Technology5 Min Read

Designing Virtual Experiences: A Q&A With Socio CMO Corey McCarthy

On April 30, Socio Chief Marketing Officer, Corey McCarthy, joined Event Manager Blog editor Julius Solaris and other industry leaders for the Managing the Virtual Experience webinar. Below is an excerpt of Corey’s Q&A where she shared tips on designing virtual event experiences.

What event app features should planners look out for that will make virtual experiences better?

One of the most overlooked features is the ability to customize app experiences. No matter which features an app has, what really sets good virtual tech apart is the ability to customize everything — like icons that fit your company’s branding, how you showcase your sponsors, and little details like the ability to change what a button says, layer in your company colors, or create a custom game unique to your event. All of these things will separate your event and the technology you choose from the rest of the pack.

Just like customization, flexibility is another important factor you’ll want from an event app. Finding a platform that plays well with other systems is incredibly important right now for blending all of your virtual event tech pieces together.

For example, every event at the moment has a live streaming aspect, and more than likely a few other tech pieces that will all need to work together seamlessly behind the scenes. Your app needs to include the right integrations to pull it all together.

The other way you’ll need your event app to flex is by giving your attendees the ability to toggle between devices. Sending a streaming link from your phone to desktop browser is a must and goes a long way toward removing little points of friction, creating a better attendee experience.

Push Notifications: To keep the event moving, push notifications help remind attendees about  upcoming sessions via alerts or other messages sent to their phone. For remote attendees who might get distracted at home, notifications can be used to promote sponsors, send surveys, or other important messages about the event.

Sponsor Visibility: This is another critical detail you’ll want from your event app. You’ll want to see a number of ways to customize sponsorship opportunities so you can best suit the needs of your vendors. We recently helped a client with a virtual event who had a personal trainer reach out about sponsorship opportunities. Instead of adding the sponsor’s name to a banner ad or splash page, they set up a live stream and the sponsor led a virtual workout. It created a more personalized experience and the sponsor received attendee data for everyone who participated (Think leads!)

Community Features: Once you’ve built your app and invited all of your attendees, you have a curated group of like-minded people that likely want to stay connected after the event ends. The Community feature keeps the conversation and engagement going indefinitely and gives event organizers the ability to break up big or complex events into smaller pieces. Transitioning your app to a community allows you to keep in touch with attendees frequently and an excuse to get together more often than a singular event.

Networking and gamification are also big features you should look for in an event app.

App adoption at events often benefits from having people onsite to help with downloading, instruction, and general onboarding. How do you recommend virtual event organizers facilitate high adoption for virtual events?

When you host a virtual event — your app becomes a major character in your event. It’s the hub where everything is stored, and how you communicate with your attendees and sponsors. Everything should be in there —  agendas, live streaming links, networking opportunities, etc. 

We recently helped a client pivot to a virtual event where they saw 100% app adoption because attendees had to download the app to access the event, and they did a lot of fun things to support app adoption. 

The night before their event, they held a fun kick-off happy hour (as you would for a live event) where they asked their attendees to dress their best (rare in quarantine). After setting expectations for the event the next day, they encouraged every attendee to take a selfie and post it on the app’s social feed. Everyone loved it! It was a creative way to spark networking and engagement before the event even started, and ensured everybody had registered in the app and was comfortable using it. Most importantly, it was fun and set the tone for the rest of the event.

Other ways we’ve seen event organizers inspire adoption is to:

  • Use the app as their centralized communication platform for the event
  • House the agenda and links to live streams
  • Make VIP content or special events/networking sessions available to only those who have downloaded the app

This is where event planners get to be creative in new ways.

Should event organizers prioritize event apps with browser-based desktop versions?

Yes. Having attendees connecting on multiple platforms is especially important for virtual events, and even more so for all-day or multi-day events. Nobody wants to sit and stare at a phone all day. It’s just not a great user experience, especially for live streaming. And on the flip side, being tied to your computer for an extended period of time isn’t a great selling point either.

The best virtual experiences are a mix of mobile and desktop. Think of it like this: Your desktop is your TV, and your mobile event app is the remote control.

You can find the stations on your remote and send it to your desktop where you can watch and interact or just watch the content while interacting on your phone.

This way, you get to view live streaming on a larger screen (and don’t have to hold your phone all day) and you can use the mobile app to research speaker bios, network, chat with other attendees, curate your personal agenda, and pose questions on the Q&A boards.

Here are some pros and cons of having just a desktop app or just a mobile app: 

Desktop Only: 

Pro: Can launch streaming from the desktop on the desktop.

Con: Becomes a distraction if users are toggling between screens. You start to risk losing the attention of your audience if they toggle too far or get in the habit of jumping off the video screen.

Mobile Only: 

Pro: You can stream from anywhere. Great for voting, polls, and Q&A

Con: Provides a less-than-ideal option for streaming video over long periods. One of the features I think is cool is Socio’s ability to send a streaming link from the mobile app to the desktop browser. This is definitely something that you should look for in any app.

Ideal:

Blended experience: A video wrapped with the branded app creates an amazing experience on a desktop and mobile as a supplement. While watching on the screen, attendees can interact with other attendees or your event content on their phones, which goes a long way toward keeping them completely immersed in your event experience.

What is the best way to use an event app to enhance engagement in a virtual event?

I think that the virtual cocktail party I mentioned earlier was a great way to get engagement going in the app. Attendees were encouraged to post pictures, which was an excellent ice breaker that got everyone talking.

Once attendees were in the app, they were able to visit a “swag” section where they could interact directly with sponsors. This translated into some amazing sponsor exposure — and ultimately sales.

Attendees were also able to “Choose their own adventure” by creating a personalized schedule of breakout sessions, and schedule 1:1 meetings with cool and unexpected people like the finance coach that was on hand.

They did an amazing job of maxing out virtual engagement and their app is one of our new favorites to take inspiration from.

We’ve seen a lot of events do a great job with gamification by using app leaderboards to get people connecting and competitive.

When you strip it all away, it’s still up to the organizers to create excitement and engagement. The app is HOW you can make it happen virtually.

Can you talk a little bit about how event apps can enhance networking during a virtual event?

Again, a lot of the creativity is in the hands of the event planners. Think of an app as the central hub of your event, and then walk through the experience from the eyes of your attendee. Here is what they might expect.

Virtually, it starts with the in-app attendee profiles: Once attendees download the app, it should be easy to create a profile with as little or as much information as they care to share. After uploading their own profiles, attendees can search for and connect with other attendees by sending connection requests, exchanging private messages, and scheduling 1:1 meetings. 

From there, attendees will likely explore further to check out the agenda, speakers, sponsors, and the social “walls” or community chat features. 

Social wall: These act like your event’s private social feed where attendees can meet, post pictures, add comments, and like discussion threads — all within the wall. If there’s a great conversation happening, attendees can connect and take the conversation 1:1 within the app.

What’s cool about Social Walls is the ability to segment attendees by function, company, industry segment, or any other breakout that would make for more targeted conversations and networking. This feature is helpful with large-scale events that would overwhelm a single community wall.

Shake to Connect: One of the cool things we took into the virtual version of our app is the Shake to Connect feature. When prompted in a session, attendees can instantly connect with others at your event simply by shaking their phones. With handshakes likely going extinct for the time being, this feature adds a fun way to virtually shake hands. And when we do get back to in-person meetings, it will help keep us all safe for a while.

Push notifications: Think of these like your virtual conference shepherd. You can push real-time messages and reminders to your attendees. Rather than making an announcement in a session, send out a notification asking attendees to shake their phones. Or, send a reminder about the virtual happy hour or meet-up coming up. This is a great way to bring people back to the app to keep networking flowing.

The virtual event I mentioned earlier sent a push notification after their happy hour reminding attendees to share their dressed-up selfies on the app’s social wall, which kept the conversation going after the happy hour ended

We’re all looking for human connection and a sense of normalcy. Event planners have the opportunity to deliver this as a part of our new virtual experience — even if it’s little things like asking people to get dressed up.  

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."