Originally Published: 2/27/20

The recent news about coronavirus (COVID-19) is forcing some event organizers to think strategically about their live events. Specifically, how to make sure attendees feel comfortable at the event, and how to engage those who may be rethinking their travel plans.

Since the full extent of coronavirus is unclear, and no one can predict the future, you’re probably wondering how to protect public health, and continue to run your business.

👉 See Our Coronavirus Resource Page for Event Planners

What if you could carry on with the event as planned, and also provide a virtual experience for attendees to participate remotely? To pull it off, you’ll need some creative planning, and the right technology.

Enter the concept of a hybrid event.

What Is a Hybrid Event?

A hybrid event blends the live, in-person experience with a remote, virtual conference. Using technology, event organizers can reach attendees both onsite, and in the office—via recordings of the on-site event or live-casting.

Hybrid events have proved successful for a while now. In fact, one study found that more than 50 percent of marketers have attended a hybrid or virtual event. In Spring of 2019, almost 2 million people tuned in remotely for the unveiling of the iPhone 11.

When successful, digital events can have a real impact on ROI. Webinar platform Demio generated more than 1,600 high-quality leads at its first-ever SaaS Breakthrough Virtual Summit.  

Planning a hybrid event takes serious consideration. To pull it off, you need the right event tech to connect remote attendees with the live experience.

With a robust live stream or webinar platform and along with an event app, attendees can enjoy the same benefits of attending a live event: networking, keynote addresses, breakout sessions, lead generation, and more. 

Here are a couple of strategies for converting your next event into a hybrid experience.

How to Drive Attendee Engagement at a Hybrid Event

Facilitate Attendee Networking

To facilitate networking, encourage remote attendees to upload their profiles to your event app so they can easily connect with each other, and those at the live event. Think of it like a digital business card. You can also add filtering so attendees can find others based on job title or industry.

After making connections, attendees can:

  • Chat 1:1. 
  • Connect on social media.
  • Create group chats to streamline communication.
  • Exchange photos, videos, and files.
  • Schedule meetings with other attendees.

Live Stream Keynotes & Breakout Sessions

Set up a live stream for your speakers, breakout sessions, and other fun activities. Then send out the links to the content via the event app. That way, remote attendees won’t miss any key events, and they’ll feel like part of the live experience.  

Live streaming can also work for your speakers if they can no longer attend the event in person. For example, at the first G2 REACH conference, Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom Video, conferenced into a live Q&A session with G2’s CEO.

Some reputable companies that offer live streaming include:

Promote Q&As, Live Polls & Surveys

Keep engagement going by asking attendees to respond to surveys, rate sessions, and offer feedback. You can include polls within individual sessions in the event app, as a stand-alone icon, or send them out via push notifications to spark engagement.

Set up a method for remote attendees to ask questions during a speaker session, look for platforms that include the following:

  • Crowdsourcing: Let attendees vote on the questions they want to hear most.
  • Anonymous posting: Increase the frequency and quality of questions by giving attendees the anonymity to speak freely.
  • Full moderation: Review questions before they go live, and easily filter out inappropriate questions.

Use Multiple “Walls” For Social, Chat Rooms & Live Feeds

Events are much more fun when they have an active social component. Use your event tech stack to create a private social feed for your event. Attendees should be encouraged to post photos, comments, and interact with each other, all within the “wall(s)”.

But don’t stop there. Create multiple walls to act as mini chat rooms to further attendee engagement. Examples could include:

  • Social wall: Make remote attendees feel like part of the in-person experience by inviting them to upload selfies.
  • Live Q/A: In the realm of Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything,” attendees can pose questions for speakers or other notable guests.
  • Discussion boards: Promote further conversation by creating in-app discussion groups.

How to Boost Sponsor & Exhibitor Engagement at a Hybrid Event

Sponsors might initially be skeptical of the hybrid concept. Fortunately, today’s event tech provides multiple options to creatively display sponsors. Just make sure to communicate those offerings, get buy-in, and confirm everyone is on the same page.

Look for tools where you can measure exactly how attendees engage with sponsored content. It’s not only trackable, it’s highly customizable. That means you can tailor sponsored content to each attendee, maximizing reach and boosting ROI and have the metrics to bring back to your sponsors and partners.

Use these tricks to upgrade sponsor visibility through your event app.

Invite Sponsors & Exhibitors to Upload Profiles

Your sponsors can add their company profile, link out to their websites, and attach documents. App features like these make it quick and easy for attendees to connect with sponsors and exhibitors—and vice versa—regardless if they’re physically at your event. Some attendees might even prefer not having to meet face to face.

Create Branded Splash Pages & Banner Ads

Roll out a sponsored splash page that launches every time an attendee logs in to the app, and place banner ads in a carousel that scrolls across the bottom of the screen.

Since the app is always with attendees, whether remote or at the event, they’ll see your sponsors’ messaging every time they launch the app. Talk about boosting impressions!

Send Sponsored Push Notifications

Need to send a reminder about an upcoming session or let attendees know about a time change? Turn it into a sponsorship opportunity.

You can schedule push notifications in advance, or send them on the fly. You can also customize them, which will come in handy for messaging remote attendees. For example, you could send one notification to in-person attendees that invites them to visit a sponsor’s booth, and another to remote attendees with a link to the sponsor’s website. It’s a great way to maximize ROI for your sponsors.

Use Gamification to Connect Attendees & Sponsors

With an event app’s gamification feature, you can design fun challenges that boost engagement with sponsors. Create multiple challenges, set the rules, and sit back and watch as attendees move up the leaderboard. For example, design a game where attendees earn points by visiting a sponsor’s website, and use the app’s leaderboard to showcase winners. 

That friendly competition stokes networking and social postings, too, and your sponsors will love the increased brand awareness.

Bottom Line: Have a Contingency Plan For Your Event

Remember: When planning a hybrid event, you have to be able to demonstrate value to sponsors, attendees, and exhibitors. The more solid the plan, the more you can control the messaging. They’ll be confident that you have a plan, and you can rest assured that the show will go on.

We’d love to hear your ideas on how you are transitioning events, keeping things alive in 2020, and any success stories, so please give us a shout.

IMPORTANT: If you are a Socio customer and your event has been affected or is threatened by COVID-19, we want to help! Please reach out to your customer success manager to discuss any questions, concerns, or to set up a brainstorming session.