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Virtual Event Spotlight: Apartment Therapy’s Small/Cool Experience At Home


Event: Apartment Therapy’s Small/Cool Experience At Home

Partners: Behr, Tuft & Needle, Chasing Paper, and Amazon Handmade

Platforms and Technology: Instagram and Wirewax

Back in 2005, lifestyle and interior design site Apartment Therapy launched its Small/Cool contest in an effort to find the smallest, coolest spaces across the land. The popular contest ran for more than 10 years before ending in 2016.

But thanks to reader demand, the site had decided to bring it back in 2020 bigger and better than ever with a corresponding live event called the Small/Cool Experience. Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic and the in-person event, which was slated to be held in Brooklyn's Industry City in April, had to be rejiggered into a virtual experience.


From May 15-17, Apartment Therapy hosted Small/Cool Experience At Home, featuring a weekend-full of programming including Q&As, panel discussions, how-tos, D.I.Y.s, and more on the @apartmenttherapy Instagram account, plus virtual depictions of the 20 spaces that were created by well-known interior designers and stylists, each of them focusing on a different 2020 home decor trend.

“As I was looking at it editorially, [one of the] two big challenges was that the best part about going to an in-person event is letting our audience really see and feel and experience these rooms,” explained Laura Schocker, editor-in-chief of Apartment Therapy. “So the first challenge was figuring out how we could possibly do that through a screen, especially when we can't photograph the rooms.”


Schocker said that her team used the information that they have already compiled for the live event, such as mood boards, paint colors, and furniture, to bring the rooms to life through playful animated illustrations by Danie Drankwalter using technology by Wirewax. Visitors were able to enter through a virtual door and explore each room. Hotspots were added to make the experience shoppable, with a list of corresponding products included below each space.

Secondly, she said that figuring out how “to maintain that live excitement of being somewhere in person through a screen” was the other hurdle. Enter Instagram.

Apartment Therapy used the social media platform and all its features to recreate the IRL vibe. “We felt like it was still missing that feeling of being live and feeling like you were interacting with other people and like you were a part of something, not just clicking through on a web page. We thought Instagram was the perfect way to create that live feeling,” Schocker explained. Plus, the programming allowed attendees to pick and choose what they wanted to watch, much like at a live event.

But what about that touchy-feely part of shopping? “I think the challenge with the brand partners was that they were really excited about having their products touched and felt. So that was important to us to figure out a way that we could really make our partners feel like people were experiencing their products,” said Lauren Murphy, vice president of brand innovation and strategy for Apartment Therapy.

So in addition to the shoppable hotspots on the event’s microsite, the partner products were organically integrated into the Instagram programming. “We went with this two-fold strategy where they could see what the rooms look like and they can shop the products, but then we also have this live component where we can dig a little deeper and have that two-way dialogue about the brands,” Murphy explained.

For example, Amazon Handmade presented a Women in Design Makers Panel on IGTV, plus Apartment Therapy offered up a Maker Spotlight Instagram Story series that profiled select Makers from the Amazon Handmade portfolio, which gave the audience a behind-the-scenes look into their studios.


And the strategy seemed to pay off. Murphy said that some of the highest-rated segments were sponsored, according to the post-event survey, and that 80 percent of the respondents said that they would love to attend another Apartment Therapy event in the future. “So we know that there is an appetite for it. I think we would definitely do it again,” she said.



1. Use social media platforms wisely

Schocker explains that a huge part of Apartment Therapy’s audience is on Instagram, so it made sense for the site to meet its readers where they already live, so to speak. Plus, the platform offers “a lot of tools that allow for that live experience,” she said, with “so many different points of entry.” For example, “you could do a livestream. You could do an IGTV. You could do something in your feed. You could do something in Stories. And we felt like that kind of replicated the feeling of being at an event.” Over the course of 48 hours, the Instagram programming generated more than 12 million impressions and 1.7 million video views, as well as 36,000 Live views.

2. Get feedback for you and your partners

According to the event’s follow-up survey, “more than half of the respondents who had visited the on-site experience either had made or were planning to make a purchase. So I think that we were really able to translate that shopability online, which we were really excited to see,” Murphy said. They also discovered that readers want more designer how-tos and D.I.Y. projects, so the feedback will help them program future events.

3. Learn the virtual ropes beforehand if you can

Ever since the Apartment Therapy team has been W.F.H., Schocker has been hosting a weekly show on Instagram called The Couch, where she interviews designers, celebrities, and influencers. Thanks to this experience, she and her team had been able to work out technical kinks including the best place to position the camera. So they were able to use these learnings to make the Small/Cool Experience At Home event successful.

Looking for Inspiration for your next virtual event? Check out our Virtual Event Galleries and read more Virtual Event Spotlights on The Vendry.

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