Buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride! 2020 will be forever known as the year our world turned upside down. Venues shut down, teams were relegated to work from home, and travel completely halted – making a trip to the grocery store the most exciting moment of our day. As such, most businesses turned to different digital platforms in order to maintain a smidge of normality. Enter: the rise of digital events.
We went from in-person meetings, events, and gatherings to…
- Zoom meetings
- And online retreats and conferences
Digital events became the norm for small and large businesses who wanted to stay connected with their customers during a time where connection felt so scarce.
Today, brands all over the world have started to embrace the importance of digital events. Not just because they have to (shoutout to COVID-19, wish I didn’t have to know you…), but also because, for the most part, digital events have a lot of pros over in-person ones. From reaching a wider worldwide audience to being more inclusive and accessible, digital events are transforming the way businesses market themselves, how people consume information, and how consumers connect with brands they love outside of a DM or an Instagram comment section.
Looking for ways to include more digital events in your marketing strategy? Keep reading for a few things you can do!
What are digital events?
Most of us are familiar with in-person events, right? We find a conference or training we’d like to attend, we purchase the tickets, and we show up to the selected venue eager to learn, network, and grow. It almost feels like a throwback to our old school days of mandatory assemblies: except, this time, there’s usually booze involved.
Digital events – also referred to as virtual events – aren’t really that much different…except there’s no traveling needed. You can participate from the comfort of your living room, wearing your most comfortable sweats, and petting your dog in between speakers (who are we kidding…you’ll be petting your dog throughout the whole thing, right?).
The question on everyone’s mind: “Will in-person event translate well into the realm of digital events?”
Like most things in life, the answer is: “That depends.”
Unfortunately, not all in-person events translate well into virtual settings. However, the great thing is that most of them do. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to virtual events: they can be a conference, a tutorial, an interview, an artistic performance, a tour, a sports game…the list goes on. Because of this, it’s hard to say that all events can easily go virtual, or that your event won’t work if it’s done outside of a “real world” setting.
But don’t despair, a little tweaking here and there might turn the impossible into the most badass virtual event out there. The most important thing to keep in mind when organizing a digital event is how this fits into your business goals and how it can help your brand.
- Does this event offer value to your customers?
- Will it educate them about your business?
- Is the plan to entice them to purchase your products?
- Does it entertain them and add something special to their day?
That way, depending on what you want to achieve, you might have a different view of what you can do outside the realm of in-person events.
How to run successful digital events
Let’s be honest: organizing an event of any kind is going to be a stressful situation. There’s a lot of planning and organizing involved, even when you don’t need to worry about booking a venue, finding a caterer, organizing the seating arrangements, and everything else that goes into planning an in-person event.
Digital events have their own set of guidelines and steps you can follow in order to make sure it’s as successful as can be. But, before you start compulsively printing out an overload of spreadsheets that’ll end up in the shredder, let us help you.
Here’s a step-by-step list you can follow to ease the stress and ensure nothing is left out.
01. Create a game plan
This is, without a doubt, the most important part of organizing a successful event. You and your team need to be on the same page about everything: do attendees need to purchase tickets in advance, what topics will be discussed, how long each speaker has to present to the audience, will there be a replay available…the list goes on. You’re even in charge of potty breaks during an event like this, so unleash your inner schoolteacher and make sure you let everyone know it’s not if they “can” go to the bathroom but if they “may” do so. (Take that, Ms. Siegel!)
Start with the main goal and move on from there to all of the smaller aspects that contribute to making sure you and your audience both get the best of the experience.
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A few things to keep in mind are…
- Will this event be available worldwide? If so, what time zone works best for your audience?
- Will attendees receive a recorded copy of the event?
- Are you working with another business to run the event or will it be just you?
- What platforms will you be using? Do guests need to download any additional software before it starts?
- How inclusive is your event? Will you provide captions for the hard of hearing? Will the event be translated for people who don’t speak your language? Is your speaker panel diverse?
Not having a game plan will make for a very uncomfortable situation when something (inevitably) goes wrong during the event. So before the crowd comes yielding pitchforks, always make sure that you’ve planned for the best, but always prepared for the worst!
02. Market your digital event online & reach out to potential customers
Once you’ve settled on the basics – a theme, a time, a platform, and the speakers – it’s time to start marketing your event in order to reach the right audience.
Simply organizing an event isn’t enough (there’s no “build it and they will come” happy ending to real life). In order to find attendees, you need to offer an incentive. Whether that’s a future discount for one of your products, an incredible keynote speaker that will sell out the show, “top secret” (until now) information you haven’t shared before, a new product launch you’ve been teasing, or more, make sure you find something that makes your event stand out and make sure you tell people about it.
A few ways you can market digital events online include:
- Frequent social media posts that highlight speakers and themes
- Emails that remind customers the event is taking place and include basic information (what, when, where, why & how)
- A Facebook event that guests can join and will keep them up to date with everything connected to the event
- An event hashtag that you can use before, during, and after the event to keep the conversation going
- Post a countdown to Instagram Stories that potential attendees can subscribe to
- Create a short video “trailer” that highlights the main aspects of the event
- Host a giveaway where participants can win a free set of tickets to the event
One of the most important things is to always keep the conversation going. Let it snowball! It’s always great to get people talking about you, especially if they’re doing it organically because they believe in your brand and are excited about the event!
03. Vary your platforms
The great thing about in-person events is that people usually have the opportunity to move around and mingle with other attendees. This, for one, helps them avoid that “burnout” feeling we get after sitting in one place for too long.
When it comes to digital events, however, this might be a little more difficult. Considering that most people will be attending from home, it’s important to give them the opportunity to take a breather from one single platform by opening up the conversation to more than one space. Encourage people to speak up about one of the presentations via Twitter, or ask them to engage with other guests in a dedicated Facebook group.
Working from home doesn’t necessarily mean that people have endless amounts of time to sit at their computer. Sometimes, life happens.
Switching channels means that, for example, stay-at-home parents can still make the most of your event if they’re also taking care of a rowdy 5-year old causing trouble. Or, that student can still learn from you even if one of the presentations overlaps with a class they can’t miss. By going multi-channel, you can share important quotes on Twitter, create snippet videos for IGTV, and much more that will make it easier for people who are juggling life and work at the same time as your digital event.
Also, it’s essential to give people enough time to break and breathe in between presentations: ask them to get up and stretch, grab a drink, or simply close their eyes for a few minutes away from the screen.
04. Prepare for trouble
Trouble will always find its way into in-person and digital events – that’s a given. Whether you’re dealing with a tech issue or glitch, it’s important to be prepared for things to go a little awry.
A couple of ways you can try to avoid any mid-presentation issues are…
- Triple check your internet connection and make sure it’s reliable
- Test your speakers and microphone before the event begins to avoid the awkward “Hey, you’re on mute…” we’ve all come to know so well
- Always have a back-up of the presentation, slides, or video you’re planning to show
- Create a set of guidelines to help attendees if they run into any issues themselves
Most importantly, try not to freak out.
If attendees notice you’re breaking down mid-keynote because something isn’t working, they might feel like you’re charging them to improvise – and, if this isn’t a comedy show, improvising will get you nowhere. Keep calm, try to figure out a solution, and thank people for their patience if it’s taking longer to fix than you expected.
05. Encourage attendees to engage & share their experience
Leverage the power of social media by asking guests to share things about the event as it happens. This is where the hashtag comes in handy: you can collect all of this content in one place, share it on your own channels, and even repurpose it for future occasions.
Real-time shares, stories, and social media posts are a wonderful way to get people excited and participating, especially if you’re re-sharing their stuff on your much-larger platform. Everyone likes to feel special and appreciated – even more when it’s by a brand they love. This means people will be eager to post about you with the hope that you’ll feature them on your page, too.
Also, it’s always a good idea to keep the ball rolling after an event has ended – especially if you’re planning to organize another one in the future. Encourage attendees to share their experiences and how they felt after the event. Did they learn something new? What was their favorite part of the event? What did they hope to see that didn’t happen?
Not only does this help get your name out there, but it also helps you collect data that will be essential for any future planning. It’s a win-win, and we’re all about those!
Examples of digital events that knocked it out of the park
Digital events became the “norm” in 2020 when the pandemic had everyone cooped inside their home with literally nowhere to go and no one to see.
As such, a lot of big names – from fashion houses to celebrities, musicians, athletes, and even museums – took all their good stuff (and not so good stuff *ahem* Imagine cover *ahem*) online for viewers around the world to enjoy a moment of respite. Here are a few of our favorite digital events from the past few months:
01. “Tomorrowland Around The World”
The famous electronic music festival brought a global audience together through some pretty incredible 3D magic and video production. With 8 online stages and over 60 artists, more than ONE MILLION (!) attendees “gathered” on a mystical island to enjoy top-tier performances, webinars, workshops, and games.
02. Online exhibitions from world-class museums
The VanGogh Museum, the Louvre, and the British Museum all opened their doors to people quarantining at home who wanted a quick escape from the reality of their day-to-day life. Through platforms such as Google Maps, people were – and still are – able to tour the museums’ rooms and galleries from the comfort of their couch, wine in hand, and get as close as they want to the art without being yelled at by a menacing security guard.
03. The NBA 19-20 season
While the actual games were played off-screen, everyone else involved attended via a very peculiar conference call. Fans from around the world were projected onto the bleachers and around the court in an attempt to recreate the vibe of having an actual crowd inside the stadium. Through clever use of cameras and microphones, fans were able to enjoy the experience as if they were actually there.
04. Tech summits and conferences
It’s no surprise that the tech world managed to leverage the use of online platforms to organize truly engaging and top-tier digital events. Companies from Adobe to Google, Salesforce, Amazon Web Services, and more, all found a way to create immersive experiences for attendees without them having to leave the house. Not only that, but a lot of these online events were also made accessible to everyone: instead of a hefty price tag (last year’s AWS conference had a $1,800 price tag), some of these welcomed viewers completely free of charge.
05. Virtual fashion week around the world
The tech world wasn’t the only one to go all out when it came to digital events. Large fashion houses like Moschino, Prada, Balenciaga, and Loewe all rallied to create their own virtual experiences that fashion-lovers could still enjoy, even if they were miles away from the catwalk. From using a mannequin audience to project some of the most famous faces on screens along the runway, designers played with technology to bring a little something extra to their shows.
06. Private zoom quizzes & parties
Not all digital events have to be huge: sometimes, they’re as intimate as they can get. People from all over the world connected with loved ones through Zoom when all those “shelter in place” orders were at their most strict. Through casual happy hour meet-ups, well-organized pub quizzes, and even online birthday celebrations, anyone with internet access had the opportunity to organize and host a virtual event of their own: brand or no brand, it goes to show that we can all do it. It doesn’t take a giant budget or a giant marketing push to host a digital event: all you need is a group of people who are willing to join you.
TL;DR? We get that. Let’s sum things up…
The great thing about branded digital events is that they can be a great opportunity to grow your brand and business. By reaching a wider audience, making yourself available to more people, and showcasing the best of your brand, there’s always a possibility that more customers will come flocking to you when they need what you can provide.
Organizing and running digital events should be a fun experience, albeit one that requires a lot of planning and patience. In order to make sure your event runs as smoothly as possible, we suggest you…
01. Create a game plan
02. Market your event online
04. Prepare for (tech) trouble
05. Encourage attendees to post about their experience
When it comes to digital events, there are a lot of pros you need to consider in comparison to in-person ones. From saving big on booking a venue to paying for speaker travel, accommodation, and catering, digital events also open the door to a realm of possibilities that once seemed…well, impossible. And, once the pandemic is over, and we’re allowed together again under the same roof, rest assured that digital events will still be happening. It’s all a matter of when you decide to try it out for yourself.
Have you ever hosted a digital event? What was the hardest part of doing so and what did you enjoy the most? Let us know in the comments!
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