Bringing People Together Virtually During a Global Pandemic

Gerard Lafond

When we kicked off 2020, no one could have anticipated the rollercoaster this year would become. With the emergence of COVID-19, we saw events (both personal and professional) get canceled, we lost the comfort of seeing loved ones without worry and had to shift into a more secluded world by working remotely and upholding social distance.

With the cancellation of major events, marketers have had to get creative and one way was to become experts in virtual conference strategy, in order to still facilitate events and conferences through the year but remain socially distant. While virtual events are new to many organizations, there are several simple tips marketers can take into consideration when thinking through how to tackle this type of event. 

Get a deeper understanding of the digital event space.

Before any event planning takes place, it is vital that organizations and their marketing teams take the time to really understand the virtual event arena. While it can be easy to assume that a virtual event is simply having some speakers join a video conference, there is a lot more planning, thought and learning that needs to take place first. 

Investigate the various options for software and technology available to you, and make decisions based on their capabilities and what your event needs are. It is vital to the success of a digital event that the organizations facilitating it and their marketers become well-versed in everything from the different tracking methods to the interactive and display possibilities that can be incorporated. Marketers should keep in mind that we are in the midst of the digital era and expectations are high for a seamless digital experience. As such, organizations should make sure that landing pages, blogs and other collateral are up-to-date, and the event page UX/UI is optimized for a seamless experience. Expectations should be just as high as they would be if the event was happening in person.

Don’t forget to test the tech (multiple times).

As a digital event relies solely on technology, the technical details of a virtual conference should be at the forefront of any marketer’s mind. Ahead of the event, you should be running through every presentation, transition, poll and other experience attendees will see at least twice in advance (if not more). Not only will this decrease difficulties on event-day and help troubleshoot potential problems, but it will also reduce stress. 

It’s better to spend the time testing for problems and not need it, than to find an unexpected issue during the live event. It’s important to remember that while you cannot control technical issues on the attendees’ side, you can ensure that there are as few technical problems as possible on your side.  

Networking is still possible despite the social distance.

One of the biggest draws of a conference is the opportunity to network and meet new people with shared interests. Even though a virtual event would have attendees joining in from their own homes, when designing a digital event, marketers should put deep thought into how to create a collaborative environment where attendees can meet others. The goal is to keep your virtual event as similar to an in-person event as possible, if not better.

Marketers also need to think through creative ways of keeping their attendees engaged. Built-in features like polls, Q&As, virtual chat rooms, quizzes and breakout sessions are all great ways to make the event feel more collaborative and interactive. 

Start promoting through your brand’s social presence.

Another positive of a virtual conference is not being constrained to an event space’s capacity or location. By hosting a virtual event, organizations are able to accommodate as many attendees as they want, and people can join from separate parts of the country or even from across the world! As such, organizers should take advantage of another channel not constrained by geographical barriers for event promotion – social media. 

Social media can be a driving force behind event awareness and registrations. Organizations can drive registrations and awareness by having a steady drumbeat of content across all channels to encourage their communities to join in, but the social content does not need to end there. As a way to continue awareness and keep followers engaged post-event, organizations should also be promoting event recap content. 

Despite the crazy new world we are navigating, implementing a virtual event does not have to be as daunting as it seems. As we look to the future and anticipate the continuation of remote work, learning the ins and outs of how to handle a virtual event will likely be beneficial since this type of event could be the new normal.

Gerard Lafond is senior vice president of  digital at LEWIS, a global marketing agency.

Sales & Marketing Management is the leading authority for executives in the sales and marketing field.

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