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ASSOCIATION EVENTS

Utilising Community for Hybrid Event Engagement

2021 enters with us still fighting a rapidly changing pandemic but provides us hope as a vaccine begins to roll out globally. This leaves associations contemplating possibly bringing back face-to-face event experiences with a virtual element. This is not only a good idea “in these COVID times”, but once you’ve opened engagement to members who would never have had the opportunity to attend an event it seems counter-intuitive to close those doors again.

If that experience isn’t planned properly, it can leave virtual attendees feeling disconnected from the overall event experience. And while there will be elements of face-to-face interaction that don’t translate into a hybrid model, there are ways you can bridge the gap as much as possible and still leave attendees of both live and virtual experiences feeling energised and excited.

That is where associations can tap into the power of their online communities. Whether you know it or not, your members are already engaging in this space. This is a perfect opportunity for you to enhance that engagement around your hybrid event before, during, and after.  Here are a few ways your association can work with the community team to go about it.

Pre-event

Content Sneak Peek – Aside from the happy hours (and sometimes location), content is the biggest draw for attendees for your event, whether it be virtual, in-person, or hybrid. Giving attendees (and would-be attendees) exclusive access to preview content before the event is a great way to generate excitement and drive registration. Hold these as webinars within the community and offer a discount code to those who haven’t registered yet for a limited time.

Attendee Roll Call – One thing that I’ve always found exciting is connecting with people that will be participating in an event beforehand. It’s always nice to arrive onsite or login and already be connected to a few people that you can chat with during the event. Start a discussion thread within the community for event attendees to talk with one another. Prompt them to talk about what sessions they’re most excited about or whether or not they will be traveling. Encourage session speakers to interact there, as well.

During the event

Live Blogs – You may not be able to stream all of your sessions during the in-person portion of your event. For the ones where you can’t, set up a blog within your online community and get help from a volunteer to deliver insights for the most popular sessions throughout the day in that blog. You can also have a “roving reporter” on site to interview speakers on video and post them within the community.

Virtual Happy Hours – An exciting element of live events is the opportunity to network with others during a happy hour. Generally there is lots of food and drinks to go around and great music to help attendees unwind at the end of a packed day. Consider live streaming the DJ in a dedicated area in the community for attendees of the hybrid event giving them an opportunity to have a virtual dance party, talk about the latest episode of their favourite series, or just catch up! BYOB, of course.

Post-event

Event Forum – Once the hybrid event has concluded, invite attendees back to a central location in the community to help keep them connected and allow them to talk about their experiences. This is also a great way for you to gather feedback about what worked and what didn’t in an organic way and may even help you find speakers/volunteers for the next one!

Ongoing Perks – I get it, event attendees love swag. But once they’ve left an event, attendees may never use that water bottle, pen, or fanny pack that they got as part of their event experience. Plus, unless you mailed swag to your virtual attendees who couldn’t attend live, they miss out on that special perk. However, holding workshops with keynotes, book clubs with session speakers, or masterminds with attendees based on the content/experiences of the event regardless of whether they attended live or virtually is an incredible value add that can be facilitated through the community to help keep people engaged long after the event has ended.

Conclusion

While many of these features may live inside of your hybrid event platform, you’ll likely only have that up for a limited time pre- and post-event. By utilising the community for this content and these experiences, you’ll have information about what your attendees found valuable, what you can improve upon, and you’ll keep them connected to each other and the organisation for lasting engagement where they already are. This also helps foster member loyalty and your hybrid event continues to deliver value to those who cannot attend in person. Who knows – maybe one day they just might attend live!

About the author

Marjorie Anderson

Marjorie is an experienced community management professional with expertise in building large global communities for associations. She is skilled at developing cohesive community strategies that connect to organisational goals and consider the full user experience across an organisation's digital ecosystem. 

Community is less about the technology you use to bring people together and is more about the people you are gathering with. As a community management professional, Marjorie advocates for the work and skills that those in this industry bring to gathering others together around a shared purpose and how that brings value to organisations. Community professionals help you bring meaningful connections and business objectives together seamlessly. Your greatest investment in community starts with who's leading it.

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