Sometimes, people new to the concept of virtual engagement ask: “How do you market a virtual event? Is it necessary to drive attendance with email and other tools?” As experienced marketers, we know that virtual events require a similar effort as promoting a physical event, but there are several differences to keep in mind when planning your next virtual or hybrid event.
Virtual attendees have shorter attention spans
Once people commit to travel to a two-day conference, you most likely have their attention for the majority of that time. Unless something goes dramatically wrong, the cost for packing up their bags, cancelling the hotel and hopping on an early flight back home can be pretty steep. So it’s all about getting them there.
During a virtual event, the “switching cost” for attendees is zero. They can tune out any time they like. For example, with just one click, they can work on expense reports or check email if they’re bored by a speaker or content. That’s why it is critical that you make sure that you think hard about how you will get their attention and keep it for the duration of the event.
Serve great content, well chunked
To accommodate a virtual audience, you need to focus on the content of your sessions, as well as the presentation and its length. It’s a great start if you have one or two speakers who are well known to your audience. That will help you drive registration. Then, be sure to orchestrate your sessions to be engaging, using interactive tools like polls and questions to your audience. Use slides that add to your message and test how they appear in your virtual environment. A picture says more than a thousand text slides that are unreadable. Studies show that if you do a good job, you can keep the attention of your online audience for about 15 minutes. Take advantage of this, and plan your agenda accordingly, making time for networking intermissions. At Unisfair we have moved to sessions that are about 20 minutes in length.
Engage your audience early
There are a number of ways to do effective audience generation. Start creating buzz on social media, using a dedicated hashtag, asking questions, and soliciting input. One way to do this is to create a survey that allows your audience to influence the agenda of your event. For example, at a recent event we held a “Keynote Vote” on the topic of the event keynote. This helps you motivate registrants to participate more actively. They’ll be eager to join on the live day of “their” event.
Email is most likely your main vehicle to drive attendance. Create a dedicated email drop calendar, with different emails, different subject lines, and different content. Include more and more details as you near the live date. Think of something to make it worthwhile for your audience. We have experimented with a short video by the keynote speaker, in the email body. Keep promoting your event right until the live day. We have had large numbers of new registrants sign up just hours before an event was starting.
Assign a social media moderator
Leveraging social media can be a rewarding, but also a time consuming experience. Assign a person full time to take care of moderating the conversation before, during and after your event. Release interesting information on Twitter and Facebook, building up to the live day. This can be the results of a survey, or select pieces of content from the event itself, to make your audience want more.
During a recent Virtual Event on Social Media we encouraged people to tweet and post to Facebook from every location within the virtual environment. We ran a contest to see who was the most active socialite. Using the Engagement Index we scored all participants in real-time. The top 10 received the Groundswell book from Josh Bernoff, who was one of our speakers. We increased attendance by 10% during the event.
Reach all of your registrants
Often, after a conference is over, the organizer breathes a sigh of relief and heads out on vacation. Don’t make that mistake with your next virtual event. One of the strongest trends in the industry has companies move from episodic virtual events to continuous virtual engagement.
This is particularly true for hybrid events, where you can leverage content produced during the physical event, to engage a much wider audience over a long period of time. The key is to stagger the release of this content over time, so that you keep your registrants coming back and continuing the conversation. So don’t stop promoting your event, once it is on-demand. Send registrants who did not show up, a glimpse of what went on, by summarizing key findings, or linking directly to key content.
Typically, free virtual events experience attendance rates of around 50%. We have been able to increase that up to 90% with the above techniques.
If there is one big takeaway from combining Virtual Events with Social Media, it is that the conversation cannot end with the last session on your agenda. In order to build a strong community around our respective brands, we need to stop thinking about virtual events as points in time, but as the beginning of a continuous engagement with our prospects and customers.
One of the simplest ways to achieve this it to keep your virtual environment open 24/7. A lot of companies have discovered that their virtual environment can be turned into a continuous lead generation machine by keeping the sessions, the networking, the collateral, the conversations up and running. Updating and refreshing the content regularly along with maintaining information each attendee collected in their briefcase indefinitely will encourage audiences to view your virtual environment as a hub for information and networking, rather than a one-time event.
So think about your customer engagement strategy and see you online soon.