By David Bashford, SITEFORUM
Live events provide great networking opportunities and high-profile presentations which people love to hear first-hand.
There is a feeling of exclusivity when attending an industry event, of being right at the centre of the action – which of course you are. Nothing will replace a day or two immersed with your industry peers with time to focus on important issues and to reflect on the applications in your own business. However, providing a virtual platform for event attendees and organisers to communicate with one another before, during and after the event, has real merit when compared to visitors having to absorb large quantities of information over just two or three days.
Many people are now finding that an online event can enhance their event experience by enabling valuable preparation beforehand and as a valuable extension on your return. Yet the benefits of incorporating a virtual aspect into a live event do not end there, schedules and presentations can be posted by vendors or the event organisers online providing attendees a preview of what to expect while offering the chance for questions to be posed before the event takes place. In turn, this encourages one-to-one engagement between key speakers and amongst attendees. Connecting visitors with each other and improving networking opportunities is also more straightforward, providing access to all the speakers, vendors and delegates.
Getting it right
So, just how easy is it to create a virtual event? The good news is that you don’t need an IT degree to create your virtual event. If you buy the right software everything can be done quickly and easily.
Here are some simple steps to help you on your way:
1. Launch a reduced version of your virtual event to provide visitors with access to pre-event information, sample presentations and speaker profiles to get an impression of what will be happening at the live event. At this point you should encourage visitors to register for the full version of the virtual event.
2. Make sure that all event updates are featured on the site and that the site is linked to appropriate social media channels, such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, to maximise your online exposure and attract even more visitors.
3. Launch your online exhibition as soon as possible and allow site members to browse at their leisure. Encourage your sponsors and exhibitors to share their news on this channel – it’s great targeted marketing opportunity for them and creates buzz around your event.
4. Actively build the online community for this event – focus on your delegates but do not forget your speakers and sponsors too. Create network groups for special interests, stimulate discussion forums on relevant topics and do not forget to keep the site updated with all the latest news.
5. On live event days the virtual event should become a communications hub broadcasting live updates to those unable to attend. Many of your live delegates may well be online during the event and will follow proceedings in parallel on your site and beyond (many live events already integrate Twitter chat into their sessions). This “hybrid” model will be increasingly important and may offer some interesting commercial opportunities in the very near future.
6. After the event make sure that as much content as possible is available on the site and that visitors can easily send requests for more information. Your sponsors should be made aware that the first few days and weeks can provide valuable new contacts from visitors to their stands and downloads of their materials. Encourage the sponsors to visit the site themselves and network with visitors.
7. Post event – consider whether there is any value encouraging sponsors and/or exhibitors from posting new content onto the site. It can be an ideal platform for their latest webinar, corporate video or product release. You have created a highly targeted community – why not use it.
8. When all commercial activities have ceased you may choose to leave the site, with minimal supervision, for use by delegates, sponsors or exhibitors. You may be surprised what a valuable knowledge-base you have created which will have real value for many industry members – whether they were able to attend the live event or not.
Combining both offline and online should become the future of events, it is a relatively simple process and will provide an entirely new approach to hosting and following-up with attendees.
Moreover, visitors can continue to connect with each other, forming a vibrant social community acting as a valuable database for the future. Before you know it, next year’s event will be coming round again and you will want to start creating the new agenda, exhibition and delegate list.
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