Virtual Event Engagement: 10 Ideas and Best Practices

New Virtual Event Engagement Possibilities for Organisers and Participants

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Top-down shot of a laptop placed on a fluffy, shaggy, comfortable-looking surface. On the screen, we see a website that shows someone dancing. A person?s hands are on the keyboard and trackpad. Some of the person?s leg and arm are visible, they?re wearing black leggings and a grey wooly jumper. Next to them, there is a smartphone with a black inactive screen on the soft surface.

As a safety measure during the pandemic, many events had to be cancelled. It hit everyone, without differentiation — small local events, but also big conventions, expos, trade fairs, sports events, pride parades, and even the Eurovision Song Contest. Virtual events, along with virtual event engagement, came up as the solution.

While many events obviously cannot happen if they can’t happen in a physical space — take the 2020 Summer Olympics, for one — lots of event organisers have managed to pivot to virtual events. Along with this, many virtual event engagement possibilities have emerged.

1. Using live-streaming for virtual event engagement

Virtual events are a great way to keep your audience informed, happy and engaged. There are plenty of helpful virtual event engagement tools available, from all-in-one virtual event solutions to live-streaming and video-conferencing software. How elaborate this needs to be, depends on the event itself. But the bare minimum is usually some sort of combination of a broadcasting tool and an interactive tool, so attendees can really engage with the event. 

Video conferencing tools work great for webinars. They usually offer built-in ways of taking questions, allow attendees to react to content and virtually raise their hand. But they’re limiting regarding event size and are, essentially, built to accommodate a handful of speakers and a manageable size of attendees. It won’t necessarily work as well for big virtual events with lots of attendees, changing speakers, break-out sessions, networking and so on.

A live-stream is better in most cases, as it can handle a large number of participants. But live-streaming tools often lack an interactive element out-of-the-box. So you have to find other ways for viewers to contribute and engage on a large scale.

2. Foster virtual event engagement with a social wall 

Enter social walls. By combining a live-streaming tool with a social wall, you open up a whole new world of interaction without requiring attendees to install anything. They can simply communicate via the tools they are already used to: their own social media accounts.

There are many advantages to using a social wall for virtual event engagement:

  1. Attendees can talk to each other without disturbing the live-stream in any way. Furthermore, attendees also become visible with a social wall and don’t fade into the background. They can post photos of themselves, and this way speakers get to see them as well and feel much less like they’re talking into a vacuum.
  2. You can take audience questions using hashtags which will then show up on the wall for everyone to see.
  3. You can use the wall to play ice breaker games, and people can start conversations and network with other attendees.
  4. A social wall and hashtags also allow you (and your speakers and attendees) to keep the conversation going after the event.
  5. Use your social wall to promote your event and build buzz. Hashtags also help you gain reach, putting your event in front of users who might not have known about it before. That, in turn, can help you build interest and sell tickets.

The really neat thing is that a social wall doesn’t require any downloads at all and is completely user-friendly, no matter the tech level of your audience. All they have to be able to do is use the social media channels they’re already using anyway, whether that’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.

3. Ways to combine a social wall with a live-stream

There are various ways in which you can integrate a social wall into a virtual event, but the most straightforward method is to simply integrate the social wall with the live-stream in some way.

You can do this by simply putting the live-stream and the social wall on the same page (more on that later) or you can do what Google likes to do, which is building the social wall into the live-stream itself.

4. Google taking live-stream breaks with a social wall

Even before the pandemic hit, Google held various events that were broadcast via live-stream and integrated a social media wall right in the stream itself. Whenever there was a break in the stream, for example, between speakers, the social wall was displayed instead.

Twitter post by @solving96 displaying a screenshot of the Android Dev Summit live-stream on YouTube, which is currently showing the social media wall. The tweet reads: “LiveStreaming #AndroidDevSummit Waiting to Learn the new things😍 #Google #Android”
A tweet posted during the Android Dev Summit in November 2018. Source: Twitter

This is much nicer than simply broadcasting a black screen between talks. It gives attendees something to interact with during breaks and promotes the wall and hashtag, which boosts virtual event engagement.

5. Microsite, live-stream, social wall — good to go

The most-used set-up, because it’s so damn simple yet effective, is to create a microsite and then embed both your live-stream and your social wall on it.

Simply embed the wall on your website or live-stream microsite, and visitors will be able to see it and contribute using their usual social media accounts. You can set up different hashtags for different topics.

Or, if you host a big virtual conference, you could even create separate social walls for each of your sessions, to keep conversations focused, and create a lobby-type social wall for more generally chatter and networking.

Integrating a social wall on a microsite is super easy: just copy and paste a bit of code from your dashboard. People can keep watching or listening while scrolling down to check out what’s happening on the social wall.

6. Hope Church’s virtual religious service

We recently featured our customer Hope Church, a church in Richmond, Virginia, in one of our blog posts. Since mass had to be cancelled during the pandemic, Hope Church set up a live-stream so the congregation could keep “going to mass” from home.

The church also created a social wall and embedded it on the website under the live-stream. It allowed the congregation not just to take part in the religious service but to also stay in touch with each other during the lockdown. Hope Church is a great example of a physical event that has had to pivot to virtual during the pandemic, and managed to boost virtual event engagement.

Screenshot of a social wall, displaying posts by church members that show their setups for watching the live-stream of the religious service from home. Posts also show dogs and kids looking at the screens. Posts are tagged with #HopeLiveStream. Posts on wall help boost virtual event engagement.

7. Welcome America: virtual 4th of July festival

Another great example is Welcome America, Philadelphia’s annual 7-day 4th of July celebrations. Because of the pandemic, the whole festival had to be turned into an entirely virtual experience. And we’re talking about a big, big event here, with concerts, educational activities, museum tours, cooking demonstrations, etc. 

Welcome America has turned their website into a hub for the virtual festival with the plan to “create meaningful, at-home experiences that will embody the same spirit of celebration that Philadelphians have come to know and love over the past 28 years.”

They’re doing a great job of informing the public about the social media wall that accompanies the festival, explaining how to use it. The following banner is embedded on most event pages for the festival, explaining which hashtags to use and where.

Banner image with an opaque pink-to-purple gradient background. Three icons with white text explain how to interact with the festival.  Where to experience the festival:  What hashtag should I use? #CelebratePhilly #July4thPhilly  Where can I share photos & videos? [Facebook icon] wawawelcomeamerica [Instagram icon, Twitter icon] July4thPhilly

Furthermore, the social wall is embedded on the event pages as well. All the information about each event, plus live-stream, plus social media wall, is neatly in one place, making it easy for participants to enjoy a seamless experience.

What really works here is that the social wall is ubiquitous. You can find it on event pages, on various other subpages for the festival and, of course, the homepage of the website as well.

8. Dance like everyone’s watching the live-stream

Kids Artistic Revue (KAR) is a national dance competition in the US with a 38-year old history. In light of the pandemic, they decided to put the usual physical events on hold and created KAR Virtual instead, a national virtual dance competition.

The process is relatively straightforward, with participants uploading their performance videos, which are then cued up in live-stream broadcasts and interspersed with a moderator introducing the various events, competitions and dancers. The broadcasts are embedded on the website also available on demand. Performances are then judged by a panel and awards handed out accordingly.

The live-streams on the website are always accompanied by an embedded social wall and a prompt to share photos using the #DanceKARVirtual hashtag on Instagram. It’s a great way to keep competitors and viewers involved and it enhances virtual event engagement.

Screenshot of the website with a livestream and social media wall embedded. The video is showing a young person dancing. On the social wall, participants are sharing photos of their awards while DanceKAR accounts are promoting dance classes open to participants. The videos boost virtual event engagement.

KAR found a great way to turn performances that were often recorded months ago into a live virtual event that drew in friends and families of the competitors. The social wall accompanying the competition helps keep spirits high during the lockdown.

9. Who do virtual events work for and why do they work

It’s true; not every single event type is suited to a virtual variation. For example, it would be difficult to turn an interactive workshop where participants have to create something together into a remote version.

But, fortunately, there is a wide variety of events that can work very well as virtual events:

  • Music events
  • Theatre
  • Poetry readings, book tours, storytelling events 
  • Conferences

10. Virtual is always an option (but virtual event engagement is a must!)

Of course, virtual events vastly reduce the infection risk during a pandemic, and that has been the main motivator behind all the virtual events currently happening. But engaging virtual events are a fantastic option even when there isn’t a pandemic going on.

The benefits are always there:

  1. A virtual event is 100% independent of location — a truly global event. With that comes a lower carbon footprint thanks to no travel, no costs for catering, venue hire, etc.
  2. A virtual event can be scaled up much more easily, which means more flexibility and more ticket sales.
  3. Overall, it means you save money — money that can instead go into paying speakers, crew, etc. and making the event business a fairer industry.
  4. Speaking of fair: accessibility is much better with virtual events. Physical events often put people with a variety of disabilities at a disadvantage, while virtual events are far more inclusive. Of course, it helps to still think about what you can do to improve accessibility, e.g. by adding sign language interpreters to your virtual event.
  5. More interaction is possible between speakers and attendees, thanks to chat functions, Q&As, social walls, etc. Many people feel more comfortable asking a question at a virtual event rather than standing up in a big hall full of people to do so. Virtual event engagement happens naturally.
  6. Recorded sessions can be viewed afterwards, which means you can reach more people. It also makes time zones less tricky to navigate.

Virtual events with live-streams and social walls definitely have a place in the event industry and will likely become more and more prevalent in the upcoming months and years.
And once we do get back to large physical events again, remember that social walls are a great tool for those as well. 😉

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