The distractions of home can make it easy to ignore a virtual event. Give your annual meeting added punch by supporting it with innovative content.
By Eric Goodstadt
There’s a certain level of commitment to attending a live event.
When someone pays money to register for an annual meeting or tradeshow, they’ve already committed to showing up and taking part in your event. And they’re generally looking forward to discovering a new or familiar place as they interact with their colleagues and peers.
But these are different times, thanks largely to the complexities of COVID-19. What was once live is now virtual. This changes the equation, not only for event organizers and sponsors, but also attendees.
In a webinar study that has some important takeaways for digital events, GoToWebinar finds that virtual marketing events have an attendance rate of just 44 percent. With everything virtual there is to choose from, and everyone working at or near a comfortable couch, how do you make your virtual event stand out as one that must be attended?
Drive Virtual Attendance with Content
Here are a few ways it could help your next event:
It can provide an additional funnel. Content can help get people in the door at a time when traditional buzz may be harder to build, which is why it needs to take on a more significant role now. For example, rather than simply sharing ramp-up content on social media a week ahead of the event, consider planning for a more robust build-out months in advance—maybe driven by a vlog, a series of behind-the-scenes newsletters to members, or perhaps even interactive quizzes.
It’s a good way to add context. Often at annual meetings, attendees tend to stumble into breakout sessions based on the title or just to see if they might find a gem—perhaps with the help of a printed conference guide or app. In a virtual context, this sort of self-discovery is a lot tougher to do. Fortunately, content can save the day. A well-considered pre-event strategy can build excitement around your speakers (keynoters and breakout speakers alike) and illustrate your event’s breadth. That can help differentiate your offering from just another glossy webinar.
It can add fresh value to your event. Virtual events pose a clear challenge, since attendees may not give them the same weight as your in-person events. But that’s only the half of it: Sponsors and exhibitors may feel shortchanged without a convention hall to highlight their wares. This is where content can save the day, not only by supplementing the digital event itself—by curating hours of coverage into thoughtful articles and video coverage—but by giving those sponsors and exhibitors effective alternatives to the convention hall. If designed right, a strong content program can offer both attendees and sponsors something very impactful: a leave-behind component (maybe an in-depth curated resource or a piece of swag), that lives on well past the event itself.
Make Room for Print, Too
Considering everything else about most events is already digital, it’s important to think about nondigital content strategies, too. While print content has been less popular than digital content in recent years, ironically, it may be just what the doctor ordered in the current climate—adding much-needed texture to your virtual meeting. There are many directions printed content for a virtual meeting can go.
For example, researchers have found that, in a learning environment, people tend to remember more when they write things down with a paper and pen. This is a clear opportunity to create dedicated notebooks for attendees that you can send to their homes, complete with additional educational resources.
But even before the meeting begins, there are plenty of ways to reach your attendees through print, which offers the personal touch we so desperately crave right now. You can send printed letters or handwritten postcards (perhaps penned by the keynote speaker); create a conference magazine or newsletter; or even offer a “special gift” to attendees pre-event—something political fundraisers are doing a lot these days. It’s a small way to close the gap between a live event and a virtual one.
Physical events give your association the important opportunity to showcase its weight and scale. Virtual events can do the same. They will just require a bit more planning and ingenuity, beyond simply livestreaming presentations, to make it happen. With a carefully crafted content strategy melding both the digital and tangible worlds, you could see success rivaling the good old days of destination meetings.
Eric Goodstadt, president of Manifest, has more than two decades of experience in the agency world, serving clients in diverse sectors—including associations, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies.
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