University events almost always have a networking component to them. At alumni events, classmates are reconnecting after years of being apart. During open house days, prospective students are eager to make a connection with a current student. Parents might want to speak with faculty members or administrators.
Technology has helped us improve communication at events. Social media has made it easier than ever before to connect and maintain connections. The problem Amanda Hatcher, associate director of the Cornell Entrepreneur Network, was trying to solve is simple:
How can we help attendees physically connect with one another at an event?
When attendees show up at these events we want to help them connect with the people they are there to see. That would be a successful event. A virtual check-in solves this problem while enhancing the registration experience. With a virtual check-in, visitors will be able to see who has arrived by tuning in to a hashtag with, what else, selfies.
THE PROBLEM WITH EVENTS THESE DAYS
Let’s take an alumni event from the Cornell Entrepreneur Network (CEN) as our case study. If you are staffing the registration table at these events you often get asked, “Is [insert attendee name] here?” It’s an especially common question at these events, because classmates don’t always recognize each other years after graduation. For CEN events, people are looking to connect based on information they’ve gathered from public attendee lists.
“We publicize who is attending and who they are (company, job title, why they are coming). Our attendees really take time in advance to go over that information so they can make the most impactful connections possible at the event,” says Hatcher.
Providing attendee lists prior to the event is a great first step in fostering in-person connections. The only problem remaining at the event itself is knowing what these individuals look like and if they have in fact arrived for the event. On the host end, looking up who has checked in on registration lists is time consuming, especially at large events. And, even if the person has checked in, it’s hard to describe what the person looks like… “er, they’re wearing red.”
Photos aren’t unusual at alumni events, but they aren’t always shared with a purpose. With a virtual check-in hosts are giving event photos a purpose and avoiding delays at registration, not to mention the awkward meet and greets where everyone labors to read each other’s names printed tags.
CONNECTING ONLINE AND IN PERSON
When attendees of the 2015 Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit arrived at the Times Center in New York City, they were directed to a registration table where they received their standard name tag and event swag. From there, attendees were directed to a virtual check-in station – complete with event staff and large monitors displaying the social media feed for the event.
CEN staff took photos of each attendee as they arrived. These photos were posted to the Cornell Entrepreneurship social channels (Twitter and Instagram) using the event hashtag (#CUSummit) and hashtags to signify their industry expertise, (i.e. #startups #fooddistribution, etc.)
— ESHIPatCORNELL (@eshipatcornell) November 6, 2015
There are specific event apps, and sure, anyone can take their own selfie and hashtag it, but what we love about the CEN version of a virtual check-in is no apps needed to be downloaded in advance of the event and they were posting directly from Cornell handles, which allowed them to broadcast the virtual check-in to all of their followers. Using Twitter and Instagram as the primary tools, attendees could view the content later from their phones just by searching the event hashtag – again no special event app download necessarily.
“Budget and ease of use were big factors when trying to solve our problem of connecting people. Sure, there are platforms out there that may do something similar, but spending money on this wasn’t an option,” says Hatcher, “And I didn’t want attendees to have to download an app and have to learn a new tool. I wanted it to be easy!”
The images displayed on a monitor in the registration area using Tagboard, which aggregated all of the tagged content from the event. These monitors were also positioned throughout the event space making it easy for attendees to reference and reminding them that this resource was available during networking breaks.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
The reaction to the virtual check-in was very positive. CEN attendees were excited and eager to participate. Crowds formed around the monitors displaying the feed. Attendees even raved about it in a post-event survey.
What happens after the event? Well, now we have a bit of a content problem. Loads of attendee photos without a home. Don’t let your social media fly around disconnected from your ongoing content strategy. Virtual check-in photos make great photo albums for your Facebook and Flickr accounts. You can use links to these albums in post-event communications. CEN also recorded the areas of expertise that each attendee self-identified to help tailor communication and event offers to this group in the future.