The event industry keeps shifting between entirely virtual, hybrid, and in-person event formats. But no matter what the future holds, event organizers are confident that virtual events are here to stay in some form at least. That means they need to consistently devise new ways to foster audience engagement, facilitate networking, and encourage the creation of user-generated content.
This year, Airmeet ran a selfie contest called “Snap and Win” during “Events to Experiences”, one of their virtual summits for event professionals using a Walls.io and Snapbar integration. In response, they received dozens of selfies and positive feedback from their attendees.
To keep the audience engagement high throughout the 3-hour event, Airmeet also incorporated an interactive session in between talks. During it, a moderator from Walls.io went through the selfies on the social wall and encouraged people to vote for their favorites using the Reactions feature.
We talked to Tanvi Manchanda, an Events Marketing Manager at Airmeet and the organizer of the Events to Experiences summit. She told us about the main challenges virtual event planners face these days and how the Snap and Win contest helped Airmeet’s team overcome them.
Events Marketing Manager, Airmeet
Could you tell us a bit about Airmeet and the From Events to Experiences summit?
Airmeet is a virtual events platform that rallies behind the power of connection, allowing people to join events from anywhere and grow their own businesses using that power. Our goal is to help create events that don’t feel like empty, one-sided conversations, and where attendees are as big a part of it as organizers and speakers.
At the beginning of Q2, we decided to put together two large summits for our user base. In May, we hosted the Event-led Growth (ELG) summit covering how to use events as a channel to discover, engage, and grow customers and brand advocates through immersive and integrated events.
At the same time, we wanted our audience to understand that each event’s quality should precedence over quantity. Simply setting up an annual calendar with different event formats would not cut it.
What would help their events and businesses stand out is the unique experience, audience-focused content and high-value programming.
In June, we hosted the second part of the event series, Events to Experiences. It was a three-hour-long summit that brought together amazing speakers, marketers, and industry leaders — a total of 700+ attendees from all over the globe.
We discussed how to deliver immersive, engaging experiences that leave people feeling they want more. We covered not only during-event experience but also pre-event and post-event experiences for attendees, speakers, sponsors, and partners — everything an event planner should think of.
As a virtual events planner, what particular challenges do you face?
One of the top challenges we face when hosting virtual events is that they lack human interaction and don’t 100% replicate what you get at an in-person event.
It’s very easy for the attendees to feel lost at a virtual event where they don’t know where they need to be, what’s going to happen next, or what they are expected to do. If not planned properly, virtual events can feel empty and lonely and mostly a one-sided conversation.
In the years I’ve hosted virtual events, I learned that one of the most common reasons people go to events is to make new connections. Yet, most of the time, disorganized tracks and the lack of opportunities for interaction leave no room for attendees’ participation at all. That’s one of the top challenges we look to solve at each of our events.
What have you learned about overcoming that challenge and making virtual events more interactive?
We’ve witnessed that audience engagement is not being thought about as an intentional activity. Event planners limit it to offering tools for people to express what they’re thinking or feeling at the event, but that shouldn’t be the case.
I stand by what Aleksandra Panyukhina shared in one of her posts. “We should shift the conversation from audience engagement to audience involvement.”
There’s more to event engagement than just making sure people show up. Anything you do at the event should help co-create an experience that makes it more likely for attendees to meet their needs. So think beyond getting attendees to share what they feel in that moment. Instead, they should actively participate, influencing and shaping the event all along.
We’ve learned along the way that interaction shouldn’t happen at the event only; it should start way before. That’s where social media comes into play. You can get your audience to begin engaging with you way before the event starts. Start promoting your speakers, your content, and your topics.
Give your audience a chance to give back and say what they want to learn at the event. Ask them questions, and see if they’re excited about what they will learn at the event.
Your experience needs to be well-planned and very well-thought-out. What’s going to happen in between the sessions? What is going to happen during the session? How’s it going to start and end?
Everything should feel impromptu, but every element should be carefully integrated into the event. For the audience, it should feel like they’re on a ride with you throughout the event.
After the event, you need to give back by using whatever content you have, remixing it, repurposing it, serving it back and continuing investing in those engagement opportunities.
We noticed that even if we were urging people to post on socials, and even if they did, they weren’t aware of what the other people were doing or who else was at the event. Speakers didn’t know who they were speaking to. There was still some vacuum that kept people apart.
The key to overcoming this was making connecting as intentional, integrated and seamless as possible. That’s when we sat down with our product team and decided to go for a social wall.
With its help, attendees could see others posting about their experiences and talking about how they felt. Sometimes they had some common interests, which got people involved in conversations and connecting offline.
It’s the soul connections that we aim for at Airmeet when we organize events like this. We love for people to meet at our events and go back and refer to them. So embedding the social wall at the Reception was very helpful in facilitating that.
How was the integration between Walls.io & Snapbar?
With this integration, we got the best of both worlds. Not only were we encouraging people to post about their learnings, but they could also have some fun.
The biggest bonus for us is that with an iframe, we could embed it within the session, and the audience didn’t need to know anything about our platform or your platform.
With the photo booth and the social wall at the Reception, attendees didn’t have to do the extra work. All the tools were in front of them, ready to use. Yet, at the same time, they could see all the fun people were having at the event at their homes.
One of the audience engagement drivers you chose was a selfie contest. Could you please tell us more about it?
From my experience as an attendee and an event planner, I can say that simply having these software commodities doesn’t make an experience complete. Pushing people to participate in event activities when they’re there to listen to the content doesn’t do the trick either.
At virtual events, people often listen to the content and do something else on another tab. Information goes in one ear and out the other. So the whole point for us was to weave in some fun activity that gets people genuinely excited to take part in.
In the past, we’ve seen that only a few people post their thoughts about an event on social media. We wanted to change that by making it easier for our attendees to post and encouraging them at the same time by giving them something to talk about.
The Snap and Win contest worked wonders for our engagement numbers. We saw attendees starting to participate and post way before the event even started.
This wasn’t just another virtual photo booth at the event. We had to make participation intentional, so we added a friendly competition by putting together a contest. We weaved in three criteria for incoming selfies.
For the first one, we asked the audience to take selfies with anyone they were watching the event with. For the second, we asked them to take a picture of their surroundings, whether it was their workspace, vacation spot or simply a beautiful background. And lastly, we asked them to show us something cool or weird around their office, like a corky mug.
We announced the contest on social media and in our invite emails ahead of the event. We also got our internal team to post their selfies using the hashtag and tag their network to join in on the fun on the day of the event.
Once the event started, we ensured that our MC not only stated the criteria but also showed users how and where to use the Snapbar photo booth. In addition, we reminded the attendees throughout the event with friendly nudges in chat and via alerts.
With the photo booth embedded within the session on the right-hand panel next to the stage, our attendees could take a selfie in just a few clicks. For ease of use, we also shared the QR code and direct links for attendees to use through their mobiles.
We didn’t want it to end there. We appreciated people putting effort into it and wanted to give back to the audience for being so engaged and loving. With Walls.io, we turned this into a contest and gave out some prizes to the best selfies in all three categories.
We allowed people another chance to engage by voting for their favorite selfies and choosing the winners. We used Walls.io’s Reactions feature as a voting mechanism.
With the social wall embedded next to a live stream, people could scroll through it and like the posts, again seeing fellow attendees and what they were doing in the process.
It helped people intentionally build connections outside of the event. On those selfies, they saw something they also liked, so it was easier to start a conversation with an icebreaker.
Towards the end, we announced the winners. We even had to add a bonus winner because the audience couldn’t choose just three. They were given prizes, which included gift cards from Airmeet and free event social walls for the entire year from Walls.io.
What were your goals for the contest and were they met?
Our biggest goal was, of course, for people to have fun. We wanted to provide a more human experience, let them know who was around and help people with common interests find each other. And for speakers to know who they were talking to.
We also wanted to give people solid reasons to create and share content they otherwise wouldn’t have. So incentivizing was a way for us to say we appreciate their time, thoughts and the love they showed us.
Was it the first time you organized an interactive session during the break? How does it usually work at events, and how did attendees react to it?
Long-form content, anything that’s 45 minutes or 50 minutes long, doesn’t work for most people. Plus, too much back-to-back fails the mood. So we always tie in a 5-minute experience between the 20-minute or the 30-minute talks.
It could be music, a dance element, a magic show, a mixology lesson — anything for the audience to take a break, gather their thoughts, and prepare for the upcoming sessions.
A successful party is when guests never have to wonder where they’re supposed to be next or what they’re supposed to be doing. So our rule was that attendees should never feel lost, especially not between the sessions after the contest was announced.
And because the topic of this summit was creating an intentional experience, talking about involvement, interaction and audience engagement, we planned to host an interactive session.
That’s why we asked you to host a seven-minute experience break to remind attendees about the contest and the prizes and to have a fun conversation while going through their selfies on a social wall.
When a person on stage shows attendees the experience, the gamification makes more sense than just being written out in rules. It’s easier to involve the audience by showing them how others do it and triggering the fear of missing out.
That’s what the social wall has always solved for us. When the first attendee sends out that post and says that they enjoyed the experience, if it’s not for the social wall, the other attendees wouldn’t know.
But when it’s displayed right in front of them, showing that John Smith has posted about this event — that’s what gets them into a frenzy, thinking about posting themselves and winning prizes.
Who wouldn’t want to put in that effort? Everyone loves gifts!
Did you get the feeling that people enjoyed it?
Absolutely! We got a lot of messages from people saying this was the first time they had participated in something like this. I think everybody liked that they got to win something for just being creative and taking cool selfies showing off their favorite items, pets, or getting their family in the frame.
Secondly, it brought in a more community-led experience because it wasn’t the organizers choosing the winners but the audience. People came together and chose their winners just because they liked something they saw.
Connecting a photo booth to a social wall made this experience different from many other events with selfie booths.
If you’re not posting it on a social wall or social media, if your community isn’t talking about it, it makes it just another selfie to keep for yourself. Again, it’s a one-sided conversation.
Virtual events are definitely here to stay. The low cost, high investment, experience and education people get, and the connections they make while sitting in the comfort of their homes outweigh the costs and time of visiting in-person events.
At the same time, I believe virtual and IRL events are not in competition. If anything, virtual events are complementary to IRL experiences. If you’re putting together live events throughout the year, they should be complemented with virtual event elements. This way, you allow your audience to join it at any time and remember you.
Virtual or in-person, people come to events to learn new things and make new connections. So you need to facilitate networking as an intentional part of the event. Simply opening a virtual lounge for attendees to find their own way to each other won’t do it.
Social walls, photo booths, or any other tools are the key to replicating the in-person experience and making the audience feel comfortable.
We just released our new Event Experience Cloud (EXC), which includes four all-new products. With it, the platform has more than 20 engagement features for building seamless connections with the audience, speakers, and other organizers before, after, and during events.
I believe these attendee-centric experiences are the key to connecting with your customers in a more “human way” and still impact key business objectives.
Our partnership with Walls.io has been so helpful for us in making attendees a part of our event and hosting the kind of event experiences everyone deserves. The event really wouldn’t have had as big an impact without you. Thank you for bringing us closer to our audience.
Shaping attendees’ experiences and taking care of every step of their journey is the key to having high audience engagement at virtual events. Here are a few things you need to remember when you develop your strategy:
Understand your attendees’ needs and behavior
One of the main challenges of virtual events is that attendees easily get lost. You need to guide them through the event, involving them in different activities. Make sure you build those in a way that makes your attendees want to participate.
For example, set up an event social wall and ask your audience specific questions to facilitate conversations between organizers, speakers, and attendees.
Airmeet’s team kept audience engagement up by reminding attendees to use the engagement tools by displaying QR codes during live streams and dropping links to the wall and the photo booth in the chat.
Placement is key
Airmeet’s team picked two places to embed their event social wall. Attendees could reach it directly from Reception. And during the interactive break session, the social wall was embedded on the right-hand panel next to the live stream, fostering a connection between the speaker and attendees.
If you plan to involve your audience in conversations before the event, you can embed a social wall on a registration page.
Maximize audience engagement by combining several tools
Virtual photo booths and social walls are powerful audience engagement drivers by themselves. But by making one an extension of the other, you turn content creation into a conversation.
Read about our integration with Snapbar to learn how to power your social wall with a virtual photo booth.
Get the party started
Conversations are like a snowball. Somebody has to go first, and then others will follow. Be that person. The earlier your ball starts rolling, the better.
Don’t wait for your audience to make that first step. Instead, start the conversation on social media by asking your audience questions and giving them little tasks before your event.
Keep the conversation going after the event by repurposing content your attendees created. Use it as social proof that people enjoy your events and build excitement for upcoming ones.
For example, link to your wall in press releases, use it for future promotions, or when talking with potential sponsors.
But how do you encourage people to create content around your event?
To inspire audience engagement and user-generated content, you need to provide clear criteria and instructions for what you are looking for and a bit of encouragement in the form of incentives. Yes, I mean cool gifts.
Let people involve others in the fun they have at your event. Make it easy to participate. And use different levels of audience engagement, spanning from content creation to a simple public poll or post reactions.
The Snap and Win contest is a great example for how all those things can come together to successfully create audience engagement during a virtual event.
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