It’s no secret that the global COVID-19 pandemic has driven the popularity of virtual or online events in the past couple of years.
While initially, event organizers hosted online events as a substitute for the delayed or canceled in-person events due to the social distancing and quarantine policies, soon enough, both organizers and attendees realized the value of these online events and the unique benefits they have over the traditional in-person events.
As a result, more and more people are now hosting and attending online events, and while this is a good thing in a lot of ways, it also means the competition is getting tighter by the day.
With so many virtual events happening in many different niches and industries, marketing your online event to ensure it gets noticed by its target attendees is also getting more challenging, time-consuming, and potentially expensive.
Yet, if you’re getting nervous at the thought of marketing and promoting your online event, you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about how to effectively market your online events, including but not limited to:
- How online events and online event promotion work
- The challenges you may face when marketing online events
- Identifying your target audience
- Developing a comprehensive marketing strategy
- Finding and using the right promotion channels
Without further ado, let us begin this guide from the basics: what is an online event?
What are Online Events?
Online events, or virtual events, are events that are hosted for 100% online attendees. Sometimes a virtual event can have a very small number of in-person attendees, but the idea is that the event will be delivered digitally in real-time.
If an event is delivered to both online and offline attendees, then it is not technically a virtual/online event but a hybrid event. For example, a music concert held in an actual stadium with in-person attendees can be live broadcasted to virtual attendees, turning it into a hybrid concert.
Typically a virtual event is hosted by broadcasting live video on social video streaming platforms like Zoom, Twitch, Facebook Live, or via a dedicated virtual event platform like Eventifier.
However, while the majority of online events are delivered over the live video format, there are also audio-only virtual events (for example, via Clubhouse). The idea is that the online event is delivered digitally to bring online attendees together at the same time.
Why Online Events? Pros and Cons
We won’t be able to effectively market something without knowing the item’s actual value and weakness.
This is why before marketing an online event, we should first try to understand its pros and cons over the traditional event format and the hybrid format.
Key advantages of online events
- Not limited by geographical location
Since an online event is hosted digitally, it can be attended by people from all around the world without having to worry about travel and accommodation costs.
This has twofold benefits:
- You can technically invite attendees from anywhere, even halfway across the world, maximizing your event’s reach and potential revenue.
- You can invite speakers, entertainers, presenters, and other talents that are outside your geographic location. It’s also worth noting that speakers tend to charge less for virtual events. You can host your dream event at a fraction of the price.
When planning and hosting a traditional (in-person event), venue rental and associated costs (i.e., catering, insurance, decorations) are often the most substantial expenses and can be very expensive.
However, when planning a virtual event, we don’t really need to take all these expenses into account: simply invest in a virtual event platform (and there are free ones), prepare the technology requirement and live streaming equipment, and you are good to go.
Meaning, hosting an online event is typically much cheaper than a comparable in-person event. This will also often translate into a lower registration/ticket costs for attendees.
3.Easier planning and organization
Not only are virtual events cheaper to host, the process of planning one is also much simpler than an in-person event due to the fewer variables/elements involved.
It’s easier for organizers to evaluate the performance of an online event against its objectives with the availability of various digital analytics tools capable of collecting and analyzing all sorts of data surrounding the event.
In fact, virtual event platforms like Eventifier offer built-in analytics features like heat maps of visited content, attendance metrics, content consumption metrics, and so on.
Last but not least, a virtual event is obviously more environmentally-friendly than an in-person event hosted in a physical space and using physical resources.
Hosting a virtual event can be a great chance for companies to showcase their environmental responsibility to partners, prospective sponsors, and consumers.
Challenges of online events
While, as discussed above, online events have numerous benefits over traditional in-person events, unfortunately, they are not perfect.
Here are some challenges when planning online events and their disadvantages over in-person events:
- Limited interaction
Even with all the technologies we have today, unfortunately, we still can’t adequately replicate the face-to-face interaction experience in an online event.
Ensuring optimal engagement between attendees and interaction with speakers can be major challenges when hosting an online event.
Naturally, online attendees attending the event from the confines of their homes are more likely to be distracted during the event, so keeping them engaged can be difficult.
Online attendees often feel isolated during the event, which may tempt them to do something else, and may end up causing them to abandon the event altogether.
3.Reliance to technology
Virtual events are obviously more reliant on internet connectivity and power availability. Technical hiccups during the event can literally ruin the overall experience: what if the power suddenly goes out when the speaker is speaking? What if the internet speed suddenly drops causing the stream to stutter?
Meaning, when planning a virtual event, you really need to be prepared. Having your plan Bs and even plan Cs for all technology-related elements is crucial, or else your online event is doomed to fail.
4.Different time zones and cultural barrier
While, as discussed, one of the main advantages of hosting an online event is how you can attract a larger audience from all around the world, this can also create a major issue when not managed well.
Ensuring optimal experience for attendees in different time zones can be challenging, and we also need to take different cultures and languages into account.
Identify the different time zones of your attendees, and try as much as you can to host your online event that is convenient for most of your attendees.
Another potential solution is to host the online event as a multi-day event, so you can cater to more attendees from different geographic locations (and different time zones,) as well as recording the event content and making it available ads on-demand sessions.
Developing an Online Event Marketing Plan
Promoting an online event is difficult.
So, organizers shouldn’t underestimate the importance of developing a comprehensive online event marketing plan and also shouldn’t underestimate the time required to effectively promote an online event.
Thus, the earlier you start planning (and executing) the event marketing plan, the better.
The marketing plan should be developed while leveraging the advantages of online events we’ve discussed above while at the same time should take into account the weaknesses and challenges of online events.
Below are the important pillars to keep in mind when developing an online event marketing plan:
1. Knowing your target audience
Who is your online event’s ideal audience?
Without first answering this question, your event marketing effort won’t be effective, but to really understand who your event’s ideal audience is, you should also consider the foundations:
What’s the event’s purpose?
You should start by identifying the purpose of hosting this online event in the first place: is it to build brand awareness? To support a product launch? To educate attendees?
It’s important not to host the event just for the sake of having an event, which is a recipe for disaster.
What are the event’s objectives?
Once you’ve defined the event’s purpose, you can start identifying proper event objectives that can help the event achieve its purpose.
Your event objectives should follow the SMART goals principle, and they should be:
- Specific: clear, focused, and narrow. It should be easy to explain what the objective is to other parties.
- Measurable: we should be able to objectively monitor the event’s performance against this objective
- Attainable: realistic and attainable. Objectives that are impossible to achieve can hurt your team’s morale
- Relevant: relevant to the event’s purpose and the organization’s overall goals.
- Time-bound: you can assign a timeline for this objective
Below are some examples of proper online event objectives:
- Generating 1,000 new leads before, during, and a week after the event
- Improving social media engagement by 10% over the same period last year
- Selling 100 products during the event
And so on.
Who is your target audience?
Now that you’ve defined and understood your event objectives, the best approach is to identify the best possible audience that can help you achieve these objectives.
For example, if this online event is planned with the purpose of supporting a product launch, then the ideal audience for this online event is those defined as the prospective consumers of the product.
Once you’ve identified who your target audience is, begin gathering as much data as you can about them, including:
- Demographics data (who they are)
- Online and offline behaviors
- Pain points (and potential solutions)
- Purchasing habit
- Online/browsing habits
You should also leverage other analytics tools (i.e., Google Analytics) to further understand your target audience:
What search terms are they using so they eventually stumbled upon your site/platform/social media profile? What websites and social media profiles do they often visit? How can you effectively reach them and attract them to attend your event?
The more questions like these you can answer, the better you understand your ideal audience, and the more effective your online event marketing efforts will be.
2.Create a well-designed, professional event page
There’s simply no excuse not to have a professionally-designed and functional event page or website at the moment.
There are tools like Wix, Weebly, or even the handy (and free) WordPress that can help you build a well-designed website easily, even if you don’t have any programming/coding knowledge.
On the other hand, there are also platforms like Eventifier that allows you to easily add an online registration/ticketing function to your website while also performing analytics to evaluate the website’s performance against the event’s objective.
Your event page should be both attractive and informative. Make it stand out by including attractive images and photos, previews of the event’s speakers, entertainers, and other talents (using video content when possible.), and include the important information about the event, including:
- Time and date of the event
- Speaker/talent bios and photos
- Sponsor information
- Relevant links (i.e., for registration)
- Secure and reliable online payment option
The idea is to make the event page a one-stop shop for prospective attendees looking for information about the event. Make sure the registration process is seamless and easy to use so it won’t be abandoned by too many ticket owners.
3.Social media marketing
With the state of social media today, when virtually all your prospective attendees are active on at least one social media platform, it’s fairly obvious that you should promote your event on social media.
The question is, how?
There are actually endless options to promote your online event on social media, but again, you should tailor your marketing efforts according to the target attendees’ preferences and habits.
First, choose which social media platform(s) you’d like to focus your efforts on:
- Facebook is still the most popular social media platform with the highest (2.8 billion+) monthly active users. Facebook also offers many different ways to promote your event, from paid advertising options to Facebook Events (which is free.)
- Instagram is another popular platform that focuses on photos and videos. Use this social platform to share photos and videos about your event. You may also want to develop a unique event hashtag.
- Twitter is a great place to engage prospective attendees, as well as to run contests and giveaways.
- LinkedIn is also a great place to promote your event, especially if you are targeting professionals and business owners as your target audience. There are a wide variety of promotional opportunities on LinkedIn: ads, Inmail, and so on.
Also, for each platform, there are three different options to promote your event:
- Organic efforts: building your own follower and spreading the promotional content on your social network. Very affordable (and can be totally free), but it will take some time before you can see results. Often not viable in online event marketing unless you already have a Facebook/Instagram account with millions of followers.
- Paid efforts: using various paid promotion options offered by the social media platforms (Facebook Ad, Linkedin Sponsored Post, Instagram Ad, etc.) Leveraging these paid channels can guarantee fast results, so they are effective when it’s nearing the d-day of your event. However, paid social media promotions can be expensive when not managed well.
- Influencer marketing: this method refers to partnering with relevant influencers and asking them to promote your event to their followers. Can be very effective and more affordable than paid channels if you can partner with the right influencers.
4.Leveraging Video Content
It’s no secret that the consumption of video content has been steadily increasing in the past half-decade or so, so you should consider making video content the center of your online event marketing efforts.
There are many creative ways you can use videos when promoting your event: periodical teaser videos to build anticipation, for example, by releasing previews of your speakers/talents one by one while hinting towards a big reveal to generate more buzz.
You can also include interview videos of your speakers/entertainers, presenters, or even testimonial videos from previous attendees.
Again, your creativity is the limit when it comes to using video content to promote your event, but your main objective is to build anticipation while encouraging viewers to register for the event.
5.Having an Optimal Ticketing Strategy
Ticketing, and especially deciding how much you should sell your tickets, can often be the biggest challenges in planning and marketing online events or any events in general.
Here are some key questions to ask first:
- Is this going to be a free event?
- If it’s not free, how much should you sell your tickets?
- Will you offer different ticket prices? What will be the differences between each tier?
- If your event has multiple sessions, will you sell tickets for specific sessions only instead of forcing attendees to purchase a whole-day ticket?
Keep in mind that attendees would expect tickets for online events to be (much) more affordable than comparable in-person events, as much as 50% to 75% cheaper. Of course, if you are confident about your event’s value, you can definitely sell the tickets at a higher premium.
You might also want to consider offering time-based discounts (i.e., presale, early bird, last call, etc.). This can be effective in creating a sense of scarcity to encourage prospective attendees to register ASAP.
6. Write and Publish an Event Press Release
To effectively promote your online event, you’ll need the help of the media and nowadays, influencers.
This is where the importance of having a formal, well-written press release comes in.
By sharing an attractive and informative press release with the media and relevant influencers, you can get their help in getting the word out to their readers and followers, amplifying your reach in building the awareness for your online event.
Also worth noting is that if you are planning to secure sponsorships, a formal press release can help in convincing prospective sponsors.
7.Leverage Email Marketing
Even with all the newer marketing channels, including social media, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of emails as a promotional tool.
In fact, at the moment, email marketing is still one of the most effective marketing channels with one of the highest ROIs.
When promoting online events, email marketing is especially effective when you’ve hosted events before and have collected enough email addresses from your previous attendees. You can simply send out an email newsletter promoting your new online event to this email database.
However, when approaching email marketing, it’s important not to solely focus on hard-selling the online event but try to offer valuable content every now and then.
Make sure your emails are engaging and attractive: use interesting images, gifs, and even videos (but be careful not to make the email content loads too slow.) Offer limited-time and exclusive offers within the email to keep the readers engaged and to encourage conversions.
Leverage the newsletter to build your rapport as an event organizer, so your target audience can value you as a credible brand.
8.Run referral campaigns.
The ultimate goal of any marketing is to convert your customers (in this case, your attendees) into advocates who will vouch for your event to their friends and peers, effectively promoting your event for free.
You can create and run referral campaigns to encourage advocacy.
You can start simple, for example, by offering group discounts so attendees who bring a certain number of friends to sign up for your event will get a discount.
You can also run a fully-fledged referral campaign by offering affiliate links. So, when someone signs up for your online event by clicking an affiliate link posted, they’ll gain commissions.
9. Ask for help from talents, partners, and sponsors
To maximize your marketing efforts, don’t hesitate to ask your talents, sponsors, vendors, and partners to help promote your online event.
If your event is a success, it will also benefit them, so most likely, they will be willing at least to share about your online event on their social platforms.
To ensure consistent marketing messages, you might want to provide all the information they need to advertise your online event, including relevant links to the registration page and your social profiles. If necessary, you can make the promotional material (tailored specifically for their brand) for them.
Obviously, the online event marketing strategies and ideas we have shared above are not the only ones available, and you can certainly add more tactics and ideas. However, the ones we’ve shared above are among the most effective ones, and you should use them as foundations for your overall online event marketing effort.
By using an event marketing platform and implementing these strategies, you’ll have a much stronger position to build awareness, generate buzz, attract more prospective attendees, and ultimately, get more registrations to ensure a successful event.