The impacts of COVID-19 have caused many associations to modify prescheduled events, including one of AH's client partners, the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses SocietyTM (WOCN®).
After following the spread of COVID-19 and monitoring information provided by the CDC and WHO to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of WOCNext 2020 attendees, event speakers, exhibitors, and staff, Society leadership made the difficult decision to transition their in-person event to a reimagined, online-only experience—a significant undertaking for an event that was already underway.
“After making the announcement about the event going virtual, we basically had to shut everything down and start fresh,” said Brooke Passy, CMP, DES, WOCN Meeting Manager. “We set milestones to get it all done and stay on track. We gave ourselves between 10 days and two weeks to change the program, redo the registration process, and more.”
Event planning amid COVID-19 shut many aspects down, starting with digital marketing efforts, which had already launched for the in-person event. “We had to pause everything that we were doing digitally,” Megan C. Ramirez, WOCN’s Director of Marketing and Communications said. “As we monitored the event space and the situation surrounding COVID-19, we had to be mindful of our verbiage and how we were positioning our communications about the event, since we didn’t know whether it would take place in-person or virtually. Once we made that decision to go virtual, we had to come up with a new communications plan and shift gears quickly to make our audience aware of the changes that were being made.”
With the announcement released and the marketing revised to fit the virtual program, the WOCN team needed to plan out how to make WOCNext 2020 Reimagined an engaging virtual event, just as the in-person event has been.
The WOCN team now had to think on how they would bring the perks of an in-person educational event into a digital space, allowing attendees to engage with each other as well as interact with the sessions in which they were participating. Fortunately, WOCNext has featured a live-streaming component for quite some time, making this adjustment to an online-only format seamless for the staff, National Conference Planning Committee and most importantly, the attendees. WOCN has a longstanding relationship with an education and webinar technology vendor with whom they relied on to help them convert the entire event to a digital experience.
“Our online education and webinar technology vendor ended up being a great match for our reimagined event, which meant that we had some familiarity with the platform already,” Passy said. “That was a great benefit because the learning curve wasn’t as steep, and we were able to focus on bringing the best value and experience to event attendees.”
In addition to the typical 30-,60- and 90-minute educational sessions, WOCN was able to offer online viewing of all accepted abstracts and select ePosters, eight commercially supported Symposia and an “Innovation Hub,” which gave attendees the opportunity to observe short talks about products, services, education, and research hosted by exhibiting companies.
A virtual exhibit hall allowed attendees to connect with exhibitors, examine their products and promotions, and join online meetings with exhibitors. A few days before WOCNext 2020 Reimagined went live, the virtual exhibit hall was unveiled to allow exhibitors and volunteer leaders the chance to explore and get a feel for the platform. In addition, the platform was made available early to allow attendees to login and experience navigating to sessions they wanted to attend once the event went live.
During the event, WOCN incorporated gamification—a feature supported by the platform they selected for the event—with its ENGAGE Challenge that encouraged users to engage to earn points. “Users earn badges and points for chatting, downloading handouts, going to sessions, asking questions,” Passy said. As an incentive to participate and earn points, one attendee won free registration for WOCNext 2021.
To help users navigate the event, WOCN created an interactive final program with event session and exhibitor details that was hosted on a digital publishing platform. WOCN opted to share the program this way because it provided a user-friendly experience, allowed the program to be embedded on the event website, and gathered robust readership analytics. The program also included interactive links to make it easier for attendees to find sessions, speakers, exhibitors, events, and other elements of the event. Clickable, optimized ads throughout the program allowed WOCN to track metrics and engagement with event attendees and supporters.
“We typically have a printed final program” Ramirez said. “We could say to those who advertise, ‘1,200 people who attended on site received the final program and 1,200 people saw your ads.’ But with an online program, we were actually able to see how many people viewed it. The average read time for each of the pages, how many clicks we saw on each of the pages, so it just enhanced the support opportunity for our partners.”
Lastly, as part of creating a unique event experience, WOCN set up a virtual photobooth through a separate platform that allowed attendees to take photos and add WOCNext-branded backgrounds and stickers to their photo. Users were encouraged to share their WOCNext photos online to show their excitement and involvement in the event. The event also featured a friendly Selfie Contest and asked attendees to post their photos on social media using the event hashtag #WOCNext2020 for a chance to win a virtual wellness gift basket.
The virtual platform allowed WOCN to track more metrics than an in-person event typically allows for.
- Total event registrations: 3,600
- Attendees interacting with the Exhibit Hall: 144% increase vs. 2019 attendance
- Unique readers of online program: 2,994
- Total impressions of online program: 8,932
- Average read time of online program: Nearly 4 minutes
- Unique visits to the Virtual Exhibit Hall: 9,600
- Visits to exhibitor ebooths: More than 13,000
- Average unique views per exhibitor: 368
- Total number of ENGAGE Challenge participants: 2,860
Post-event promotions attributed to an increase of 12% additional page views and 20% additional unique views.
After the success for WOCNext 2020, WOCN is planning a hybrid event for WOCNext 2021, offering both in-person and online education and engagement for attendees.
If you're planning a virtual event and are looking for guidance on experiencing the same success that WOCN did, download AH's free planning guide for virtual events.