10 Best Practices for Leveraging a Virtual Event

Conferences are an excellent way for marketers to make connections with peers, vendors, and often prospects. However, traveling to a conference often isn’t possible for myriad reasons; therefore, a conference offered as a virtual event still provides the opportunities of connection, as well as professional development — all from the comfort of one’s desk.
While more cost-effective than physical marketing events, a virtual event offers another huge advantage for the marketer who is hosting: detailed  attendee information. As opposed to physical events, where often the only lead data consists of business card content, a virtual event enables marketers to track and evaluate every move of each attendee within the environment, resulting in highly qualified sales leads.
While many marketers recognize the value of qualified leads, not all know how to leverage a virtual event for optimum results. Here are a few best practices.

Pre-Event Imperatives

Content is king. Make sure your content is fresh, and schedule speakers far in advance. Sprinkle the best speakers throughout the day to increase the chances of attendees staying longer. And, it is very important to leave breaks between sessions to encourage attendees to visit the exhibit hall.
Keep registration simple. In your online outreach, use an event registration page or microsite as the landing page when prospects click through to details on the virtual event. Because a long registration form is a barrier, limit the information required to four or five fields.
Promote the event on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Both sites provide target group segmentation, which can be very granular. The more locations you leverage, the higher the chances that your event will appear in organic searches on the Web.
Provide an easy way for attendees to get the virtual event on their calendars. An option following registration to add the event Outlook calendars, is a nice added touch, which makes it easier for attendees to not forget the date. Also, another best practice is to send two reminder emails — the first should be one week before the event, and the second should arrive one day before the event.

Make the Most of the Virtual Event

Keep sessions short. An optimal session length is around 15 to 30 minutes, to give attendees time to browse around, answer e-mail or most importantly, go to the virtual exhibit hall. Push attendees directly to the session sponsor’s (or speaker’s) booth after a session concludes.
Engage with attendees in a creative way. Hold surveys, polls, group chats and networking sessions to allow the exchange of ideas among attendees to better assess their interest in specific products, ideas or themes. Create a contest or treasure hunt to encourage attendees to tweet or blog about the event.
Staff adequately. Fortunately, booth duty at virtual events simply means asking co-workers to spend time at their computers chatting with booth visitors about their interest in your solutions. Booth staff also should take care to point visitors to videos, white papers, data sheets or other collateral.

Post-Event Priorities

Track, track, track. Virtual event reporting is critical, as it enables organizers to track each registrant, his demographic profile, interest level and activities over time. Analyze how long he stayed, what he viewed, how often he came back, etc.
Provide a summary of trends captured from your event. This could be in the form of results of your surveys and polls to your registrants. The goal is to maintain the conversation within your community and provide value and insight.
Follow up. The beauty of a good virtual event is that registrants can visit it any time they like. Use email and social networking tools to follow up with non-attendees, share some of the excitement and encourage them to join the on-demand environment.
Share attendee information appropriately with your sales team. Make the insights you gained on individual participants available to your sales team as part of your process to convert them into leads. Your attendees will appreciate a conversation where the salesperson knows what they experienced, what topics they are interested in and what questions they had. And such detailed information on your event leads makes the sales team look well-informed and more professional.

Joerg Rathenberg is the CMO of Lex Machina. As CMO, Joerg is responsible for branding, lead generation, awareness programs and marketing communications.

Joerg spent the first years of his career with IBM, helping to build a new IBM in Eastern Europe as the cold war came to an end. During a two-year sabbatical at a leading international business school he completed his MBA with an emphasis on international marketing. In 1998 Joerg moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where he focused on bringing disruptive technologies to market. He has held senior management roles with SQRIBE, Brio, KXEN, Salesforce.com, Unisfair, and CloudPassage.