Tips for Hosting Virtual Events

Due to recent developments related to COVID-19, many companies that typically host in-person events are shifting to virtual events. For some, this is an entirely new experience that requires different preparations, skillsets, and marketing tactics.

Though it’s been a while since I worked in the virtual event space at The Economist, I put together some tips on how to run virtual events for those who are new or need a refresher.

Do you have any virtual event tips to share? Please add them in the comments!

Tips for Engaging Attendees

Leading up to Virtual Event

It is generally more challenging to get attendees excited about an event when it is 100% virtual. Without travel plans or in-person networking events to look forward to, attendees may feel less enthusiastic about attending.

As virtual event organizers, it’s our job to keep delegates excited. It’s important to provide relevant information leading up to the event to keep them engaged – via email, SMS, social media, and/or direct mail. Schedule a consistent calendar of communications every week to maintain momentum and excitement leading up to the event. A few ideas:

  • Send recorded webcam messages from speakers or presenters, reminding attendees that the event is coming up & sharing a preview of what they will be presenting.
  • Schedule a drip email campaign releasing the event schedule over the course of a few weeks or months, announcing new speakers one at a time.
  • Ask speakers to participate in promoting the event. Put together promotion packets with resources and tips for them to promote the event on their own social channels and to their colleagues.

Attendees might also be uncertain about what to expect from a virtual event. Clear communication about when, why, and how to attend are especially important. Information should include:

  • Logistics of the event, including how to log in, when and where events are happening, and who to contact for support.
  • Remind attendees about the value of attending – the value proposition may be somewhat different than an in-person event.

During Virtual Event

Attendees have more distractions at a virtual event than they would normally at an in-person event – from checking emails and social media, to watching movies and TV, there are lots of activities competing for their attention at home. It’s important to plan engagement tactics to keep attendees’ attention and incentivize them to participate during the event. Some ideas:

  • Keep individual sessions short (about 30 minutes) and don’t plan to have continuous programming for more than a few hours.
  • Organize chat groups for attendees to engage in between speaker sessions. Provide discussion questions to encourage engagement.
  • Set up video networking sessions and bring 5-10 people together for introductions and discussion. The groups could be random or organized by interest, job title, etc. Or, set up 1:1 “speed-dating” style networking sessions.
  • Announce a sweepstakes for everyone who attends a certain number of sessions or specific presentations, including them in a prize draw.
  • Plan special announcements for a specific time that the attendees will only be able to hear about if they attend, for example: awards, prize draws, industry announcements, exclusive offers, etc.
  • Reward attendees with valuable information they can only get if they attend, such as whitepapers, research, PDF guides or cheat sheets, session transcripts, or other valuable information that is only available for those who show up.

Tips for Engaging Speakers/Presenters

Leading up to Virtual Event

Keep in mind your event may be the first time some of your speakers are presenting at a virtual event. Therefore, they will need special guidance and support to prepare, including:

  • What to wear and where to host the session
  • What technical equipment and software is required
  • How to log in, start/end the session, record the session, etc.

Schedule 1:1 prep sessions with a producer and each speaker, to talk them through what to expect (especially for live sessions) and answer any questions. If the speaker is presenting live from home, be sure to test their webcam and mic.

During Virtual Event

  • Plan to have support specialists available for speakers to address any issues that come up (again, especially for live sessions).
  • Provide clear communication about how and where speakers can get support and information. For example, set up a “speakers’ hub” chat room or support hotline.

Tips for  Programming and Production


Technical Support & Back-up Planning

  • Plan to have technical support specialists available for both speakers and delegates to respond in real-time.
  • Communicate clearly about where people can go to get support.
  • Prepare “worst-case scenario” back up plans. What if the webcam isn’t working during a live session? What if the virtual event website goes down? These challenges are unlikely but can be dealt with more easily if you have prepared for them.


Choose the Right Speakers

  • Not every speaker is well-suited for virtual events. It takes extra charisma and energy to engage people online, so consider this when selecting your speakers.
  • You may benefit from selecting speakers who have a digital brand or are active on social media. They can leverage their own following to encourage attendance leading up to the event.
  • Put together promotion packets with tips and resources to help speakers spread the word about their presentations. It could include: social media copy, graphics, copy blurbs for newsletters and websites

Dynamic Programming and Tools to Promote Engagement

  • It’s important to have a mix of formats during the event to maintain engagement, rather than one long webinar or block of video sessions. For example, the program might include a one-hour block of presentations followed by an open chat/networking session, followed by a live Q&A.
  • Consider various tools to help attendees stay engaged during each session, including live Q&A, polls, surveys, white-boarding, infographics, social integration, gamification, etc.

Scheduling for Time Zones

  • Consider where your attendees will be joining from. It’s important to schedule relevant sessions at a convenient time, and make a recorded version available for those who cannot attend in real time.
  • People who are attending events online may have shorter attention spans due to all of the distractions they have at home. It’s important to schedule frequent breaks, optional sessions, and opportunities for attendees to come and go according to their schedules.
  • Consider extending the duration of the event. If the event would be one day in-person, consider extending it to two days of virtual programming, enabling more people to attend.

Lastly, remember you don’t have to do this alone! There are plenty of companies and experts who specialize in virtual events. Here’s a list of virtual event companies and services. If you have others to include, please drop them in the comments:

Virtual Event Companies & Service Providers

And check out these free virtual event tools from HubSpot.

The End of Free, Organic Reach for Brands on Facebook

Facebook is cleaning up its News Feed, and that means users will see fewer promotional page posts soon, the social media giant announced in a post published on Friday.

Facebook said it surveyed users and found that people “wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content.” In response, Facebook said it will employ a new formula that will cause a steady decline in distribution for promotional posts. The change will take place starting in January.

This isn’t a huge surprise to brands, which have reported less distribution of their organic posts in recent years. Facebook has always said it favors “high-quality” content, but this is also clearly an effort to make advertisers pay up for promotion.

Facebook gave reasons why Pages are still an important part of business strategy, referring to a statistic that 1 billion people visited Pages in October.

Further reading:

-Posted by Elizabeth Pace

Do Publishers and E-Commerce Go Together Like Twizzlers and Guacamole?

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There’s no question that publishing is in a state of disruption. As advertisers continue to shift dollars from print to performance-based digital channels, publishers are struggling to find new ways to make money in the digital era.

For a time, many publishers believed the emergence of the tablet to be their saving grace. Some expected print ad dollars to shift seamlessly to tablet  in a similar model, but that hasn’t happened – and tablet use is not growing at the same rate as smaller mobile devices. A recent article published on Digiday, the author argues that “the tablet magazine was flawed from the start… conceived based on what publishers wanted and not on what consumers wanted.”

Because old ad models do not translate well to the digital space, publishers are left scrambling to find new sources of revenue, and many are in trouble. However, the emergence of content marketing has provided a glimmer of hope and new revenue opportunities.

Today Digiday published an article about publishers who blend e-commerce with content, which presents a new source of revenue, but it’s one that has caused some unrest amongst readers. Earlier this month, the Washington Post inserted “buy now” buttons into articles that mentioned products, linking directly to purchase pages on Amazon. After claiming the buttons’ insertion into articles was a mistake, the Washington Post removed them.

While certain publishers have been blending e-commerce with content for years, the latest Washington Post incident brings to light questions about the future of the publisher business model, and what impact new revenue sources will have on editorial integrity.

The same questions are being raised about branded content practices (also called native advertising), in which publishers include sponsored content that is intended to look like editorial content. If you haven’t already seen it, check out John Oliver’s recent rant on native marketing, in which he states, “I like to think of news and advertising as the separation of guacamole and Twizzlers. Separately they’re good. But if you mix them together, somehow you make both of them really gross.”

The general public’s tolerance for a Twizzler-and-guacamole combo has yet to be established.

Further reading:

-Posted by Elizabeth Pace

LinkedIn Introduces Offering to Personalize and Test Sponsored Content

LinkedIn announced today the launch of Direct Sponsored Content, an expansion of its year-old Sponsored Content ad product. The new feature is currently only available as a pilot for select partners, including Comcast and NewsCred.

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Key features of Direct Sponsored Content include:

  • Content can be posted directly in the News Feeds of a target audience, and does not have to be posted on the Company Page
  • Content can be A/B tested to multiple audiences and with limited duration
  • With approval from the Company Page administrator, other business users and stakeholders can post and manage content

LinkedIn’s Sponsored Updates product launched a year ago, providing advertisers the ability to run native-style ads in the form of articles, blogs or videos on a user’s feed. The ads encourage users to follow companies or like/comment/share content. The new “Direct” feature allows companies to test posts that won’t clog their company page, similar to Facebook’s dark posts offering.

The launch of Direct Sponsored Content comes just after LinkedIn’s acquisition of Bizo, a B2B advertising platform, which the company announced on Tuesday.

-Posted by Elizabeth Pace

Further reading:

The value of content marketing

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A recent post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network written by Alexander Jutkowitz, vice chairman and chief global strategist at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, explores the significance of content marketing, which he says is “more than a mere marketing fad.”

Content marketing has reinvigorated brands and the agencies that manage their communication with consumers. Marketers are are increasingly shifting budgets from traditional marketing efforts to content, and the Content Marketing Institute reported 90% of B2C marketers use content marketing in 2014, compared to 86% last year. Mr. Jutkowitz says content marketing has taken off because it “responds to consumer preference.” Consumers are more likely to engage with content than with traditional marketing messaging. Increasingly, consumers gravitate away from “Buy now” and “Click here” or product benefits messaging, so these tactics have become less effective. Today’s sophisticated consumers prefer content — text, video or image — that resonates with them.

Thinking about the daily habits of consumers and the competition for their attention, the shift to content marketing makes perfect sense. Consumers are surfing the web on computers, chatting with friends on Smartphones and streaming TV on iPads. People are inundated with an infinite number of things to watch, read and engage with across the web. Brands are not just competing with each other anymore, they are also competing with the influx of YouTube videos, Facebook feeds and iPhone apps that steal the attention of prospective customers.

Mr. Jutkowitz says content marketing is an opportunity for brands to produce ideas and become thought leaders—to become more than salespeople. From Mr. Jutkowitz’s blog:

“Brands are no longer merely peddling products; they’re producing, unearthing, and distributing information. And because they do, the corporation becomes not just economically important to society, but intellectually essential as well.”

He makes a great point. The ability to communicate ideas, not just product benefits, is a new world for brands of every shape and size. The trick is finding a way to do this authentically, with content that ties back to the organization’s bottom line.

Read Mr. Jutkowitz’s full post from July 1st 2014 on the HBR Blog Network.

More reading on content marketing:

-posted by Elizabeth Pace