COVID-19 has shown that corporate virtual events are just what businesses need at a time when online activity has increased manifold. As the pandemic continues to disrupt most of the planned in-person trade shows, exhibitions and seminars, virtual events such as online forums, conferences, product launches, and others are helping to elevate brands like no other. As businesses largely shifted online this year, we saw many of them getting creative with virtual events, offering attendees a host of interactive formats, speakers and experts from all over the world, as well as both educational and entertaining content.
However, virtual events require lots of time to plan and execute, as well as a high level of technical expertise. Compared to in-person events, the chances of the attendees feeling “trapped” behind a screen or bored and exiting the event in a jiffy are higher for a digital event. When done right, virtual events can be engaging, effective and can help to boost both sales and image.
In our recent Twitter poll, W7Worldwide asked PR professionals in the Kingdom: What steps did you focus on to create a successful and powerful virtual event?
Of the 599 participants, 33.3% of people polled in English and 19.3% in Arabic said they would focus on “Event Planning,” while 17.8% of English voters and 14.1% of Arabic voters said they would prioritize developing an effective “Interactive Platform.” Moreover, 15.6% of English voters and 14.3% of Arabic voters stressed on the need to boost “Media Relations” while 33.3% of English voters and 51.3% of Arabic voters said they would do “All of the Above.”
A successful online program often takes more preparation and time than its offline equivalent. The pre-production process and content creation is the most important part of a virtual event, and can single-handedly make or break it. When creating your event plan, make sure the program is aligned with the objectives of the event. Your virtual program could have any of the following goals: Audience engagement, revenue generation, lead generation, brand building, industry exposure, establishment of thought leadership, and others. In addition, all planning decisions should be driven by factors such as your budget, content, technology, time, sponsorships, and others.
Another critical aspect of a digital event is the choice of the virtual platform to host it. Technologically advanced platforms enable you to host a multi-faceted, interactive and immersive gathering that feels physically part of the event. An effective platform will have various features such as entrance sections, virtual lobbies, exhibitor halls and meeting spaces, in addition to options for small groups, break-out sessions, networking, surveys, games and polling, similar to those in in-person conferences. Smart platforms should also enable attendees to access more personalized content and the organizers to gather rich data on attendee behavior.
One of the primary purposes of a corporate event is to gain positive media exposure and build relations with journalists. Despite the current COVID-19-related challenges to holding face-to-face interviews, a virtual event can facilitate these goals and enable media interaction in the most creative ways. Organizers can schedule exclusive press briefings for members of the media via video conferencing or telephone or host a virtual and interactive press conference live, before or after the event. The key is to give the media what it needs: Interesting as well as informative content. Industry commentators, key speakers, subject experts and top-level management can offer journalists much to write about and discuss.
Indeed, virtual events are here to stay and can be leveraged as a key digital strategy to boost the brand’s reach by connecting with individuals who cannot attend in person, and enable industry networking. However, without reimaging and reinventing the whole digital experience to make it more compelling, there is a possibility that they could fail to retain the interest of the targeted audiences and become passive and mundane events, which could easily be exited with the tap of a finger.
For more tips on creating successful virtual events during COVID-19, check out W7Worldwide’s report here.