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OPINION

Guest Column: How to Engage With Attendees Long After an Event Is Over

Event apps that focus on building relationships—rather than only containing transactional information—extend the life of the event.

By Mark Sawyier January 10, 2017, 7:00 AM EST

Getting event attendees to connect with each other should be a key goal of any event—like this picnic lunch break at the 2016 TED Conference.

Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Mark Sawyier (@marksawyier) is co-founder and C.E.O. of Bonfyre, a tech company that provides employee engagement apps and programs.

Think about the most memorable event you’ve attended. You were probably excited beforehand, eagerly chatting with friends about the details. Afterward, you couldn’t wait to swap photos and experiences. Those are the hallmarks of a wildly successful event.

Corporate events are big investments of time and money that last a few days (at most) because time is at a premium for participants. That’s why the best way to ensure a solid return on your event investment is to think beyond planning the in-person, live experience and engage attendees before, during, and after the experience.

Given the importance of in-person interaction in building and maintaining relationships, your company is smart to make these investments. But event apps that focus on transactional (and often gimmicky) guest engagement often ignore what matters most: guest interaction.

Personalized agendas, speaker bios, sponsor lists, and more are important elements of any event app, but the highest-priority feature is high-volume, high-quality guest communication. Through communication before, during, and after the event, event apps that focus on relationships extend guest engagement with the experience—the most important kind of return.

Here are three ways you can use a social engagement app to stimulate guest interaction and propel your event to success.

1. Inspire event enthusiasm early on.
Build momentum and excitement ahead of the event with ideas such as:

• Photo contests to help guests build camaraderie
• Trivia games to support destination education and friendly competition
• Guests’ questions and your answers, instantly accessible to everyone
• “Ask me anything” sessions with speakers or leadership
• Announcements to keep everyone informed about important updates

When Southwest Airlines wanted to create hype around its charity golf tournament, it used the Bonfyre app to send important event details to attendees. The experience of being part of a digital community created instant social rapport, with many guests sharing messages and photos to express their excitement about the event before they ever arrived at the venue.

2. Keep momentum rolling.
What percentage of your guests are tweeting your event’s hashtag? Getting attendees excited and interacting through a dedicated app for the event is much easier than persuading them to participate on social media. According to one report, attendees find app communication features more useful than receiving updates via social media posts or sharing content with hashtags.

Digital communication is one of the most important ways people engage with one another, so having a dedicated space for guests to privately chat and share photos and videos in real time is essential. Think of all the impromptu meet-ups—like a group going for a walk or early morning workout—and how much more inclusive they become when digital communication makes it so easy to invite others and make new connections.

In our experience, strong connections also form around shared interests, making app-based photo contests and group discussions invaluable networking tools. What’s more, an event app that provides a virtual place where guests can pose questions to event speakers or to one another boosts the interactive element even further.

What’s the big R.O.I.? At Southwest’s golf tournament, real-time instant messaging built camaraderie and drove friendly competition, with 137 attendees posting more than 500 pieces of content in almost 4,000 separate social interactions. That’s true, measurable engagement and exactly the kind of return event organizers dream about.

3. Extend the experience.
Engagement shouldn’t end when the last person walks out the door; you need to continue the conversation. Creating an evergreen digital community around your event that allows attendees to post photos from the event or share stories of how they later applied what was learned. To keep that experience top of mind, follow up with them via surveys through the app.

In January, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation leveraged a social engagement app’s event-enhanced capabilities for its Volunteer Leadership conference. During the event, 80 percent of attendees posted a chat, photo, or video, and volunteers and employees engaged around key organizational issues and shared their love for the foundation’s mission and values.

Incredibly, seven months after the event, 77 percent of guests who accessed the event app were still communicating with one another. Even 11 months after the event, 60 percent of guests accessing the app are still chatting and sharing photos. Moreover, the foundation continues to use the community it created for ongoing collaboration, employee recognition, sharing success stories, and even helping complete critical fundraising activities for the organization.

Thoughtfully executed, engagement-driving tools can do more than help achieve short-term event goals; they can also extend your community, knowledge, and support well into the future—and such enduring benefits are the very definition of strong R.O.I.

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