The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything about how we live, work, and play. The impact of the pandemic has been especially felt in the event marketing space, where thousands of small, medium, and large in-person events were canceled and many of them went virtual in 2020.
Marketing teams have struggled with how to replicate successful in-person events with online platforms. Many event planners were not prepared for this change and realized that the skills needed to put together an in-person event were different for the online arena. An industry study done by Certain showed that more than half of their survey participants were struggling with attendee engagement during online events. As a result, marketing teams have to shift their focus to how to better engage virtual attendees to provide better ROI for events.
While measuring event ROI has always been an issue for event marketers, now that events have moved into the digital space the challenge of engaging attendees has increased. Without the valuable intent data that come from attendee engagement, sales and marketing teams are left without the necessary insights to inform their communications and follow up effectively with the customer and prospect attendees.
As more companies focus on putting their events online, they realize that engaging attendees and keeping them engaged throughout a multi-day event is very complex and requires a multi-pronged approach. If “content is king” then “engagement is queen.”
After attending several small and large-scale virtual events, it became very clear that the virtual events that wanted to provide value through high-quality video production, gamification, showcasing beautiful locations, and high-quality speaker presentations, were the real winners in the space. Those that treated the virtual event like a “large zoom party” were less interesting, not well attended, and you could see the chat rooms emptying out pretty quickly.
The big question is how do you keep your attendees engaged and interactive?
Ben Chodor, president of Intrado Digital Media, the company behind the virtual event platform INXPO, which was used for ASAE’s record-breaking 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting & Exposition, has suggestions.
“Virtual events need to be designed with an end-user in mind,” says Chodor, who has a new book, Transitioning to Virtual and Hybrid Events. He invites meeting professionals to close their eyes and envision the attendee sitting in the home office with dogs and kids and doorbells ringing and all kinds of distractions around. The obvious challenge: design something that will keep that person glued to the screen.
LOCATION. LOCATION. LOCATION.
Since most of us have been working from our homes for months, virtual events are an opportunity for attendees to be “transformed” to another location. If you can broadcast “live” from an actual physical place, you can show your attendees a world outside their four walls.
Both the Democrat National Convention and the Republican National Convention were successful at sharing their host city locations. The Democratic convention did a video “roll call” of their delegates which transformed us to all 50 states. You can also do the same thing by filming on-site at the venue location you were going to be at or obtaining quality footage from the Chamber of Commerce or venue owner.
CONTENT IS STILL KING
Creating quality content is necessary for both in-person and virtual events. Your event speakers must always provide content that delivers real value in exchange for the attendee’s time. It’s even more important that quality content is delivered online, as the content in each session reflects on the overall brand of the event.
To ensure that the content is high quality and provides real value, you may want to offer to provide your speakers with a marketing team member to oversee the development of their presentation to ensure it uses high-quality graphics, photos, videos, etc.
In addition, you should consider budgeting for speaker coaching, professional-quality video and audio equipment, as well as a broadcast-quality studio or help them set up their home “studio” to look professional and inviting. Just as the broadcast network guests spend time in their “rooms,” your speakers need to have a professional room to speak from.
The content of the presentations should provide lots of opportunities for “live” interaction either through moderated chat rooms, polls, surveys, or opportunities to set up appointments.
INTERACTION WITH ATTENDEES
In a live event, most of the focus is placed on general sessions and workshops, where attendees gather to “listen” with very little interaction. In the virtual event space, you should pay more attention to the Audience IQ and let your attendees play a part in the delivery of quality information. The audience should be allowed to use their subject matter expertise to deliver additional content to the attendees through live Q&A and requests from the speakers to share real-life experiences with the attendees.
You can use polls, gamification, virtual chat rooms, entertainment, contests, community billboards, and live Q&A to engage attendees. Another great idea is to create a “Virtual Event Online Community” that will act as an online platform for networking, promoting attendees, sponsors, and additional content that can be curated and shared across social media platforms.
It is also important to create virtual experiences for your attendees that they would not be able to get elsewhere. Virtual yoga classes, wine tastings, tours of museums, live concerts, Cirque de Soleil, and other high-value experiences are ways of ensuring that your attendees look forward to your virtual event.
Whatever you use to interact and engage with your attendees, make sure it is easy to use, scalable, targeted to your audience, fun, memorable, and shareable. People like to share their experiences via social media, blogs, and on their company websites, so be sure to include photos, videos, great graphics, memes, and other graphics that can be easily downloaded and shared.