The Beginner’s Guide to Finding the Right Virtual Event Platform
Think back to just a couple of years ago. How many of your organization’s events were in-person? Most organizations relied on in-person expos, conventions, conferences, lunch and learns, and workshops. Online events were often relegated to webinars and content streaming.
Virtual events were made a necessity by the pandemic due to restrictions and social distancing. We can expect to see this event format stick around as ordinances are lifted and the pandemic subsides. More people understand the value of virtual events and the opportunities they create to connect more people across larger spaces.
To facilitate these events, you may be considering using a virtual event platform. You’ll find the information you need to choose the ideal solution with the right features below.
Beyond the pandemic: Why virtual events are here to stay
When the pandemic began, the primary benefit of virtual events was that they were remote. There was no need to worry about in-person contact and contributing to a superspreader event. However, the benefits of virtual events aren’t just limited to the needs of a pandemic.
Greater potential audience: Your attendees can participate in your event from anywhere in the world. This is an especially attractive benefit for events that would otherwise be located in high-cost or more remote locations. Your audience is more likely to sign up if they don’t have to factor travel costs and days off into the equation.
Corrine Stratton, Director of Marketing at Banzai, explains the value of this benefit, “People have realized that virtual events allow us a new sense of flexibility that in-person events don’t necessarily enable. It opens up the potential audience significantly. With virtual events, you can reach a wider audience and get your message out to people you normally wouldn’t be able to reach.”
Format variety: Hybrid professional events are definitely on the rise. In the past, many organizations relied on streaming to offer remote attendees a chance to attend in-person events. Today, the expectations for hybrid events are higher. Virtual attendees will want to receive as close to an in-person experience as possible. So, you’ll need to consider ways to offer avenues for engagement, networking, and other interactions (more on that below!).
Savings on expenses: Let’s face it: putting on a completely in-person event can be extremely costly. There’s the venue to book, speakers to pay, food and refreshments to budget for, and the list goes on. Virtual events are significantly less expensive to host. In some cases, you may choose to pass on those cost savings to your attendees.
Must-have features for a virtual event platform
We could make a massive list of potential features for a virtual event platform, but to get what you really need out of your platform, focus on these must-haves.
End-to-end management. There’s a lot to event planning so you need a platform that can keep up. With an end-to-end management platform, you can handle invitations, registrations, agendas, collect payments, and manage attendee data.
This solution should be flexible for hybrid, in-person, and completely remote events. Otherwise, you’ll have to use multiple solutions and run into the risk of disparate data. Stratton explains how important this feature is, “We’re going to see hybrid technology really take off when it comes to events that have a virtual component. Event teams will likely include a virtual events manager to take charge of that virtual experience and engagement.”
Don’t forget to make sure whatever platform you choose will integrate with other key solutions you use.
Methods for engagement. The most important customer-facing metric for events is engagement. With virtual events, you have to consider a variety of ways to interact with attendees from afar. According to Statista, the top five ways to engage with attendees are:
- Live chat to ask questions for speakers
- Live chat for participants to communicate
- Online community to facilitate engagement
- Polls with real-time results
- Virtual “Happy Hour” breakouts
When comparing potential solutions, take stock of their tools for engagement. Chat and polls are a good starting point, but you can take things to the next level with break-out rooms, polls, virtual vendor booths, and online swag.
Session registration. Consider whether you’ll allow attendees to register to specific sessions of your event. These may be learning tracks with different options per category. Or you may offer different levels to your event, such as VIP or Sponsor. Your virtual event management platform should include tools for customizing session registrations, limiting seating, and verifying attendee status.
Social sharing. Social sharing is a quick and easy way to promote your event. After attendees register, you can invite them to share the event on their social networks. This feature is typically referred to as social sharing or social incentives. Depending on your goals, you may choose to have registrants simply share the event or receive a unique discount code for their followers to earn a discount or other reward.
Email marketing. We have many options for communication at our fingertips, but email marketing remains one of the most direct and effective ways to connect with target audiences. Your event platform should include email marketing capabilities or integrate with your preferred email marketing solution. If you choose a platform that offers email marketing, make sure the look and feel is customizable to represent your brand.
As you review the email marketing capabilities, take a look at features around the call-to-action (CTA). The CTA is the most important element of your email so anything you can do to make it stand out is a plus!
Analytics. Post-event, you’ll want to analyze data around attendees, their engagement, feedback, and the success of related campaigns. A good virtual event platform will present these analytics in a clear, easily digestible manner. You can use the insights to refine your events and nurture leads through account based marketing as well.
The landscape of event marketing and management is changing to reflect the way we live and work today. With a forward-thinking, scalable event platform, you can set your organization up to deliver amazing experiences to attendees in any format.
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