How can you convert a live event to an entirely virtual format and double attendees, while seamlessly transforming, and upgrading, your event experience?  

See how the Host Users Group, an international member organization serving hotels, resorts, spas, and theme parks, did just that, and more.

In March of 2020, the Host Users Group (HUG) organizers found themselves deep into planning their 2020 conference — slated for November 9-13, 2020 — when it became clear that the ongoing COVID pandemic would make it impossible to safely host the event in person. The HUG team was planning to use the Webex Events (formerly Socio) mobile event app for their in-person conference, but after deciding to pivot to a fully virtual format, the HUG team worked closely with the Webex Events professional services team to launch their first-ever virtual conference, appropriately titled “The Show Must Go On.”

About the HUG Conference

The Host Users Group (HUG) brings together users of Springer-Miller Systems’ products. Springer-Miller has developed a suite of hospitality management systems tailored to hotels, resorts, spas, and theme parks. HUG members typically attend an annual event — as they have for the past 30 years — to share knowledge, discover solutions, and influence product direction. HUG’s overall goal is to help members maximize their utilization of Springer-Miller Systems’ suite of technology. 

As the HUG organizers began planning their virtual conference, they focused on several key goals, including:

1. Translate the HUG Conference to a virtual format

With virtual events being a new concept for the HUG organizers, they faced uncharted challenges. The organizers turned to the Webex Events professional services team — a premium support offering designed to help clients plan, prepare for, and execute their events — for guidance. 

2. Ensure platform adoption 

When it comes to virtual events, the online platform becomes the virtual venue, where attendees access their agendas, network, and engage with sponsors. For HUG 2020 to be successful, all attendees needed to easily access and utilize the HUG virtual event platform. That meant the HUG organizers needed to clearly articulate how to access the HUG event in a digital setting.

3. Grow year-over-year attendance numbers 

Boosting attendance represented a key component of HUG’s long-term growth strategy. The HUG organizers hoped for 250 virtual attendees, but with HUG 2020 being their first online event, they aimed for a larger audience.

4. Facilitate networking and engagement 

The organizers say in-person networking ranked as the top reason for attending the HUG Conference, so it was absolutely critical their virtual event platform could facilitate meaningful engagement between attendees and sponsors.

5. Deliver sponsor ROI

HUG depends on sponsor revenue to fund their initiatives and events. The organizers needed to assure their sponsors they could recoup their investment, so the platform had to offer creative avenues to showcase these benefactors.

HUG 2020 goes Virtual

After deciding to go virtual, the HUG organizers turned to Webex Events (formerly Socio) for guidance. This was their first virtual event and they were hungry for ideas to make it successful.

Unbeknownst to the HUG team, Webex Events executive leaders were proactively reaching out to customers to offer support and navigate the pivot to virtual events. They jumped on a strategy call and were surprised to learn CEO, Yarkin Sakucoglu, had joined to brainstorm solutions.

Partner with the Webex Events professional services team

The HUG organizers wanted to deliver a flawless virtual event and decided to work hand-in-hand with the Webex Events professional services team.

“The support was extremely accessible,” says Alex Landers, HUG Board Secretary. “I work with a lot of different systems, software, and support teams. Webex Events support was a breath of fresh air, and they always had an answer.”

2. Send pre-event communications to promote adoption

The HUG organizers knew they had to get the word out about their virtual conference and make it as easy as possible to utilize the platform. The organizers sent out multiple email communications and built a detailed landing page with instructions for accessing the HUG platform via web browser, as well as Android and iOS devices.

“At first there was some confusion, but as soon as we sent out our email communication, we didn’t have anybody reaching out or being confused,” says Diana Hernandez, Marketing Manager at Springer-Miller Systems. “The fact that it was that simple—the ease of use—was huge.”

3. Reconfigure ticketing model for a virtual format

The HUG organizers wanted to grow their attendance and planned strategically to hit their goals. For the first-ever virtual conference, the organizers changed the ticketing model. Instead of charging per individual registration, they allowed entire member properties to attend for $299.

“Once a property registered, they could send as many people as they wanted,” says Diane Walker, HUG Board Chair. “We were trying to encourage them to have more people attend virtually, so more people will attend in person next year.”

4. Promote platform engagement with messaging, gamification, session chat, polling, and more

The HUG organizers took advantage of the Webex Events event game feature and designed fun and incentivizing challenges to drive engagement with attendees and sponsors. Attendees could earn points for making new connections, visiting a sponsor website or profile, answering trivia questions, and more. 

“[Webex Events] was the backbone of the conference,” Walker says. “It’s what we built everything around. It gave us the framework to build on all of the areas we normally offer — and more! With help from Webex Events, Alex created an awesome game and we had incredible engagement because of it.”

The organizers included the Webex Events session chat feature in every live stream, so attendees could interact with each other as well as speakers and sponsors. Unlike most event platforms that have a single chat feed for the entire event, Webex Events offers chat at the individual session level. 

After connecting in the event platform, attendees could exchange direct messages, share files, and schedule follow-up calls and meetings.

5. Showcase sponsors across the HUG event platform

Webex Events (formerly Socio) provided the HUG organizers with a sponsor package detailing all the ways the platform can showcase vendors. They also led an enablement session for sponsors who wanted to make the most of their exposure in the HUG platform.

In addition to setting up profiles for each sponsor, the HUG organizers utilized banner ads, sponsored sessions and commercials, and built an event game to drive attendees to their profiles, websites, and promotions. Additionally, sponsors could customize call-to-action buttons in their profiles to “Book a Meeting” or “Request a Demo.”

The proof is in the results

1. A flawless event planning experience

Aside from the initial anxiety of hosting their first virtual conference, the HUG organizers say their 2020 event was nothing short of a tremendous success. They credit the seamless experience to the high level of support from the Webex Events professional services team. As part of their services package, the HUG organizers gained access to a dedicated, on-call Webex Events support rep for the duration of their event.

“I was so impressed with how well-executed the process was with [Webex Events],” says Erin Butler, HUG Board Vice Chair. “It felt like [Webex Events] became an extension of our board and team. I didn’t feel like we were working with somebody that didn’t give us the time and the focus. It was a very positive experience.”

2. 100% platform adoption

The organizers’ pre-event communications worked, with 100% of their attendees downloading the HUG platform before the event kicked off Nov. 9. Meeting with all of their attendees in a single ecosystem allowed the HUG organizers to streamline their virtual experience, and also capture valuable event data and metrics.

“It was just such an amazing platform and people got familiar with it very quickly,” Landers says. 

3. 120% increase in year-over-year attendance

Removing the barriers to travel as well as changing their ticketing model helped HUG more than double their goal of 250 attendees. Over 550 attendees joined the virtual conference and actively participated via the HUG event platform. The organizers say they’re already planning a virtual component for their future in-person events.

“We had this amazing marketing opportunity because we were forced to go fully virtual,” Butler says. “It will be very exciting to see what 2021 holds for us.” 

4. 6,700 connections, 120 wall posts, 205 comments

Attendees forged meaningful connections at HUG 2020, with an average of 12 new connections per attendee. 

“One of the huge benefits of the conference is the in-person networking,” Walker says. “[Webex Events] was able to provide that communication and connection through the app. Another benefit we found that we didn’t expect was the chat conversation during the sessions. Some of our attendees were answering questions in the chat, and that’s something you would never get in person.”

5. Sponsor engagement

With multiple options for showcasing sponsors in the HUG platform, including sponsor profiles, rotating banners, sponsored sessions, and customizable CTA buttons, the HUG organizers say their sponsors reported positive feedback with their investment. 

“There were no limitations with the platform and app,” Butler says. “It worked very well for them, and they were able to have a presence, participate, network, and interject. We had one sponsor who was very engaged, and each time I’ve spoken with them it has been, ‘Wow the engagement and platform capabilities were amazing! We felt like we had a presence and people knew who we were.’ To me that says a lot.”

Power virtual, hybrid and in-person event success with Webex Events (formerly Socio)

Utilizing Webex Events proved highly successful for HUG. 

“We got some fantastic feedback from the attendees and our sponsors, so we’re definitely planning to use [Webex Events] as our conference platform moving forward,” Landers says. “Just the ease of using it was extremely wonderful throughout the entire process.”

If you’re interested in using an end-to-end event management platform that:

  • Allows for full brand customization
  • Seamlessly facilitates networking and attendee engagement
  • Comes loaded with chat, polling, Q&A, and flexible streaming options
  • Offers multiple options to showcase sponsors
  • Provides world-class support