Everything You Want and Need to Know About Digital Event Based Programs and Virtual Events

A resource for tools, techniques and good practices for virtual events, hybrid events, online event-based learning, and perpetual communities.

If you’ve come to take a deeper dive on all topics related to digital events, hybrid events and live streaming, perpetual sharing and learning communities and of course, virtual events, you’ve come to the right place. This is our jumping off location to organize, publish, curate and share everything we can find that we think is helpful, actionable, thought-provoking and a valuable resource in your quest to understand and produce more efficient, engaging and profitable event-based programs.

We’re using tags and categories to provide a taxonomy to navigate to the information that is most relevant to your needs. If there is a topic or issue you are looking for and cannot find it here, please drop us a note and we will see what we can do to get you more information or if you have something to contribute, we’d love to hear from you as well and will attribute the resource to you.

Strategy

virtual event strategy

Start by referring to your organization’s vision, goals, opportunities, and initiatives in order to maximize the business benefits of the event program. Align the answer to the question, “Why are we pursuing this program?” back to those items. Outline specific goals and objectives of the program and establish the foundation for assessing the results and success.

Define the target audience(s) and, if appropriate, other participants such as partners, sponsors, press, etc. and quantify how many and from where you want to draw the attendance. It may be helpful to craft personas of your target participants to make sure you meet their needs.

User Journey & Experience

Map out what you want the attendee to see, do and feel during the event, and why. Creating a theme for the event based on this and your desired outcomes around them will create structure, atmosphere, cohesiveness.

Decide what the user experience will entail from the type of content you will be sharing (this is critical as most people attend online events to gain access to content and knowledge) to the graphical look and desired engagement results you identify.

Technology Solution

There are many different online event technologies, with different user interfaces, functionality, ease of setting up, ease of use and pricing. The key is to align your user experience to the best technology solution within the budget available.

Required features also play a critical role in your solution selection. Although most online programs use a one-to-many approach (i.e.webinars), programs needing more interaction with speakers, sponsors or attendees will need to utilize a platform that allows text or video chat and private meetings (many-to-many).

Consider ongoing growth as well. Engagez offers flexible platforms to expand as your events grow. You can also copy the venue, so all your preferences and interfaces are the same across events, even if the information or attendees differ. Engagez offers a copy venue feature to make it easy to reuse things you like.

Unlike many platforms, Engagez offers an optional registration feature with robust security. Each venue can be customized to send confirmation and reminder emails to attendees, which increases participation likelihood.

Content Strategy

Studies over the years have consistently shown that the primary reason attendees register and participate in online events is the content. Your program’s content strategy is trumped only by your marketing strategy in its ability to impact the success or failure of the event. People register and attend online events primarily to discover and consume content for education, inspiration, training, certification, seeing what’s new and keeping up with current practices.

Of course, there are other benefits. Attendees often meet new people, network with peers and discover new products and solutions as well as receiving hands-on demos. Many participants will attend just to gain access to subject matter experts (SMEs) alone.

Most of our customers introduce content through SMEs presenting their ideas, experiences, and solutions in the form of presentations that include audio, video, slides and demos. There are also interactive audience engagement elements like polling, Q&A, social media and breakout groups. Consider what kinds of engagement are needed with your content and use this to determine the best type of platform for your organization.

Though the organization’s goals and objectives need to be kept in mind during the content strategy planning process, it is a good idea to focus on the target attendees’ needs first. Amazing, unique content should be your goal throughout the entire agenda.

Marketing Plan 

The marketing plan will closely resemble a marketing plan for a physical event, or for any product or business. Email marketing is still the number-one driver of event marketing efforts for most organizations. The marketing mix beyond email tends to get very fractional (in most cases) with social media channels, SEO, SEM, and content marketing. The list of tactics is large and often is weighted by the particular market—B2B vs B2C etc.

Since a whole book could be written on the various tactics, we focus more on what and why you need to market. Marketing prior to the event is, of course, critical to drive registrations.  But it doesn’t end there as converting those registrations to actual attendees is vital—more so than physical events.

Just like physical events that offer free registration, the conversion of those free registrations to actual attendance can be a challenge. You need a meaningful campaign to keep registrants aware of the event, as well as excited and motivated to attend.

The campaign to specifically convert the registrants to attendees begins at least a week in advance and requires a reminder 24 hours before–1 hour before and a message at the opening of the program to let people know you are starting now.  These need to be well crafted and informative messages providing new insight or knowledge to keep your event on the top of the registrant’s calendar.

Revenue & Funding: Sponsor & Exhibitor/ Paid Program

Online events have different funding models with the majority being funded internally.  There are also events that are totally revenue- and profit-generating with sources of revenue from sponsorships, exhibits, paid registration and access to required courses for certifications and professional development. For some companies, their virtual events are used to sell products and services during the event or generate leads.

An example of a large paid registration event is the Social Media Marketing World event. This event found success with a hybrid model, in which there is both a physical event with paid registration and a virtual event running in conjunction. Registration fee is $695 per registrant, generating significant revenue from both online and physical registrations.

Many events rely on sponsors/exhibitors/partners to augment revenue as well as to add additional value to the attendee’s event experience via content, connections or solutions.  You’ll need a plan to identify and secure sponsors including developing compelling sponsor opportunities, marketing materials, and sales strategy.

Engagement Strategies

Engagement at an online event directly impacts the degree to which attendees are participating in the various activities at your event. Generally, the more participation an attendee or speaker or sponsor have around the event, the more successful they will be and the more emotionally connected to the event’s experiences.

Depending on the participant, engagement can be measured by sessions attended, items downloaded, polls taken, chats with other participants, social media activity, sponsors visited, meetings held, inquiries made, demos watched, questions asked, questions answered, or connections made.

These are all metrics that can be easily measured within your event platform. The challenge is actively and strategically planning for these encounters to happen. Our customers have included downloadable materials and guides, opened discussion forums, and allowed for real-time speaker Q&A, automated greeting when arriving at a different location in the event–all helping to increase participant engagement.

Engagement needs to begin before the event, continue through the event and ideally, accelerate after the event is over.  Creating persistent year-round engagement utilizing all marketing channels in an integrated campaign will deliver tremendous results impacting audience acquisition as well as participant satisfaction and retention.

Program Production & Results Measurement

Depending upon the technology platform/solution you have chosen or will choose, the event will need to be created, the content and graphics added, registration configured, email messages uploaded, and sponsor locations and features set up. A sample checklist and timeline document can be found here and will detail most of those activities and deliverables.

Based on the complexity of the program, such as multiple versions of the same event for different regions of the world, the setup could be a bit more work. This is especially the case for your first event.  The Engagez platform offers self-service options for those clients that have the resources to support the buildout as well as service packages to provide assistance for clients that don’t have all the resources needed inhouse. Engagez allows for some uploading of materials via spreadsheets, including speakers, session information and registration lists. The platform also includes a robust media library that allows event builders to upload many assets simultaneously.

Leave ample time for testing all aspects of the platform. We suggest all buildout activity be stopped at least one week prior to the event in order to fully test, train staff/partners/speakers and make any final tweaks to the environment. Registration can, of course, continue during this period.

The Engagez platform offers a comprehensive analytics dashboard for measuring activity before, during and after your event.  We strongly recommend you also supplement that with exit surveys (provided in the platform) for each of your participant segments (attendees, sponsors, speakers, and internal stakeholders).

Links to more resources (more to come):

Marketing Check List

RFI/RFP

Timelines & Checklists

Monetization & Funding

Speaker Preparation

Sponsor & Exhibitor Preparation

Staffing & Training

Hybrid Event Extensions

Audience Engagement

Hands-on Labs

Registration

Venue Build Out

Simulive

Event Support FAQs & Answers