Part of the reason may be that you don't need to download software or create complex avatars, or learn how to navigate a complex 3-D environment when leveraging virtual events.
There is another trend worth noting, though. Short-lived virtual events, initially designed to help even out a lack of attendance at physical conferences, are rapidly turning into virtual business centers with different venues hosting multiple virtual events.
1. Have a virtual-engagement strategy in place
Companies have discovered that a virtual-engagement strategy provides them with a new channel to reach their target audiences. Their virtual-engagement platforms remain open 24/365 for connecting with prospects, customers, and employees around the globe.
Accordingly, virtual engagement is on its way to becoming a key component of some innovative companies' marketing mix.
For those who have not yet taken part in a virtual event, here is what it can do:
- Participants who have signed up on the registration site meet in a virtual venue (on the Web) to learn, collaborate, and network.
- Attendees have control over the environment hosted by the trusted organizer. They can navigate to different locations, engage with vendors, and network with peers who share similar interests and objectives.
- They can view conference sessions, chat with presenters and attendees, view collateral or videos, and build their networks. Automatic live-chat translation helps them bridge language barriers.
- Because the virtual environment is always on, attendees can participate in all those activities whenever it fits into their schedules, without having to travel or leave the office.
However, the recent boom of virtual events is showing that any event—physical or virtual—needs a strong, relevant audience to make it a success. Although content is still king, you can increase the chances of reaching your attendance targets by following best-practices.
The earlier you launch your campaign, the greater the chances of higher registration. It's best to start promoting your virtual event 60-90 days before the event date.
2. Make registration easy
Creating a compelling event-registration site is one of the key steps to getting someone's attention—and eventual registration.
The look and feel should underscore the event theme or subject matter. Limit the amount of text, and use graphics and video to attract attention.
Your registration page should be clean and informative, yet inviting. Minimize the number of fields you require the registrant to fill out; every field you omit will increase your conversion rate, and chances are that you can find ways to get more information later, during the event.
The best way to draw a crowd is to recruit one or two well-known personalities to cover topics that are of high interest to your target group. Virtual events provide unprecedented access for attendees to connect with speakers one-on-one and ask the questions they otherwise wouldn't get answered. Leverage that capability and advertise it during the pre-event phase.
3. Cast a wide net
Create an integrated campaign, combining internal and external sources to attract registrants. Build out a promotional calendar up to the event date. Determine the number and frequency of emails, as well as the audience segment. Leverage your website, external websites, industry newsletters, partners, and your speakers and their communities.
Email-marketing campaigns are still the main vehicle to drive your registration. Your house list will likely serve as the most effective source of registration.
Consider renting or purchasing highly targeted lists with additional names. Your conversion rates from those will be lower because they may not be familiar with your company or product offering.
Include an agenda as part of your email. Many people want to know the program in advance so they can determine whether to attend the entire event or part of it. A best-practice is to offer free gift cards (e.g., iTunes, Starbucks) to early-bird registrants as a registration incentive. Such an incentive should be prominently displayed on the registration page.
4. Use social-media
Using social-media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube can help you create excitement and increase registration. Adding social media as part of your pre-event promotional strategy is popular and cost-effective—many of the tools are free.
- Create an Event Page on Facebook and an Event Invitation in LinkedIn
- Regularly tweet about your event before, during, and after the event (don't forget to create a #hashtag).
- Deploy a pay-per-click Facebook ad for the event.
- Create short, promotional 20-30 second video clips and launch a YouTube channel for your event.
- Activate social-media tools within the virtual-platform environment, allowing attendees to reach out and promote your event while it is taking place.
You can also combine your registration with an industry poll or survey, and offer a prize incentive. If you have enough time, ask your audience for input on the agenda.
For example, Unisfair produced a virtual event that allowed the audience to vote via an online poll for the keynote speaker's topic. That increases engagement early and influences the attendance rate at the actual event day.
5. Keep your promos running
Often, virtual events receive a very high number of registrants on the day before the live event and on the actual event day. So, rather than relax, step up your promotional efforts as the event approaches.
Last, don't forget to make your event fun—for example by choosing a theme or asking your speakers to convey the fun they were having when they recorded a video.
A recent event host selected a beach theme, holding meetings in palapa huts and asking the speakers to wear Hawaiian T-shirts. Others let the camera roll through funny scenes during the recording phase, which they compiled into entertaining clips to promote their event.
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Recruiting registrants aggressively, creatively, and consistently will be instrumental to success. Audience acquisition represents the first stage of the virtual-event process, followed by concentrating on flawless execution and then on the post-event phase.
Enjoy the process and the benefits it is sure to deliver.