Virtual Events: The Key to Relationship Marketing?
It’s no secret that virtual events became popular as a result of the pandemic derailing practically all of 2020’s in-person gatherings. Virtual events offer more than just a temporary solution, though. Bizzabo found that 93% of event professionals plan to invest in virtual events in the future. This is no surprise when you consider that virtual events can actually yield higher ROIs while strengthening and creating meaningful relationships. Whether you're part of a corporate or nonprofit organization, virtual events can bring untapped value to you and your audience.
To get the scoop on networking and relationship marketing in the age of virtual events, we sat down with Managing Partner of Studio Production Connor Dixon-Schwabl.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “networking”?
Networking is any opportunity to have a conversation or establish a relationship with somebody. Relationship marketing goes hand-in-hand with networking. It focuses on developing and cultivating relationships with your customers on an individual level and connecting them to your company’s mission and purpose.
Why is networking important?
The opportunity to build relationships with like-minded individuals helps organizations maintain growth and develop new customers and supporters along the way. The pandemic removed traditional networking tools from organizations, including live, in-person events, tradeshows, annual meetings, conferences, etc. That's where we've seen virtual events fill the gap and solve the current challenges of networking and relationship marketing.
Why not just wait to host an event until it’s safe to gather in person again?
“Sustainability” is important when answering this question. If you're not shifting your events to a virtual platform, you're taking a significant risk as a business or a nonprofit today. And that significant risk is being forgotten: Relationships are a verb, not a noun. People are still building and strengthening relationships, and if you're not staying in front of your audience, those relationships deteriorate over time. If you're not communicating to your audience today through virtual events, you're putting a very big risk on the organization's future.
How do you build relationships with your audience through a virtual event when everything is online?
Many corporate events focus on organic growth opportunities with current customers. Leverage your established relationships and create touchpoints outside of the event. Surround your event with action, personally invite them. Afterward, follow up to ask about their experience and questions. You should be cultivating the relationship before, during and after the event.
It's also essential to select the right virtual events platform. You need to think through how to facilitate the conversations that ultimately build your relationships. For example, you could choose a platform that allows you to have separate meeting rooms with pointed conversations and smaller group interactions. There are lots of platform options, each with unique ways to connect with people, so you need to be strategic with your decision.
Additionally, you should constantly ask for input during events. Give people the ability to ask questions/send feedback. To leverage the greatest number of opportunities, you need a team in place to respond quickly or set up your next conversation quickly. This connects you with your audience in a meaningful way.
What advice would you give to ensure meaningful connections are made at a virtual event?
Be transparent and be authentic. Acknowledge the hardships, whether it's the restraints you’re facing or that this event is a different format than usual. Don't try to mislead your audience into believing an event is all occurring live if it's not. That authenticity is important to show your audience that you respect them and their time.
Focusing on human interaction and relationships allows you to connect on a deeper level, as well, so your content should feature people talking to other people. Infuse humanity into your event through panel discussions or highlighting someone's unique story.
And you must express your gratitude. Tell your audience how thankful you are for their business and support.
What benefits can a virtual event deliver over that of a physical event?
The return on a virtual event investment can be higher than that of a physical event. You can yield similar or even greater results through a virtual event, with less overhead. That's why organizations are signing on for virtual events for years to come.
For example, a nonprofit can earn more awareness, raise more funds and increase their ROI because they have less overhead to execute the event.
Additionally, virtual events allow you to reach a broader audience. Many people would be unable or unwilling to attend a live event due to how far away is or the time investment needed to go. You gain a lot of people because of that. You can also be more time-efficient. You no longer need to have a four-hour event to get your message through. You can communicate your messages to your audience in 30 minutes to an hour. Everybody wins.
So are virtual events here to stay?
Definitely. Even when in-person events are in full swing again, virtual events will continue to be used into the future. With the benefits of reaching a wider audience, creating a consistent brand experience, increasing ROI and decreasing participants’ time investments, virtual events will continue to be chosen based on event goals. Virtual events have solved networking obstacles as a result of the pandemic, and they will continue to provide important solutions past the pandemic.
Gabrielle Owen is a public relations professional with an eye on current trends.