Written by Caroline Cox on Apr 19 , 2021

Because a virtual conference can offer just as much value as an in-person event.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What message to share with potential event attendees
  • The key advantages of a virtual event 
  • Ways to alter your thinking about your target audience
  • How to get your vendors and speakers involved in marketing efforts

From industry conferences and weddings to stadium concerts and everything in between, 2020 saw live events around the world being canceled, postponed, or moved online.

While it looks like things are slowly getting back to normal this year, many events are sticking to the virtual format. That’s because, amid the rollercoaster of pivoting in-person gatherings to virtual ones, many marketers and planners found that online events can be just as valuable as ones that take place IRL (in real life, that is). What’s more, they offer added benefits that in-person events can’t match.

No matter how you plan your event, marketing is key to getting those RSVPs. If you’re stumped on how to market your virtual event in 2021, check out these expert tips.

hawksem: virtual conference

You want to clearly establish what your conference has to offer for the people who are attending and the businesses that are participating. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Focus the messaging around your event’s value

When it comes to your virtual event, being able to clearly show its value is crucial. Sure, people won’t have to travel or book hotel rooms to attend. But you still want to highlight all the reasons it’s worth their time. 

Showcasing the value is key for a virtual event marketing strategy. It can also help entice other brands and businesses to collaborate with you, if that’s what you’re looking for. 

Carefully consider questions like:

  • What is your event’s theme, and how can you express this in your marketing?
  • What should people expect to take away from speakers or sessions?
  • Does everyone making the event happen clearly know their role and responsibilities?
  • What concerns or topics will you be addressing during your virtual event?
  • What questions will you be answering, or what problems will you aim to solve?

It may seem like you won’t have to do as much heavy lifting to gather RSVPs for a virtual event. But the reality is that the likelihood of an RSVPed attendee not showing up is much greater for a virtual event than an in-person one. After all, deleting a calendar invite is much easier than trying to get a flight refunded. That’s why you want to make sure the value is clear. 

Pro tip: Want to get the maximum amount of live attendees as possible? Consider offering an incentive to those who show up. This could be something like a live Q&A with a guest speaker, or only offering some of the session recordings after the event is over. 

2. Highlight the advantages of a virtual conference

Sure, there are some aspects of an in-person event that can’t be matched virtually. It’s not as easy to make a new connection by striking up a conversation during a networking happy hour, for example.  

But that doesn’t mean you can’t think outside the box and create virtual experiences that mirror IRL events. Start a unique hashtag to make conversations easy to find, for example. You can encourage attendees to share key takeaways, speaker quotes, and spark dialogues on their social media pages (while someone from your company does the same).

Other benefits of a virtual conference include:

  • Making it easy to record, rewatch, and share specific sessions 
  • Allowing attendees to check out material at their convenience (which also means that they won’t have to choose between sessions)
  • Reducing costs for both organizers and attendees
  • Allowing for more (or better) speakers than a physical event
  • Being able to attend from the comfort of their own homes or offices

3. Make sure you’re set up for success

Some of your attendees may have never been to a virtual event before. Others may not have any idea how it works. Make a great first impression through ensuring everything runs as smoothly as possible. 

Take the time to ensure all speakers have proper mics, videos, and lighting set up, and that all presentations have been walked through and edited. Conducting several dry runs of the entire event can bring you peace of mind. Plus, it allows you to work out any kinks or hiccups ahead of time.

From a marketing standpoint, you can consider setting up an FAQ section on your event website or addressing common questions in an email once potential attendees sign up. The more information you share, the better idea your attendees will have of what to expect when the conference day arrives.

Pro tip: Just like in-person events, virtual events should be as inclusive and accessible as possible, Hootsuite points out. They recommend making sure to use clear language, large fonts, and high color contrast in deliverables and presentations. 

hawksem blog: virtual conferences

Cast your net a little wider as you determine who you want to invite to your event, where you want to market it, and how you want to target your ads. (Image via Rawpixel)

4. Cast a wider net for attendees

Previously, you might have focused your marketing efforts on a specific geographic area or past attendees. It makes sense, as these are the people most likely to put in the travel to attend your event. You might also have focused on individuals at a specific income level or those who hold certain positions in their company.

Going virtual gives you a wider range of people who may be able to attend your conference. Since you’ve taken travel out of the equation, attendees don’t have to request time off work or manage the larger expense associated with a hotel room and airfare. 

Cast your net a little wider as you determine who you want to invite to your event, including where you want to market it and how you target your ads. This can create greater lead potential.

5. Offer teasers as part of your marketing content

People attend conferences that offer them an exciting experience, a chance to check out something new, or an opportunity to learn something about their industry. Creating teasers — whether they’re video clips, session themes, or pieces of content — can serve as a kind of event preview and a way to attract attendees.

Let your audience know that there’s something big coming and they need to be part of it. With fewer resources needing to be spent on venue and coordination details, you can invest more into making sure the event’s content is high caliber. You can even trickle these teasers into event reminders via email as the date gets closer.

Pro tip: With the money you save on things like food and venue fees, you may be able to afford to send swag bags to your attendees. It’s a great way to make them feel special and it’ll serve as a reminder of your unique virtual event.

hawksem article: virtual event

Remember: Moving your conference online doesn’t mean there’s less value in what you’re offering. (Image via Rawpixel)

6. Get vendors and speakers involved in the marketing

Your vendors and speakers want to see as many people as possible attending your conference or event so they get maximum exposure and can feel like it was worth their time. (After all, they’ve still got to prep, get dressed, and make a presentation!) Don’t be afraid to get them involved in the marketing process. 

Your vendors and speakers likely have social media pages, websites, and online followers. Invite them to help you spread the word. You can hold a joint giveaway or create graphics and captions they can easily share across their channels. By working together, you can substantially increase your overall marketing reach. 

If you plan to still host vendors, you may also want to invite them to set up their online stores ahead of the event. That way you can promote them and allow people to purchase or look into their offerings before the actual event.

Pro tip: Feedback is invaluable for events of any kind. As Cvent explains, “Event feedback is crucial for virtual events when planners don’t have the ability to gauge reactions by the expressions or verbal feedback from attendees onsite.” Look into event feedback tools to make sure you’re following up with attendees after the event is over.

The takeaway

Moving your in-person gathering online doesn’t mean there’s less value in what you’re offering. It does mean that, to succeed, you’ve got to be a little creative, flexible, and well-prepared to ensure your attendees know and trust that your event will be worth their time.

Make sure you highlight the event’s value, offer teasers for what people can expect, and be mindful and authentic in how you leverage your digital marketing.

Need more digital marketing help? That’s what we’re here for.

This article has been updated and was originally published in June 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of reading, yoga, quick vegetarian recipes, and making lists.

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