Three Keys to Staging Great Instagram Moments

The Most Important Part of a Social Activation? Socializing.

We’ve all seen Instagram stations at events go beautifully—and we’ve all seen the lackluster feel of a lonely, not-quite-right activation. One of them can be a powerful marketing tool for our host organization … and the other can lend a note of neglect to an otherwise stellar meeting.

With help from Laura Troy, Marriott International’s creative director for the United States and Canada, here are three keys to making sure your activations emanate the energy you want.

Know What You Want People to Do

Before you design an activation, think about what your goal is. Do you want people to gather and mingle? Do you want them to post on social media? Do you want them to be engaging in a specific activity, such as a game? Being clear about your intent will help you strike the right tone.

It’s fine to have posting on social media as your goal, but Troy warns against prioritizing that over actually being social. “Some of these Instagrammable moments really help bring the vibe of the event, because you’re becoming closer with your colleagues,” she says. “But if you walk into a space and people don’t really look like they’re having fun, they may not stay—and at the end of the day, events are about sharing space and vibing with each other.”

Once you know your goal, make sure attendees are clear about what the space is intended for. “If there’s a great visual scene but people walk up and don’t really know what to do, you’ve lost something along the way,” Troy says. “Obviously a hashtag can help, and some people are continuing to do that, but we want it to be self-explanatory. Make sure it’s really clear what you want people to do so you don’t have five or six things happening at once.”

You also want participants to feel comfortable. Food and drink help with this, as do props. “We tend to be a little nervous in social situations, so having something tangible really helps us feel more at ease—sometimes you’re standing there and just don’t know what to do with your hands,” Troy says.

Know What You Want People to Feel

“Think of a really good wedding,” Troy says. “You don’t remember the decor for the most part, but you remember how you felt. So these activations all come down to feeling. What do you want your attendees to leave this conference feeling?”

She points to two recent events that tapped into emotion particularly well. One had a Parisian garden party theme, with food stations that encouraged circulating, all with a sophisticated yet relaxed vibe that suited the event’s goals.

Another event took a more plastic turn—a Barbie-themed activation featuring varying shades of pink and a vintage car. Troy nods to the enduring popularity of both the toy and the 2023 movie in making the activation memorable, but she also highlights a lesson that planners can take from Barbie’s success: People love nostalgia.

“There’s something about nostalgia that makes people really feel,” she says. “What kinds of things can you not just invent but reinvent for your attendees? Introducing new things is great, but don’t forget about taking things from the past and putting a new twist on it.”

Both of these events featured palettes that set the right tone, whether that was vibrant pink or Louvre-ready pastels. And each had a calibrated volume level that encouraged people to connect energetically without drowning out conversation.

Know When It’s Too Much

The Parisian garden party activation had another plus going for it: the appearance of effortlessness.

“You want it to be fun, and that takes a lot of organization, but you don’t want it to appear overly organized,” Troy says. “Effortless chic gives the event a feeling of spontaneity. Think of that French-girl style, that no-makeup makeup look—that probably takes a lot of time to put together, but the effect doesn’t look staged.”

Abundance has its place in Instagrammable moments, of course. But if an activation looks too precious, overly styled, or hyperorganized, it loses its charm. Think coordinated, not matchy-matchy; striking, not overwhelming. Take uplighting: It can lead to a stunning effect, but if it comes at the cost of making an activation look like a movie set instead of a place to hang out, it can backfire.

One place Troy recommends going big, though, is in themed events. “If you’re going to do a theme, you’ve got to nail it,” she says. “Have all the pieces really go together. An easy way to help that along is with food and drink—it sounds cliche to have a drink of the day, but the fact is, it works, and that’s what people remember.”

Fostering the right dose of Instagrammable moments isn’t always about giving attendees more. As the saying goes, sometimes less is more. “It could be fun, it could be quirky, it could be trendy, colorful—but it doesn’t have to be over the top,” Troy says. “Always leave them wanting more.”