What does it take to fully engage your event attendees? How do you measure such an initiative? Read on to learn the in’s and out’s of event engagement in 2020 and beyond.
Event engagement is a familiar topic for organizers. Keeping attendees actively engaged throughout the event is instrumental in solidifying the overall success of the event. And while event engagement is clearly an important metric to keep track of within your larger event strategy, it can be hard to define, let alone measure.
This guide will help you understand all angles of event engagement, how to implement them into your own event, and how to accurately measure them for post-event reporting. When understood in the right context, event engagement can become the aspect of your enterprise event marketing strategy that propels your events from good to great.
To help you keep track of the event engagement process, we’ve put together this event engagement guide:
- What is Event Engagement?
- Understand your Event Attendee
- Best Practices For Facilitating Attendee Engagement
- Examples of Attendee Engagement Initiatives
- Ways To Measure Event Engagement
- Ways That Event Apps Can Drive Event Engagement
What is Event Engagement?
Event engagement is the degree to which attendees are fully participating in and captivated by your event. Event engagement can be measured in sessions attended, meetings held, connections made, poll participation, social media activity and event app adoption—among other metrics.
Generally speaking, an engaged attendee is a satisfied attendee.
The last thing any event organizer wants is a group of attendees who passively go through the experience without showing any form of excitement or engagement.
To avoid this, event organizers must not only create a spectacular event with exceptional content, but must also create clear opportunities for attendees to engage. Without giving attendees a platform to show their excitement, the event will not attract the type of engagement that organizers are looking for.
The following sections will delve into different opportunities you can provide to your attendees to increase their engagement as well as provide you with specific ways to track such activity.
"How do we create experiences for attendees that allow them to meet others in a similar line of work or folks that are not in their line of work, where they can glean lessons, experiences, or even make connections? How do we help attendees continue to have those conversations even after the event? Every decision that we make through programming, attendee engagement, to how we're moving people through a given convention center or hotel is thoughtfully considered to facilitate those experiences."
—Karen Merritt, LinkedIn
Understand Your Event Attendee
Before diving head first into attendee engagement, take one step back to make sure you fully understand your event attendee.
Like a great writer approaching the main character of a novel, you'll want to define the attendee's goals and motivations. This will help you better anticipate attendee needs, create more personalized experiences, and build more successful events.
Attendee intelligence is a critical component for driving engagement. So how do you start?
Getting Started with Attendee Personas
One approach is defining your event attendee persona with your existing data. Here's how to get started:
- Get inspired by B2B marketer's buyer persona or the account-based marketer's Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). These are both fictionalized representations of your target audience that aggregates different pieces of data.
- Began building a targeted list of organizations of accounts that you'd like to engage at your events. In an account-based marketing strategy, this is usually referred to as your Target Account list or Tier 1 list.
- Leverage existing data to paint a picture of your event attendee persona. This can include professional titles, industries, company size, customers, prospects, country, etc.
- Audit your current event management platform to see if you're able to report on your defined data points.
Once you have the initial data points for your attendee profile you can start brainstorming your engagement tactics.
Building an Attendee Focused Event Registration Process
Designing an attendee-focused event starts with your event registration. As you define the different event personas you'd like to engage, you'll want to ask yourself several questions as you build your event registration.
For example, consider the following registration flow criteria:
- Should there be different registrations/tickets for attendees, sponsors, and speakers?
- Will you offer paid or free tickets?
- Is your event a 1 day or multi-day event?
- Will there be sessions or workshops at your event?
- Will meals be served at your event?
- Will you serve meals to guests with dietary restrictions?
- Will you need attendee's clothing size for swag and gifts?
By defining parameters around the data to collect during registration, you can optimize the registration with specific ticket types, promo codes, and conditional questions that help website visitors select the event ticket/registration that suits their needs.
As an example, the SaaS provider Gainsight used Bizzabo to both streamline the registration process and capture crucial data around attendees. The Gainsight team ran multiple sessions during their flagship event Pulse and proactively managed session capacity and venue size.
"We can typically guess which sessions will be the most popular, but with Bizzabo's session registration, we have actual data."
—Matt Stone, Gainsight
Using Data Integrations To Get a Full Picture of Your Attendees
In addition to leveraging your event management platform for your registration process, you'll also want to investigate available business app integrations to your CRM or marketing automation platform.
Why? As you drive engagement in different online and offline marketing channels, your event data will be essential for delivering your event ROI.
Questions to ask when evaluating integrations to your event platform:
- Who are the other teams that need visibility into event activities?
- What other technology is my organization using to capture customer and prospect data?
- Where are the information gaps between my technology platforms?
- Which event data should be shared across my organization's event technology stack?
- How do different event management platform integrations work?
6 Best Practices For Facilitating Attendee Engagement
1. Articulate The Metrics - Before even deciding on what engagement opportunities to provide, make sure to define what exactly you want to be measuring. These engagement metrics must be agreed upon and communicated with the rest of your event marketing team to ensure that everyone else will work towards these KPIs as well as come up with their own suggestions on how to boost these metrics. Once these event metrics are agreed upon, discuss ways to reach the target goals.
For example, SEMrush identified important engagement metrics and used Bizzabo to surface important reporting. Some of the event data they captured included:
- Facebook ad performance (using a Facebook Pixel)
- Google ad performance (using Google analytics)
- Event app engagement (event app adoption, # of messages sent, etc.)
2. Maximize Event App Adoption - You’ll see that the most effective way for attendees to engage with your event will be through the event app. But of course, there is no way for them to engage if they don’t download it first. To increase event app adoption, make sure attendees are well aware of your event app as soon as they register for the event. Send a dedicated email explaining the different features of the app along with tips on how to get the most out of it.
3. Create Designated Networking Spaces for Attendees - Once attendees are out on the event floor, you'll want to provide open spaces for serendipitous connections, in-depth topic specific conversations, or even quiet spots to relax between sessions.
On the IN-PERSON Podcast, LinkedIn's Karen Merritt detailed how she provided networking opportunities for Talent Connect event attendees. The team set up tables where attendees could meet each other and discuss specific topics in an informal table setting. This offered attendees a way to discuss important topics and potentially continue those conversations long after the event.
4. Set Expectations With Attendees - You can’t expect people to cross the river if they don’t know about the bridge. Similarly, you shouldn’t expect high event engagement rates if attendees don’t know about the ways they’re able to engage. It’s important to effectively communicate to your attendees the different ways they can participate in the event. This can be achieved by launching a series of emails that inform attendees of the different engagement opportunities.
5. Brainstorm Joint Initiatives With Sponsors - Remember that your event sponsors can provide additional opportunities for event engagement before, during, and after the event. Brainstorm with sponsors early on about different ways attendees can become engaged not only with your event but with the sponsor’s brand as well. Sponsors will be very interested in brand activation ideas that exposed their brand to attendees well before the event start date. Perhaps a social media competition or sponsored content can be ways for attendees to heighten their levels of engagement with both the event and sponsors.
For example, on another episode of the IN-PERSON Podcast the Barron's Group's (Dow Jones Company) Kira Willner discussed producing an event for their media brand Penta. The event included a highly engaging activation that was implemented by an event sponsor. This sponsor activation include a nine-foot tree with luggage tags that each included a free gift or experience for an attendee. This activation allowed the sponsor to engage target attendees with a memorable experience.
6. Virtual Suggestion Box - If attendees have gone to your event in previous years, let the lead-up time be an opportunity for them to offer suggestions on the event content, speaker lineup, and even food menu. By opening up a virtual suggestion box attendees to more easily offering their thoughts. The more input that is welcomed during the pre-event phase, the more likely it will be for attendees to continue high engagement levels throughout the event.
7 Examples of Attendee Engagement Initiatives
1. Throwable microphone - Sometimes that best way to engage your attendees is to catch them off guard. Something as unique as a throwable microphone may be just what your attendees need in order to feel encouraged to participate in conversations. Catchbox is a microphone that you can throw across the room to another speaker. These mics are well designed so that even if you miss a catch, the audio does not get damaged. Having an easier way for people to join in a group discussion or workshop can help to increase the engagement levels.
4. Social Media Competition: Daytona Racing - Incentivizing attendees with a great prize is a sure way to increase levels of engagement, especially on social media. This particular engagement tactic was not initiated by the event, but by an exhibitor participating at the event. International Confex is one of largest event industry trade shows in Europe and in 2017, Daytona Motorsports had a clever idea for increasing booth traffic
5. Namely’s Community of Active Registrants - Namely, one of the top HR softwares in the industry, holds a user conference every year known as HR Redefined. One of their main objectives is to generate momentum leading up to the event date that will result in maximum attendee engagement and participation once the event begins. One of the ways they’ve done this is by leveraging a resource they already had. Backstage Pass is Namely’s online community where HR professionals from all different sectors share advice, insights, and best practices with one another.
When it comes time for HR Redefined, the community is opened up to conference registrants as a way for them to get know one another and create a sense of community among attendees, well before the event start date. This includes participation in hackathons and other activities. Namely’s Field Marketing Manager, Amy Rosenberg, explains how this strategy worked well for her team:
"For Namely, the conference really starts months before the actual event. We use our online community known as Backstage Pass to provide opportunities for attendees to start getting to know each other, ask questions, and suggest things for the event. Throughout those months they got to know their breakfast buddies, join Hackathon teams (since we have a Hackathon at the end of the conference), and just continued to build momentum around the event. In the end, we received twice as many attendees than expected."
- Amy Rosenberg, Namely
6. Video Testimonials at Social Media Marketing World - If you’re finding it difficult to get attendees to engage, bring the opportunity to their faces. Literally. Hire a professional videographer to walk around during the event and record quick 30 second interviews with attendees capturing their feedback.
For Social Media Marketing World, an official camera crew for the conference is in charge of roaming the venue and asking attendees about their experience thus far. Remember that event speakers and workshop leaders can also be interviewed. An important added bonus with this engagement tactic is that these testimonials will be effective marketing collateral for future events.
7. Sponsor Activations at Forbes Women's Summit - When thinking about ways to engage attendees and sponsors at your event, consider partnering with a sponsor to produce unique activations that will captivate attendees.
At the 2019 Forbes Women's Summit, Forbes worked with a sponsor to bring in a coffee machine that created custom images of the event speakers, including tennis player Serena Williams. Memorable moments like this can create engaging and lasting impressions on event attendees.
"We really try to guide the sponsor experience so that they're creating meaningful activations that can actually build the event."
—Chardia Christophe-Garcia, Forbes
For more on this topic, check out our blog post on how to enhance attendee engagement at your next event.
8 Ways To Measure Event Engagement
1. Opening/Closing Attendance Numbers - The most fundamental form of attendee participation is showing up for the event. Record the amount of people who arrive to the event in the morning and the amount of people who are left at the end of the day. Having the same amount of people at the beginning and end of the day will signify that attendees were interested enough to stay for the entire program. Of course there are additional ways to measure engagement throughout the day, but comparing the beginning and end of day attendance can also tell an interesting story.
2. Session Registration/ Attendance Numbers - In addition to event attendance, evaluating session registrations and attendance numbers can help you assess the content quality of your event. Are attendees registering for sessions? Which sessions are the most popular? Which sessions are the least popular?
Once you have the session registration numbers, you'll want to compare them to session attendance numbers after the event. When using an ABM strategy, assessing whether or not your content is reaching your intended audience will help you continue engaging your most valuable customers and prospective customers.
3. Session Engagement/Speaker Interest/ Speaker Ratings - These three metrics also help assess the performance of your event content. Do your session topics, speakers, and panels resonate with your intended audience? Offer attendees a way to like the different pieces of event content so that you can track what was the most successful and what to reproduce in your next events.
4. Social Media Activity - How many people are posting about your event? Is the event hashtag trending? How many times is it being shared or retweeted? Asking these questions will help you understand how much social media activity is being generated from your event. Use a social media monitoring tool to keep track of all this activity and to paint an accurate picture of attendee engagement.
TINT is a great social media aggregator that keeps track of all your activity across platforms and displays them all in a real-time newsfeed. Tools like these will help you accurately gauge your attendees’ engagement while also displaying the activity in a vibrant way.
5. Event App Adoption - Is your event leveraging an event app to improve the attendee experience? If so, you'll want to keep track of how many attendees are actually adopting it. On the one hand, downloading an event app is a simple task, but veteran event organizers will say that it requires a coordinated campaign to get attendees to click download—and then actually use the event app.
Below is an example from the massive event INBOUND:
How effective is your organization's event app adoption campaign? Measuring this can help you determine if your customers are getting adequate use of your event tech investment.
6. Event App Engagement - During the actual event, the event app will be the main source of engagement for attendees. Because so much of the event content will exist within the app, attendees should be taking full advantage of this resource and utilizing all of its features to maximize their event experience. Ideally your event management software will have a dashboard with event analytics that describe the app performance and in what ways attendees are engaging with the app. In the following section we’ll explore how specific app features can facilitate engagement.
7. Number of Community Members in the Event App - If your app includes features to create an event community, you'll want visibility into how many attendees opt-in to join. Community engagement is a great value add when generating pre-event noise, nurturing attendee connections, and building long term event brand equity.
8. Number of Messages sent via your Event App - Just like the event community, individual messages sent between attendees and sponsors via mobile will help you gauge the level of overall event engagement.
5 Ways That Event Apps Can Drive Event Engagement
1. In-app Messaging - Perhaps the most common use of event apps is for networking with other attendees. The more often attendees are messaging one another, the higher the event engagement rate. Make sure that attendees are aware of this feature well before the event start date so they can begin reaching out to people early on.
2. Push Notifications - Whereas in-app messaging encourages interactions between attendees, push notifications are meant to increase engagement between organizers and the attendee. These messages are usually sent out to all attendees at the same time to inform them of a schedule change, offer a piece of content to complement a session, or to disseminate other important information. Designing push notifications that solicit a response from attendees is a good way to increase their engagement level.
3. Personalized Agenda - Advanced event apps will allow attendees to create their own schedule by starring the sessions that they would like to attend. Assuming your event management software is capable of these analytics, the platform should be able to track the amount of times a particular session has been added to an attendee’s personal schedule, giving insight into which sessions were most popular.
4. Session Reviews - The best way to measure attendee engagement level when it comes to sessions is to enable session reviews. Ideally, attendees should be able to review sessions in both numerical (i.e. rating of 1-5) and open-ended forms. This way, they are not limited to the kind of feedback they want to give. Gathering as much session feedback as possible will help to show a high level of attendee engagement.
5. Event Polls In-app - In addition to session ratings, polls allows event organizers to collect relevant data related to content performance, attendee satisfaction, and event engagement. Polls offer a structured way to collect data for different use cases including: attendee communication preferences, event satisfaction, event engagement, and interest levels in a quantifiable way. In the example below, the organizer also offered sponsors an additional attendee impression with polls.
Key Takeaways: Your Event Engagement Strategy
As a recap, here are some of the high-level points that we’ve discussed:
- Understand your attendees and your desired attendee personas.
- Build spaces that encourage engagement.
- Leverage creative activations to spark attendee interest. Join forces with event partners and sponsors to think of creative ways to facilitate engagement.
- Assign specific metrics to your engagement goals in order to quantify your efforts and use event technology to capture those metrics.
- Drive event app adoption. Encourage engagement prior to the event by hosting an online community where event registrants can get to know one another as well as familiarize themselves with the event content.
Event engagement is an imperative aspect to your event marketing success that should be thoroughly understood from multiple angles. Use this guide as a resource to craft your event engagement strategy as you continue striving towards event success in 2020 and beyond.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on January 16, 2019 and has since been updated.