In a digital world, consumers expect to be connected with brands and organizations 24/7. Hosting virtual events offers an engaging opportunity to build relationships with consumers, deliver content and establish brand credibility.
In 2020, virtual events' importance is more evident than ever in the face of COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines. Virtual events are no longer just a creative strategy to reach audiences but a socially responsible way to connect and support consumers. The WVU Marketing Communications Virtual Events Guide provides a comprehensive look at planning, promoting and executing successful virtual events.
What is a Virtual Event?
A virtual event is an online experience that allows individuals to interact with each other through a digital platform rather than gathering in-person.
Why Virtual Events?
Encourage social distancing in the face of COVID-19
Attendees can “gather” virtually from the comfort of their own homes without the public health risk of large crowds.
Remove location and travel boundaries
Virtual events require no travel, saving time and money.
Provide flexibility and adaptability
Virtual events allow for changes to be made to programming in real-time.
Establish lasting relationships
Through registration, attendees can be repeatedly engaged after the event through email marketing, follow up surveys for feedback and invitations to future events.
Planning a Virtual Event
When planning a virtual event, consider what your purpose for the event is, what content and messaging the event should deliver and put yourself in the attendee’s shoes when considering design and schedule.
Theme and Purpose
Every event must have a clear theme and purpose so attendees understand the value of registering and engaging. Consider your:
Aim: What information should attendees take away with them? What message are you trying to get across?
Audience: What type of theme, topic and format will interest your target audience?
Resources: What speakers, content and capabilities do you have to deliver a quality event centered around your theme?
Event Types and Platforms
This type of event involves participants responding and engaging to questions delivered by a host. The most popular format for these is through "Twitter Chats," where an event host account releases questions during a defined period.
Attendees respond to host questions with an event hashtag and engage with others by commenting and responding to individual replies. This format can promote networking among participants, encourage the creation of user-generated content, and increase social media followers.
Suggested Platforms: Twitter, Reddit, Slack
Social Media Takeovers
Hosting a guest to takeover a brand or organization’s social media pages for a set amount of time can be a great way to drive follower engagement, utilize influencers and increase brand awareness.
Utilize features like social media stories and live videos to promote engagement. Social media Story features often allow for live discussion boards to be utilized for Q&A, polls and more.
Once a story, or channel takeover, is completed, this content can be archived on the social media platform for followers to rewatch later.
Suggested Platforms: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok
Hosting a webinar typically involves a single speaker, or panel of speakers, discussing a specific topic of their expertise. Guest speakers will usually talk through a presentation deck or answer structured prompts in a panel guided by a moderator.
These sessions typically last between 45-80 minutes, depending on the topic, structure and number of guest speakers. Webinars are usually held live through a video conference platform, but can also be pre-recorded and released on a specific date. A chat box feature is often used to collect questions from attendees to be discussed during the session to encourage engagement.
Suggested Platforms: Zoom, Webex, WebinarJam, Microsoft Teams
Logistics and Agenda
Once you have selected a topic and a platform optimized to host your event type, it is time to outline an agenda, create content and invite speakers.
Consider what “people” you will need. Do you need speakers for a panel? Is there a social media manager to moderate a Twitter Chat? What influencers will you ask to takeover your Instagram?
To properly promote and engage audience members, consider what content you will deliver to them. Developing event-exclusive content can be an incentive to attend an online session and stay actively involved with a brand after the session has concluded.
- Exclusive guides and handbooks related to virtual event topics
- Discounts and promotions for virtual event attendees provided at the end of a session
- Pre-collected Q&A submission opportunities to have individual questions answered by experts
Setting a Schedule
Be sure to have an established timeline of how the event will run. Virtual events should not typically run for more than 60 minutes. Consider how these 60 minutes (maximum) will be split up to sustain engagement. Make sure all parties involved, including attendees, are aware of the schedule.
- Provide specific time blocks for each speaker, question or topic
- Leave at least 15 - 20 minutes for live, or pre-collected, Q&A
Promoting a Virtual Event
Once your schedule is set, event participants are confirmed and content is created, it’s time to begin recruiting attendees.
Reflect on the Target Audience
In planning your virtual event you considered the Aim, Audience and Resources to select a theme/topic. Go back and look at who the determined audience is.
Interests: What content interests this audience? What channels do they get their news? What other events are they attending and how are those events marketing?
Contacts: What contacts do you already have within this audience? How could you re-engage these stakeholders?
Network: Does your event include panelists or external participants? How can you engage participants running the event in promotions and inviting those from their personal network?
Having an event website is crucial for attendee recruitment. Prospective attendees want to know why they should participate in a session, what will they learn and what takeaways will they receive?
Suggested Platforms: Wix.com, Unbounce, Square Space
Using brand social media channels, create specialized graphics and posts to promote your virtual event.
Promote panelists and guests with their headshot and short bio descriptions. These can also be short video introductions.
Create Social Media Events
Platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook have specific features for brands and individuals to create pages specific to their events. On these pages, hosts and attendees can directly invite their connections to join them.
Align Social Media Channels
Align social media marketing efforts the week of your virtual event with the theme that the virtual event will discuss. Promote relevant social media posts, blogs and infographics leading up to the event to tease what attendees will learn and gain interest from new audiences.
Executing a Virtual Event
On the day of the event, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Encourage participants and presenters to log in to the event platform or social media account a half hour before the event starts. During this time, participants can test audio, screen sharing capabilities and login procedures.
Ensure there is a plan if a participant cannot attend last minute, loses internet connection or has difficulty with their audio. Make sure there is someone who will be providing “tech support” if needed during the event.
Actively Engage Attendees
Keep attendees engaged by encouraging conversation and networking utilizing replies, comments and chat features depending on the virtual event platform. If no organic conversations or questions arise, be sure to have pre-planned talking points, polls and other materials to send out and stir conversations.
Communication After a Virtual Event
After your virtual event concludes, it is crucial to continue fostering relationships with those who attended to convert them to brand-loyal consumers, participants of future sessions and valuable connections.
Thank You Email
If you have successfully collected contact information for each attendee and participant, send them a follow-up email thanking them for their time and sending any other relevant information.
If your session can be recorded, follow up with a link to the session’s video for participants to review later. If your virtual event is a Twitter Chat or social media takeover that cannot be recorded, consider creating a blog or highlights piece.
Additional Relevant Resources
If your brand or organization has blogs, videos or other content resources relevant to the topic discussed in the virtual event, consider sending these in a follow-up email to drive traffic and further connect attendees to your brand.
Sales, Services and Organization Information
If your brand or organization has a service or product relevant to the topic of the virtual event or the interests of your attendees, considering sending more information about sales and opportunities for attendees to become brand consumers.