Posted: 23 Jul 2020 Contributor: Hannah OBrien
Virtual Events 2020: How to Host an Online Event
Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, the reliance on digital services has grown immensely. Quarantine restrictions have led to thousands of physical event cancelations now replaced by virtual events. Unfortunately, not all events could be broadcasted digitally including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the 74th annual Tony Awards, and Coachella, leading to industries having to completely cancel their events, losing millions in the process
Corporate businesses have had to switch to using Zoom for meetings while the entertainment industry now has to focus on live streaming services such as YoutubeLive and Twitch. Universally, a diverse range of markets has had to evolve to keep their businesses up and running. Despite lockdowns slowly easing in most parts of the world, companies still need to consider virtual events as a crucial part of their business strategy to remain relevant and effective.
How Do Virtual Events Work?
A virtual event is essentially any type of event that can be held entirely online. There are a plethora of different types of events that can now occur across an array of platforms. It is likely that the industry holding the event will determine how the virtual version of it will run, as well as how the audience will engage on that platform.
Before an event goes live, a company will put together a strategy to create the most engaging and accommodating services for its target audience. For example, Blink Fitness has been hosting Facebook live workouts for people to join throughout the week to help stay active from home. Other companies, such as LinkedIn, are promoting companies to use their platform to advertise virtual job fairs, and colleges like California State University are holding classes remotely on Zoom. Industries conforming to virtual events is resulting in great turnouts for both companies and their audiences.
- Less Expensive: Virtual events can end up costing 75% less than the budgets of in-person events. For physical events, businesses’ have had to account for venues, employee travel, and hiring staff, all adding up to an immense budget. These factors have diminished since events moved digital, allowing companies to save a lot of capital while still being able to provide an event-like service. Also, booking talent virtually is a lot cheaper than in person because of the easy convenience a speaker has to attend the event without traveling.
- ROI: Online events allow people worldwide to join in. Many platforms such as 6Connex and Interprefy offer different language options making it possible for more people to attend virtually. Companies’ will have the potential to grow their ROI by expanding their platform for universal use and catering to a larger audience.
- Obtain Data: There are many platforms out there such as Bizzabo’s Virtual Experience Solution and Network Table Virtual that allows brands to collect data by providing audiences with surveys and polls. This is a great way to keep your audience or customers engaged during your event, as well as create a sociable atmosphere. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, and IBM have used the platform Bella to match professionals for networking purposes with the same interests and goals through AI technology.
- Time Management: Hosting an event online is a huge time-saver compared to in-person events. Putting a venue together and physically getting all aspects of the event into place can take days. Now with online events, it’s as easy as opening up your laptop.
- Audience Engagement: Factor in that everyone attending a virtual event from home is likely to be less engaged. Your audience may have children running around or could be in the midst of cooking dinner, meaning your brand will have to go above and beyond to keep a crowd’s interest. It will be hard to get your audience as excited for your event through a screen as opposed to in-person but think creatively to engage your customers. Using platforms that include interactive tools or live-chat boxes will keep your audience interested.
- Human Connection: Sitting at home looking at your screen is nothing like physically meeting in-person. Before COVID, people networking were able to meet face-to-face and build strong connections and relationships. Virtual meeting in a way dissolves that first initial layer of trust that is built through physically meeting.
- Brand Association: When consumers were attending events in person, it would most likely leave a positive memory attached to the brand because of the event. Companies setting up an event for their audience was a great way to leave a mark on their customers. Keep in mind, a brand can no longer give a gift bag to their audience when leaving, which used to be a great way to establish a connection between brand and consumer. The alternative to this is emailing your audience a discount code if it’s applicable to your industry.
Overall, a brand will need to work harder at engaging their target audience but the pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to hosting virtual events.
How Do You Make an Event More Interactive?
You might be wondering, ‘how do I host a virtual event? But first thing you should really be thinking is, how do you organize an online event? Below are the steps to follow when beginning, hosting and accomplishing your first virtual event:
Research For Your Brand: What type of event are you hosting? Know your brand and what you want to offer your audience before making any next step towards creating your virtual meeting. Think of what type of event you want to produce and then research which platforms would be the best option to execute it on. If you are holding an educational seminar, make sure to use a platform where your audience can easily ask questions, if you’re a gym holding a fitness class you’ll need a platform with easy functionality, or if you’re running client meetings you will want to use a password-protected platform; by defining your brand and researching which tools and platforms would work best with your goals will create the best experience for your audience.
Market The Event: Marketing is a crucial part of hosting a successful virtual event. You will need to define your brand’s target audience and alert them of your upcoming live stream. Using your company's social media platforms to promote your brand will help gain attention and RSVPs. Another way of promoting your event could be through email marketing. Your email list is already an audience interested in your brand so sending out invitations and reminders will make it easy for people to sign up. Make sure to keep track of the request for proposals (RFP) as this will let your brand know if the RSVP list is low and if the marketing strategy needs to be adjusted. Below is an example of interior designer Nicole Fuller using her social media platform to promote a virtual discussion:
During: While hosting your event, your brand should keep a couple of things in mind to make sure everything runs smoothly.
- Be prepared for tech malfunctions. If your company is simply hosting a meeting for employees, making sure the Wifi is stable will decrease the chances of any miscommunication. If your business is hosting an event on a larger scale with an extensive audience, have a tech specialist on call for any malfunctions that might happen.
- How you break up your time hosting the event will determine how well you can keep your audience interested and listening. Having a guest speaker talk for over an hour with no breaks might lead to losing some of your audience. Break up your virtual event to keep people on their toes for what’s next.
- Create a sociable atmosphere. By giving your audience the chance to interact during the event. This will keep your audience engaged and could even allow your company to collect data on your consumers if you are including polls and surveys.
- Thank your audience for attending your virtual event. Everyone likes feeling appreciated! Especially during COVID, this will create a sense of togetherness between your brand and the audience.
Follow Up: Again, let your audience know that you appreciate them attending your virtual event by sending them an email, or creating a social media post. Doing so will strengthen your relationship with your audience and show that their presence mattered.
The options are endless on how to create your brand’s virtual event. All industries have the opportunity to use this technology to their advantage in some way whether to conduct an educational web seminar, host a company fundraiser, or stream an online concert. The options are endless, so have your company get creative and start planning.