Whether in person or online, events are critical to the success of communities. They create a sense of belonging, make space for people to bond through shared experiences, and give communities an excuse to have fun (and laugh!) together. As a community manager, it can feel daunting to have to come up with new and different online event ideas that aren’t the same old, same old. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of 10 ways to bring members together virtually.
So, if you’re ready to turn up the online event idea heat, read on for a list of some of our favorite virtual social event ideas—and start bringing your members together in fun, educational, and engaging ways!
What is the Value of Hosting Online Events?
During the first year of the pandemic, virtual events became wildly popular. And rightly so—with most in-person events and gatherings either canceled or postponed, virtual social events, concerts, and other online gatherings became the go-to.
Now, further into the pandemic—at a point where we’ve all experienced online event burnout at some point or another—virtual events are here to stay and here to provide high-value opportunities for brands, businesses, and organizations.
As for the benefits of hosting online events? Well, there are a few things that stand out. With so many online event platforms and software improvements—as well as some innovative approaches to hosting—things have shifted. Many virtual events have gone from glitchy, semi-discordant occurrences (you know, where the audio cuts out or an attendee leaves their mic on while eating pretzels, among other things), to immersive, enlightening, and enjoyable experiences.
Plus, with virtual events your overhead costs are far less and there’s a whole world of data you would have otherwise missed with an in-person event. That is, when everyone tunes in online for a virtual event, it’s much easier to track who’s watching, listen in on real-time chat box conversations, and archive (more on archiving later).
Best Practices for Engaging Virtual Events
Wondering how to host a virtual event? Here are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about best practices for engaging online events, as well as how to host something that feeds into the overall goals of your organization.
1. Make your virtual event relevant
First thing is to make sure your event is valuable and worthwhile to your members (you can send out a survey asking folks what they would be excited to attend). Is the content you’re delivering useful to your community members? Will it bring members together and help build community relationships? What will make your community want to tune in after, say, a long day of work? Before planning a virtual event, always ask yourself these questions.
2. Choose the best platform for your online community event
From Zoom and Vimeo, to Youtube Live, Eventbrite, and more, there are a number of online event platforms to choose from. Be sure to go with the one that makes the most sense for you, your community, and your virtual event experience.
3. Implement strategic marketing tactics
Check out this Eventbrite guide to marketing online events! We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
4. Keep your online event ideas inclusive (please)
This one is simple, yet often overlooked. If you’re hiring guest speakers or presenters for your online event, make it a point to find experts of different genders, races, and backgrounds. Also, add subtitles to your livestream, as well as the recorded version you later house on your website (more on archiving your virtual event in a minute). Lastly, if charging for your event (especially a professional development class or networking event), how about offering scholarship tickets?
5. Invite special guests
You want attendees to actually show up to your virtual event, right? Well, invite an expert in your industry or from a related field (celebrity status helps), and you’ll probably get what you want.
6. Following your virtual event, ask for feedback from members who attended
After your virtual event has come to a close, ask for feedback! Not every attendee will respond, but the ones who do will give you crucial insight into how everything went, what they appreciated or didn’t, and how things could go in the future. Authentic feedback, even if just a little bit, is key to making your online events the best they can be.
A List of Virtual Event Ideas (to engage your online community!)
Sure, we’re all Zoomed and online event-ed out. But as we continue to move forward and into more and more remote times (circumstantially and out of necessity), it’s imperative to find ways to connect, communicate, and share who we are with one another over the digital distance. Also, we need to be able to laugh and have fun and interact with one another as real human beings. Not only is laughter a form of medicine, but when shared with others it also helps us feel closer and more connected.
With laughter, fun, connection, and personal growth in mind, we’ve curated the following list of virtual event ideas. We hope these help you bring members together and foster a healthy, engaged, and authentic community. Because really, at the end of the day, authentic engagement is not only good for your members, but also good for your organization’s bottom line. Win and win!
Alright, here we go—time to connect your remote teams and your community members in new, genuine, and fun ways.
1. Virtual Campfire (+ ghost stories & s’mores)from members who attended
As humans, gathering around fires is in our DNA. It’s associated with meals and communication, with story sharing and survival. It’s also… really nice.
Ever experienced a video bonfire? You’d be surprised at how relaxing a recording of a fire is (not quite the real thing, but rather mesmerizing and calming nonetheless). For a fun and simple virtual social event where members get to know one another—either by sharing ghost stories or personal stories centered on a given theme or adjective—plan a virtual campfire event.
If you choose to go with ghost stories (no, this doesn’t have to happen close to halloween), we recommend setting the mood for attendees by having them either turn their room lights off or use creepy virtual backgrounds.
To turn your virtual campfire into a competition, ask people to vote on the best ghost story. Or, add a teambuilding element by splitting attendees into breakout rooms and giving each room a few minutes (10-ish) to craft their best-ever spooky tale.
And when the lights go back on, s’mores for everyone (just make sure you let your attendees know ahead of time to have s’mores kits on hand)!
2. Host an Interactive Workshop
One of the best ways to bring members together (in a way that feels useful to them), is to host a virtual interactive workshop. With these, leaders within your organization get to show up and share information, anecdotes, and insight into their expertise while community members soak it all up.
Hint: make this kind of virtual event as hands-on as possible (no lectures, please).
3. Plan a Virtual Pet Event
Cats, parakeets, turtles, dogs, mice—come one, come all to the virtual pet event!. Seriously, pets are family, too, and people love to show them off. For your virtual pet party, put out a call for members to introduce their beloved pets to the community. As one of the best free virtual social ideas, an online pet party lets people shed a little light on the little loved ones in their lives (loads of alliteration here 🤷♀️). It also brings folks closer together by allowing members to see one another beyond their online community selves.
4. Online Trivia Night (with themed bonus rounds)
Another fun virtual event idea is to host an online trivia night (or multiple nights over the course of a year, with themed bonus nights throughout). Online trivia nights provide a way to bring members together through socialization, entertainment, and shared mini-goals (who’s going to win?!)
5. Learn Skills Together Online
Some of the best virtual event ideas are the ones where you get to learn new skills (the kind you’ve always wanted to learn) in the good company of others. When members take on a new subject or skill with other members of the community, they grow their support system and drop any misconceptions about perfection. In other words, people get to see how they’re not the only ones who make mistakes–everyone is a newbie at something!
Here are a few “new skill ideas” to center your virtual event around:
- Coding bootcamp
- Sommelier 101 class
- Journaling class
- Self-defense class
- Cooking lessons
- Beginner language lessons
- Guided meditations
- Creative writing workshops (we’re quite fond of poetry)
- Photography 101
- Beginner art classes
Whatever new skills you choose to offer during your virtual event, rest assured that group learning often transforms people into cheerleaders and coaches. That is, by providing a way for members to work together and help one another, your community becomes stronger and more connected.
6. Run a Q&A Session About How You Started Your Organization
One of the many benefits of hosting online events is that you get to reach a much wider audience than you would otherwise (like, at a live event). With this in mind, why not run a virtual event that encompasses a Q&A session about how you started your organization?
Not only does hosting an online event like this bring members together, it also helps break down any intimidating walls or hierarchies that may exist between your members and the organization itself.
Also, the people want to know—how did you do it?! Here’s your chance to share your story in a rather intimate and interactive setting. Speaking of interactive, feel free to source questions from your members ahead of time, as well as take live questions during the virtual event.
7. Virtual Happy Hour
Whether members join in cocktail, mocktail, kombucha, or craft-beer style, virtual happy hours are a lovely way for people to gather at the proverbial “watering hole” and shoot the sh*t.
Here are a few pointers on how to host your own virtual happy hour and make it a success for you and your community:
- Pick a day and time (perhaps take a poll and see what days/times work best for the majority of your members)
- Send out virtual invitations.
- To help get things started at your virtual happy hour (you may not need to, but just in case), make sure to prep a handful of topics and activities ahead of time.
Want something a little more curated and immersive for your virtual happy hour? Check out Sangria and Secrets with Drag Queens. Speaking from personal experience, it’s a fabulous, fun, and unique way to bring members together.
8. Virtual Mixers (community subgroups unite ✊)
A great way to build community relationships is to throw a virtual mixer. A mixer is an event that brings together different groups. When you host a virtual mixer, you get to unite teams across different departments and members across different community subgroups—all on one video call.
Here are a few tips for planning your first (of many) virtual mixers:
- Connect with community leaders and subgroup leaders to spread the word and gauge interest.
- Take a poll to determine the best day and time for your virtual mixer.
- Send out your amazing video call invitations.
- Initiate introductions among the different groups and subgroups.
- Prep games, fun discussions, and online event ice breakers for all to enjoy!
9. Virtual Open Mic Night (check, one-two-one-two)
Open mic nights are great for showcasing hidden or little-known talents among your community members. From poetry and guitar solos, to comedy sets, juggling acts, and more, almost anything goes at an open mic. Same for when it’s a virtual open mic—only you’re online instead of in person at a dimly lit coffee shop or smoky bar.
Some tips for hosting your very own virtual open mic include:
- Send out enticing invitations to your virtual open mic.
- Set guidelines for what participants can and can’t perform (you do not want to alienate anyone, nor make the online event you’re hosting feel like anything less than a safe space).
- Offer 5-10 minute slots and encourage members to sign up.
- Designate an emcee (someone engaging, fun, and conversational) to facilitate and announce each act.
The overarching goal, aside from having a good time? Give your community members a way to value one another on a much more personal level. Such valuing further encourages authentic connections and boosts community engagement.
10. Celebrate the “Under-Celebrated” Events
For this virtual social event idea, we’re talking all things “under-celebrated.” These are less about “online events” and more about being “virtual shares” where community members can feel seen. For starters, give one of the following a test run:
- Encourage members to show photos of their favorite holed dough on National Donut Day 🍩 (June 4th).
- Celebrate National Lipstick Day 💄 (July 29th) by having folks share images of themselves wearing their favorite shades. No, gender does not matter.
- Livestream a zoo together for World Wildlife Day (March 3).
- Celebrate National Taco Day (October 4th) by asking members to share their favorite taco recipes.
These “virtual events” can be 10-minute livestreams or chats, or simple shares and posts. Either way, they’re great for recognizing global holidays, as well as bringing members together in new and fun ways.
How to Host a Virtual Event – Tips + Final Notes
Before we say sayonara (until next time) and send you on your merry way to hosting the best virtual event ever, let’s close with some final tips to help make your online event hosting experience a success. Best of luck and here we go!
- Some of the best online events are similar to in-person ones. If in doubt, just think to yourself, how would I host this event in person?, and then build from there.
- The best online event ideas (see our complete list above!) include memorable experiences and personalization. If you can, personalize at every touchpoint and your attendees will feel that much more connected and invested (both of which lead to more community engagement).
- PLEASE record your online events and make them readily available for both attendees and newcomers to access online. Why make good content inaccessible? Always, always make your content work for you in more ways than one!
- There is no need to create your virtual event all by your lonesome. Nope. Whether you add sponsors, a virtual event production team, or both, bringing others into the fold of your online event can help give it the reach you’re looking for, as well as make it as successful as you had envisioned.
- Whether you opt for YouTube, Eventbrite, or something else, be sure to shop around and use the virtual event software that’s going to provide the best possible experience for you and your attendees.
- If we just look around, virtual event inspiration is everywhere. To get a feel for who’s hosting the best online events and how, don’t forget to take a peek outside of your industry.
How to Use Mobilize to Plan Your Virtual Event
One of the most-used features on Mobilize is the event scheduler. Thanks to this nifty feature, community managers can see who has RSVP-ed for online events, and then follow up with those who haven’t yet responded. To boot, event invites automatically sync to confirmed community members’ calendars. Wahoo for streamlined online event scheduling!