Top Tips for Hosting an Online Event for Your B2B Business
Virtual B2B networking events aren’t impossible to pull off, but there’s a lot to think about before, during, and after. Here’s how you can make it happen.
It’s been a year since COVID-19 forced much of the US population into quarantine, and I have to admit, all of this virtual networking and the Zoom calls … they’re starting to wear on me in small ways. Like, instead of starting my day on my Outlook calendar, I check my Zoom schedule to see what’s there. Because I am an operations director for a business that is primarily busy in the afternoons, I work my morning schedule around Zoom calls first, and sales follow-ups second, because the Zoom calls give me the chance to connect as directly as possible with other people. In my local chapter meeting for Business Network International last week, I told a peer to schedule a “Zoomie” for us to jump on because it felt like a safe and disarming way to take some of the sting of yet another meeting held remotely.
The good news, though, is that businesses are getting much more creative with the events they are holding. And more comfortable too, if my recent searches for “Networking Events” on LinkedIn are any indication. I say that because rather than small-scale webinars with little interaction or large, unwieldy conference calls like we saw when all of this started, we’re starting to see well-planned events complete with the support of customized meeting platforms and extensive marketing campaigns. This is fantastic news, and shows that businesses are shifting focus from survival mode to ensuring business continuity. So if you’ve been holding off because you weren’t sure if the public was ready for online networking, or you’re not quite sure how to approach hosting a virtual event, now’s the time. Let’s break down the logistics of hosting an effective virtual B2B networking event.
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Attendance
Not exactly the alliterative life lesson my dad taught me, but it’s close enough you get the idea. You have to put in the work upfront to make sure that you’re hosting a networking event for the right audience and that you’ve got all of the angles handled ahead of time to provide attendees with an amazing experience, one that they will tell their friends about on social media.
What Are You Trying to Accomplish With Your Virtual Event?
While I might have joked about all of the Zoom calls I have scheduled throughout the week at the top of this piece, the fact is I make sure that I approach every opportunity to connect with one of my peers or other professionals in my field with a goal in mind. I have a great amount of respect for anyone who is willing and able to network with me, and I want to make sure we both hang up from the Zoom call feeling that the time we spent connecting had value. You want to take the same approach when planning out your virtual event.
Lead generation, network expansion, new product or service introduction, or focusing on improving existing client relationships are all viable goals for members of your own organization to accomplish during the event. However, in establishing goals for your own organization, don’t forget to consider what you want your attendees to walk away with as well, and ensure you are planning an experience that provides value for all involved. For your organization’s internal goals in holding the event, establish metrics you can track to determine if your event is successful.
Translate Your Goals Into an Action Plan for Executing the Virtual Event
With your marketing team, you want to convert your goals into actionable objectives and steps that need to be taken in setting up the event. At this stage, you’ll establish a checklist of items by way of a slide deck, laying out your goals as you build out your outline:
- What’s the best virtual conference platform that meets your vision for this event? Will an existing, off-the-shelf solution work, or do you need to identify a vendor to create a customized solution? What technical equipment will you need to acquire or borrow to ensure a smooth high-quality broadcast?
- What value are we providing to the target audience?
- How will we structure the event to allow for information to be conveyed as well as time for attendees to network and connect?
- What should the speaker lineup be to maximize value and experience?
- What’s the strategy and scope for advertising the event, and how will we track key metrics before, during, and after the event and what will we offer as “added value” in our follow-ups with attendees?
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A Note About Event Platforms
There is an ever-expanding number of platforms capable of hosting and managing a large number of virtual attendees that help you manage the presentation of multiple speakers. When seeking out a platform, spend time focusing on how the platforms being considered manage breakout sessions and other ways that attendees can interact with each other, speakers, and your own staff. Also, consider platforms that allow user visibility so that attendees can find people they might be looking to connect with or identify peers or influencers in their target demographics.
Invite Speakers Who Add Value and Offer Content That is Meaningful to Your Target Attendee Audience
While the event’s overall theme and topic are important, speakers offer a larger draw and help to generate buzz when advertising. Your event might be an audience’s only opportunity to engage with certain speakers for the year due to current events. If that’s the case, leverage that in the advertising. In the planning stages, include time for them to either network with those speakers or to participate in small Q&A sessions as part of the experience.
Promote Like Your Event Depends Upon It
One of the challenges in-person events face is no-shows, which can hurt an event’s reputation in the aftermath as feedback from attendees might focus on a lack of attendees during events and networking sessions. For a virtual event, where the percentages of no-shows are traditionally higher, this can be disastrous. You can get ahead of this with strong advertising across multiple platforms that is designed to bring in more attendees than you’ve planned as a minimum to account for the potential no-shows
- Leverage email marketing lists, especially lists beyond your internally curated list.
- Include the event on the website and social media chatbots as a discussion option.
- Paid social media advertising such as boosted posts and target ads, with programmatic advertising folded in and remarketing strategies in place.
Practice Makes Perfect
You’re working in a virtual setting with technology, and as a father whose child did a semester of virtual school, I can guarantee you that Murphy’s Law is in full effect for any and all virtual meetings. Plan with the service provider of the digital platform to test run the event and enlist help from your network to stress-test the platform. This will give presenters and staff time with the platform interface so they can work through potential problems and plan how to help users address common challenges or issues that might arise.
Your Event Was A Success, But It Won’t Matter Without Followup
When the screen cuts to black, and the last attendee has left the platform for the event, the real work begins. Just like with every other marketing campaign format, your event will only be considered a success if you can stick the landing on the follow-up. The website Swag.com has a fantastic write-up on the best way to connect with attendees or those who missed the event afterward. Highlights from their strategy include:
- Send out a summary of the event or recordings of the special sessions to your mailing lists, attendees, and anyone whose contact information you captured during the registration process. This will add value for attendees, build up resolve to not miss your next event for those who might have registered but didn’t attend, and inspire those who passed up registering this time to mark the calendar for your next event.
- The window during which your brand is top of mind and potential leads will be in the mindset to convert is very narrow. Coordinate with your marketing team that they will follow up with every attendee by a certain day and time to maximize your opportunity to convert the plethora of highly qualified leads.
Check out the rest of the article for three fantastic ideas on tangible follow-ups that will boost your marketing web-cred, because there’s nothing worse about virtual events than missing out on the convent swag bag!
Need Help Translating Your Vision For An Event Into Reality? UpCity’s B2B Platform Is The Right Place to Start
We all want things to get back to normal and shake our peers’ and colleagues’ hands again, but until then, we have to make the absolute best of the difficult situation and do what we can to maximize the opportunities we get to connect, regardless of the platform. But the other fact we have to face is that we’re all extremely busy, and event planning isn’t always something that is in our wheelhouse. Become a member of UpCity’s amazing community of B2B service providers and find yourself a business partner who knows how to throw a party. Just don’t forget to include me on the invite list, I’d never miss the chance to meet a new face!