With many businesses now putting in-person events on hold until 2021, virtual events are going to be a mainstay for the foreseeable future. And if our bets are correct, they are going to stick around well after in-person events make their return. For many of you, this may be a scary situation. Virtual events are a new beast entirely, and when you started in your current role, you weren’t planning on hosting one. All of that has changed, and now you’re going to be including virtual events in your marketing strategy moving forward.
While it seems like it could just be as simple as tossing up a Zoom link and sending out invites, virtual events take the same level of thought and planning as the rest of your marketing strategy if they are going to be successful. To get started on your virtual event strategy, begin by considering these four categories: types of virtual events, length of the event, the benefits you’re looking for from the event, and the platform you’ll use for the event.
There’s more than one type of virtual event.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to give up the benefits of an in-person event when you go virtual. Just like you would when planning your normal event, consider the purpose of your event and then map a virtual strategy to make that a reality. Here are a few of the most common events we’ve experienced virtually this year.
Educational events are the most common virtual events. These are typically webinars, whether live or recorded, and include a clear topic. This is the route we’ve gone with our Scared Confident webinar series. With these events, our focus is on giving actionable information from real business leaders who have been there and done that. Incidentally, these were probably the most popular virtual events before, too.
While product demos are often handled in a one-on-one environment between a salesperson and a prospect, there’s no reason you couldn’t hold a larger event to show off your company’s product. For example, if you have a product update and need to inform your customers about the new capabilities in order to upsell existing accounts, you could host an event for your current customers only, and go through the update in detail. And in most cases, you can do this pretty easily online.
It’s crazy to imagine, but COVID-19 did finally make social media do what it’s been trying to do since it began—build and maintain connections between people. There’s no doubt that meeting someone in person gives you a stronger connection than meeting over video. However, when you have shared business interests, virtual networking can still work. Powderkeg is doing a wonderful job of this with their virtual events. They have created Slack channels and added attendees to each channel to start conversation. I actually had two meetings immediately come out of the first virtual event I attended with Powderkeg and was able to connect with a variety of like-minded individuals. Sure feels like networking to me.
How long should the event be?
How many times have you heard the phrase “Zoom fatigue” lately? Probably more than a couple. You’ve probably experienced it yourself. Looking at a screen for too long is exhausting. It is tough on your eyes, it can have detrimental effects on your sleep and overall health, and frankly most people just don’t have the attention span to look at a screen for eight hours in a row. Especially if all they’re doing is listening.
Virtual events, for the most part, should be shorter than in-person events. Do not take your two-day conference and make it sixteen hours of virtual meetings. Even if you’re using an extremely interactive platform such as Brandlive, your attendees are going to get bored of being in front of a screen. Determine what type of event you’re hosting, and then ruthlessly cut out parts that do not have to be included. You want to get your event down between one and four hours, if possible. If you’re doing a single-topic educational event, a one-hour webinar is probably the right call. Your attendees will thank you, and more will show up because it is not taking their entire day.
What benefits should you expect from your virtual event?
There are benefits to in-person events, and there are benefits to a virtual event. Here are three of the biggest benefits of taking your event virtual.
Expanded reach opportunities
I was talking with a woman two weeks ago about virtual events, and she expressed that her organization had never done anything virtual in the past, but they did have an annual event. Because of this, their event was largely contained in their local area, the Pacific Northwest. However, given that it is virtual this year, they are now going to be able to increase their invite list and expand their event to reach more current and potential customers. The fact that people don’t actually have to travel to where you are to attend your event means location is no longer a determining factor for attendance, nor is space.
Lower long-term costs
Getting set up on a virtual event platform can be a moderately expensive investment, but once you do it the first time, your costs decrease steadily the next year. Unlike in-person events: each year you will have to pay for food, the physical space, any swag you’re providing to the attendees, and a host of other costs. Virtual events are cheaper in the long run. This doesn’t make them always the right choice, though.
Greater speaker access
Sometimes the speaker you really want and need at your event is interested, but can’t make it happen due to travel constraints, prior commitments, or simply the cost of paying them plus their travel. Good news—those limitations are gone, or at least limited. Unless they have a prior commitment during the time block of your event they would be speaking in, more speakers are more available than ever before.
Virtual event platform considerations and options
Not every platform is right for every event. The higher production value you need, and the more interaction you need between yourself and attendees, the more you will need to invest in your platform. Here are three options for different event types.
Brandlive is like the Mercedes of the virtual event experience. They work with top brands like GoPro and Hydro Flask, and create some of the sleekest virtual event experiences out there. They’re also one of the more premium investment options. Brandlive is a great choice if you are looking for high production value and high levels of interaction between attendees, sponsors, and your business.
Hopin is a new offering on the event scene, but a promising one. Their platform can host events as small as a couple dozen attendees as well as audiences of thousands. The thing they do very well is allowing connection between attendees, with private video chat rooms made for networking opportunities. See someone you’re interested in meeting? Just shoot them a note on the platform and hop into your own private side room. Simple and effective.
It’s hard to get through any virtual event conversation without considering the OG who made it all possible—Zoom. That may be too high of praise (there were other platforms) but Zoom was the point of entry for most people as they moved from in-person to virtual events. While it’s not great for interaction and it’s largely dependent on Wi-Fi strength to ensure quality audio and video, Zoom is extremely cheap and accessible. If you’re looking for a simple, easy-to-use platform to speak to—but not with—your attendees, Zoom is a great choice.
Virtual events are not in-person events made digital.
If you take nothing else away from this post, please take this point to heart: virtual events are not in-person events slapped onto a digital platform. The most common mistake being made with virtual events is trying to recreate the in-person event you really want to be hosting. It doesn’t work. Instead, consider the unique benefits of virtual events and how they map to the goal you need to achieve. Once you have that clear, spend the time developing your strategy for that event. With good goals and a smart strategy to get there, your virtual event should go off without a hitch.