As we slowly return to in-person events, we are all navigating new territory. After transitioning to virtual for over a year, most businesses are adjusting to a hybrid formula going forward. In-person events have changed drastically; with limited capacity, continuing safety concerns, altered resources, and new technology, event creators are finding their footing in a whole new world. Now more than ever, event creators need each other. Access to new resources, education, and helping hands is tantamount to rebranding in a changing industry. Taking all that into consideration, networking is more integral than ever. In fact, it’s arguably the glue holding the industry together right now.
Not only is networking fundamentally important, it’s also being done on a largely virtual scale. As we mentioned, while in-person events are still invaluable to networking, they’ve changed. With most businesses still evolving on a hybrid basis, there is a major need for virtual networking. And facilitating human connections through a screen isn’t as easy as it sounds- wait, it doesn’t sound easy, does it?
Still, there are ways to do it. But in a sense, they require a reimagining of technology through a human lens. However, there’s a huge silver lining here- we’ve been unconsciously doing this for years with social media. Think about the massive number of people who connect internationally via one Tweet. Not only that, but consider the smaller, more personal conversations that result from a profound or controversial Tweet. Instagram is almost totally reliant on experiential marketing strategies. Entrepreneurs or companies become “influencers” whose market thrives off of making a personal connection with a niche audience. The majority of successful influencers cultivate a loyal following via sharing an authentic piece of their lives that is relatable to a specific audience. Thus, when they sell or endorse products, their audience trusts them. They put value in what their favorite influencers say and do.
Now, apply this thought process to networking. While some aspects of virtual networking rely heavily on the right technology, the right human connections are actually more important. So if you already use social media marketing to connect with your audience, you’ve established the foundation of virtual networking. (If you haven’t fully finessed your social media marketing strategy, now is the time to work on it). It’s crucial to find a platform that gives your particular audience the best virtual experience possible. But first let’s boost our morale by talking about the positives of virtual networking.
1. For Many, It’s Takes (Some) of the Awkwardness Out of Networking
While this industry thrives on extroversion, not everybody is a social butterfly. In the past, we’ve talked about how to use introversion to your advantage in networking situations. In a virtual context, it turns out there are even more perks of being a wallflower. For some people, just talking the direct proximity of being physically across from another person takes some of the anxiety out of networking. Self-consciousness plays a role in social anxiety, and for some, being in different physical locations removes some of the pressure. Some people feel safer behind a screen, and that’s not necessarily hiding from making real connections. Hindered by less anxiety, some people feel free to come out of their shells and let their personality shine through.
2. The Comfort of Home is, Well, Comforting!
According to a survey by Meetingplay, professionals from all walks of life rank comfort as one of their top priorities when networking. This is true whether in person or not, but it doesn’t get much more comfortable than sitting on one’s couch with a sandwich. There’s not much more to add on this one. Technical quality ranked high on this list as well, but we’ll go into depth on that in the next section. Choosing the right platform deserves a breakdown of its own.
3. What Most Professionals Want From Virtual Networking Is Easy to Deliver!
This is probably the biggest comfort we have to offer event creators who are worried about curating “the perfect networking event”. The truth is, it doesn’t have to be perfect at all- it just has to technically and personally deliver on a few key needs. According to Meetingplay, here’s what people want most:
“Overhearing conversations and and being able to introduce yourself.” (Simple enough, right)
“Social hours and learning events.”
In other words, the best segues to networking involve human communication at the most basic level. You just have to have the right technology to facilitate that connection.
Choosing The Right Virtual Platform
1. Easy Entry
With virtual events, attendees can’t just walk up and sign in. Registration usually starts with a link, but we prefer platforms that include registration and ticketing as part of their features. According to Maria Underwood, vice president of development at YWCA of Central Alabama, software that doesn’t require a username and password is preferable for attendees. Makes sense- less time is wasted. And where attention span is concerned, time is more of the essence from home than it is in person!
2. A High Quality Individual Engagement Feature
When selecting a virtual platform for any virtual/hybrid event, you should keep networking in mind. One of the most important features you can look for: Individual attendee engagement opportunities. For this part, you’ll want to consider your attendees. Most of the time, you’ll have a variety of different personalities in attendance. While extroverts might like a hand-raising option, which offers more of the intimacy of being in person, others may prefer live polling. Offering video and chat box options also caters to more than one preference among attendees. (We all know someone who does their best communication face-to-face and needs to do so to make an authentic impression. On the other hand, we all know someone who prefers written communication. authentic impression. Having both options available tends to yield the most engagement, which helps you and your attendees.
The point is to make all attendees feel welcome, engaged with, and personally attended to. You’ll want a platform that allows attendees to engage with you and your speakers at appropriate intervals, including a Q & A feature. But you’ll also want a platform with a smooth, interactive audience chat feature. This is where your attendees get to know each other and a lot of the networking really happens.
3. Easy-to-Attend Breakout Sessions
Also, think breakout sessions. This is the trend anyway, but these smaller sessions have the added benefit of creating ripe networking opportunities. Usually based on subtopics related to your main topic, breakout sessions present an opportunity for attendees to learn more about hat they really came for. In the process, they can connect with others who have similar professional interests. Thus, they learn, link up, and share ideas and resources. For this, you just need a platform that has an interactive workshop feature.
Make sure your breakout sessions are just a click away and easy to navigate via bold graphics and pop-ups. If it takes attendees too long to navigate or enter sessions, they’ll easily lose interest. That’s the thing- when attendees are engaging from a distance, it’s that much easier for their attention to wander. Which leads us to the next big tip- tech support to avoid distracting glitches.
4. There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Tech Support
It’s a plus if your platform comes with a live chat support feature. Sometimes this is enough- sometimes it isn’t. As we all know, technology can be woefully unpredictable. Power outages, spotty WiFi signals, and other minor glitches can botch an event if they interfere with user experience. If you can swing it, it might be safest to have an on-demand support team at the ready in case any glitches impact your event. However, if you’re familiar with your platform and tech-savvy, you may be good with just a live chat support feature. Either way, several practice runs will help you smooth out glitches ahead of time. It’s not a foolproof way to avoid them, but it certainly helps you deal with the ones that come up ahead of time.
Hype Your Virtual Networking Event
Last but certainly not least, your networking event needs hyping. After all, the point is to reach as broad an audience as possible, even if we’re talking niche audiences. And with virtual events, you have the potential to reach far greater audiences remotely than you would in person. (Obviously, that’s one of their biggest benefits). So how can you best promote your virtual event and make sure everyone knows about it?
A lot of people forget to register the event on a mobile app or online tool that lists similar events. Most platforms give you this option if you don’t skip it. Our upcoming mobile event app, Plans, is designed specifically to connect you with events you’d love. It’s the ultimate networking tool. We’ll keep you updated on its launch date as it grows closer!
And this may go without saying, but publicize your networking event several weeks ahead of time. Post it daily via social media updates on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and wherever else you network. Like we discussed earlier, virtually no one is averse to networking right now (pun intended). Businesses large and small are trying to reinvent and rebrand themselves in a changing climate.
Also super important: Give your attendees the opportunity to connect with each other before your event. You can do this by granting them access to your event guides and/or apps in the weeks prior to your event. This way, they get a head start on networking- which is the ultimate goal here.
As long as your platform supports high engagement and runs smoothly, virtual events can be great networking opportunities. In fact, since virtual events have the potential to reach exponentially larger audiences, they present an ample opportunity to build your brand. Yes, networking may look different than it did just last year- and last year feels like a world away. But as the industry slowly reopens, networking is the lifeblood of small businesses. And in some ways, the virtual space makes it simpler than ever.