The world has changed dramatically in the past few months. At the start of 2020, we had no second thoughts about meeting up with friends for dinner, booking a flight abroad for our next adventure and attending in-person events full of thousands of colleagues and peers.
Today, most of these things aren’t possible; and if they are, there’s an added sense of anxiety around them based on social distancing guidelines and health and safety precautions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the events industry particularly hard. The limited number of people allowed in a space at any given time has meant that the calendar of in-person events your B2B brand might have had planned for this year has metaphorically been ripped to shreds.
Instead, brands from all B2B sectors, whether that’s healthcare, the technology sector, or manufacturing, are turning to virtual platforms to help them stay connected to their audiences and provide educational materials in a different way.
In one study, only 3 out of 10 marketers said they’d feel comfortable going to an in-person event through the end of the first half of 2021, which means brands are having to rethink the way they run conferences, workshops, trade shows and other pivotal events.
At this point, you’ve probably at least considered running a virtual event if you haven’t already, but you may think that online events are easier to plan and run than in-person ones. This is far from the truth.
To help you keep your virtual events as high-quality and as educational as your in-person events, here are some best practices to follow.
1. Choose the Right Platform
Don’t just follow the crowd. Sure, lots of brands are turning to Zoom because of its prolific use during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Think about what kind of event you’re running and the best way you can host that for your attendees.
For example, a Zoom might not be quite right if you’re running a tradeshow, whereas a more intimate workshop event might suit the platform perfectly.
You don’t have to limit yourself to one platform, either. The breakout rooms feature on Zoom might be great for one part of your event, while a platform that allows private one-to-one networking opportunities might be ideal for another section of your event.
2. Make It Immersive and Interactive
Sitting behind a screen is a completely different experience than walking around a bustling trade show, mingling with colleagues and attending post-session drinks with new-found friends.
It’s much harder to create the buzz of an event that so many B2B buyers enjoy, especially if you’re just broadcasting webinar after webinar with no real way for attendees to interact with speakers and other attendees.
This is why it’s important for B2B event organizers to inject an interactive element into their online events. You can do this by incorporating Q&A sessions, running polls and surveys, hosting games and competitions, or encouraging attendees to connect on social media.
Salesforce did a great job of making their World Tour Sydney Reimagined event as interactive as possible by including competition between exhibitors – complete with audience voting – called AppExchange Demo Jam.
During the competition, each partner was given three minutes to showcase a live demonstration of their app. From there, the audience was given a link to vote on their favorite app within 24 hours, and the winner was announced on Twitter the next day. Getting creative with interactivity is key to any successful online event.
3. Clarity is Key
Not every online event attendee will be a digital whiz, which is why it’s crucial to be very clear about how attendees can show up to sessions or how they can interact with the technology you’re using to get the most out of their experience.
Instead of just sending links to the sessions, add guides that show how they can turn up for sessions – do they need to create an avatar and a username? Do they need to download any software in advance? How can they ask questions during a session?
Covering all bases means that attendees will have a much smoother experience, and you’ll receive fewer questions in the run-up to each session.
4. Cement Your Marketing Strategy
In many ways, virtual events need more marketing than in-person events. A lot of the time, in-person events attract repeat attendees, and B2B buyers are more likely to see the value in attending in-person.
As a result, you might have to increase your marketing efforts in the lead-up to a virtual event. Not only do you have to reach the right people, but you have to convince them that they need to attend your event.
You can do this by creating a hashtag on social media to generate a buzz, sharing videos of past presentations and sessions, email drip campaigns, filming live Q&As with sponsors and speakers, and creating a slick sales funnel that outlines the benefits of attending your event and makes it easy for B2B buyers to get a ticket.
Flume runs a series of online sales training sessions. To promote their paid sessions, they have a selection of “Sales Chats” with industry experts that they share across their social channels.
5. Remember, Virtual Events are Very Different than In-Person Events
Staring at a screen all day isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. Whereas in-person events foster a sense of community, are incredibly social and provide lots of different experiences for attendees, virtual events are far different.
As a result, you have to tweak your schedule and priorities to incorporate the needs of virtual attendees. This might mean having shorter sessions to keep people’s attention longer, adding extra social elements that encourage attendees to interact with one another, and even gamifying your event to keep people interested and actively involved.
Are You Ready to Host a Virtual Event?
Virtual events are a necessity for B2B brands now. Industry professionals are no longer willing to risk their safety to attend in-person events, which means B2B brands have to up their game when it comes to taking their events online.
It’s not enough to film a few webinars and hope for the best. Instead, you need to convince attendees of the value of your event, encourage them to interact during each session and choose the right technology that complements your event.