Digitizing engagement: The next wave of innovation for virtual events - ClickZ

30-second summary:

  • AI-driven recommendation engines will connect online event participants with shared interests.
  • Networking opportunities will feature customized workshops, group chats, social feeds, music, entertainment, games and more.
  • Sponsorship packages will connect buyers and sellers during personalized ask-the-expert sessions and one-on-one video chats.
  • Digital lead capture tools will mirror the showroom experience at in-person events.
  • Virtual event data will provide fresh insights to strengthen sales and marketing.

Marketers tend to agree virtual events are a powerful way to share content. But for driving engagement? The jury’s still out.

In fact, deeper engagement is the No. 1 way organizers want to improve their virtual events, cited by 68 percent of respondents in a new survey by Aventri and Bizbash.

What’s the biggest barrier to engagement?

For many marketers, it’s creating meaningful online networking experiences for attendees, sponsors and exhibitors.

Fortunately, new tools and best practices are changing the game for the better.

That’s why I believe digitizing engagement will be the next wave of virtual events.

This article highlights the top five challenges to deeper online connections. Then it offers solutions to help you deliver rich networking experiences at virtual events in the New Year.

Let’s get started.

Challenge #1: Providing the right tools 

Many virtual events offer basic engagement tools, such as polling, surveys, Q&A’s and chat. But they barely scratch the surface when it comes to networking and community building. 

Virtual events networking solutions

  • Make sure your platform offers features like one-on-one meeting scheduling, private video calls and chat within sessions.
  • Check to ensure breakout rooms are also part of the platform. You can create small breakout sessions around topics attendees care about most. Invite (Read more...) to connect through live, two-way video calls and public and private chat.
  • Provide a networking area, where attendees can come together for one-on-one conversations between sessions. Choose from networking lounges, social feeds, group chats, meet-ups, and fun interactive activities. This area will replace networking breaks at in-person gatherings. So remind attendees to come back often during your virtual event.
  • For smaller groups, create brief interactive segments that encourage connections. Options abound, including team games, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, meet-the-expert opportunities, mini-yoga sessions, live deejays, standup comedy, team trivia contests, and themed parties where guests dress for the occasion.
  • Consider enhancing these high-touch experiences with custom gift-giving before your event. Create a private Facebook group for all participants and invite them to share pictures of themselves enjoying their gifts to boost engagement.
  • Incorporate tools you’re already using, such as your mobile event app. The key to successful networking is to start connecting people early. Give them access to your app upon registration. They can scroll through profiles and reach out to people who share their interests. By getting to know each other beforehand, attendees can feel more connected during your event.

Challenge #2: Driving meaningful connections

At in-person events, networking often happens naturally. People connect during sessions, in hallways, over cocktails or coffee, and more.

Compare this to the experience of today’s remote attendees. Distractions are endless – emails, video streaming services, family members, homeschooling, neighbors, deliveries, pets, etc. Amid the diversions, how can you foster meaningful online connections?

Virtual events networking solutions

  • Fortunately, attendee engagement is easy to track when events are online. Use your virtual event platform to capture key metrics, such as page views, digital networking, session selection, dwell time, question submissions, polls, downloads, social media likes, and more.
  • Recommend networking opportunities based on registration and engagement data to enrich the attendee journey. For instance:
  • Match attendees with similar interests
  • Suggest sessions and exhibitor booths addressing attendee priorities
  • Encourage networking among like-minded participants through special-interest workshops, virtual cocktail parties, group chats, meet-ups and more
  • Don’t limit networking to day-of activities. Create small, networking groups pre-event that align with attendee preferences and pain points. When your event rolls around, introduce members to each other in a designated networking session. Post-event, continue the conversation, sharing content tailored to attendee needs.
  • Make it easy for guests to connect. Using modern virtual event platforms, for example, attendees can filter lists of all participants by interests and schedule one-on-one video calls with good prospects before, during or after your event.

Challenge #3: Adding value to sponsorship packages

Today, 89 percent of global organizers plan to include digital components in their long-term strategies, even after travel restrictions end, according to a 2020 survey by Aventri. What’s more, many digital events now are free.

Given these facts, it’s easy to see that securing repeat digital sponsors is key to monetizing current and future events. But how do you create compelling sponsorship packages without face-to-face networking, handshakes or physical spaces to showcase brands?

Virtual events networking solutions

  • Invite sponsors and exhibitors to share valuable content during speaking sessions. Encourage attendee interaction via real-time chat, Q&A’s, polling and other engagement tools.
  • Create opportunities for deeper connections, too. During their speaking session, for instance, exhibitors can invite attendees to also participate in follow-up, small-group video chats and one-on-one meetings with experts.
  • In today’s economy, many exhibitors will not have budgets for speaking sessions. Create tiered sponsorship opportunities to overcome this challenge.
  • For example: Kick off education sessions with five-minute speaking slots; smaller sponsors can share brand videos and invite attendee to visit their virtual booths. At the other end of the spectrum, let major sponsors follow up their speaking sessions with intimate ask-the-expert sessions. You’ll encourage meaningful dialogue between buyers and sellers.
  • Consider incentives as well. Some exhibitors offer branded giveaways, such as online books and white papers, to deepen connections with target audiences.

Challenge #4: Connecting buyers and sellers

Post-lockdown tradeshows could look very different from pre-pandemic ones, due to many participants’ lingering health and financial concerns. Marketers and technology providers must work together to close the gap between the online and onsite experiences.

Virtual events networking solutions

  • Create immersive showroom experiences.
  • Build a virtual exhibition hall within your event website. Invite attendees to click on a booth that takes them to a custom exhibitor page. There, they can watch exhibitor videos and live demos, chat with experts and sales reps, download content, and more.
  • Set showroom times during session breaks. The reason? When sessions and showroom hours run concurrently, they compete for attention. Virtual booths can get overlooked. Also make sure showroom hours are convenient, not at the end of a long conference day.
  • Create engaging sponsorship opportunities that encourage attendees to stick around the showroom. Use gamification, for example. Participants can form teams for scavenger hunts and earn points for finding items on a list at virtual booths.
  • Set leaderboards to showcase sponsors and engaged participants. You’ll encourage attendees to connect with team mates and exhibitors.

Challenge #5: Realizing the revenue-generating potential of virtual events 

Even with engaging digital showrooms, facilitating meaningful conversations between buyers and sellers is a challenge.

With existing solutions, virtual attendees must use multiple solutions, including calendar tools, messaging bots and lead generation forms. Then, they often wait hours in a queue before connecting with experts. Sponsors and exhibitors spend part of their meetings manually qualifying leads – meaning, they have less time to address prospect needs.

Virtual events networking solutions

  • People attend events to meet experts, gain insights about their industry and find products they need to do their jobs better. In exchange for attendance, they expect timely answers. Don’t let exhibitors miss opportunities to drive revenue from your virtual events.
  • Bring immediacy to buyer-and-seller connections. For instance, the latest Digital Lead Capture solutions combine tools for chat, lead qualification, video conferencing, content delivery and reporting, all in one platform. With personalized, face-to-face conversations, these solutions mirror the showroom experience at in-person events.
  • Empower virtual exhibitors to provide prompt answers via one-on-one video calls and relevant event follow-up. Using the latest lead capture tools, they can shorten the sales cycle and improve return on investment.
  • Create robust exhibitor reports. As mentioned, event data provides a window into buyer preferences and pain points. Exhibitors can use these insights to customize event follow-up and strengthen their marketing programs overall.
  • Modern event management software solutions combine easily with marketing automation and CRM platforms. Integration enables a comprehensive picture of buyer behavior over time. Use a multi-touch attribution model to track attendees’ path to purchase. You’ll show exhibitors how your event generates revenue and contributes to their bottom line.

The pandemic has delivered a crash course in virtual events as a safe, cost-effective way to share content and stay in touch with constituents. Marketers have mastered the new format with remarkable speed.

As the technology evolves, digitizing engagement will be the next wave of virtual events.

Marketers will use new online event networking tools and best practices to:

  • Enhance one-on-one connections
  • Deepen conversations
  • Shorten buying cycles
  • Improve ROI

With these and other innovations, wishing you a safe and successful New Year!

Jim Sharpe is CEO at Aventri, a global leader in data-driven solutions for virtual, hybrid and in-person events. Aventri’s award-winning platform enables marketers to boost results through capabilities in virtual delivery, networking, venue sourcing, registration, marketing, logistics, onsite services, attendee engagement and data analytics.

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