Social distancing doesn’t have to mean a total lack of social interaction. Even though your events will have to live online for the next eight weeks (or longer), networking is still critical to keeping attendees and sponsors engaged with your event. 

“A virtual event that doesn’t promote networking is just a webinar,” said Corey McCarthy, Socio Chief Marketing Officer. (And hey, webinars are great, but if you’re going for more of a conference feel, networking is key.) 

We know that more than 80 percent of people attend events for networking, so you have to offer solutions that make it easy for attendees and sponsors to connect. Here’s a quick how-to on providing networking opportunities within a virtual event.

Spoiler alert: It’s not all that different from a live event. 

Step One: The Event App 

Whether you’re planning a virtual event from the get-go or you’re making a pivot from live to virtual, chances are you’re already using, or plan to invest in an event app. Well, good news! That part of your plan can stick around. 

Within any live event, the event app is the hub for how people connect. It’s where attendees can message each other, share photos, post social updates, and even compete in challenges against each other. They can also connect and engage with sponsors.

With the right event app, all of those same engagement features can seamlessly translate to a virtual event.

Step Two: The Profiles

If you’ve ever used any sort of social media platform, then you already know the importance of adding your profile. Encourage your attendees to create profiles in the app so they can search for and connect with other attendees.

Here are some tips to help attendees set up their in-app profiles:

  • Upload a professional/fun/creative headshot (depending on what type of event it is) 
  • Check the profile picture quality 
  • Include personal gender pronouns (ie. she/her/hers) 
  • Add a fun fact or icebreaker
  • Include any social media links they would like to share 
  • Keep company and position updated 

Think of the profile as a first impression. Your attendees and sponsors want to maximize their experience, and the in-app profile is their ticket to networking. 

Step Three: The Connect 

After your attendees and sponsors upload their profiles, encourage them to connect with others. This all occurs within the app, similar to making a friend request on Facebook or LinkedIn. They have the option to search by name, job title, industry and more.

Or, they can use Shake to Connect, a feature where attendees simply shake their phones (either individually or when prompted to after a session or by push notification), discover other attendees looking to network, and connect with the click of a button. Each individual has the option to accept or reject an in-app connection, just like on social media. 

Step Four: The Messages (Direct and Social Postings) 

Once connected, attendees can communicate via direct messages, swap files and documents, and even schedule in-person meetings (post quarantine, of course). It’s similar to texting or Facebook messenger, except it all lives in the event app. And users don’t have to worry about a million messages coming in since they’ll only be able to communicate with their connections. 

In addition to direct messaging, there’s also the social wall feature, which serves as a private, in-app social feed. While everyone’s participating at home, they can ask questions, share pictures, and interact with each other. Want a feed where attendees can share their most creative home office set-ups? You got it. Or, maybe a feed full of everyone’s furry family members? That’s totally possible as well. 

Step Five: Polls & Surveys

As the event organizer, you can also use the event app to further engagement beyond attendee networking, especially when it comes to collecting feedback. At any point during the event, you want to know how things are going and what attendees think of your content. 

Make yourself present by sending out live polls and surveys. They can go out directly following a speaker, or in the middle of a session to gather audience feedback and further discussion. Maybe you’re curious if attendees are having trouble viewing your live stream? Send out a poll.  Remember, you don’t have to wait until the end to solicit feedback. Knowing how attendees and sponsors feel in the moment is key.

Step Six: The Game 

If you really want to move your virtual event from a 2D experience into the 3D world, consider gamification. Typically at a live event, attendees earn points by collecting codes from various sponsor booths and entering them into the event app. The same can work for virtual events, you just need to get creative and create challenges with no physical requirements.

Some gamification ideas for virtual events include: 

  • Send a code via push notification at the beginning of a session 
  • Offer a code for the completion of a poll or survey 
  • Send trivia questions and make the answer the code
  • Provide a code for a membership renewal (for member-based organizations)

And don’t forget, you can still mail out small prizes after your event wraps, or offer digital prizes. It’s up to you. Just remember, even sitting at home, we all love a little competition. 

Step Seven: Keep It Going (Post-Event) 

Networking doesn’t have to end within your app the moment your event does. Consider this instead: Convert your app space into a community space. Encourage attendees to continue posting on the social walls, to keep networking, sharing ideas, and having fun. It’s critical that we stay connected to our communities during these uncertain times. 

Networking is more important than ever right now, and we hope you find this how-to helpful. Stay connected. Stay strong. We’ve got each other’s backs.