Virtual events mean steeper competition as traditional barriers to entry fall to the wayside, but the limitations of having to be in the same physical place and time are also reduced. How can planners take advantage to create ongoing community engagement?
Even in the best of times, event brands spend an enormous amount of time and energy attracting an audience for punctuated events that they hold for a few days at a time, once or twice a year. For virtual event organizers, the challenge is even greater. Attendees are deluged with options and usually have the ability to watch the event content on-demand later. This can translate to deflated live attendance numbers, which can make or break future sponsorship negotiations.
What is the solution?
Event planners are going to have to take an unbiased, open-minded look at how emerging formats better serve their audiences. The accessibility of virtual event platforms, free from the standard restraints of geography and time, can be turned into an advantage — an opportunity for ongoing community development.
4 Ways Event Planners Can Develop Online Communities
Reframe the Attendee Journey
The customer journey needs to be reconceived from a one-off experience to an ongoing relationship. Aja Bradley-Kemp, Founder of Love My Curls, shared her strategy with EventMB: It is less about grounding the attendee journey within the event itself, and more about positioning the event within the attendee’s overall personal journey. Think about the attendees’ goals, and design the event as “one in a series of stepping stones” that carry attendees progressively closer to their destination.
“If you can design events that strategically address various points in your attendees’ journey, you can create an ecosystem that allows them to come back over and over again.”
AJA BRADLEY-KEMP, Founder, Love My Curls
Create a Strategy for Before, During, and After the Event
What does this strategy look like in practical terms? Danielle Maveal, Senior Manager of Community for Lyft, recently spoke to EventMB for an entire session dedicated to the question, “How do we create 'community' for virtual events?” She shared a series of helpful tips organized in stages:
- keyboard_arrow_right Create an advisory board from the event’s registrants.
- keyboard_arrow_right Design a welcoming activity to explain the platform’s format and engagement features.
AFTER THE EVENT:
- keyboard_arrow_right Capture key moments and make them evergreen.
- keyboard_arrow_right Appoint a community manager to coordinate ongoing engagement activities.
She also recommends using existing community management platforms:
“We can continue that connection with happy hours, accountability groups, book clubs — and where there’s interest, break people up into cohorts so they can continue the conversation. There are a ton of platforms for community spaces that will create forums, groups, live chats.”
DANIELLE MAVEAL, Senior Manager of Community, Lyft
Think About a Subscription Model
There has never been more incentive to turn a single event into a series, where attendees continuously remain connected on a virtual event platform that offers a vehicle for content and ongoing community engagement features. Beyond lowering marketing costs by retaining a core group of return customers, this strategy opens the way for a subscription-based model for revenue generation.
Unsurprisingly, event tech developers — being accustomed to transcending the physical experience with digital layers that maximize convenience and engagement — are quick to see the advantage of ongoing access to online content.
The virtual model removes the incentive for limiting events to a once-a-year phenomenon: Event planners don’t have to rent out a venue, and attendees don’t need to book travel. Many tech companies are building virtual subscription models because they recognize the value they could represent for planners and attendees alike. Features like gamification and community chats can continue beyond the initial happening, with subsequent events treated as modules within a virtual platform.
Think Like a Screenwriter
Successful community engagement requires a strategy. Nick Borelli, President of Borelli Strategies, spoke at EventMB’s Virtual Event Tech Day event about the value of investing in on-demand content.
“There’s a lot more money to be made in virtual events and sponsorships specifically because the distribution options don't have to be within a finite time and space. You have the ability to create evergreen designed pieces that can have natural connections to brands...The event never ends in virtual.”
NICK BORELLI, President, Borelli Strategies
Event planners need to think less like hospitality workers and more like screenwriters.
According to Borelli, the key to successful evergreen content lies in shifting the focus away from the sensory appeal of in-person experiences to the emotive appeal of storytelling. His advice is to look to successful, well-established formats like athlete profiles for the Olympics and story-based commercials, which are able to create an emotional connection through a remote experience.
It has long been possible to foster an online community around an event, but when it exists entirely online from the outset, the initial customer adoption battle is already won. Virtual attendees have already taken a crash-course in how to navigate the event platform. Once they’ve logged in, the trick is to keep them from ever signing out.