Organizations need to think beyond virtual events as a temporary response to the coronavirus pandemic and embrace virtual events as an effective strategy for the future, even after physical events return. In fact, you can create a complete, cohesive, immersive event experience online if you plan carefully. Tech companies have proven the value of virtual events for years through massively successful product launches and annual conferences.
Physical events will certainly return and remain important to companies and nonprofit organizations. However, extending – and sometimes replacing – those events with virtual experiences is a long-term, sustainable growth strategy that must not be overlooked. The major benefits of virtual events fall into three categories: data, experience, and marketing.
Virtual Events Yield Data-Enhanced Relationships
Producing virtual events gives you the opportunity to truly observe – through measurable behaviors – what your attendees are doing, throughout their experience. The data collected over the course of your conference delivers real, actionable insights that prove to sponsors and exhibitors that partnering with you is worthwhile.
Think about the typical mid-sized conference. How many of the attendees really engage with sponsors and exhibitors in a 1:1 conversation? Imagine being able to track not only the attendees that visit a booth, but how much time they spent there and which materials led to inquiries and sales?
That is the hidden power of virtual events. A living paper trail of guest behavior which reveals what content is successful in the lead conversion process. Likewise, the same information can be gleaned from your speaker sessions.
Whether they’re pre-recorded or live, you can see how many guests stay to watch, and how many tune out midway. Use this information to plan more learning opportunities and services.
Virtual Events Provide a Basis for More Effective Event Marketing
The data gathered from a virtual event is also a massive boon to your event marketing efforts. Rather than ramping up to the event and tapering off within a few months, you lengthen the lifecycle of your marketing with a built-in community that’s waiting expectantly for news and updates about the event every year. You can even start your sales much earlier with extra-early bird discounts for repeat attendees.
The event site remains live throughout the year, yielding Google’s blessings on the history and SEO value of your event. Your sponsors’ content is persistent, extending their marketing lifecycle as well. Attracting new attendees becomes easier each year as the volume of content increases.
Some of the dollars you save on purchasing physical event collateral can be redirected to a sophisticated and highly personalized digital marketing campaign.
Virtual Events Provide Personalized Guest Experiences
Removing the barriers of location, borders, and travel costs are the obvious benefits of virtual events, allowing guests to participate fully no matter where they are. The increase in your attendee pool alone is an excellent reason to ensure that your future events include an online attendance option, at the very least.
The event experience can be very different for each guest. Extroverts easily connect with others in the room, making the most of professional opportunities and social connections. On the other hand, guests who may be less outgoing can find the crowded, open areas a little intimidating. Translating your conference or expo to an online format allows you to deliver a more personalized event experience for each attendee.
As a bonus, guests no longer have to choose between two or more desirable sessions happening at the same time. Rather, your speakers have more opportunities to reach your audience based on the merits of their presentation. Feedback can be both live and immediate, and you won’t be tracking down paper surveys throughout the venue anymore.
Wondering how you can facilitate the serendipitous collisions that make hanging out in conference lounges and lunch sessions valuable? Implement a “live-lobby” strategy by creating an area where attendees can chat, discuss various topics, and even be highlighted – just like a social media wall at your live event.
About Those Tech Needs…
So how do you make this amazing virtual event happen, and more importantly (at least to your finance team) how much does it cost? Well, the short answer is “it depends,” and “not as much as you think.”
Consider the meeting and event apps that currently dominate the event tech market. They provide all the benefits I described above, but are generally limited to a supporting role in your live event. They can cost several thousand dollars to implement, and you must make the same investment every year. Making them the main event can be prohibitive – again with the same or higher investment every year.
However, if you really think about it, you can gain the same benefits with a creative implementation of a member community or learning network in conjunction with your event website. While your initial investment may be substantial as you’re building a more comprehensive web platform, the ability to reuse these assets each year diminishes that cost considerably. Plus, a properly designed website will behave almost like a native app on mobile devices.
The challenge, of course, is ensuring that whoever you choose for the virtual event website implementation truly understands the platforms and your event goals. A web developer who usually develops business websites can certainly build an event website, but may not understand the nuances of a community platform. An LMS (learning management system) specialist may not focus as hard on promotional design, SEO, and marketing automation.
Yes, You Can Do That With WordPress.
WordPress makes the agility necessary to create a successful virtual event accessible for organizations with limited budgets. Great big platforms are nice, but they’re not essential to deliver a winning experience. An event team that knows what your options really are is invaluable, and they can be either contracted like traditional event planners or be in-house and trained in the areas they’re unfamiliar with.
Developing a virtual event experience takes careful and thorough planning for every aspect of your event, and a rock-solid understanding of your organizational strategy. With careful virtual event planning and learning more about the tools you already have at your disposal, you can build an immersive conference experience featuring:
- Main-stage keynotes
- Live discussions with breakout rooms
- Custom landing pages and branded streams for sponsors with relevant calls to action and download tracking
- Networking lounges with and without a community moderator
- Gamification to keep attendees engaged
- Sponsored breaks that keep brands a visible presence throughout the event
Get Started on Your Virtual Event Planning
Careful planning leads to a high-value experience. There’s no way to hide elements that are forgotten or incorrectly given low priority. Branding is an essential part of a complete, cohesive, immersive experience online. Don’t skimp on it – trust me on this.
You can get away with many oversights in a live event because you can generally rely on the charisma of your team, audience, and speakers to create the experience. The mistakes and omissions are hidden behind a good time.
So, what to do right now?
Branding. The beauty of digital events is that your landing page can start collecting data before you actually launch.
Planning. What aspects of the physical space need to be recreated in your event?
Choose a partner. If you don’t have a tech strategist in-house to help you manage costs and resources, hire a virtual event producer on a contract basis, the same as you would any other event planner.