As technology continues to advance, more and more people are willing to pay to learn from like-minded people online. Also due to the growth in personalized tech, businesses now rely even more on networking than they did before. Want to optimize brand exposure and product sales with a virtual event? We’re here to give you the do’s- and don’ts- of virtual events.
Live conferences in virtual space are taking the professional world by storm. In fact, people spend more on virtual events than they do on motion pictures, sound recording, performing arts, and even spectator sports! That gives you some perspective on the relevance of virtual events as a marketing strategy. Just about anyone looking to increase their online visibility can benefit from hosting virtual events, and there are various ways to do them right. Even if you’re an established brand, there is a lot to be gained from them; the tech world is evolving so rapidly that keeping up with trends in the tech world is vital to the sustainability of both event planners and brands that sell products and services.
The most obvious benefit of hosting virtual events is the potential to reach a monumentally larger audience than you would have otherwise. Virtual events can multiply your brand exposure by the ten thousands, and can also help facilitate long-term, beneficial relationships with influencers. That’s really important. Because social media is so prominent in many people’s lives, many brands and event planners are in a rat race to secure influencers as sponsors for their events. Even social media influencers with moderate followings have followers numbering in the thousands. So if your brand is relatively new and need help funding and hosting an event in virtual space, try starting with one of these. You’re not only more likely to get a response (and a more timely one at that), but mid-range influencers also have more time to connect with you and build an authentic relationship. If you’re not quite a “name” on the market or social media yet, start by following and interacting on a regular basis with an influencer you think is compatible with your brand. Follow, friend, and interact with their following until you feel that you’ve succeeded in weaving yourself into the tapestry of that person’s social media network. Influencers are more likely to take a chance on your event or brand if they already know who you are.
Make the Most of Social Media Platforms and Influencers
You should be using all the major social media tools to market your event. However, we see a lot of event planners who are looking for a more interactive program than Facebook, which is such a large, cluttered platform that many events become lost in the chaos of ads and news feeds. (Read our recent article “Why Facebook Events Don’t Sell Out” for more on why this platform is simply not compatible with personalized tech trends in event planning). Our upcoming social media tool, an easy-to-use app called Plans, has a much more simple, intimate formula. Our news feed is populated based on the shared interests of you and the friends you add. It streams both live and virtual events- and it won’t be clogged with posts, memes, and ads that populate the Facebook feed based on the activity of other users. Plans was created with both event planners and attendees in mind, so it will be an ideal platform for virtual events.
Of course, you may be on a tight deadline with little or no time to establish a relationship beforehand. Don’t hit the panic button- this is one situation in which virtual events have a better chance of saving the day than any other marketing strategy. Hosting a virtual event can multiply the amount of exposure you would be able to get without them. They can make a powerful first impression that makes them feel like a part of something exciting and builds customer loyalty from the start. As we’ve discussed in depth in other blog posts, the two biggest trends in both live and virtual event planning are tech personalization and interaction.
Use Personalized Tech to Build Brand Loyalty
Whether your event is only virtual or you’re promoting a live event in virtual space, you want to make sure that even the technical aspects are interactive. For example, voice assistants used to answer only “yes” or “no” to questions. Now the use of certain words in a question, such as “if” or “when”, prompts answers to abstract questions and makes suggestions about events you might like. A well-developed voice assistant can also give attendees suggestions about what parts of an event they might like based on their questions.
As with live events, you’ll also want to give attendees some control over the agenda if you can. In past posts, we’ve advised that you do months in advance for live events. It’s always a good idea to send out pre-event surveys in which customers have some choice about how the event unfolds. These choices can be related to the food, music, time sequence, event speakers, ect.- the list goes on and on. For virtual events, the choices take on a different context. Send out pre-event surveys that give the people you invite choices about the focus of your event. For example, if your event is about selling an online education program, take a close look at the demographics of your target audience. Ask people if they learn best online by reading, listening, participating interactive webinars, presentations from keynote speakers, or even games. This way, you have a solid idea of what captures your niche audience’s attention- and what doesn’t. If you’ve already sent your invites and your event is right around the corner, don’t sweat it. But also don’t discard the idea- use it for next time, and design your post-event surveys to answer these questions about virtual events.
Oh, and of course you can also generate a lot of revenue from all-access sales for virtual events.
As we now know, hosting a virtual event is the quickest way to build an engaged audience with the most minimal effort. Time is of the essence when it comes to event planning, so here are some tips to help you make the most of your virtual event.
Create an Interactive Experience and Engage Attendees Emotionally
While we’re fresh on the topic of cluttered online space, let’s talk about the ways that virtual events help you break through this continuum of chaos. Perhaps because of the interactive factor and their visual appeal, virtual events stand out more than blog posts or podcast episodes. Their many unique features, including animation and various forms of tech personalization, has made them increasingly interesting to an evolving audience. With blogs, emails, and podcasts, a lot of information tends to get lost in a brief amount of time. Don’t get us wrong- these are all superb marketing strategies that you should be taking advantage of. But blogging alone tends to lose the interest of the reader after a while, and podcasts don’t readily appeal to people who consider themselves visual learners. Virtual events add new dimensions to your event, using strong visuals, sounds, and creative interactions to make attendees feel like part of the event.
The interactive aspect is key because it creates a feeling, mood, or sentiment that attendees will remember far into the future. And what happens when people remember an experience that made a strong impression? They talk about it in real time- and online, commenting under YouTube videos, on Facebook posts, Tweets, and more. Millennials, among an increasingly large number of other demographics, want different things from events than they wanted in past years. People desire an emotional experience from both live and virtual events. Again, your graphics and visuals should seem to reach out and pull the audience in, but these are just décor when they’re not supported by a strong statement.
Stand Out in a Saturated Industry
In order to host a virtual event that doesn’t get lost in cyberspace, give your event a purpose. What do we mean by this? We’re telling you to choose a topic or theme that represents your brand, and that you are passionate about. Remember, your virtual event has to hold your interest if it’s going to maintain the interest of a large, diverse audience made up of different demographics. To choose a topic you can really build on, ask yourself the following questions: What do I want to gain from this event? (It could be increased exposure from a large or niche audience, increased product sales, or to introduce a new product or service- you decide). Secondly, ask yourself what you’re offering your audience that will help you accomplish your goals for the event. Then pick a topic or theme that sells your mission statement and makes an emotional impression. So why this event, and why now? Answer those two questions with a highly visual, interactive experience, and you’re almost a sure-fire success.
Many markets are saturated, so picking a topic that stands out is important. Choose a unique aspect of your industry to focus on, and you’ll be successful even if the market seems to be cornered. An entrepreneur we know recently hosted a virtual event that introduced her startup, which was a tech company. You may be groaning to yourself and thinking, “Talk about saturated markets. What could be less original than people selling personalized tech to businesses?” But she works with many successful women in tech and has a lot of insight to share from experience. So she hosted a virtual event that focused on the unique aspects of women’s tech careers and broadening business horizons, and it was a home run. She also personalized the entire event to empower women, which wasn’t too difficult as she is genuinely passionate about that subject.
Saturated spaces like consultancy, health tech, and event planning can present challenges for virtual events simply because they’re trending. But the less general your topic (i.e., the more it caters to a specific need or niche audience), the better its chance at success. There’s another important piece to that puzzle, though. Your event isn’t truly personalized if it isn’t fundamentally shaped by your brand’s values statement.
In other words, you’ll want to use your virtual event to leverage your business model. Simply put, this means that virtual events offer an opportunity to sell your brand and its mission statement. One powerful way to show a potential audience who you are and what you’ve got to offer is to make your virtual event into a summit.
Of course, part of this agenda requires you to make contact with prominent people in your industry who are willing to speak on your platform. But you don’t have to go to the top of the A-list- in fact, you can even hover safely on the ground if you reach out to an industry person who is considered established rather than wildly popular. You also have the option of reaching out to influencers in your industry with moderate followings. Remember, you don’t have to limit your choices to people in your industry with the exact same title and focus. In fact, we recommend doing just the opposite. Featuring speakers with varied specialties and a diverse range of skills is a more well-rounded approach- one that exposes people to a bigger picture of your industry and keeps the audience’s interest rapt.
Hold a Summit Featuring Relevant Industry Names
Hosting summits on a regular or annual basis continually increases customer quantity and loyalty, effectively building your brand in less time than other marketing strategies. Your ROI will increase exponentially- some successful influencers and businesses have reported that their revenue grew to multiple six figures due to virtual summits. It’s a trend that’s picking up rather than slowing down, so give it some thought and research.
If your virtual event is a slam dunk, your sales have the potential to skyrocket off the charts. An added bonus? People who loved your virtual event may even ask you to host a live one. And with your newfound popularity, it will be that much easier to pay for- and to snag a great sponsor or speaker to wow your audience in person. Virtual events are increasingly likely to lead to live events.
It goes without saying that live and virtual events should cater to specific niche audiences (but we’ll remind you anyway). This key strategy helps you target the needs and wishes of a diverse audience- and these days most audiences are considered diverse. You also need to make sure that your tone and communication style is readily understood by varying niche audiences. For a simple example, let’s say that the goal of your virtual event is to reach younger people than your brand normally does. You don’t have to alter the core values or attitude that already represents your brand; by doing that, you would veer too far from the baseline that has built your audience thus far. However, in this case you would want to research the shared interests of your younger audience, and communicate with them about things that matter to them. Your language should relate to theirs without completely diverting from your norm. The goal is to give an honest first impression to a new demographic, and show them that you genuinely care about their needs and desires. So know your audience well. Niche up, and you’ll find that your sales go up, too.
Other Ways to Stand Out in a Virtual Crowd
Is there something that you think hasn’t been done before in your industry? If so, do it! It could be something as simple yet impactful as hiring a speaker who works in an aspect of your industry that is new, unique, or complex. Or if your budget allows, you could aim for having the most speakers at your virtual event. Featuring multiple speakers could result in covering more ground in the space of your event. When your theme and speakers cover unique or diverse material, attendees will get the impression of being privy to an exclusive experience. They might simply feel like insiders to more information on your topic or industry, which is a plus for everyone involved- especially attendees whose purpose for attending your event is to be educated.
Our advice is to make yourself as much as an expert on your topic as humanly possible. When you’ve got the information and educational materials to back it up, expertise sells big time. So if you’ve got it, show it. Hire other experts to speak at your event. (The more specialized these experts are in areas of your industry, the better). Share visually appealing video footage of your previous successful events, and share personal experiences in which your knowledge paid off or even helped others sell their brand. In this way, you’ll become the standard for virtual events in your industry. Top it off with a unique design and format, and you’ll quickly garner attention as an expert- not just in your field, but in virtual events!
Once you’ve carved out that spot for yourself, you’re not going anywhere; busy people with hectic careers are relying more and more on virtual events because they save time and travel costs.
If it’s Too Good to Be True, it Probably Is- Except in Virtual Events
If you’re new to virtual events or your brand doesn’t yet have an established audience, make attendees an offer they can’t refuse. Of course you’ve got to do this within the provisions of your budget, but generally speaking, don’t worry that you’re giving too much away. The payoff is a lot more exposure post-event, which leads to more sales. Also, you don’t necessarily have to give away free products or services (although giving attendees a free taste of your brand could be part of a great first impression; attendees get to try out your brand without having to make a commitment to a company they don’t know much about yet). Bonuses and discounts offered for registering are old standbys, as are giveaways. But there’s a reason businesses have been using them for years and years- they work.
You could also offer some free live Q & A time, transcripts of free sessions from your event, or special offers from sponsors. This last suggestion works especially well if the sponsors are well-known and trusted by your audience, but it could still be a success if they’re not. Just make sure that whatever free perks you offer, they’re closely related to the theme of your event.
There’s an exclamation at the end of the word “prepared” for a reason! Last but not least, plan and organize for your virtual events many months in advance. During the planning stage, there are several decisions to make that could make or break your event. The good news is that these decisions are pretty straightforward- they just take time and effort. First, you’ll want to choose the dates of both the actual event and the start of promotions. Is your virtual event going to be a day long, or will it unfold over the course of several days? How many sessions will be included on a day-to-day basis?
You’ll also need to decide on a format for your virtual event. Your design might feature slide presentations, interviews with keynote speakers, or live discussions and Q & A time. Will your session be live or prerecorded? If you’re new at this, you might want to start with a pre-recorded event; then again, if you’re tech-savvy or able to enlist the help you need to set up, go for live. In any case, you’ll need to know what tools you need and secure them ahead of time according to your budget. Always you’re your goals for the event at the forefront of your mind, and make sure your preparations support those goals. Again, it may sound overwhelming, but preparing for virtual events is relatively straightforward when you take it step by step.
Now that we’ve given you a brief guide to virtual events, we wish you success with your very own!