Bill Mott is the Director of Online Event Solutions at Freeman.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting a Successful Virtual Event
As consumers and attendees increasingly rely on smartphones and digital tools, marketers look to bridge the online and physical worlds to maximize engagement and create unique moments. Virtual and hybrid events offer the perfect solution by combining the best of brand experience with the digital engagement people crave. According to Market Research Media, virtual events will grow from $14 billion in 2018 to $18 billion in 2023, with a steady increase of five percent annually. Beyond effective marketing, going virtual is an excellent way to further monetize an event and efficiently reach a global audience.
So it’s time to embrace virtual events, as they will stay hot. However, executing a successful virtual or hybrid event is much more than turning on a camera or downloading a live streaming mobile app. By following these actionable dos and don’ts, you’ll be on your way to providing your audience an extraordinary experience.
DO get the right partner
Virtual events range from strictly online experiences, such as a live streamed presenter, to more hybrid events, which merge the energy of an onsite audience with the engagement of remote participants. At the same time, not all providers of virtual events are built the same. It’s important to find a partner who can deliver your brand’s goals and vision. Do you require distribution technology that can store and broadcast content to audiences both locally and globally? Would you benefit from an e-commerce space for your content? Do you need video conferencing functionality or does your content need to integrate with social media? As with any cutting-edge solution, the more questions you ask the clearer your production vision will become.
DON’T forget about the story
Using the right tool is important, but you should not forget that technology is simply the medium used to create a larger narrative. Bill Gates famously said, “content is king,” and that is still relevant in a competitive landscape with more skeptical crowds. But sitting in an adjacent throne, context is now queen. Whether you’re streaming a single event or producing a webinar with many presenters, there should be a beginning, middle and end to a very personal story that resonates with each unique participant.
DO get your audience to participate
The days of passive audiences are over – audiences are more likely to engage with brands and organizations when it’s a two-way conversation. Therefore, it’s crucial to allow for audience involvement in the form of online Q&A, polls or even quizzes. Consider tapping into a second screen solution to accompany the virtual or hybrid event. Try interviewing an attendee and letting them be the star during a streamed session or get a large group involved in a dynamic chat room. What matters is letting presenters and audiences have the most intimate relationship possible.
DON’T use the wrong tech for the wrong crowd
These are exciting times, bringing forth a constellation of brilliant and accessible digital technology options. But what’s good for the Millennial goose is not always good for the Gen X gander. In other words, know what types of digital media and event technology resonate with your audience. For example, younger participants might prefer a “light-weight” virtual event optimized for mobile devices, requiring minimal login processes. More mature audiences might prefer a more secure login with richer content and higher-production-value – since they traditionally have more disposable income and in turn may be more inclined to transact through a paywall.
DON’T make it a one-time event
Repurposing content is the smart way to keep an event going long after it’s over, whether that’s in person or online. Ask yourself how can you continue to leverage the content in different digital channels. Some examples include producing bite-size videos for YouTube, recap blog posts, sharable slides and audio content for iTunes or other podcast outlets. Of course, providing sessions or speaker content behind paywalls can greatly help manage costs and audiences seldom have a problem paying for what is relevant and valuable. What’s important is that your virtual event is part of your year-round marketing strategy – 365, 24/7.
DO get sponsors involved
Audiences come first, but sponsors are the backbone of events, including virtual events. Sponsors can easily be woven into webinars, videos or other platforms in nonintrusive ways. Due to the fluidity of online events, package levels can be developed that come with different commitments and price points. A blend of large sponsorship packages and customized items will help you reach a wide selection of potential sponsors.
DON’T forget about metrics
Digital tech is second to none when it comes to capturing specific lead information and audience data. Most of all, it will help your brand’s ROI and optimize KPIs. Some software packages and providers even offer built-in dashboards or support that can break down your audience and event performance, and make the story easier to tell.
Until recently, the opportunity to have a celebrity attend an event, attach themselves to a name-brand or endorse a certain product or idea was untouchable. The thought of paying a person to promote a product was seen as something only Fortune 500 companies could afford. Social media has changed all that with brands and businesses utilizing celebrity influencers to connect directly with their demographics and increase sales and profits.