Many event organizers and associations are turning to digital events as a potential solution to the current coronavirus crisis. So far, numerous physical events have been cancelled or postponed, including South by Southwest (SXSW), the Cannes Film Festival, Facebook's annual F8 conference, E3, the Olympics 2020 and Glastonbury. Online events offer a way for event organizers to continue to engage with audiences during this disruptive time.
A complement, not replacement for physical events
But online events, when done well, aren’t just a replacement for an in-person event. The community that you build through online events will provide value throughout the year - in times of crisis when a physical event may have to be postponed, and around events to continue discussions, provide feedback and cultivate a loyal and engaged following. Online events can complement physical ones, become standalones and, yes, work as a contingency plan if the worst does happen.
Doing an event well starts with curation. You must provide value for your digital event proposition. Based on an earlier experience I recently had with an association, I’ve developed some practical tips that will help you create online events that engage now and deliver value well into the future.
Tip 1: Curate and manage
Without effective curation of content that aligns with an audience’s needs and interests, your online event won’t deliver consistent value. You don’t want your attendees to log into your online community for ten minutes, become distracted, fail to return and don’t renew. Instead, you need to create a curated ‘push’ and reason for them being there. That might be exclusive access to senior leaders and influencers in their field, or a series of video panels that offer practical help and advice, for example.
Tip 2: Foster connections
People engage with events and associations because they want to build personal connections that will pay-off in their working lives. They’re looking for their ‘tribe’. Make this easy with your online event by creating dedicated ‘meeting rooms’ and breakout spaces where attendees can engage with others in small groups, ask questions they may not otherwise ask in a public forum and delve into niche sectors in detail.
Another way you can do this is to tap into people’s self-worth and identity. For many, their memberships and network tie-in closely with their personal and professional identity. Your online event and community can enhance this through highlighting valuable contributors, experts and influencers. Rewarding people for taking part regularly and directing your audience to exclusive knowledge-sharing opportunities.
Tip 3: Consider ROI
Salespeople need to demonstrate clear ROI from attending events and sponsorship. Without a physical event, how do you prove this? How can you enable interaction between salespeople and prospects to help sales make connections, to justify the time and money spent? An online community built around a series of events (both physical and digital) provides extra ROI for salespeople, by giving a space for them to ‘meet’ prospects and understanding their audience’s pain points. It goes beyond a website to give a 365-days-a-year platform for organic relationship-building.
Tip 4: Link vendors and buyers directly
Another motive behind physical event attendance is to meet many potential buyers and vendors in a short timeframe. Buyers go to events to find a ‘critical mass’ of vendors, to assess potential and existing suppliers, keep their knowledge up-to-date and explore new trends and tools.
Online events can still facilitate this, even enhancing them, through connecting product experts and buyers through a conference-style format. Virtual product demos can showcase the latest technology and dedicated channels and rooms can tailor content to a buyer’s interests. Stopping them from being bombarded with solutions on other channels, when they don’t want to explore solutions.
Linking what attendees want, with what’s available
In all of this, curation is an overarching theme. There must be an ability for attendees and members to choose their interests and then have the event organizer curate and connect them with the right discussions, experts, rooms, vendors, and content.
Online events don’t have to replace or drive the same outcomes for attendees as physical events, but they allow for greater iteration and experimentation. As your audience evolves and provides feedback, you can change the format of your online events to better meet their needs.
With online events, there are endless possibilities for connection, growth and knowledge-sharing. You aren’t restricted by geographical boundaries, attendees can engage from anywhere in the world. You can run online events and community discussions around physical events, to keep connections and discussions happening long after an event has finished.
Plus, you can gather invaluable data that tailor the online event experience to each attendee. Who is relevant to whom, the most powerful connections, the most interesting content, can all be seen by event organizers to facilitate more useful connections between people, expertise and content.
A competitive edge
Investing in an online event solution is a clever move now, but will continue to add value to your existing physical events for many years. By giving that added extra, from expert insights and knowledge sharing to data-driven event planning and audience engagement. Online events are the edge your other events have been missing.