Planning6 Min Read

Engaging Sponsorship Activations: A Q&A with Socio CMO Corey McCarthy

On June 10, 2020, Socio Chief Marketing Officer, Corey McCarthy, joined Event Manager Blog editor Julius Solaris and other industry leaders for Engage. Below is an excerpt of Corey’s Q&A on Engaging Sponsorship Activations, as well as an additional Q&A on the Power of Community.

How can we engage sponsors in virtual events?

The best way to get attendees to engage with sponsors is to have multiple places where sponsors are seen across your event. This should start with event promotion and the community, and continue during and after the event wraps.

To spark engagement, make sure your sponsors are a part of the agenda. 

We’ve seen a lot of the sponsor engagement supported by event apps because they’re a tangible “thing” that sponsors and attendees can easily see. We’ve had clients tell us that keeping their event app during a virtual event helped save their sponsor revenue. In an event app, sponsors are given their own pages where they can link to nearly anything, including custom promo codes, gated landing pages for lead gen capture, or links to demos. In the app, there are multiple locations where attendees can book meetings with sponsors.

What are the best practices? What are the common pitfalls?            

Get your sponsors involved early. Invite them to a brainstorming session, have a list of the platforms you plan to use, and come up with a couple of ideas to get the creative process flowing.

Gaining sponsor buy-in early, and giving them skin in the game often leads to additional sponsorship revenue. When sponsors take ownership of their custom activation, they also tend to repeat it over multiple events or years, especially when you make it exclusive.

When it comes to sponsorship categories, I love Shawna Suckow’s framework that addresses sponsor motivation. Her theory includes five things sponsorships should accomplish:

  1. Branding: Think exposure and number of impressions from banners and other sponsor placement.
  2. Connections and leads generated: How are you going to get attendees to express interest in your sponsors, and how can you track it?
  3. Get product into the hands of people to demo: Building time into the agenda for attendees to see sponsor demos breaks up content and creates networking moments
  4. Creating Goodwill: Giving a sponsor the opportunity to match attendee donations to a charity creates a meaningful moment for sponsors to stand out. Let them present the initiative during your intro, drive donations and engagement through your event app, and let them announce the results at the end of the event.
  5. Obligation: This one is easy — they will sponsor because they have to for whatever reason.

Pitfalls – Many event organizers are having a hard time understanding and communicating the value of virtual events to their sponsors. 

Now that events are primarily digital, we think more like marketers when explaining sponsorship value. The good news is that we have the numbers to back it up. Here are some questions you should consider.

Exposure:

  • How many unique people are you reaching with your event promotions?
  • How many registrations do you expect?
  • How many attendees do you expect to have live?
  • How many on-demand sessions do you anticipate?
  • Where are you able to showcase their brand for awareness? 

Lead Generation:

  • What platform will you evoke to generate leads? 
  • What will you do to evoke sponsor engagement?

Post Event:

  • Post event exposure – how many people will sponsors reach in your post-event follow-up?

Can you tell us of some examples of cool sponsorship activations?

  • Business Rules for Women got creative and added a virtual marketplace where vendors could give live product demos — just like the QVC home shopping network. Attendees could tune in at any point during the event and interact face to face with vendors. To keep the excitement going all day, they promoted hourly giveaways with push notifications.
  • BRFW also offered a sponsored “swag bag” with promo codes for special offers from each vendor. 
  • During the event, they mixed up the format and used sponsored commercials to make the transitions between sessions smooth.
  • We’ve seen sponsored yoga sessions in the morning, before the official content starts
  • Sponsored cocktail parties where attendees receive a package with all of the items for a mixology class, or some other type of fun, “on-brand” activity.

There are more ideas where these came from. We recently published our sponsor manifesto that lives on the Socio blog.

The Power of Community

What is the role of communities in fostering more engagement?

Right now, communities allow event organizers to break up the long-form content that extends over many days in a live event. With Zoom fatigue, getting people to engage with your content for a full week is a big ask. To break up content that would normally be presented during a live event, communities allow organizers to stretch presentations over a longer time period that fits today’s audience schedules, and allows attendees to access on-demand streaming to consume content when they choose. When you’re running a school, day care, and your full-time job, this flexibility is an attendee benefit that will go a long way toward enhancing your event experience.

With typical events, there’s an official start and end time. You can do many different things to engage your audience, but when the event wraps or the webinar screen goes dark — that’s it. It can leave attendees feeling deflated, especially after a powerful session. 

Communities continue to build excitement for your live sessions and prolong enthusiasm by giving attendees a destination to connect with other attendees, and discuss the content they’ve just experienced. 

Due to the unlimited nature of communities, event organizers have unlimited engagement opportunities with the attendees they’ve worked so hard to attract throughout the year. 

Seeing that there is a built-in membership base from your existing events, engagement can come from a mix of different strategies. It can be simple, like sharing your latest blog post or white paper; or more engaging like hosting a networking event, encouraging members to compete in challenges (gamification), or respond to polls and surveys. 

What’s nice about the community concept is that members have the freedom to engage on their own terms. They can participate in discussions on the community social walls, network, message other members, start group discussions, and interact with sponsors.

Giving sponsors access to your community is also a great way to extend paid opportunities and generate consistent revenue throughout the year. The increased exposure and duration will also make it easier for sponsors to justify the expense up the food chain.

Ultimately, communities become the holistic hub for like-minded people, and provide a consistent resource for year-round activity.

How can we make attendees feel they are part of a community?

Attendees become “members,” and as members, they’re going to want to see others in the community. This is easy to accomplish by providing “social walls,” where members can pose questions, share expertise … or token photos of their pets. After sparking a conversation, members have the opportunity to request a “connection” to share contact information and take their chats 1:1. Members can also schedule meetings with one another — all opt in with approvals, of course.

Inviting members to curated networking events is another way to establish a sense of community. One of our clients hosted a virtual cocktail party the night before their event and asked attendees to dress as though they were going out on the town. They asked attendees to post their pics on the community wall, which gave other community members the opportunity to put a face to the name, and get to know one another beyond the static headshots in our social profiles and Zoom squares. 

The great thing about communities is they’re completely opt-in, meaning your attendees choose to be a member of the group. This level of self-curation gives other community members the feeling of belonging because everyone is interested in the same subject matter, and have likely chosen to be there for the same reasons.

This common ground makes it easier to provide meaningful engagement. But the members joined your community for a reason, so organizers have to make it worth their while. 

Keeping communities active takes some strategy. For instance, you can’t constantly bombard your members with information. You have to find that right balance to maintain their interest and participation, all while keeping the experience authentic and not feeling like your branded sandbox. 

The key is making communication and interaction a two-way street. Getting members to organically post with consistency and frequency might take some encouragement in the beginning. To get things moving, I recommend reaching out to your best clients and industry influencers and asking them to jump in as early thought leaders.

What are the tech considerations to make community happen?

Always start with your strategy. What are your goals? What are you looking to accomplish? When you think of strategy first, the platform and features you need will become very clear. 

There are a few “no matter what” features I would assess when you’re looking at community tech. The most important will be the engagement features. 

A community platform without robust member engagement is really just a message board that tends to fizzle quickly. Key features you need to engage your audience are polling, Q&A, and gamification. You’ll also want members to be able to network, connect, chat, and share contact information. 

Picking a platform that integrates with you existing event tech is also very important. The last thing you want is to have multiple apps that attendees or members have to download and toggle between. 

The other consideration I would take into account is the ability to use the tech in hybrid and live events — not just virtual. We’re all spending a lot of time on tech research right now, so make sure you’re picking platforms that will grow with you, and have the flexibility to help you easily move between virtual, hybrid and live settings.

Where does your community live?

If you already have an event app and registration system that houses all of your attendee profiles, it makes the most sense to have it live there. From an attendee experience and event management perspective, this makes life easy all the way around.

Since your community should be an extension of your events, choosing an event platform that includes community functionality provides an optimal user experience, removes the necessity to download multiple apps, and makes less work on your end. 

Corey McCarthy
Corey McCarthy
Award-winning B2B and B2C marketing executive. Fueled by chocolate chip cookies. Signature catchphrases include "Watch this" and "I got you."