Virtual events have come a long way in the last nine months. They are increasingly like actual conferences: lobbies, exhibition halls, meeting rooms, virtual water coolers. With the notable addition of sweatpants, cats and kids, virtual events are looking a lot more like what we used to do.
And there are virtual event platforms for every type of event: tech meetups, big conferences, networking events, learning environments. Some are structured, some less so. And then there’s Zoom, the gorilla of the space with the big infrastructure and blossoming ecosystem.
Something’s still missing though.
We spend a ton of time, money and energy building up content to drive interest and attendance for a virtual event—and when it finally takes place—we see a massive spike in engagement. That’s great, but at the conclusion, there’s a massive dropoff until the next event. This is still true with in-person events, but with virtual, there’s an opportunity to keep people connected and engaged in between.
For most virtual events today, engagement is spiky and follows a consistent pattern with gaps:
Why? The main challenges:
- Networking: How do you find potential connections before an event? How do you stay connected with them afterward? Virtual event platforms have basic networking but they’re not meant for evergreen discussions or engagement so connections die quickly or move out of your preview to platforms you don’t own, like LinkedIn.
Plus, many organizations use multiple events platforms to execute different types of events—so you can’t use just one platform for networking as it would defeat the purpose and make it impossible for people to connect at each of your events.
- Continuity: How do you leverage all of the great content and keep collaboration flowing before and after the virtual event? There’s no easy way to maintain breakout groups, cohorts, or archives of content to be leveraged all year long.
For example, how would you facilitate an ongoing Q&A with the keynote speaker or a high-value panel after the virtual event? How would you find the presentation from last year’s conference and discuss it—or invite new audiences to access the presentation as if it were brand new? How would you understand the demand for topics six months in advance so you deliver an even better experience this year?
We invest a ton of time and energy to make virtual events engaging and valuable, but we’re throwing all of that away when we don’t consider how to bring these events under one hood to provide ongoing access and connect the audience we’ve worked hard to earn.
Community is the missing factor.
You need a 24x7x365 engagement layer surrounding these events; a private professional network; a way to keep your audience connected and to drive belonging. This drives successful events. And vice versa.
If you only employed a community without events, the engagement would be consistent but missing the “lightning strikes” of connection. The engagement flow would look something like this:
One Plus One = Three
When done well, “community plus virtual events” changes the game. Engagement continues unabated, and that drives growth, retention and delight. You build a moat for your organization through earning and building a loyal audience by delivering value all year long.
Engagement is much higher and more consistent throughout and you spend much fewer resources to drive interest and attendance with your future events.
When we combine virtual events with community we see an engagement pattern that looks more like this:
What’s not shown in this visual; your earned audience also grows in this equation—because you have a single environment where individuals can invite others to connect and engage with the network, free of other distractions—like LinkedIn—all year long.
Community plus virtual events allows you to:
- Promote events organically and you’ll spend less on paid acquisition for attendance in the future
- Keep conversations going all year long and maintain connections—delivering long-term value for your participants and retaining your audience
- Identify potential connections and become a bridge for your participants to find new opportunities
- Organize people around topics and interests— keeping them engaged in what they care about most
- Maintain rich profiles of people (e.g. speaking sessions, badges, and desired goals)—for a better understanding of who people are and what they are trying to do
- Maintain a network that you own. When you own the network, you own the conversation and use the data in service of creating meaningful value for your audience
- Understand career ambitions or problems they want to solve—and facilitate connections to help them
- Leverage event content for evergreen use and discussion—squeezing much more value out of the energy you spent building and delivering that content
- Acquire participants all year long by offering on-demand sessions from past events—increasing audience and organic promotion of future events significantly
- Understand the demand for content and topics—continuously improving relevance and retaining your hard-earned audience by giving them what they want
- Offer high-value sponsorship options throughout the year, not just tied to the event
We have seen huge demand this year from companies who need an evergreen engagement layer for their virtual events. Customers like ASCII, who after being blindsided by COVID shutdowns, moved their events entirely online. They expected a huge drop off in attendance and revenue, but the combination of their events platform and Mobilize led to no change on either front while opening up new revenue streams with sponsorships and on-demand access to event content. And with the cost to produce a virtual event being much less, the profitability skyrocketed over their in-person events….while connections flourished.
It changed their long-term event strategy and became a core product offering for their audience.
As we start thinking about getting back to in-person and hybrid virtual/live events next year, it’s time to rethink your own strategy. Are you wasting money and energy by doing events without community? Could you get long-term value out of your event content and the audience you work tirelessly to build? We think so.