Boosting remote engagement at integrated events
Gregory Crandall
Senior Vice President, Global Activation Team

The MICE industry is already on the path of integrated events which seek to equalise the experience between their online and offline audiences. Increasingly, it means that engaging an online audience will no longer be secondary; it will be as much a key to success (or more) as impacting the in-venue audience.

As any experienced event planner knows, there are real challenges involved when boosting online audience engagement:

  • How do you make online participation compact and worthwhile?
  • How do you bring the electricity and immediacy of the in-person experience to audience members that are physically absent from it?
  • How do you build connections between online and in-venue audiences?
  • In the long run, how do you make the online experience similar but ‘equal’ in value to the live experience?

Answers to these and other questions about integrated events have only just begun to be explored by event planners. But some recent brand activations and events have come up with good solutions on drawing remote audiences into the thick of the action:

Offer unique pre-event engagement opportunities to create ‘stickiness’
An online ecosystem of event-themed games, activities, resources and content-sharing platforms in the run-up to the event (and continuing through and even after) will raise the event’s profile while pre-building an audience community. Whether the members will go on to attend the event in person or choose to attend remotely, they can still share their experiences via the online audience community.

The Coca-Cola’s Play Nation platform was a clever way the beverage giant addressed the Tokyo Olympics’ strict limitations on live spectators. Designed for the local market, Play Nation featured mobile-exclusive games such as a virtual torch relay, a paper crane hunt, and a baseball pitching game, each designed around brand attributes to both get users into the Olympic spirit, to share with family and friends, and foster engagement with the Coke brand. The system allowed users to earn points, level up, enjoy rewards and drive purchases. All the activities supported safe distancing.

A recent Pico-facilitated Midea event used similar tactics: the brand used a pop-up store with an ‘Escape Room’ game in a popular Chengdu shopping centre to burnish its brand image among young and trendy consumers. Well before the pop-up’s appearance, audiences engaged with the brand via an online game on a WeChat H5 page, as well as KOLs from tech, gaming and other popular channels. This created an Escape Room fan community, ready to experience the offline pop-up’s various activities. During the livestreamed operation of the actual Escape Room, KOLs enabled the online audience to interact with Escape Room users by voting on their actions.

The whole event gained over 150 million impressions; over 90% of participants said they ‘liked’ or ‘extremely liked’ the overall event design.

‘Compensate’ the online audience with exclusives
Inevitably, online participants will always feel some degree of remoteness or disconnectedness from the ‘full’ live experience. But ‘different’ does not have to mean ‘lesser value’. What online audiences lose in immediacy and sensation, they can gain with access to exclusive content.

Airbnb brought a huge online audience to its brand through a unique partnership with the International Olympic Committee. The big draw was an exclusive interactive platform that offered Airbnb guests access to more than 200 ‘Olympian and Paralympian Online Experiences’ – and even opportunities to connect directly with competing and retired athletes during the Games. The platform helped initiate entrepreneurship or brand-building for athletes while offering a truly once in a lifetime experience for guests.

Technologies such as multi-camera replay systems, 2D image tracking, 3D athlete tracking and biometric data displays offered storytelling from a god-like perspective feasible only for remote viewing. By taking advantage of technologies, online audiences could engage in events with a level of detail unavailable to the in-venue audience.

Give the online audience a form of offline presence
Remote audience members will feel they are sharing a live experience when they can make an impact on it. Currently, this can be achieved by accompanying an event livestream with live polls or providing live comment boxes – and live responses from the in-venue host. But what if this was used to drive or impact the experience’s whole content direction?

The recent Olympics which deploy innovative new ‘virtual fan’ solution has given us some pointers. Big screens at Olympic venues were harnessed by the Share the Passion campaign to enable fans from around the world to display their text and video messages of support to the athletes. The same campaign also brought the feel of a live audience to otherwise empty stadiums. Another initiative, the Athlete Moment, provided event winners with a way to interact with loved ones within seconds of their victories at specially placed video call booths.

With online audiences becoming more and more crucial to the success of live events of all kinds, integrated experiences will soon become an industry norm. Now is the time for planners to engage in the kind of innovative thinking that helped make online audiences feel like they were participants, not mere onlookers.

The article above was first published in Conference & Meetings World on 22 October 2021.