Hosting successful online events is no longer a nice-to-have component for your marketing and communications strategies — it's critical. Even before early 2020, companies were taking advantage of the chance to reach a larger audience, for a longer time, and for a lower cost by hosting online events. Today this approach is one of the most successful ways brands are gathering and connecting with their workforce, customer, and stakeholder audiences.
As people become more used to the logistics of online collaboration tools and participating in virtual events, digital conferences and similar activities will become even more common in the business and consumer worlds. From single-topic webinars to multi-session conferences to virtual trade shows with digital exhibit booths and remote presenters that span several days, online events can help you meet your communications and marketing goals.
What makes virtual events so important to your business strategy?
Meet your audience where they are now — online
The growth in remote workers and distributed teams means that people are becoming increasingly comfortable with video conferences and online collaboration. As digital event platforms add more functionality, people can more easily and meaningfully make connections and engage with others in the digital space.
Reach a wider audience
Even before social distancing was a common concept, people faced growing challenges when it came to attending in-person events. For many, budget constraints make it difficult to go to conferences or training sessions; travel, lodging, and meals can drive up attendance costs to a prohibitive level. Plus, the additional travel time away from the office could make going to an in-person event even harder to justify. An online event removes many geographic and budgetary obstacles and makes it easier for your audience to justify their attendance, even if they only have to do so to themselves.
Create 365-day conversations and communities
In-person events take place during a brief moment in time. It takes significant effort to maintain engagement and nurture the relationships made in person once everyone leaves the venue. With virtual events, keeping the conversation going in the online space is more natural for attendees, as that’s where the conversation started. And since your virtual event content can have a longer shelf life than a live event, your event community can continue to grow well after the original launch date.
Have better control over your event budget
When you take part in an in-person conference or trade show, you can easily lose visibility into your total event costs — at least until all the expense reports come in. Between unexpected logistics charges, travel costs for your presenters and staff, and hospitality events for customers and partners, it may take months after an in-person event for you to get an accurate accounting of your total event costs, assuming you are able to do so at all.
Learn more about your audience’s interests
It is impossible to know what every single attendee at a live event is interested in. People will take brochures without talking to your staff. Someone will watch a presentation without ever interacting with the speaker. Business cards get lost in your booth. But with digital events, you know exactly who registered, whether or not they attended a session, what questions they asked in the chat function, and what online resources they downloaded.
Considerations for an engaging and successful virtual event
While there are many benefits to taking your live event into the digital space, there are some considerations to keep in mind when transitioning from a face-to-face to a virtual experience.
Advertising and promotion
While your digital event content has a longer shelf life than live content, you want to get people excited about it and in attendance the day it goes live online. This means reaching out not only to your existing customers and prospects but finding new prospects for whom your event would be relevant as well. You’ll need to have a value proposition for why someone should invest their time to attend your online event, a strategy for marketing your event, and compelling promotional content to capture your desired audience’s attention.
Some speakers who do really well when speaking to an in-person audience have a hard time when being filmed or presenting over a virtual platform. Some of your content may benefit from animations or interactivity when presented online. You’ll be competing for your audience’s attention with all the other applications they may have open on their screen at the same time as your event, so you want your content to be as polished and engaging as possible. Take advantage of the opportunity to practice with your presenters on their delivery. Review slide presentations to make sure their messaging is clear and their design properly reflects your brand standards. Consider if some of your content would work better with illustrations, brief animations, or video rather than static slide content.
Event planning and broadcast logistics
There are a variety of different online event platforms available, so it’s important to have a clear vision of the goals, needs, and overall strategy for your event — as well as your budget — before you select a platform. Speaking of budget, you need to consider whether or not you want to monetize your event, as well as if there are any sponsorship or partnership opportunities that make sense considering your audience and your topic. You will also want to clearly define roles and responsibilities for managing various platform functions during your event, such as monitoring Q&A, chat, polls, attendee feedback, gamification, or other features.
Ready to add online events to your marketing and communications toolbox?
Live meetings, conferences, trade shows, town halls, and other in-person events still have value for most organizations. However, with the growing interest in and attractiveness of digital events, it makes sense to consider when and how they may fit into your own marketing and communications strategies. We’ve created a virtual events toolkit to help guide you through the planning process. Or if you want some extra help to plan your own online events, let us know. We’d be happy to work with you to create a digital event that meets your specific business needs.