Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many web-based platforms that supported live events in limited capacities like video meetings or virtual walkthrough tours. Some platforms, such as event apps, have grown out of their ability to network an audience, connect buyers and sellers, and recommend relevant content to key audiences. Others are education platforms built for storing on-demand videos curated for the user to mimic a trade show or event experience.
The current higher demand for an all-encompassing solution is driving innovation and building a bridge between face-to-face and digital worlds, which will likely only make live events and hybrid experiences stronger in the long run.
A virtual event or trade show platform delivers an online experience and connects audiences with brands, organizers with attendees, and exhibitors with leads through engaging content and engineered digital experiences.
The common instinct in digital transformation is to mimic the look and feel of the physical experience; however, this may neglect the core intention and value being provided to the attendee.
For example, if a retailer tried to mirror what it feels like to walk into a store, comb through the racks and then stand in line to make a purchase, it would be forgetting the purpose of why the shopper is there in the first place — to skip in-store buying. The translation of physical into digital may make sense on the surface but loses its intrinsic value as an online shopping experience to the end-user.
Six Key Considerations
When researching and choosing a virtual event platform, there are many things to think about and consider. Key to your decision should be registration and promotion, attendee management, brands and sponsorship, content curation, speaker delivery, and analytics and insights.
Registration and Promotion. Digital promotion and marketing will drive users to the platform and capture registration data from attendees, exhibitors and sponsors. The registrant’s user access will allow them to populate their assets on the platform and build the experience they need to connect with the audience. For example, attendees may input their contact info and LinkedIn profile for networking purposes, while exhibitors focus on product and services collateral.
Registration should be either integrated into the virtual platform or connected through other software. A strong registration system and strategy is essential to capturing revenue and creating a unique experience while providing real-time data about who is interacting and engaging. Collecting this information is extremely valuable to show organizers and exhibitors who need to track success and make informed decisions to help attendees create lasting connections before, during and after the event. A best practice is to have one registration system for a hybrid event that allows the attendee to experience both the in-person and virtual event.
Attendee Management. This is where attendees register, pay and access the virtual event. From here, they can build out their personal profile, connect with other attendees and plan their schedule of preferred sessions or micro-experiences before, during and after the event. Adding a digital networking element to any event, especially a virtual one, gives attendees access to brands, speakers and their peers, allowing the conversation to continue beyond the event. Learnings from using these platforms with your virtual event can also help with future planning and incorporation with face-to-face events.
Brands and Sponsorships. A good platform should allow for exhibiting brands to build out their profiles, connect their participating employees, manage speakers and speaking sessions, and customize their ‘microsite’ with engaging content, including 3-D virtual exhibits and experiences. Some tools may bring the added benefit of measuring success by lead scoring and engagement metrics based on attendee participation.
Likewise, sponsors should build out their company profile, create and manage banner ads and target audience segments with notifications and recommended promotions. Also, powered by data, these experiences can be measured and acted upon in real-time.
Content Curation. Content delivery is an essential piece of every event but even more prevalent in a virtual one. Content should be organized and categorized for attendees to consume in their preferred format on any device. Some technology like marketing automation and artificial intelligence can provide recommendations for products, companies, speakers and other interactive content to be consumed and shared by attendees.
Positioning content for live broadcasting or on-demand will allow participants to consume the content as they need it. Creating ‘snackable’ and binge-worthy content personalized for the user will harness the power of a digital platform and keep attendees engaged.
Speaker Delivery. Speaking sessions in the virtual world are similar to in-person events; they should support a fully produced general session with professional video and direction executed and delivered in the highest quality format. The platform should also support do-it-yourself videos for small businesses or individuals sharing their presentation from their home office.
In a virtual environment, it is important to provide speaking sessions in a medium that can be produced and delivered over the Internet on multiple devices, whether attended by thousands, a small breakout group or a one-on-one meeting. The video content delivery should include interactive components to keep the user engaged and to glean specific insights into the needs of the audience.
Analytics and Insights. Measurement of an event’s success is based on how attendees engage with the content, how the brands value their cost to attend and the event’s ability to connect with its audience. Leveraging digital tools to track these insights allows for actionable outcomes and informed future planning.
As global vice-president of digital at GES, and a leader in face-to-face event marketing, Kiel Jared is committed to saving the world one website at a time. Dedicated to bridging the gap between traditional marketing and hi-tech modernization, Kiel leverages his extensive experience in digital marketing to transform user experiences, website best practices, cutting-edge technology and content marketing. He has more than 17 years’ experience in architecting, designing and developing digital experiences on the web and beyond.