Nov 15, 2019 by zkipster Editorial Team

The Ultimate Guide to Incorporating Direct Messaging in Event Communications

Effective communication with your attendees before, during, and after the event is key. Attendees need and expect certain communications from event organizers, including relevant confirmations, reminders, and important information. Most often, they receive these updates via email.

From an event planner’s perspective, email communication offers many clear benefits: it’s direct, it’s easy to execute, and it’s an effective way to reach many people (at least in theory). But relying solely on email may not be in a planner’s best interest. For one thing, many are treated as spam due to the ever-increasing volume of emails that consumers receive. In fact, only about 20% of marketing emails are ever opened.

 

 

So what does this mean for your digital communications, and how can you augment your strategy to push through the noise?

The answer lies with direct messaging. Direct messaging platforms are often overlooked in event communications, but it can offer many benefits and give your event a competitive advantage if used correctly.

In this article, we’ll cover the following:

  • The benefits of direct messaging as an effective communication tool,
  • Different messaging platforms for reaching people without using email,
  • Strategies for using and implementing them,
  • How to integrate SMS with email platforms for maximum efficiency.

Email vs. Messaging

Choosing the Best Form of Communication for Your Event

 

As anyone with an inbox knows, this method of communication has generally been the go-to medium for digital marketing. SMS, which stands for short message service, can be a great tool as well but is still vastly underutilized for digital communications.

What started out as simple messages sent via cell service providers has now evolved to include numerous messaging apps—aside from classic phone text messages—that are gaining ground in the events space and are poised to enhance (or replace) email platforms. These include Line, WeChat, and WhatsApp, among others—with the latter reaching 1.5 billion monthly users.

Messaging is already overtaking other methods of communication in certain regions, especially Asia, but it’s also important to consider the target demographic when weighing the benefits of email vs. messaging.

In certain markets, the increased use is limited to younger demographics, while older generations still tend to prefer web-based apps and email. Depending on the age range of your target audience, it may therefore be more sensible to focus most of your communications on email, with some additional SMS reminders when necessary, or vice versa.

There’s no question that messaging apps on the whole are on the rise, and as an event planner, you can increase your reach and improve your event communications using software equipped with SMS/messaging to make the most of this digital marketing tool.

Benefits of Messaging for Events

The Strengths of SMS and Other Apps

Using direct messaging platforms in your event communications has many advantages that shouldn’t be overlooked. Mass text messaging represents a communication channel with attendees that you can use to issue invites and updates, and to engage them before and during the event.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the advantages of direct messages.

 

Direct and efficient communication

Messaging is an even more direct form of communication than email, which increases the probability that your communication will be read and read more immediately. Direct messaging is more likely to elicit notifications unless the user has specifically turned them off. Conversely, email may go unnoticed for periods of time or get buried in a long list of email notifications.

When combined with email platforms, SMS/messaging can be an integral tool in your communications arsenal to help you reach as many people as possible. With SMS, you can send mass texts and target audiences, just like with email, but receipt is immediate and doesn’t necessarily depend on wifi. The direct, personal nature of messages means that people will likely see them first, which is important to consider when implementing SMS to boost and complement your existing email campaign.

 

Reliable delivery and open rate

Direct messaging increases your chances of getting through to your attendees—it is much less likely that texts will be filtered as spam or bounce back. According to MailChimp, as of March 2018, the actual click-through rate for emails was barely 2%. Based on a recent Dynmark report, the open rate for text messages is a whopping 98%.

 

 

That being said, part of the reason SMS works so well compared to email is because it hasn’t been as exploited as a marketing channel yet. People still trust SMS as a venue for relevant and important messaging. If they find the messages too invasive and are not able to easily ignore them, as they would an email, they are more likely to view them as spam and opt-out of future messages from you.

It’s therefore important to consider the types of audiences you’re targeting with direct messaging as well as the types of messages you’re sending. Be judicious and respectful. It’s generally best to include messaging in your communications to audiences that already know you, and to try to limit your messages to valuable content such as a specific call to action or offer for the consumer.

 

Better onsite connectivity and engagement

Direct messaging can also be used as a communication tool to stay connected with guests during the event itself. Since it is a very direct and immediate form of communication, it is ideal for sending out push notifications with important updates, last-minute changes, and emergency information.

You can also use messaging for timely prompts to participate in activities, take advantage of offers, make their way to one room or another, or participate in polls or surveys.

 

Secure end-to-end communications

In terms of keeping your event communications secure, certain messaging apps such as WhatsApp can even be more secure than email. Without getting too technical, many email platforms don’t offer high-end encryption, so if privacy and security are important to you, you’ll want to keep this in mind. Apps like iMessage and WhatsApp, on the other hand, provide end-to-end encryption of messages sent over their platforms, making for much more secure communication.

 

How to Use SMS/Messaging for Events

A Step-by-Step Guide to Digital Communication

Messaging apps are no longer only for texting—they’ve expanded to encompass many other uses that event planners can capitalize on, and more and more consumers are turning to messaging platforms for more than just social interactions.

Both before and during your event, direct messaging can play an important role in your overall communications strategy.

 

Before the event

In the months and weeks leading up to your event, instead of focusing solely on email—and perhaps some social media updates along the way—incorporating direct messaging can help engage your audience and make your communications more impactful. In order to capitalize on direct messaging, include an opt-in during the registration process so that attendees can provide their phone numbers if they’re interested in receiving this type of communication.

 

 

When using messaging, don’t forget to include an opt-out option as you would in an email. As SMS is a more direct channel, messages can sometimes be perceived as more intrusive. In order to keep attendees happy, be sure the opt-out is easy and clearly stated, but give several options to ensure people aren’t forced to select a universal opt-out.

If they choose not to receive all of your direct messages, for example, you could provide the option to only receive messages about certain topics. If they do choose to opt-out of SMS entirely, the decision should not automatically opt them out of emails. Each communication channel should have its own opt-in or out process.

Let’s take a look at how messaging can come into play during the planning phase of an event.

Invitations and confirmations

In certain cases—and only if your audience has previously opted into SMS notifications—messaging can be used in the first step of the communications process, which involves sending out the invitation to your event. SMS can be used instead of email invitations, either for direct initiations or to advertise an event.

As SMS tends to work best when used for targeted messaging, be sure to consider your strategy before sending out a mass, general advertisement. If that’s your goal, then email may still be your best bet to ensure you don’t aggravate your audience.

SMS invitations can be customized and personalized much like email blasts. This is recommended so that your audience feels as though they are being personally invited to an event and not just receiving another spam message.

You can also capitalize on messaging communications to send confirmations once attendees have registered for the event or signed up for particular sessions/programs.

Reminders

Once your attendees have registered for your event and your communications become more targeted, direct messaging can be a great way to enhance email blasts and increase the chances that your messages will be seen and read. Your audience clearly already knows you, as they’ve chosen to register for your event, and will be on the lookout for upcoming communications with important information about the event.

When sending important reminders such as what people need to bring or what they can expect at check-in, SMS helps guarantee that the messages will be delivered directly to your guests and won’t be missed.

Travel arrangements

If you have arranged flights and hotels for your attendees, you need to make sure that they have all the details they need in advance. This information is one of the most important things to remind them about before they make their way to the event. After all, their travel experience will be one of the first experiences they have related to your event and your communication about it should be flawless.

As with reminders, direct messaging is one of the best ways to send crucial travel information that attendees can’t miss before the event.

Personalized updates

Another pre-event use for direct messaging is to send personalized updates to your attendees. These may include confirmations of dietary restrictions, opt-ins to special assistance, etc. These opt-ins typically work by sending recipients a specific call to action, like texting “YES” if they want to opt in to whatever the message is about. In complying with the call to action, the SMS tool recognizes the response, associates it with the contact, and registers the opt-in accordingly. (More on this in the Messaging Uses section below.)

In terms of messaging blasts, consider creating different groups of attendees depending on the sessions they’re attending in order to easily send information specifically relevant to them.

Timely prompts

SMS is a helpful way to prompt attendees about things they can participate in or should do before the start of the event. For example, if you will be releasing a dedicated event app using your event management software, you can plan to send a message informing guests that it is ready for download.

Use messages to remind them to join you for a virtual seminar from your keynote and CEO, or any other pre-event activity you may be hosting to get attendees engaged and excited for the event. By delivering prompts that are relevant (i.e. deliver value without expecting something in return and pertain to something happening now), you’ll foster trust. This is crucial in a new communication channel that may be interpreted as more invasive than others if abused.

 

During the event

Once the event actually starts, SMS is a great way to complement the rest of your communication strategy. Because people generally check messages more often (read: compulsively) than email, and rarely have notifications off for messages, odds are better they’ll see your SMS or text. This makes it a better solution for urgent matters and last-minute updates.

If you have a dedicated event app and plan to use it to communicate with attendees during the event itself, you’ll want to make sure it allows for in-app messaging and notifications similar to other messaging apps so that attendees don’t miss anything important.

However, it’s important to note that web-apps don’t offer push notifications, so people might not see in-app messaging unless they check the app. (And for native apps, they’ll need to specifically opt into push notifications for native apps.) For this reason, SMS/messaging is still a solid first-line option and a prudent back-up, especially for urgent updates. Some event tools, like zkipster, offer SMS alerts that can be sent to users and guests.

Let’s dive into a few specific use-cases for SMS and text during your event:

Urgent messages

For any urgent notices that you need to get across to guests as quickly as possible, SMS should be your vehicle of choice. Not everyone receives notifications for emails, and you can’t be sure that your guests will be checking their inboxes constantly throughout the event (in fact, you should hope they’re not if they’re truly engaged).

If your venue is equipped for it, making an announcement over the loudspeaker is a reasonable step to take, but it’s not fool-proof. People may have stepped outside for a moment, may not be able to hear the information over any surrounding noise (or may not be able to hear full-stop), and won’t have any written information to reference. Messaging is therefore an indispensable way to ensure you reach everyone who needs important information on short notice.

This is also true of last-minute updates, like a room change, a time adjustment, or any other important logistical details.

Engaging content

Given that your goal is to keep attendees engaged during the event, SMS/messaging can help you do that too. Throughout your event, you can use direct messaging in an interactive way. One way to do this would be to have your attendees send questions to a speaker through text. If your event includes an interactive activity such as a photobooth, you can include an option for participants to receive their images or a link to download them via text.

You could also use SMS to send a poll, which may be a fun way to vote on a question posed by a speaker, or a way for you to collect information and feedback about your guests’ experience. The latter potentially offers important, actionable real-time data on opportunities for improvement.

If you would rather use your event app to handle polls and feedback, SMS could still be an effective way to prompt people to participate, especially if you want to reach attendees who may not have attended the specific breakout session the poll pertains to.

Post-event communications

When you’ve maintained effective communication channels leading up to and throughout your event, it’s important to follow through after the conclusion of the event as well. SMS is a good way to follow up and thank your attendees, and it can be especially useful for delivering post-event surveys and keeping up the engagement momentum after the event.

Collecting feedback from guests after the event is a task plagued by low response rates. Prompting a few quick answers over text could be a way to meet respondents in the middle by making it more convenient for them to provide simple-answer feedback, like an NPS score. Alternatively, sending a quick message linking to a more in-depth survey can bolster your responses as well.

Again, if your audience is primarily in an older demographic, focusing on messaging to get their attention and feedback may not be the ideal strategy. In fact, using too much messaging with an older generation is likely to lead to negative feedback regarding event communications, so it’s always important to use the right mix of both and to tailor your messaging to your audience.

We’ll cover strategies and advantages to balancing messaging with email more in-depth in the following section.

Integrating Messaging with Email Platforms

Adopting a Dual Approach

As we’ve seen throughout this post, messaging and email can complement each other very nicely and amplify your overall event communications. However, it’s important to consider the types of communications you’ll need to send as well as your event demographic when weighing the distribution of email vs. SMS messages.

 

Double up your communications

When using SMS and email messaging in tandem for your event communications, you don’t have to select one or the other; rather, use one to enhance and emphasize the other and to ensure no information gets lost.

A helpful way to enhance email using a direct message is by sending links connecting to your event registration software through both SMS and email to encourage them to RSVP or register for your event. Including both methods of communication provides attendees with the ability to choose which method they personally prefer to use and can help increase the response rate.

This can also help you collect valuable data about the preferred method of registration among your attendees. By using unique links for email vs. SMS, you’ll be able to track the number of registrants who used each link, which can help you fine-tune your communications strategy moving forward.

Reinforcing an email registration/attendance confirmation with an SMS or text message is a good way to introduce the channel to the registrant if you haven’t done so already. It will show them that you’re a trusted sender and that they can expect relevant information that way.

The key to using messaging in conjunction with email is to have a well-developed strategy that utilizes both when and where it makes sense. Keep track of the specific messaging delivered via each channel to avoid confusion and too many duplicate and spam messages on the attendees’ end.

 

When to use email

As previously touched upon, any non-specific or non-targeted messaging such as promotions should be sent almost exclusively through email. Using SMS sparingly for these types of communications may increase the likelihood that your message will be opened and/or read, but it’s important to avoid sending too many messages via SMS before you’ve built up awareness and trust with your audience.

Email is also ideal for longer, more detailed messages that will likely be saved for future reference. For example, if you’re sending out a comprehensive registration confirmation including not only the date and place but also a description/history of the event, background on all your sponsors, and information on the food options available, it’s best to send this in an email. Guests will more easily be able to read through several pages of information in email form and have the option to flag it as an important message to go back to later.

If you’re sending any communications with graphics/visual elements (especially if they’re interactive) email is the way to go for these as well. Graphic elements may not be optimized for messaging apps and can be difficult to view/interact with on a mobile platform, making them a feature best saved for emails.

 

When messaging is best

Direct messages, on the other hand, are better utilized for short, quick messages. Even when sending a confirmation message through both channels, for example, it’s important to tailor the message to fit the format. The SMS should be more concise and cover the main details of your message without becoming too long or difficult to read on a messaging app.

You can also use text messages to send quick reminders about important emails that are too long or require too much interactivity for SMS/messaging. This is a useful strategy if you simply can’t convey what you need to over text, but everyone needs to see it regardless. Especially if you are communicating with an audience that prefers SMS to email, you’ll be able to reach them with a message they may not be likely to check.

A unique feature of text messages is the ability to create auto-responses that are more effective than emails because they help create a more direct conversation. Once someone opts into text messages, you can customize an auto-response to welcome them and prompt them to further interact with you.

You can do this using quick and easy keywords. It’s always a good idea to set up a specific keyword for people to opt-out of direct messages, but you could also link keywords to specific requests, like “VEGAN” for a request for dietary specifications, which would automatically let the sender know the recipient’s food selections for the event.

To take this one step further, you might consider adding an edit option to your confirmation messages, which would allow guests to indicate whether something is incorrect. Your message could be “Need to make a change? Respond “YES” to this message.” If they respond with “YES,” the subsequent message could then link them to your event management website, where they would be able to make the necessary changes to their registration/preferences.

Conclusion

Implementing Direct Communication Apps in Your Events

One of the biggest challenges event planners face is a constantly changing media and communications landscape; staying up-to-date on the latest trends and ensuring they are engaging their audiences on the platforms they live on is crucial.

Email has historically been the main communication tool between planners and attendees, especially leading up to an event. In recent years, SMS/messaging has slowly but surely been overtaking it in certain markets and with certain demographics.

As such, direct messaging is a key platform that event planners should capitalize on and use to their advantage throughout the event planning process. SMS/messaging offers many benefits for event pros: it can be used for a wide variety of tasks and, in many cases, is more direct and better received than email. Messaging can also play into your communications strategy once the event begins as well as post-event.

The increased popularity and usability of direct messaging doesn’t mean that email should be forgotten, however, especially when it comes to event communications. Email and SMS are both important event management tools, and event planners will often find the best results from a communications strategy that leverages direct messaging in conjunction with email.