In the age of online gatherings, a physical gift or box of swag can help your association’s virtual event stand out above the rest.

While virtual events might not be able to dazzle attendees in quite the same way as in-person meetings, there is a tried-and-true tradition that can live on in the era of virtual conferences: conference swag.

A tangible gift or box of swag can help create connection and engagement to the virtual event. Plus,they can also benefit your association by boosting its brand presence if attendees show off their new swag on social media.

Want to offer your own swag to virtual attendees? First, make sure you have their current addresses—your records may have office addresses, but chances are attendees are working from home at the moment. Then, consider these six ideas.

Welcome box. A few days before your event, mail attendees a box of items that will either build anticipation—a note hinting at surprise guests or events—or help them get the most out of the event, such as pens, a notepad, and a schedule. For example, Sprout Social sent a physical event kit to the first 500 people who registered for Sprout Sessions Digital 2020. While there are companies that offer kit-making services, this could be a project that’s handled by your own staff as well.

Daily gifts. If your conference is spread out over several days, provide attendees with daily gifts to keep excitement levels high. Send a package containing separate envelopes to open each day—the envelope’s contents can hint at surprises to come or prompt attendees to check your website and social media pages at a certain time to get exclusive offerings.

Shared experiences. Bring attendees together by tying your tangible goodies to a group activity. For example, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers held a virtual wine tasting in June to build excitement around its annual conference in November. Attendees had the opportunity to order a virtual tasting kit, and on the day of the event, a sommelier guided them through a tasting.

Virtual snack break. In-person attendees are often treated to meals and snack breaks to help them regroup. Replicate these experiences with a swag bag full of snacks and refreshments to enjoy during scheduled downtime. For example, the Association of Consulting Foresters has sent attendees “virtual refreshment breaks,” which included small snacks, candies, coffee, tea, and a postcard with a message from a sponsor. “We wanted a special way to recognize a sponsor who went above and beyond, and a fun surprise for our virtual education series attendees featuring break items they’re used to having at in-person events,” said Lucy Firebaugh, ACF’s communications and membership specialist.

Local flair. Virtual events don’t have a location, but you can tap into the unique culture or flavor of your association’s headquarters location. In preparation for its 2020 National Conference—held virtually in June—ACF worked with a local coffee shop in Williamsburg, Virginia, to send small packaged coffee grounds to registrants along with other goodies.

Customizable items. Give attendees goodies that will let their creativity shine. For its two-day Hearsay Summit, Hearsay Systems sent a Summit Supply Drop Box, which featured a lightboard that attendees used to craft their own messages and share on social media. “Guests could not have been more appreciative and excited to receive these boxes,” wrote Senior Event Manager Becky Brewer.

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE »