If you are in the business of event planning, you are already succinctly aware of just how difficult it is to put events together, no matter the size. There’s venue acquisition, vendors, sponsorship, securing speakers, creating signage, staffing, marketing and ticket sales – just to name a few tasks on your never ending list. Unfortunately, while we all can get caught up in the bustle of planning and executing events, we lose sight of something very important: event engagement of guests. It’s about more than just selling tickets and filling a room.
Not all events are created equally. Some of the best experiences your guests could have could be as simple as setting up a few key activities, both online and offline. Here are our suggestions for the top 8 things to have if you want to increase event engagement. Hint: they will love them!
1. Conversation Screen
Giving your event attendees the opportunity to engage in conversation with like-minded guests or brands at your event is sure to keep them interested. Seeing their name, or handle on the big screen also helps them feel heard and appreciated in a social media world where we can often get lost in the masses. One of our partners, OpenHwy offers a social media wall that has the following features, guaranteed to enhance the digital experience for your guests:
- Show a live Twitter wall, Instagram wall, Facebook feed or Yelp feed.
- Display posts in real-time or pre-approve posts before they appear.
- Smart filter posts which include any negative sentiment.
While you and your vendors and sponsors are engaging in face-to-face conversations with guests, let your social media networks do some of the work by using this popular social media wall at your next event. If you are monitoring the conversation in real time (which you should be), it also boosts your customer service karma!
2. Meet and Greets
Whether your event is B2B or B2C, utilizing meet and greets, or influencer marketing, is a great way for your guests to build even more brand loyalty by putting them up close and personal with people or brands they love. In some cases, a guest speaker or seminar host may have their own booth and make appearances for photo ops or signings; and in others, it’s in your budget to include some higher profile VIP’s in the daily events, either hosting or walking around the crowd and engaging face-to-face with your valued guests. Including these types of individuals in your event are a great use of cross-promotion as well because it’s more than likely, they will be promoting your event as well, as a way to promote themselves. It’s a win-win because you increase event engagement with attendees and several online audiences at the same time.
It may seem kind of silly to say that your event needs to give your guests something to do, but the sentiment is not wrong. In some cases, there is a certain amount of vendor shopping or seminar attending to be done at events, and at others, the entire event can be completed in a couple hours. With many functions, your target attendee may also bring a guest, because humans are social creatures and like to go places in groups. This provides some extra oomph for those who may not be quite as excited as your target market. Introducing a contest with a digital component not only helps increase event engagement, and gets them excited, it brings out their competitive nature. Chances are, it will get them to spend a little bit of extra time at the show too, which is not a bad thing for your marketing communications touch points (or for your vendors). It could also help build a favourable impression with their plus-one, which is just more bang for your social media buck.
4. Staying Connected
As much as many event planners don’t like to think of guests being on their cell phones as an important part of an event – it is.
60% of smart-phone users are using their devices at social gatherings and events 
Whether the need of connectivity is merely for safety (being able to call 9-1-1), being reachable by friends and family, or staying engulfed in our social networks 24/7, they are multi-tasking while at your event. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than seeing the dreaded “low battery” light appearing on your mobile device. In many cases, attendees will run back to their cars or even go home to avoid their cell phone dying.
Lucky for us, our partner, SOS Charging Solutions, offers mobile device charging stations, so your guests don’t have to feel like they are disconnected from the world. This constant connectivity will help increase event engagement and show them that you both understand, and want to meet their needs. To explore the matter farther, just think of the fact that we are going digital and paperless so, in many cases, people take photos of business cards, posters, items they want to buy, etc. If their phone is dead, not only are you missing a chance to engage with them online, your valued vendors and sponsors may be losing the chance to make a future sale and build a meaningful relationship.
5. Swag Bags
I don’t know about you, but I get very excited when I go to an event and get a swag bag. Offering coupons, marketing material or smaller, less expensive trial versions of products is yet another touch point on the map to making a sale in the customer’s mind. Swag bags, or gift bags are an important part of events, regardless of whether they are B2B or B2C targeted. In many cases, much of what is in them goes into the trash – eventually – but if your target audience is anything like me, they will take the time to go through their bag first and determine what, if anything, is worth keeping for future use. Many times, your vendors or sponsors have seen the value in swag bags and are happy to pay for it as part of their event sponsorship.
Though guests may not like carrying it around all day at the event with them, offering small thank you bags on the way out are a great way to make the event attendees feel appreciated and provide another way into their home – in a non-creepy, invasive sort of way. Besides, everyone loves free stuff, right?!
Even if your event is considered a “trade show”, there is still huge importance in including speakers, seminars, etc. Many people won’t pay to enter a place that is like a mall, where they must pay to take home other things they want to buy. Offering them seminars, shows, or other entertainment provides added value to them, and makes them feel better about their decision to attend your event.
“Our easy ability to grasp perspectives other than our own is also what makes it so easy for us to enter into an imaginative situation such as a story” 
Marketing is storytelling. Social Media is storytelling (often in pictures, videos or 280 characters or less) with a conversational component. Most influential industry experts got to where they are for a reason. They have a unique journey and it’s interesting enough to share with an audience. Many people go to B2B shows to learn something; they want a takeaway. It’s a lot easier to increase event engagement when you have them in one area of a busy conference, and they are watching something that they are already interested in. Whereas many B2C show attendees would prefer their takeaway to be entertainment; it’s still valuable, because they will not feel as though their time was wasted. To many customers, time is more valuable than money, and they would rather spend their money than intentionally waste their time.
7. Photo Booths
Human beings love taking photos. There are a number of reasons for this, including: to preserve memories, to “feel things”, or to not miss things that may happen quickly and pass you by. Have you heard of having a photographer’s eye? And then… there are #selfies. In many cases, we take a lot of photos of our experiences to make ourselves seem more interesting than we really are, and to build this online persona for people we may or may not know.
This is definitely a good thing for marketers because there is an opportunity to infiltrate their image taking and smack your branding on there. Think of those large scale hashtag frame cut outs at appearances, or cool looking posters with your name all over it. Offering a branded photo booth to your guests gives them an additional takeaway that is more likely to be associated with a positive emotion, than merely saving an event business card. Plus, there is the added opportunity of having a brand ambassador working at the photo booth to increase event engagement and be right there if questions arise.
Our partners at Hip Image have a great hashtag printer (think Polaroid 2.0) that has an excellent social media tie in that works with your custom branded event hashtag. Instagram meets printout – it’s immediate, on-the-spot and your guests can enjoy the photo booth experience and take home a cool souvenir, that they can then share all over their social media channels.
8. Free Samples
If you ever wander around a trade show, you’ll notice that many of the booths that draw the largest crowds are giving something away. Experience, just like how your attendees are experiencing your brand by attending your event, is one way to put yourself closer to the top of the customer’s mind. One way to do that is through sampling, but the difference between this and a swag bag is that you are providing something to them, free of charge, in a face-to-face setting that allows for accompanying interaction. This allows them to ask questions if they are really interested, and for you to provide your unique selling proposition to them and help build their brand knowledge. Many of your event vendors and sponsors have likely already discovered and utilized free samples to attract their customers. Offering your guests the chance to try something, for free, before they buy, will help increase your event engagement, while also increasing the chances of making a sale if they like what they sampled.
Finding ways to differentiate your event from all the others out there in a saturated marketplace can be a challenge but including some fun, interactive ways to increase event engagement is sure to help create a more positive impression of your brand. Whether your focus is online or offline, there is value in incorporating both to ensure you are hitting customers in all the different places that they are, while physically at your event.
Ashley Saunders & Sarah Kirkpatrick, Lead Matriarchs and Live Social Coordinators