As we have seen in 2020 and the beginning of 2021, events are still virtual affairs. For example, one of the largest conferences is the CES event in early January, with typically 100,000 plus people coming from all over to descend on Las Vegas, Nevada. This year they put on a Virtual Conference with almost 2,000 exhibitors with 700 startups. In January 2022, they plan to have a virtual AND physical event.
While most organizations and companies do not have the budget to put on a CES-size virtual event, many smaller companies started holding their own online events over this past year. This trend will not change and more companies are getting comfortable with hosting virtual events. To help get you prepped for events to come, here are some ins and outs of hosting a virtual event.
Advantages to Virtual Events
The top advantage is that virtual events are, of course, entirely online. This set-up offers the best of both worlds: components that in-person events have, such as panel presentations and Q&A’s; but it can also help broaden your guest list because people from many locations can attend without the labor and expense of travel. If you record your virtual event, your audience can increase more by making the recording accessible even after the event as exclusive follower content, fee-based content, or posted publicly on your website or video content platform of choice.
Other advantages of fully virtual events include easily sharing prepared handouts, slides, or videos with your virtual event attendees. Since everyone will be on the same platform together, it only takes a few clicks for everyone to have your presentation materials simultaneously. Ease of access also extends to your hardware. Your equipment, as well as those attending the event, can be laptops or desktops, tablets, or even smartphones; whatever equipment every individual personally works best with. Lastly, you have the flexibility to hold your virtual event from home. Or wherever is best suited for your event and personal work habits – it’s up to you!
Types of Virtual Events
There are as many types of virtual events as there are in-person ones. I have even seen some creatively different ideas such as virtual galas, watch parties, and auctions. However, the most common are webinars, online classes, and conferences. Some – especially solopreneurs and thought leaders and other professionals who are the face of their brand – might host live-streamed events on their social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.
Conferences can vary from one to a couple of days, while webinars are usually an hour to several hours. Lives typically last 10 to 50 minutes, with the sweet point being around 15 to 20 minutes long. You might be able to make a combination of all three! For example, you could host an industry conference over three days with a schedule of hands-on classes, seminars, and recorded training interworked with networking chats, Q&A sessions Live with fans and followers, and social hours.
Platforms to Use for Virtual Events
The platforms you use often depend on where your clients or customers are located online. One of the best ways to find out is to ask them. Ask if they would like to participate in your event and how it would be easiest for them to join in. If most of them are on social media like Facebook or Instagram, it might make sense to have at least part of your event on Facebook. It will make deliberating over those different platforms so much smoother.
Other virtual events I have gone to included using Zoom. Attendees can hop on easily via link to your “Meeting Room,” plus Zoom also has their own webinar and add-on features like calling and chats. Similar platforms include Cisco Webex Meetings, GoToMeeting, and Google Hangout Meet. For a full rundown of my recommended virtual event platforms, check out our blog on the topic over at my agency, Go Getter Marketing.
There are some new companies out there that are more specialized for an all-in-one conference. These have landing pages, payment options, live streams, chat rooms, videos, handouts, press releases, marketing kits, and other types of entertainment or engagement methods. These usually cost more money than Zoom, and they usually host the event on their platform, not your website.
How to Promote Virtual Events
Once you have figured out what your virtual event is about and which platform to host it from, the most critical factor is promotion. My advice is to start by reaching out to your established audience (whom you may have already engaged per your platform debate above). One of the easiest ways to let people know about your virtual event includes email and e-newsletters. If you are already sending these out, this would be one of the first places to start.
Next is social media promotion. Start by telling your followers in regular feed posts, then use each social media platform’s followable Events tool (if not a whole page/account for the event itself). This should be started sooner rather than later, with teasers and tags for supporters, sponsors, speakers, and important guests. Encouraging your network to help is important, too, by asking them to share your event on their own feeds or via email invitations. You could even use audience participation as an incentive for them to register for your event – offer a registration discount for referring your event to a certain number of friends, host a giveaway for a free ticket, or create a shareable poll that will be utilized during a Q&A. It’s important that you create an event-specific hashtag that you can encourage your audience to use whenever talking about your virtual event, too, so that you can keep track of your event’s popularity as well as help guide the narrative around your event.
Finally, you can employ other digital marketing strategies such as paid advertising, creating a special landing page (or even a full website) for your virtual event, or partnering with an influencer to promote your event.
I suggest starting event promotion about three months out before you host a major conference and at least a month before you do smaller one-day or several-hour events. Make sure to keep your event buzz strong by having your posts, ads, guest features, and such scheduled at least once a week leading up to the event. Follow your event hashtags, too, so that you get notified whenever someone posts about your event; you can then reshare user-generated content to increase awareness and engagement around your event.
For more help on how to digitally market your virtual event, please contact me.