The coronavirus has been a true disruptor in marketing, but there is one specific format that has soared in popularity, with access to certain forms of traditional marketing being blocked entirely.
Hosting webinars, virtual conferences and online events has enabled companies to launch products and services and bring leading industry figures and customers together amid a wider shutdown of in-person meetings and offline experiences.
Event marketing was previously a great way to reach specific audiences and niches, interact with customers and potential business clients, generate leads, collate insights and feedback, and explore new branding opportunities.
Marketino defines event marketing as a process that involves the development of a “themed exhibit, display, or presentation to promote a product, service, cause, or organization leveraging in-person engagement”.
Plans for traditional event marketing have been pushed back for now, but businesses are adapting, according to research by Bizzabo. Nine in 10 marketers say that they will host a virtual event in 2020, and the same number are planning to spend more on virtual events moving forward. Even if in-person events are viable during the next 12 months, many brands will continue to tap into these digital experiences.
If you are among the 90% of marketers planning to host a virtual conference before the end of the year, you might need a helping hand to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Define your budget
Virtual events carry a lower overhead than the in-person counterpart as there is no physical space to rent, but you will still need a reliable tech infrastructure to host a conference. Virtual events need to fit neatly into your budgeting plans for the year, which means running through a list of things that you will need to ensure that it is a success:
- Software service or application to host the event
- Management platform based on the number of attendees and interaction levels
- Sponsorship plans
- Social media campaign to promote event
- Moderators for comments and Q&As
The scale of your virtual event will dictate what you will need to sort out beforehand. A simple webinar, for example, might not require sponsorship or moderation.
Mix streams and breakout sessions
You want your online conference to be more than a single live video as there will be little incentive for people to tune in if they can simply catch up with content at a later date. An engaging live event should have several formats running in tandem to drive engagement. You can make your event more appealing by hosting breakout rooms and chats where attendees can take part in discussions. You can also offer forms of interactive content.
For the main part of your conference, you can use both live streams and pre-recorded videos to ensure that content is of the highest quality. The latter can be useful if you are concerned about tech issues causing interruptions. Pre-recorded content is also easier to edit and present in a more engaging manner than a talking head. The important thing is to follow up each session with a live video or chat so that attendees can ask questions and put forward their own points of view.
Liaise with speakers beforehand
You need compelling programming for your online conference, and speakers are central to this. It is important to be in regular contact with speakers beforehand so that they are fully prepared for the event. Completing test runs to make sure that mic levels, live streaming services, internet speeds and other forms of tech can support a pleasurable experience can save your business from annoying hiccups and issues on the actual day of the conference.
For live, ‘main stage’ speakers, it is also a good idea to have a couple of moderators at hand who know the event’s code of conduct and can interact with users and answer questions in the comments. Your speakers also need to be able to work in a physical environment that offers a clear sound stage. Finally, ask speakers to advertise the event on social channels before the event.
Set itinerary and expectations
Your conference needs to have a theme or purpose behind it that will motivate people to attend. You can use this as a unique selling point when setting out what your event is actually about and who it will appeal to.
When promoting your event for the first time on social media or via newsletter, you will need to set out and link to a complete schedule. You want to set audience expectations accordingly and let them know whether it is completely live or a mix of pre-recorded and live videos, and if comments and other forms of interaction will be encouraged.
Comic-Con transitioned from its hugely popular in-person conference to a virtual event in 2020 and did so by scheduling competitions and watch parties, and hosting an Online Exhibit Hall where attendees were able to view and purchase products. It communicated these changes via an online guide.
Promote your event
Promoting your virtual event is something that you will need to do before, during and after it takes place. Social media can do most of the legwork here, with both paid ads and organic campaigns central to increasing the visibility of the event with your target audience. You can also use event landing pages on your website and tailor newsletters for even greater reach.
After the conference has taken place, you need to follow up with attendees and find a way of continuing the conversation. If the event was a huge success, you may be able to nurture a community of ongoing paid customers. Sending out follow-up surveys is also a good idea, both for reconnecting with potential customers and for insights that can be used to improve future events.
The absence of in-person events could be beneficial for your business, especially if you are able to leverage tech to deliver cost-effective virtual conferences to a wide audience who will be easier to track and engage with. Just remember to host a few unique features, such as happy hours and breakout sessions, to increase participation and enhance the experience.