The Digital Pivot: A Learning Approach to Driving Audience Engagement

Executive Summary

Whether we like it or not, the “new normal” world has forced us deeper into virtual communications. Social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and various states of emergency have forced many businesses to completely rethink the ways in which they interact, communicate, and promote their products and services both internally and externally.

As the physical distance between us grows further apart, we need to find ways to bring ourselves closer together with the intelligent, clever use of technology. Very quickly, we’re learning that digital planning and virtual continuity is key to sustaining the relationships that are the lifeblood of our work.

These new realities become even more apparent as we look at the unraveling world of meetings and events. Even before the COVID-19 response, companies were investigating new technologies that could blend into existing live events to create richer, more meaningful experiences for their audiences.

Ultimately, we’ve identified some key instructional design and learning development strategies that may be applied to the meetings and events industry, creating a brand-new approach that optimizes audience engagement.

Early trending data in 2020 pointed to the following key areas of growth and development in the digital landscape:

Live Streaming
Facebook users comment 10 times more on live videos than on regular videos, with other social media apps like Instagram, Twitter and YouTube showing similar results. In a survey by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, 44% of the respondents stated that they watch more live-streamed events on their devices than live TV.

Synchronous Web Meetings
Across the board, video conferencing platforms are reporting unprecedented growth in usage. Pexip has seen 200% growth in cumulative usage over the past month, with peak usage surging to nearly six times the peak in January. Similarly, BlueJeans has seen three times global usage growth, and Fuze has seen an increase in meetings by 251% over the past few weeks. Communication device vendors like Poly and Logitech are seeing a spike in demand too. Neat, which entered the market in late 2019 with a portfolio of meeting room devices designed exclusively for Zoom, has been inundated with orders/inquiries.

P2P Virtual Campaigns
Virtual Peer-to-Peer fundraising grows as wearable fitness tracking device usage increases, and campaign supporters realize they virtually participate in their own time from wherever they may be.

Attendee Tracking and Data Analytics
Perhaps the most important advantage of virtual events is the ability to track leads, quantitatively measure event performance, and gauge event ROI down to the most basic statistics. Attendee tracking and data analytics at events is rapidly accelerating due to the decreasing cost of using RFID and NFC, combined with an increase of on-demand content consumption.

Hyper-Personalization Creates Deeper Human Connections
Event marketers will continue to refine customized experiences for event attendees. In particular, companies will showcase their ability to turn visitors’ interests into personalized content after attended events. Administrative data collected at the event can show which user engaged with which content, creating an easy way to share relevant material with them during follow-up. As this follow-up strategy furnishes higher value Call-to-Actions given that the material is relevant to the audience, they will be relied on heavily. In addition to tracking behavior at virtual events, event hosts can conduct polls, surveys, and capture detailed information at registration to gather enough insights about their attendees for a customized follow-up strategy.

Engagement Success Factors: Fostering a Sustainable, Learner-Centric Model

As multiple communication scenarios play out right before our eyes, it’s clear that every service organization has a great opportunity to add new value for their clients in the area of digital communications.

The key to future success will rely upon the proper planning and execution, allowing businesses a blended approach for creating engaging audience experiences in a meaningful, sustainable manner.

Much can be gained from taking a cue from the learning and performance models already prevalent in the world of talent optimization.

In a Learner Engagement Model, a strategy is built around key program objectives aligned with how the learner will be able to interact with various aspects of the program. The program design considers the following interactions:

Learner to Facilitator— The time and types of interactions that will occur between the host and each individual audience member

Learner to Content—The time and types of interactions required to engage the learner with various components of program content

Learner to Learner—the time and types of interactions between the participants themselves

Learner to Self—The time and types of interactions required for personal reflection, application of learning, notes, journaling, and questions regarding their experiences throughout the program

Within this Learner Engagement Model, a program may be designed that moves learning away from the traditional linear approach into a dynamic, non-linear experience. This means finding ways to engage with your audience prior to the event, during the event, and even after the event has taken place in a cycle of continuous communication and engagement.

Using a blend of innovative technology, social media and intelligent instructional design, every touchpoint in the audience experience becomes an opportunity to excite, engage and encourage learning along the way, while building and maintaining deeper relationships with your target markets.

Digital Engagement Strategy Best Practices

As you re-engineer your digital communications strategies, here are a few best practices to follow:

Take a Blended Approach to Smart Design
As you jump into virtual events, know that your virtual event strategy is not going to be 100% the same as your live event strategy. Adjusting your plan for virtual events opens up newly blended, virtual possibilities that you must consider before moving forward.

Focus on these four key areas when designing your blended program:

  1. Ease-of-Use Technology

  2. Strong Program Design

    a. Pre-Event Engagement

    b. Day-Of Activities

    c. Post-Event Connection and Communication

  3. Hosting and Moderation

  4. Robust Communication Support

Add to your Audience
Once your goals are firmly in place, think about your audience — that target is highly likely to change when you’re putting on a virtual event, simply because you have the ability to expand your reach beyond the confines of geography. And that expanded audience isn’t just about reach — it also allows for more targeted, personalized messaging.

Consider adding other personas, industries, or more to your marketing list to expand that net even farther. Community is more important than ever before, and yours may be wider than you once thought.

Inject Fun and Personality
Having a great moderator or emcee is critical for translating live events to the virtual space. It can be too easy for things to go off the rails, especially in a new format — let alone having to work around potential connectivity issues, technology glitches, or any other surprises. That’s why having someone calm, engaging, and knowledgeable steering the conversations and providing transitions between elements is so important.

They can be the central guiding voice throughout the event that gives out important information, introduces new speakers, makes announcements, and more. Having the perfect personality in charge helps bring life to your event, helping attendees get more engaged and moving away from a scripted look and feel.

Make It Multi-Faceted
You might think that having a captive virtual audience is the perfect opportunity to dive into a topic for a few hours at a time — but think again. It’s even more vital to break up virtual event content into manageable chunks so that you don’t lose attendee attention and participation.

Consider offering content in 10-15 minute sections for ideal engagement. Between those sections, the content can be broken up by interactive opportunities such as Q&A, polls, or prize drawings. This helps attendees fully digest the content without feeling overwhelmed from a distance. Opportunities for networking can also be added between sessions to keep people engaged with one another as well as the content.

Get the Audience Involved
Virtual events can be just as rich with inspiration and education as a face-to-face experience, but when people are working from their own spaces, it can be harder than ever to keep distractions to a minimum.

That’s why adding interactivity to virtual events is an absolute must to foster engagement and keep attention.

Reach out with any ideas, needs, and questions. We look forward to learning more about you.