This is a guest post from Asaf Darash at Regpack.
It’s no secret that COVID-19 has changed the way organizations and corporations across the globe operate. Whether you’ve had to postpone your events or transition your entire staff to work from home, the virus has caused an unprecedented impact on how society functions and how people live and interact with each other.
If your organization often plans and hosts events, social distancing requirements and CDC guidelines have definitely put a pause on your plans. You understand why these drastic measures are put into place, but it’s hard not to acknowledge that COVID-19 has changed your regular business plans for the near future.
As we learn to navigate this “new normal,” it’s time for your organization to start pivoting efforts to a new space: virtual events. Digital fundraising is no longer a concept of the future. With technological innovations and software solutions, you can still create engaging and fun events for your supporters while they’re stuck at home.
Don’t worry if you’re unsure where to start and how to tackle this non-traditional form of events. This guide has been created to help event planners like you make the transition and implement your regular offerings in the digital space. You’ll be learning about the following top tips and best practices:
- Determine your virtual event audience.
- Establish an online presence.
- Optimize your communication strategy.
- Build out your virtual event toolkit.
As an event professional, your highest priority should be the safety of your guests, and that means the switch to virtual sessions is a necessity. Just because your event has to be experienced through a screen doesn’t mean that you lose all personable touches and engagements. You just need to be equipped with the right tools and best practices.
1. Determine your virtual event audience.
As you figure out the best way to bring your virtual events to life, you have to consider who you’re doing it for. What kind of organization are you, what kind of events do you want to host, and who are your attendees? According to this Accudata marketing article, understanding your audience is the best path to creating a successful marketing strategy.
The best way to determine your audience is to look at your data. As a modern organization, you likely already have a database or CRM system to help collect and manage data. That means, after every event or engagement, your CRM should have more data, including event data like attendance numbers and financial metrics, as well as guest data like registration details and preferences.
To understand the best way to reach your audience, you first have to figure out who they are. Consider gathering and analyzing metrics such as:
- Social media usage
- Email preferences
- Past engagements
Audience data like this helps you understand the different types of people who come to your event. This way, you have a better idea of how to effectively reach your audience and what the optimal format for doing so is. For instance, if you notice that a lot of your audience is active on Instagram, consider posting about your virtual event there.
2. Establish an online presence.
With COVID-19 pushing more people to stay inside, the internet is going to be many people’s direct connection to the outside world. While your organization likely already has a dedicated website, this is the perfect time to optimize it and brainstorm additional benefits you can easily offer your audience.
The first place a potential registrant will go to find out more about your event is the internet. That’s why it’s crucial that your website hosts all relevant information and presents it in an intuitively navigable way. To effectively connect with your supporters through your website, consider these tips:
- Check for SEO optimization.
- Incorporate an event calendar with links to registration pages.
- Create an About Us page.
- Include a Contact Us page.
- Add links to social media networks.
- Use landing pages to track marketing leads.
Since your virtual event exists purely in the online space, it’s important that your guests can easily find your event, learn more about it, and then register to attend. Make sure you also enable registration directly on your website. This way, users don’t have to go to a third-party page, and the entire process is streamlined.
To further drive users to complete registration, follow these best registration form practices:
- Incorporate your organization’s branding.
- Ensure it’s mobile optimized.
- Personalize the event registration process to each user with conditional logic. This is a software feature that enables the form to change based on the users’ input. For instance, if the registrant marks that they don’t have a webcam, your form can expand to include other ways to experience the event.
- Customize all forms to only ask the questions you need and to capture the right data.
Your virtual event isn’t that different from a traditional in-person event. However, it’s still focused on the online space. That’s why it’s important to establish your online presence from the get-go. These optimization tips aren’t just great for now, but will also elevate your organization for the long run.
3. Optimize your communication strategy.
When brainstorming the best marketing strategy, a top priority is communication with potential and current registrants. As we discussed earlier, determining your audience and listing out key data points is crucial for figuring out the best way to reach them. On top of this, you can use that same data to further improve your communication strategy.
For instance, segmenting your audience is a popular tactic to make your messages more personalized and valuable to the recipient. There are immense benefits to a segmentation strategy. It can help make sure you send the right information to the right people, as well as reduce the risk of users ignoring your emails.
Let’s say you have a variety of virtual event sessions that depend on links to other platforms, whether it’s Zoom or Youtube. As you’re sending out emails to your attendees, segment them by session to include the correct link to the correct people. If you’re sending out an email announcement about one of the sessions, you don’t need to send it to every person on your contact list. The last thing you want is to clutter your guests’ inboxes with information that doesn’t pertain to them.
Another way you can use this key audience data is to personalize your communications. Sometimes, adding something as simple as the registrant’s name can increase the chance that they’ll open the email. When an email isn’t personalized, 52% of customers say they’ll find somewhere else to go.
As you’re getting registrants excited for the virtual event, make sure to send them emails describing any instructions or technical protocols they need to establish beforehand. To encourage guests to open the email, use the data you’ve gathered to add in their name and other relevant details.
Depending on your software, you might also be able to take advantage of automation tools. One of the ways you can incorporate automation is with triggered emails. This means communications are sent out automatically after a registrant completes certain actions.
For instance, as soon as the user registers and pays to attend your virtual event, they should receive a confirmation email. Use your software to automate that process and trigger a personalized email once the payment is complete. Make sure they receive a summary of their financial transactions and other important information for their personal records. This way, guests immediately know their registration went through.
4. Build out your virtual event toolkit.
The more we talk about the best ways to market your virtual events, it’s clear that dedicated and capable software is the key to success. And, with technological innovations, virtual events are now becoming more commonplace. It’s important that you take the time to build out your virtual event toolkit to ensure that you have the best solutions to handle this engagement.
Your virtual event toolkit should reflect who your organization is and the kind of events you host. Here are some examples of tools you should invest in:
- Online event registration tool. We recommend a solution that has specific features dedicated to virtual events, like connections to virtual event platforms.
- Video conference tool for face-to-face engagement and for speakers/webinars.
- Livestream tool to show off real-time action and more intimately engage the audience.
- Social media tool to organize your various social media accounts and the content shared on each.
- CMS builder. Look for a website builder that’s easy to use and gives you heavy customization capabilities.
Even before this global pandemic, we as a society were already moving towards the idea of virtual events. For instance, large concerts like Coachella have live streamed sets to increase their virtual offerings in the past. In a post-COVID-19 world, virtual offerings will continue to be popular, and many will probably start offering events with both in-person and digital capabilities.
Hybrid events are almost certainly going to be the future of fundraising, so it’s important to have all the right tools from the get-go. These events not only increase accessibility to those who can’t physically make it, but also attract those who don’t have sufficient funds for the live experience. Consider offering virtual event accessibility for a lower price, letting more people register and experience it.
As we continue living in this “new normal,” it’s time for your organization to start thinking about virtual event alternatives. Start brainstorming the best ideas and getting the word out to your supporters. Good luck!
Asaf Darash, Founder and CEO of Regpack, has extensive experience as an entrepreneur and investor. Asaf has built 3 successful companies to date, all with an exit plan or that have stayed in profitability and are still functional. Asaf specializes in product development for the web, team building, and in bringing a company from concept to an actualized unit that is profitable.