Some things just cannot be pivoted to virtual. At least that is how it was till 2020 hit us. Spectacles like the Belgian music festival Tomorrowland Around the World and the Olympics captured our imagination in the virtual world, a feat nobody could have imagined. The height of community centric events is sporting tournaments. The National Basketball Association (NBA) rocked America with a virtual season. And none of these were video playbacks watched passively for a subscription. Virtual community events, even in the B2B arena, are now immersive experiences with heightened interaction options.
But how does one build up a successful virtual community event? And having enjoyed all the traffic, how does one retain and grow the community acquired through the event?
There is no single solution to this. Based entirely on our experience of managing virtual events before and during the pandemic, we have put together some suggestions. If you are an event planner, you would probably need to customise each point to suit your requirement. We are all ears; comment, ping, let us know what you have in mind.
- Follow the participant’s journey, not your plan — Applying live event tricks and treats obviously won’t work. Instead of concentrating on recording and webcasting your usual fare, try to think like a participant. Firstly, not everyone is equally tech savvy. Build in a training plan for speakers and partners and a mock session for participants before starting the event. The platform you choose should be easy to use, with clear navigation and the right mix of automation and personalization. Try to go for a virtual event platform that works like a one-stop-shop. It’s not just about tracking your analytics. No one likes multiple log-ins, so the closer you get to the single log-in model, the better. When you have a participant-oriented plan, you lay the foundation to building a happy community of users who interact with each other and remember the positive experience. It’s the first step to getting your event bookmarked in your target community’s mailbox and calendar!
- Going social — Social media is an integral part of planning a community centric virtual event. You need to record key moments and share them as memories, so that everyone involved shares it out, treasures it, and spreads the word. Winning gamification prizes and enjoying attractive spaces on the event microsite works wonders in this regard. Talk to your technology platform and make sure you use every tie-up they can offer. Ultimately, your aim is to make your business event feel like a social event too for participants. They are there to work, but they also want to enjoy the experience. They can’t chat over a real coffee. But they can look forward to meeting everyone else they virtually met and interacted with a year back. That’s what community is all about.
- Automation, analytics, database building — Does the virtual event platform of your choice offer you auto invite options? It’s like getting an event calendar built without wasting time on research and networking. The technology partner will leverage on your existing analytics and database though, so go for a platform that offers live analytics in the first place. With the calendar and lists ready, you can then concentrate on getting in touch personally with speakers and pay more attention to partners and sponsors. Besides, in this era of on-demand content, a database is going to help you create a more effective subscription plan for your audience.
- Rethink event sessions — Using pre-recorded content is a move we find successful event planners adopting with increasing creativity. They collate, edit and upload existing material. Then they draw a schedule where speakers visit studio spaces closest to them and record the sessions with virtually created or real ambience that strengthens the community feel. The session is a playback, often on-demand, with live comments, followed by personal live chat. This is a hybrid format that moves away from the cold automation of a classic virtual event, but stays within safety limits for everyone involved. With the focus on interaction, each session has become more fruitful for everyone in concrete monetary terms. It also means a whole group would be booking personal chats in advance for your next event as soon as they get the schedule. See how neatly this is fitting in with the points we made above?
- Follow-up and publicity — Monitoring and networking before and after an event is an old, tested and still very effective trick. Everyone expects social media announcements, newsletters in the mailbox and a few calls. The difference happens when you make it warm, personal and more human. Event moderators are great to coordinate it while your virtual event happens, but we will suggest investing in another human — the community manager. Well, it can also be a friendly and intuitive bot. Give your community members a SPOC, single point of contact they can touch base with. This would act as the cement that keeps a community together. And don’t forget to grab eyeballs on YouTube (and elsewhere on the web). A creative publicity video will increase your reach even more in a world gone virtual.
That’s all for now. We love to practice what we preach. So we want to make our interaction personal, useful and effective. Please drop your comments and messages, we will come back as soon as we can. Each event is special, and folk who work on it make the community we live in. Now let’s see if we can put that to use for you.