A Marketer’s Guide to Promoting a Virtual Event
Various circumstances are forcing organizations to adopt work-from-home and virtual-only policies. As a result, marketing leaders are being tasked with managing a dispersed team, changing how they communicate and determining how to best reallocate their budget.
WebMechanix works with hundreds of marketers representing organizations in every industry, and unsurprisingly, we’ve seen an exponential increase in the number of virtual events being held across the board due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Field marketing teams are now experimenting with virtual seminars. B2B marketers are doubling down on the production and promotion of webinars. And event marketers are scrambling to figure out how to take planned conferences and roadshows online. Through our experience over the years, and especially over the past few weeks, we’ve developed a proven playbook for announcing and promoting virtual events.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll be covering in this guide:
- Select your speakers
- Segment your audience
- Validate your analytics and reporting
- Make an omnichannel announcement
- Run retargeting display ads
- Pinpoint the sources of your results
- Make another announcement
- Send a day-of announcement with mission-critical details
- After the event, follow up with a thank you and tailored next steps
- Learn from your experience and iterate
Let’s drill down into each specific piece of the playbook.
1. Select Your Speakers
Naturally, your attendees want to know who’s speaking and how their professional background relates to the event. Otherwise, why should they bother listening to that person’s message?
If your brand is hosting an online conference, then be sure to communicate as a brand. If your team is releasing a new product feature, communicate as a team. And if you’re an individual hosting a webinar… well, you get the idea.
The speaker you select for a virtual event depends on the channel and format through which you’re sharing your message. Emails can easily be sent by individuals, but on social media, you’re generally speaking as a brand unless the content of a post is one where a speaker can address the audience directly.
2. Segment Your Audience
Chances are that your audience is going to consist of people with varying interests and professional backgrounds. With that in mind, it’s simply not practical to address your entire audience at once (although this is happening regularly now as CEOs issue all-encompassing messages in response to COVID-19).
Instead, identify distinct groups of attendees who share common interests, needs, or roles and deliver a separate, tailored message to each one.
Common audience groupings include internal employees and external employees, leads and customers, or this persona and that persona.
Say you’re co-hosting a webinar about cybersecurity solutions. You can group your audience by persona so that business personas receive one message while technical personas receive another.
The business persona is the buyer and more interested in business benefits, so the message will talk about how the solution will save the company money by deterring cyberattacks. The technical persona will get a message focused on the specifics of how the solution works since that matters more to them.
When done thoughtfully, this approach can help you engage your audience more effectively, create a better user experience, and improve your results.
3. Validate Your Analytics and Reporting
Peter Drucker, management guru says:
What gets measured gets managed.
Before announcing your event, you’ll want to make sure your analytics are in place so you can determine which channels and messages are producing the best results.
How you do this is up to you. It could be as simple as tagging each of your links with UTMs or as complex as having hidden form fields that detect and pass through referring channel data programmatically.
An incomplete or absent analytics setup will make it more difficult for you to learn from your mistakes, identify your most effective strategies, and hold successful virtual events in the future.
4. Make an Omnichannel Announcement
An omnichannel announcement will drive far more traffic to your virtual event than if you were to simply limit yourself to one or two sources. That means you’ll want to coordinate your website, search, social media, email, display ads, and more to promote your event. In many organizations, different people or different teams own the channels and properties mentioned above, so you may want to identify one individual who’s responsible for ensuring that each piece fits into the broader picture.
Especially if your virtual event is strategically important, you’ll want to focus on these tactics:
- Website: add an on-site popup or dropdown promotional bar.
- Social: syndicate the announcement through your employees’ social accounts.
- Social: sponsor your posts announcing the virtual event.
- Search ads: add a link to the event from your brand search campaign.
The benefit of promoting your event through multiple channels is that some people will see the announcement several times—and that’s better than seeing it just once. In fact, in their mind, it’ll get one message across clearly: This is going to be big. Plus, your results will compound since prospects are more likely to see your message and attend.
5. Run Retargeting Display Ads
Retargeting display ads continue to be the most affordable way to generate quality engagement, but they’re often forgotten, for no good reason, when it comes to virtual event marketing.
We’ve all been retargeted. And while some people see it as an invasion of privacy—like when the pair of shoes they viewed on Amazon follows them over to Facebook—the fact of the matter is that a well-placed and thoughtful retargeting ad continues to be one of the most reliable tactics in virtual event marketing.
6. Pinpoint the Sources of Your Results
By now, your promotion engine is humming. People are engaging with your content, and conversions are trickling in. Time to take a step back and assess where your engagement and conversions are coming from and then iterate accordingly. You might find that one email outperformed another or that one channel is driving all your conversions while another is driving none.
Whatever the case might be, you’ll want to use these discoveries to drive your next series of virtual event content.
As a word of caution, don’t look at your data in a vacuum. Always pair your data with broader observations about your user’s journey. Too often, marketers will see that outbound display and social drive fewer conversions than channels like paid search.
The common response is to be conservative with social and display and aggressive with paid search. However, this overlooks the possibility that it was viewing a social post or display ad that drove the search in the first place.
Not all channels perform equally. At the same time, not every channel needs to drive direct response engagement. Be mindful of the role that each channel plays in your user’s journey.
7. Make Another Announcement
While this second announcement should be optimized based on observations from the first one, the message should be fundamentally similar. Don’t overthink it.
You’ll be pushing this message out via social and email, but you’ll still want to make sure it’s visible on passive channels like your website and search.
8. Send a Day-of Announcement with Mission-Critical Details
You don’t need to tailor this message or worry about grouping your audience members. Focus on communicating the critical details that a user needs to join your virtual event.
This same-day announcement will prevent registrants from dropping out on the day of the event due to an avoidable inconvenience, such as misplacing the link or forgetting the start time.
You can easily communicate this message via email and social, and make sure that visitors to your home page can find these details easily.
9. Follow Up with a Thank You and Tailored Next Steps
Your attendees just granted you their valuable time—thank them for it after the event. And because they expressed legitimate interest in what you had to offer, be sure to give them a clear call to action with the next steps. This step could be anything from scheduling a conversation with a salesperson to obtaining a premium asset, like an analyst report or whitepaper.
10. Learn From Your Experience and Iterate
As with most things, repetition breeds improvement when it comes to hosting a virtual event. And the best virtual event that you’ll host is your next one!