, or host is a must. Think of it like television production — there should be a storyline and a journey that you take attendees through. The emcee becomes their event guide, leading them from moment to moment along their time with you.

Also, mix up the format with multiple speakers and media formats. Combine some pre-recorded moments with live conversations (and killer content) that give attendees actionable points they can use in their lives.

Gamification is another way to hook attendees, and keep their attention throughout the duration of your virtual event.

Most importantly, you need to involve the attendees. Along the attendee journey, pick points or hide transitions with polls and surveys. Pull them in further with a Q&A and make sure to call them out by name. Keep an eye on live chat, and bring points that add value to the conversation onto the main stage. Peloton is a great example — as they make sure to call out usernames to make people feel like they’re a part of the experience, not just an anonymous viewer.

When you sign off, add music and a question for people to answer as they exit. We’ll ask people to name the top 3 tips they learned during the event. We pick cool music, and turn it into a dance party. In most cases, we still have a few hundred people in the event as we shut down the stream. We get tremendous feedback from attendees because it’s memorable and makes them feel good, and as organizers it makes us feel good, too.

It’s really all about creating moments of delight. Keep them engaged and make them leave wanting more — so they come back.

What does the future look like? How will we use engagement apps once we go back to live events?

This is a bold answer, but I honestly don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. I do think that this is an exciting time for the event industry and we are just starting to uncover the potential of virtual events. Although they’ve been around for years, they’ve never received much attention in favor of in-person events.

With so many of the greatest minds in the event industry and marketers hacking virtual events, I think we’re going to see some incredible advancements that don’t exist today.

One thing that I think is safe to say about the future of events is that it will be hybrid for quite some time, and possibly indefinitely because of the extended reach and inclusivity. Hybrid makes for a stronger event business model that organizers won’t be quick to drop.

Since hybrid is likely our reality for the next few years, engagement from event apps will play a critical role in tying virtual attendees to the live event, and live attendees back to their virtual colleagues. 

I’ve been joking lately that we’re all becoming virtual event DJ’s with the ability to run our tech, push polls, moderate Q&A, and keep an eye on live chat. With this new skillset, I see a moderator and live panelists on stage being able to bring virtual attendees into the live event by calling out a valuable point that was made in the live chat, or by asking the panelists how they feel about an upvoted question from the live audience, or a virtual attendee from anywhere in the world.

Whatever comes of the future of events, event platforms and apps will not only be the foundation, but the glue that brings everyone together in a meaningful way.