One of the greatest aspects of conferences is the offline events that help create online conversations. When I am working with organizations that are planning conferences, I continue to remind them that even though they are focused on the offline event and making it successful, do not neglect the online aspect of the event and how that can impact the experience of virtual and actual attendees. When creating the online experience for the conference we want to make sure the online experience enhances the experience of users at the conference as well as creates a great experience for users that are participating online only. This starts with four key areas, the web experience, the social experience, the mobile experience and the streaming experience. Web Experience - The web experience should be one that is:
- Easy to use - The website should be easy to use, load quickly and have a great layout. Build the website to suit the user, not the organization. The organization creates and populates the website, the users actually depend on and use it.
Informational - The website should be informational, make it a destination of information. Key pages are speakers, schedule, topics, location, travel accommodations and more.
Interactive - The website should be interactive, providing features that keep potential attendees coming back. Interactive features can be social (interactive Twitter feed, interactive Instagram feed, social sharing links) and they can be informative such as a news feed of latest conference updates. Keep users interested in your conference website by providing interactive features that encourage them to interact and share your conference website.
Social Experience - The social experience is key to creating an interactive online audience, here are some key things to consider:
- Choose Key Social Media Networks - When you are looking at which networks you want to promote your conference on, you want to make sure you choose networks that your audience already uses. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are ones that most organizations use often for adult audiences. When it comes to a younger demographic they may forego Facebook for Vine or Snapchat. Make sure if you choose multiple networks that you have adequate staff to push updated consistent content on these networks as well as interact with people in a timely manner.
Choose a Great Hashtag - A great hashtag can make or break the online aspect of a conference. If the hashtag is difficult to type and difficult to remember, the attendees won’t use it and it won’t gain traction. Without key traction, it makes the online aspect of the conference much more difficult to measure and promote. Choose a hashtag that is close to the title of the conference, a clever short acronym of the conference or a consistent overarching theme of the conference that users can type quickly, share easily and remember.
Encourage and Facilitate Interactions - Sharing features on your website are a great start to facilitating social interactions about the conference. Giving people a way to share your website as well as pre-populating posts with text and hashtags can help people share with the simple click of a button. Additionally, when people are having conversations using the conference hashtag, interact with them from the official conference account. Retweet them and talk with them about the conference, encourage them to share and make them feel like someone is listening to their excitement about this event. Don’t forget to ask that speakers and presenters at the conference use the hashtag and share the event with their online audiences as well.
Mobile Experience - Staying connected on the go is key to conference attendees these days.
- The website needs to be “responsive design” so that it can be viewed on the go. Users are not sitting at desks and laptops that often at conferences but they are carrying around mobile devices often. Make sure your conference website is accessible and loads quickly on mobile devices.
A Conference app is better than a mobile website - An even better option than a mobile website is a mobile app. Conference attendees are much more likely to download your conference app then go to your mobile website. This app gives the organization a much better connection to their users by using features such as push notification, real time updates and continued access after the event since the app is still installed on their device. Make sure your app has all the key pages from your website as well as social interactive features and mobile streaming.
Streaming Experience - Watching the conference live stream can one of the most engaging aspects of the online experience.
- Make video streaming adaptive - Adaptive streaming means the video will adjust to the internet connection speed of the device. Whether the user is on a mobile device with a slower connection or a desktop with high speed broadband, the stream will adapt to their connection and give them the best viewing experience.
Make the video HTML5 compatible - HTML5 compatible video works on any device and the best experience for the user is to make the video compatible on the device they choose.
Make desktop streaming interactive - Whether it’s an online live chat, a live interactive twitter feed or a sharing button to promote the stream on social networks, make sure the desktop stream is interactive. There are a variety of options that can be added to the desktop streaming experience that can enhance it and increase engagement.
Make Access Easy - I can’t stress this enough, make access to your conference’s online properties easy. Users want a seamless online experience or one very close to it. One of the most important aspects of the online experience is to promote it from offline venues. If there is a main stage or traditional marketing materials (goodie bags, flyers, etc.) that are given to attendees, make sure to inform them of the online aspects of the conference and ask them to “Stay Connected with us Online” and let them know how (hashtag, mobile app, social networks, and more).