By Anna Anisin, founder and CEO at Formulated.by, overseeing client strategy and business development.
The events industry looks much different today than it did 18 months ago. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are still hesitant to host in-person events. Fortunately, technology allows us to host virtual get-togethers instead and connect with our target audiences online.
But I’d be lying if I said this change from in-person to virtual has had zero impact. The truth is, virtual events make audience engagement more difficult — but not impossible.
After a lot of trial and error, we’ve developed four ways to effectively engage business-to-business (B2B) communities in virtual environments. But before we share them, we need to review the basics of how to create an engaging event.
What makes an event engaging?
In order to learn how to engage B2B communities virtually, it helps to know what generally makes an event engaging. There are three main things:
• Compelling content: Attendees will engage with your event, in person or virtually, if the content is compelling. To create this kind of content, you need to have a deep understanding of your target audience and the kind of information they need.
• Outstanding production quality: Compelling content alone might not be enough. The production quality of your event matters, too. Modern conference attendees expect a quality production and will likely disengage if they don’t get it.
• Excellent speakers: Finally, top-level speakers are able to engage audiences. In fact, this is one of the main criteria for delivering a successful keynote. Book the best speakers you possibly can to hook your audience and keep them interested.
If your events deliver compelling content, feature outstanding production quality and include relevant and experienced speakers, your audience will fully engage.
Four Ways To Engage B2B Communities In A Virtual Environment
How do you engage B2B communities with virtual events? The four tips below have served my company well over the past year and allowed us to create impactful online content.
1. Invest In Technology
Many virtual event platforms feature audience engagement tools. Use them. For example, ON24 allows for virtual sponsor booths where event attendees can visit and interact with industry folks during online conferences. Then there’s Hopin, which includes engagement features like native chat, moderated Q&As and event polling. You can also use external tools to boost engagement. For instance, dedicated Slack channels allow virtual event attendees to network with each other between sessions. Modern technology simplifies virtual event engagement with simple-to-use tools that make it easy to interact with B2B audiences.
2. Know Your Audience
Have you ever tried to purchase a gift for someone you didn’t know? Maybe your sister brought her new boyfriend to your family Christmas. You didn’t want him to feel left out so you buy him something. The problem: You don’t know what he likes.
Hosting virtual events is similar. You have to know your audience so that you can prepare the kind of content program they’re interested in.
How do you get to know your audience? There are a couple of different ways:
• Talk to them: The easiest way is to simply talk to your target audience. Post questions on social media and engage in online forums. Ask them what their goals are. Then ask them what they struggle with on a daily basis.
• Research them: You can also conduct audience research. Which web pages and blog posts do they engage with most? What questions do they ask your support team? Again, visit online forums in your industry to get a feel for their challenges.
When you know your audience, you can create content specifically for them. This kind of content is easy for them to engage with because it’s what they want.
3. Encourage Participation
The easiest way to boost engagement at virtual events is to encourage audience participation. Most B2B conference attendees will jump at the chance to connect with keynote speakers and ask them questions. Many of them will be happy to connect with their peers, too, via creative networking sessions. You can make this happen with the right tech.
But it goes deeper than these things. You need to make time for audience participation. Ask your speakers to set aside 15 minutes at the end of their keynotes to field questions. Send polls and surveys to attendees throughout your event — even if it’s just to ask simple questions like “What have been your favorite sessions so far?”
Participation and engagement go hand in hand. If you can encourage the former, the latter will naturally follow, and your virtual event will be better because of it.
4. Post-Conference Follow-Up
Last but certainly not least, make sure you follow up with every attendee post-conference. This practice has a ton of benefits. It will give you the chance to learn what your audience did and didn’t like about your last virtual conference. This information will allow you to improve your future events and make them more engaging.
For example, if multiple attendees tell you that they loved Speaker X’s presentation on Topic ABC, you know that booking Speaker X next year and/or planning content related to Topic ABC will likely increase audience engagement levels.
It’s tempting to sit back and relax after hosting a virtual event. Hosting is a lot of work! But fight the urge. Do yourself and your attendees a favor and send them a quick post-conference survey. It doesn’t have to be long, but it should include questions like:
• How satisfied were you with this virtual event?
• What, if anything, did you not like about this virtual event?
• What was your favorite session?
• Who was your favorite speaker?
• What would you like to see at next year’s virtual event?
Of course, there are plenty of other questions you could ask, too. But the five above are a good place to start and will help you boost attendee engagement in the future.
It can be difficult to engage B2B communities with virtual events — unless you use the four tips above. When you invest in technology, take the time to know your audience, encourage participation and follow up after your conference concludes, engagement will rise.