What we've learned from hosting a virtual event

Maggie Korte

What is a virtual event?

A virtual event is an event that people from different locations participate in together online. There are several different types of virtual events, including virtual festivals, virtual runs, and virtual classes (see our list of 16 proven virtual event ideas). Some virtual events, like virtual music festivals, will take place once, with attendees tuning into a video or live-stream all at the same time. Other virtual events, like virtual runs, might take place over a period of time, with attendees participating on their own time within that period, and then reporting results or pictures back by a certain cut-off date.

Our virtual event:

We at EventSprout are currently hosting our first-ever virtual run. The virtual run we’re hosting, Q - 19, A Virtual Run To Feed America, began in May and will run through Labor Day. Participants run a 19 minute run, 10k, or half marathon on their own time, and then report their results back via our website. For participating, runners receive a print-at-home bib and a finisher medal shipped directly to their door.

We created this run as a way to do our part as COVID-19 began affecting millions of lives in different ways back in mid-March. Half of the profits from this run are donated to Feeding America to help fund food banks struggling to keep up with increased demands caused by COVID-19. After a few weeks of brainstorming, creating a plan, and building this run, it went live to the public in early May.

We’ve learned a lot about virtual events by hosting our own - especially because of the short time-frame from which we had to get it up and running, uncertain whether or not COVID-19 would stick around or disappear as quickly as it arrived.

In hopes of helping others who are looking to create and run their own virtual events, we compiled a list of some of the greatest lessons we’ve learned so far:

1. Be intentional when creating a plan

First, answer the logistical questions like the type, time, and method of your event. Will your virtual event be streamed live, available to be replayed, or will it take place over an extended period of time, like our virtual run? Where will the virtual event be held - on a website or landing page, or somewhere else?

Next, think about why you want to host a virtual event. What do you want to get out of it? We at EventSprout knew quickly as COVID-19 started impacting so many people that we wanted to help out in some way. In an effort to raise money for Feeding America and stay true to our events background, we made the decision to host a virtual run.

Next, consider who you want to attend your virtual event. Just because it’s online and technically available to anyone who has an internet connection, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a specific audience in mind. Building a brand and advertising it will be much easier when you know exactly who you’re targeting.

After deciding the who, think about what this crowd will want to get out of your virtual event. What will inspire them to sign up for your virtual event instead of the others out there? We at EventSprout, for example, did a lot of research to figure out how to make our virtual run stick out to our audience when there are so many to choose from. Eventually, we determined that the two key draws for the runners we wanted to target would be (1) the cause behind the run and (2) the medal they get for completing it. Once we decided that, creating a brand was much easier.

Finisher photos of some of our Q - 19 Virtual Run runners showing of their medals!

Don’t forget to consider how your audience will find out about your event - will you send out emails to an established list? Will you advertise on social media or google ads? Will you create partnerships with established influencers?

Finally, once you’ve answered all of these initial questions (and likely many more), you can begin building your brand.

2. Provide your customers with clear directions

After building your brand and before going on sale, make sure that you’ve put extremely clear instructions in place as to how your virtual event works. Virtual events (especially ones that aren’t on Facebook or Instagram Live) are still very new to most people.

Go through the user experience -- figure out exactly what steps a customer will have to take to sign up and participate in your virtual event. Ask colleagues, friends, and family members to run through the process and provide feedback.

The truth is, virtual events can be confusing, and attendees are likely to have varying levels of technological savviness. What’s easy for some to figure out without explanation may seem impossible for others. Explain everything, keep it simple, and make the process as user-friendly and foolproof as possible.

3. Create urgency

Once your event is public, hold sales and promotions to incentivize your audience to sign up for your event sooner rather than later. Create opportunities for customers to save money for a limited time only. Without a reason to sign up now, your customers may hold off on purchasing and might forget about your event altogether.

We’ve held several limited-time-only promotions for our virtual run and almost ALWAYS saw an increase in registrations during the final two days. The key here is to communicate with your customers, reminding them frequently about the expiration and urgency of the short-lived opportunities to sign up and save money.

4. Engage with your customers and encourage word-of-mouth marketing

Leading up to your virtual event and/or for the duration of it, encourage your customers to join you somewhere they can interact online. In many cases, this may be as simple as creating an Instagram or Facebook page and encouraging your customers to follow and interact with you there. An online meeting place allows your customers to share their experiences and excitement for you and the rest of the world to see.

Additionally, create fun contests and giveaways that involve sharing your event with others. Not only will this keep your customers excited about your event, but it'll spread awareness about your event to others you might not have reached otherwise.

Example: We are hosting a Fourth of July Photo Contest for our virtual runners, where we’re giving away a prize to one lucky winner who shares and tags us in the best summer photo in the weeks leading up to the holiday!

5. Follow up

Repetition is extremely important when trying to convert potential customers into paying customers. Contacting your customers just once probably won't be enough. If you’re sending emails, be sure to send several emails with a call to action. Try to find the sweet spot - reach out your audience enough to keep them aware of your event, but don't overdo it to the point of annoyance. If you’re doing paid ads, test different ads and keep them running long enough to ensure that those who are seeing them will see them multiple times.

Exposing your target audience to your brand several times will help build some familiarity with it, especially if you're advertising an event that's never existed, virtually or non-virtually, before.

We will continue to learn lessons while hosting this virtual run and we look forward to sharing our experience and knowledge with our Event Organizers! If you have any questions about hosting your own virtual event on EventSprout, please send us an email at accounts@eventsprout.com.