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

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to connect with potential event attendees
  • The key advantages of a virtual event 
  • Top marketing tactics to include in your virtual event marketing plan
  • Tips to get your vendors and speakers involved in marketing efforts

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

Fast forward to 2023, and it looks like things are pretty much back to normal. With lowered restrictions, in-person gatherings and live events are now being scheduled left to right.

But despite the relaxed rules for in-person gatherings, numerous events are still 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.

And now, there’s a new trend that’s slowly taking over in 2023: hybrid events. These are events that offer the best of both worlds, combing in-person and digital elements to provide an enhanced event experience tailored for each audience.

So, it’s safe to say that virtual events are not going away anytime soon. 

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 2023, 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 or the businesses that are participating. (Image: Unsplash)

What is virtual event marketing?

Virtual event marketing is a collection of marketing campaigns and event promotion tactics with the goal of attracting more attention to your next virtual event and driving registrations. In short, it’s all about letting your audience know about an upcoming virtual event. 

But it’s not just about putting up an ad or posting about an upcoming event. It encompasses everything from pre-event preparations, such as knowing what type of event your target audience needs, to sending post-event follow-up emails to encourage attendees to stay connected (more on this later).

In a post-COVID business landscape, more and more companies have pivoted to adopting virtual events, not just as an alternative to traditional in-person events but also as an impetus for lead generation and engaging with existing audiences.

Virtual event marketing vs. in-person event marketing

Promotion strategies used to market virtual events may be similar to tactics used for in-person gatherings. However, virtual event marketing is also different from in-person event marketing in many ways, including the following:

  • The platform is different. A virtual event platform like Intrado, ON24, or Kaltura is used in lieu of a physical location to host the event.
  • There are fewer variables to consider. Unlike live events, virtual event promoters do not need to plan for attendee accommodations, food, transportation, and other needs.
  • The entire timeline is shorter. According to Markletic, small virtual events like webinars, on average, may take between 3 to 6 weeks to promote, while larger events require a longer timeline to drive the same amount of registrations. In contrast, live events may need at least 3 to 6 months for marketing.

5 proven marketing tactics for your virtual event marketing strategy

Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the best marketing tactics to use for lead generation. It can also be a good tactic to employ to increase traffic and attract potential attendees for future events.

However, SEO takes time to show significant results, which isn’t ideal for virtual event marketing. Since marketing for virtual events is time-bound, you need strategies that don’t need a significant amount of time to get results. 

You can instead include the following tactics in your marketing plan:

1. Build a website and/or event landing page for your event

Your event website is your audience’s go-to resource for all the information they need, such as:

  • Event name
  • Event pricing
  • Schedule
  • Speaker bios
  • Sponsor information
  • Agenda

But more importantly, your website will house your event registration page, so this will be a key component of your virtual event marketing plan.

When it comes to the design of the event website or landing page, you can be as flashy as you want since you want the page to capture your audience’s attention, pique their interest, and make it memorable. But make sure it stays on-brand, easy to read, and not distracting so it can fulfill its purpose. 

Lastly, make sure that everything from your headline to the call-to-action is optimized and focused on one conversion goal. 

Pro tip: You can make the registration process more seamless if you select a virtual event platform with integrated event registration software for the event landing page. Some platforms may even give you the option to design a branded registration page that helps you collect the necessary data more easily.

2. Adopt a digital advertising strategy

While word-of-mouth marketing remains a great way to attract attendees to virtual events, taking advantage of paid ads can take your virtual marketing strategy to another level.

Feel free to experiment with different advertising platforms like Google Ads and LinkedIn advertising. A/B test your ads by mixing and matching different graphics, creatives, and copy to find what works best for your audience.

3. Use email marketing to attract attendees and keep them engaged

The average registrant-to-attendee show-up rate is about 40%, says ConvertKit. This means that from the moment they register up to the time of your event, you end up losing about 60% of your attendees.

A good way to minimize the attendee drop-off rate is to implement a lead nurturing strategy utilizing email drip campaigns as your go-to tactic. An email drip campaign creates additional digital touchpoints that keep your attendees engaged during the pre-event phase so they don’t lose interest or forget about the event.

Without flooding their inbox, send regular emails about exclusive offers, reminders, information about speakers, or other relevant information. Be strategic about your approach while making sure to provide a tailored experience. 

4. Take advantage of the power of social media

Social media marketing is a powerful tool that you can use for event storytelling and audience engagement and is useful for all phases of your event. 

For instance, you can create a short video or organic social media campaigns centered around awareness and engagement during the pre-event phase to attract more attendees on channels like Facebook and LinkedIn.

If you’re planning to hold the event annually, it can also be a great platform for post-event interaction and staying connected with your audience.

5. Write a press release

Press releases aren’t just for real-time events. They can also be an effective way to communicate with your target audience about your upcoming event.

Include key pieces of information in your press release, such as the event schedule, special guests, topics to be discussed, and more. Then, send it to media outlets, news desks, and press release sites to maximize visibility.

7 best practices for marketing a virtual event in 2023

Aside from the shorter timeline when marketing a virtual event, it’s also important to be strategic when planning your sessions and activities. Timing is critical and may spell the difference between a jam-packed event registration and an event with virtually no attendees.

Don’t start marketing your event too early, or else your upcoming event may get lost in all the event clutter online. You also risk losing your audience’s attention throughout the entire journey. But you don’t want to wait until the last minute either since you might not have time to generate enough reach.

That said, a good rule of thumb is to promote your virtual event between 45 to 90 days prior. Additionally, here are other best practices to follow when marketing a virtual event:

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 that’s relevant to your audience. This could be something like a raffle, gift cad, or exclusive event content.

2. Highlight the advantages of a virtual conference

Sure, there are some aspects of an in-person event that can’t be matched virtually. Unlike trade shows or in-person conferences, it’s not as easy to form partnerships or even just make a new connection by striking up a conversation during a networking happy hour.

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 by ensuring everything runs as smoothly as possible while event planning. 

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.

Additionally, make sure you have a plan for keeping your audience engaged. This can be challenging, since it’s easier to keep people engaged at a live event than at a virtual event where there are more distractions. 

Nevertheless, audience engagement is one of the factors that separate a successful virtual event from a failure, and will likely impact your future events. So, it’s better to have a plan for keeping your audience engaged than to have an event that’s labeled “death by powerpoint.”

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: 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: 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 for keynotes, 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. 

You may even explore partnerships with influencers and industry leaders. By working together with all stakeholders, 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.

7. Measure the success of your event by analyzing key metrics

The activities related to your marketing strategy shouldn’t end when your virtual event wraps up. At this point, your preparation for future events should begin with analyzing the success of your previously-concluded activity.

Gather feedback from your attendees by sending a post-event email expressing your gratitude with a survey form attached. Through this form, attendees are able to provide feedback on the topic, speakers, and other aspects of the event. This will give you insight into what you did right and what you can improve for your next 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.

But for objective information about how well you did with marketing and other aspects of the event, take a look at the event analytics. This functionality may be available depending on the event technology on your chosen platform. 

You will then be able to view such metrics as the number of attendees, average duration, replay views, and traffic data. Through this information, you will be able to evaluate and improve your current marketing plan.

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.

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