Audience engagement took on an entirely new meaning when virtual events arrived. What does it take to fully engage your event attendees in a virtual or hybrid setting? How do you measure such an initiative? Read on to learn the ins and outs of audience engagement in 2021 and beyond.

Audience engagement is a familiar topic. Keeping attendees actively engaged throughout the entire experience is instrumental in the overall success of your event. And while event engagement is clearly an important metric to keep track of within your larger event strategy, it can be hard to define, let alone measure.

This becomes even more challenging when translated into a virtual setting. While 82% of B2B marketers believe that attendee engagement is an important KPI for event success, more than half (67.7%) find it more difficult to keep engagement strong during sessions at virtual events.

And now that hybrid events are slowly making their way into the industry, event professionals are faced with the new complexities of bridging the gap between the two audiences while keeping both in-person and virtual attendees steadily engaged.

This guide will help you understand all angles of audience engagement, how to implement engagement efforts, and how to accurately measure engagement. 

Use this guide on audience engagement to create your enterprise event marketing strategy that propels your events from good to great.

  1. What is Audience Engagement?
  2. Understanding your Event Attendee
  3. Best Practices To Drive Audience Engagement
  4. How To Measure Event Engagement
  5. Ways That An Event Software Solution Can Improve Event Engagement

What is Audience Engagement?

Audience engagement is the degree to which attendees are fully participating in and captivated by your event. Event engagement can be measured in sessions attended, meetings held, connections made, social media activity, and event app adoption—among other metrics. Engagement at virtual events can also be measured through metrics like clicks, chat room activity, how long sessions were watched, poll participation, and more. Hybrid events will use a combination of both in-person and virtual metrics to measure overall event engagement.

Generally speaking, an engaged attendee is a satisfied attendee. The last thing you want is a group of attendees who passively go through the experience without showing any form of excitement or engagement.

To avoid this, event planners must not only craft a spectacular event with exceptional content but should also create clear opportunities for attendees to engage. 

Understanding Your Event Attendee 

Before diving headfirst into audience engagement, take one step back and make sure you fully understand your event attendee.

First, get inside the minds of your attendees, why are they coming to your event in the first place? Define the attendee’s goals and motivations. This will help you better anticipate attendee needs, create more personalized experiences, and build more successful events.

Attendee intelligence is a critical component of driving engagement. So how do you start?

Getting Started with Attendee Personas

One approach is defining your event attendee persona with your existing data. Here’s how:

  1. Get inspired by B2B marketer’s buyer persona or the account-based marketer’s Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). These are both fictionalized representations of your target audience based on different pieces of aggregated data.
  2. Begin building a targeted list of organizations and accounts that you’d like to engage at your events. In an account-based marketing strategy, this is usually referred to as your Target Account list or Tier 1 list.
  3. Leverage existing data to paint a picture of your event attendee persona. One of the best things about virtual events is how easily you can get access to this information through your event software. This can include professional titles, industries, company size, customers, prospects, country, etc. 
  4. Audit your current event management platform to see if you’re able to report on your defined data points.

Once you have the initial data points for your attendee profile you can start brainstorming your engagement tactics.

“If you want to be great at experience, you have to be great at audience. And that’s truly understanding the audience.”

-Erin McElroy, Program Director, Digital Events & Innovation, IBM

The Importance of an Attendee Focused Event Registration Process

Designing an attendee-focused event starts with your event registration. As you define the different event personas to engage, ask yourself questions to determine how to build your event registration.

For example, consider the following registration flow criteria:

  1. Should there be different registrations/tickets for attendees, sponsors, and speakers?
  2. Will you offer paid or free tickets?
  3. Is your event a 1-day or multi-day event?
  4. Will there be sessions or workshops at your event?
  5. Is content going to be available on-demand post-event?
  6. Will meals be served at your event?
  7. Do you need attendees’ home addresses to send swag boxes?
  8. Will you need attendees’ clothing sizes for swag and gifts?
  9. Is there a need for captions/real-time translation?

Define parameters around the data to collect during registration. Optimize the registration with specific ticket types, promo codes, and conditional questions that help website visitors select the event ticket/registration that suits their needs.

Using Data Integrations To Get a Full Picture of Your Attendees

In addition to leveraging your event management software and virtual event platforms, for your registration process, you’ll also want to investigate available business app integrations for your event software solutions. As you drive engagement in different online and offline marketing channels, your event data will be essential for delivering your event ROI. Be sure to ask questions and find out if your event software integrates with your day to day business tools. 

Here are some suggested questions to ask when evaluating integrations for your event platform:

  1. Who are the other teams that need visibility into event activities?
  2. What other technology is my organization using to capture customer and prospect data?
  3. Where are the information gaps between my event technology and other business platforms?
  4. Which event data should be shared across my organization’s event technology stack?
  5. How do different event management platform integrations work?

Best Practices To Drive Audience Engagement

1. Define Your Metrics

Before even deciding on what engagement opportunities to provide, make sure to define what exactly you want to be measuring. The overwhelming majority (80%) of planners report that attendee engagement and satisfaction are KPIs used to measure virtual event success. Event metrics should also be agreed upon and clearly communicated to team members so everyone works towards the same goals. 

Some important engagement metrics to consider for virtual, in-person, and hybrid events include:

  • Audience retention (How many people did you start with versus the number you ended up with?)
  • Chat & poll participation (Were attendees actively asking questions during and/or after the sessions? Were they using the polls?)
  • The number of downloads (If your sessions include the possibility to download assets, how many attendees actually did it?)
  • Session ratings (How satisfied were attendees with your content?) 
  • Social media mentions (Who is talking about your event and what are they saying?) 

2. Content Is King 

Content will always remain one of the most important tools to engage an audience. The way it’s crafted and delivered virtually differs from what you’d see with in-person experiences. The average virtual attendee only watches 68% of a virtual session that is 20 minutes or longer. This clearly indicates that the digital and hybrid future is one where sessions are shorter. 

The length of content is only one part of engagement. Understanding attendees’ personas and giving them what they want is the best way to engage them. Ask yourself questions to determine what your audience needs. What are the pain points of your attendees and how do your content and its delivery answer their needs and help fix their problems? How can you successfully craft content that resonates with both the live and virtual audience?

“Content is king…focus on content that is relevant to your audience…You need to have content that captivates the attention of whoever is watching. Then on top of that, you need to create something that is engaging and creates dialogue. It has to be more than passive watching.”

– Leon Winkler, Director of International Events, Ubisoft

3. Focus On User Experience 

It can’t be expected from attendees to know how to navigate a virtual event platform from the get-go. As new and complex as virtual events are to planners, it’s just as tricky for audiences to learn the ropes of a digital context. Pay extra attention to the user experience and choose a UX-friendly virtual event platform. Look for a platform that’s easy to navigate. You can also take it one step forward by providing attendees with an FAQ section and small video tutorials on how to navigate the platform and its features. 

Make sure you book demos with several different platforms to test out how user-friendly they are. Vendors should offer live demos so you can judge how satisfactory the interface is. 

Software Demo - Audience Engagement-min

4. Sessions tracks

Let your audience choose their own adventure during the digital experience. You can do this by curating session tracks at your virtual conference that suggest specific sessions to attend based on their interests. 

Forbes UNDER 30 offered different tracks on several topics ranging from Art & Style to Finance. Attendees had the opportunity to select a specific track or jump between them to design their own experience.

Session Tracks - Audience Engagement-min

Source: Forbes

5. Virtual Suggestion Box 

Let the time leading up to your event be an opportunity for attendees to offer suggestions. 

Put a suggestion box on your website, or send a survey with room for suggestions via email. In our BizzaKnowledge Community, we offer customers the opportunity to suggest ideas for our product team. This gives our customers a voice, and brings fresh ideas to the table. 

Virtual Suggestion Box - Audience Enagement

6. Choose Shorter Sessions 

Attention spans with remote audiences largely differ from the ones expected from live experiences. 

In our 2021 Virtual Event Benchmarks, we pooled data from 1850 virtual events taking place from July 1, 2020 – October 31, 2020, and found that attendees watched 61% of a 60-minute session. This comes out to roughly 37-minutes. Considering people are watching from home with many distractions, this is a pretty good engagement length. Use this benchmark as a guide when determining the length of your sessions and fine tune your session lengths by looking at view rates for previous sessions. 

7. Design with Your Virtual Audience in Mind

As we move into the hybrid era, it’s important to keep this at the forefront of event planning. It’s going to be easy to focus on the in-person audience, but hybrid events need to engage two distinct audiences. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting virtual attendees!

Make sure that cameras are set up for a high-quality virtual experience, graphics are well branded, and don’t forget to incorporate the chat and Q&A from the virtual audience into the in-person experience! Leverage event technology and find a hybrid solution that will help you merge the two worlds.

How To Measure Audience Engagement

1. Opening/Closing Attendance Numbers 

Best For: Live, Virtual & Hybrid Events

The most fundamental form of attendee participation is showing up for the event. Find out how many people were present when the event started versus how many were still tuned in at the end. Record the number of people who arrive/login to the event once it starts and the number of people who are left once it ends. Having the same amount of people at the beginning and end of the day will signify that attendees were interested enough to stay for the entire program. 

2. Session Registration/ Attendee Retention

Best For: Live, Virtual & Hybrid Events 

In addition to event attendance, evaluating session registrations and attendance numbers can help you assess the content quality of your event. Are attendees registering for sessions? Which sessions are the most popular? Which sessions are the least popular? Are virtual attendees staying for the full length of the sessions, or are they leaving before the end?

Once you have the session registration numbers, you’ll want to compare them to session attendance numbers after the event. When using an ABM strategy, assessing whether or not your content is reaching your intended audience will help you continue engaging your most valuable customers and prospective customers.

Session Registration - Audience Engagement

3. Session Engagement/Speaker Interest/ Speaker Ratings 

Best For: Live, Virtual & Hybrid Events

These three metrics also help assess the performance of your event content. Do your session topics, speakers, and panels resonate with your intended audience? Are virtual attendees using the chat and poll features during the sessions and actively engaging with the speakers? Offer attendees a way to like the different pieces of event content so that you can track what was the most successful and what to reproduce in your next events.

Session Rating - Audience Engagement-min

4. Social Media Activity 

Best For: Live, Virtual & Hybrid Events 

How many people are posting about your event? Is the event hashtag trending? How many times is it being shared or retweeted? Asking these questions will help you understand how much social media activity is being generated from your event. Use a social media monitoring tool to keep track of all this activity and to paint an accurate picture of attendee engagement.

TINT is a great social media aggregator that keeps track of all your activity across platforms and displays them all in a real-time newsfeed. Tools like these will help you accurately gauge attendees’ engagement while also vibrantly displaying the activity.

Social Listening - Audience Engagement-min

Source: TINT

5. Event App Adoption 

Best For: Live & Hybrid Events

Is your event leveraging an event app to improve the attendee experience? If so, you’ll want to keep track of how many attendees are actually adopting it. On the one hand, downloading an event app is a simple task, but veteran event organizers will say that it requires a coordinated campaign to get attendees to click download—and then actually use the event app.

How effective is your organization’s event app adoption campaign? Measuring this can help you determine if your customers are getting adequate use of your event tech investment.

6. Event App Engagement 

Best For: Live & Hybrid Events

During the actual event, the event app will be the main source of engagement for attendees. Because so much of the event content will exist within the app, attendees should be taking full advantage of this resource and utilizing all of its features to maximize their event experience. Ideally, your event management software will have a dashboard with event analytics that describe the app performance and in what ways attendees are engaging with the app. In the following section, we’ll explore how specific app features can facilitate engagement.

7. Number of Community Members

Best For: Live, Virtual & Hybrid Events 

Community engagement is a great value add allowing attendees to nurture connections, and building long term event brand equity. The number of people involved and active in your event community is a great metric to track to see if your events networking efforts are a success. You can track over all members, or take it a step further measuring “Starred Connection” to see who within the community has found valuable connections.

Event Community - Audience Engagement

8. Number of Messages 

Best For: Live, Virtual & Hybrid Events 

Just like the event community, individual messages sent between attendees and sponsors via mobile will help you gauge the level of overall event engagement.

9. Surveys/Feedback 

Best For: Live, Virtual & Hybrid Events

There’s no better way to get a grasp on how engaging and successful your event was than to directly ask attendees. Once the experience comes to an end, send your audience an event survey with questions that will give you valuable insights into what went right and wrong so you know what to replicate and what to avoid at your next event.

10. Live Polling Response Rate 

Best For: Virtual & Hybrid Events

Polling is a powerful engagement tool, particularly where virtual events are concerned. The audience can share opinions and actively participate in sessions throughout the entire experience. These inputs are extremely valuable, and how much the attendees engaged in polling presents yet another opportunity to measure engagement.

7 Ways An Event Software Solution Can Improve Event Engagement

1. Direct Messaging/Chat 

One of the most common features of event software is for networking with other attendees. The more often attendees are messaging one another, the higher the event engagement rate. Make sure that attendees are aware of this feature well before the event start date so they can begin reaching out to people early on. 

Event Messaging - Audience Engagement-min

Source: Bizzabo

2. Push Notifications

Whereas direct messaging encourages interactions between attendees, push notifications are meant to increase engagement between organizers and the attendee. These messages are usually sent out to all attendees at the same time to inform them of a schedule change, offer a piece of content to complement a session, or disseminate other important information. Designing push notifications that solicit a response from attendees is a good way to increase their engagement level. This is particularly helpful for virtual events since the audience is surrounded by distractions and isn’t physically present in the event space – push notifications serve as great reminders!

Push Notifications - Audience Engagement-min

Source: Bizzabo

3. Personalized Agenda

Advanced event software will allow attendees to create their own schedule by starring the sessions that they would like to attend and suggest tracks with similar session topics. Assuming your event management software is capable, the platform should be able to track the number of times a particular session has been added to an attendee’s personal schedule, giving insight into which sessions were most popular.

Agenda Analytics - Audience Engagement-min

Source: Bizzabo

4. Session Reviews

One of the best ways to measure attendee engagement levels when it comes to sessions is to enable session reviews. Ideally, attendees should be able to review sessions in both numerical (i.e. rating of 1-5) and open-ended forms. This way, they are not limited to the kind of feedback they want to give. Gathering as much session feedback as possible will help to show a high level of attendee engagement.

Session Rating - Audience Engagement

Source: Bizzabo

5. Event Polls 

In addition to session ratings, polls allow event organizers to collect relevant data related to content performance, attendee satisfaction, and event engagement. Polls offer a structured way to collect data for different use cases including attendee communication preferences, event satisfaction, event engagement, and interest levels in a quantifiable way.

6. Live Q&A 

We already mentioned the importance of Q&A sessions through chat rooms, but it’s worth stressing. Allowing attendees to pose questions to the speakers and discuss amongst themselves is key to driving engagement, and the best event software will undoubtedly include this feature.

Event QA - Audience Engagement-min

7. Seamlessly Integrated App 

Event apps were a seamless way to collect data from live events, and assuming that your event software allows for full integration, this solution will be brilliant for hybrid events. Apps that are integrated with your software allow for the gap between audiences to be successfully bridged and foster networking and engagement between and within virtual and in-person attendees.

Key Takeaways: Your Audience Engagement Strategy

As a recap, here are some of the high-level points that we’ve discussed:

  • Understand what are your desired attendee personas and use them to determine the best engagement methods.
  • With hybrid events, remember to consider both audiences and how the engagement strategies will differ.
  • Build community that encourages engagement.
  • Leverage technology to foster engagement within virtual and hybrid spaces. 
  • Assign specific metrics to your engagement goals to quantify your efforts and use event technology to capture those metrics.
  • Adopt the right event software solution that offers important features to drive engagement. 

Event engagement is key to your event success that should be thoroughly measured and strategized. With virtual events cementing their place in the industry, and hybrid events on their way, it’s imperative that you continuously fine-tune your event strategy. Use this guide as a resource to craft your engagement strategy as you continue striving towards event success in 2021 and beyond.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 16, 2019, and has since been updated.

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