Pivoting to Virtual Events: The Essential Guide
As COVID-19 continues to change and affect our day-to-day lives, many organizations are scrambling to figure out their next moves. From transitioning to a fully work-from-home lifestyle to realigning the goals for the year, we all have to start getting used to this new “normal.”
Here at Fonteva, we put health and safety first. We strongly recommend that everyone checks the CDC for updated guidelines and your local news for best practices. However, it’s hard to ignore what this could mean for the future of your organization or business, especially if you often host events.
It’s time to start thinking about virtual alternatives. With new technological advances and accessible tools, there are some quick and easy ways you can pivot to virtual events. Though this may seem like unfamiliar territory, events have been transitioning to the digital landscape for quite some time.
We created this guide to help organizations like yours take the first official steps to a true digital experience so that you can continue to offer your attendees unforgettable and genuinely meaningful opportunities— even if it’s all online.
Here’s what we’ll be going over:
- What is a Virtual Event?
- Virtual Event Ideas
- Virtual Event Best Practices
- ZERO TO THREE: a Fonteva Success Story
Follow us along from the top, or skip to the section that most interests you using the links above. Ready to get started and learn everything you need to know about virtual events? Let’s begin.
What is a Virtual Event?
Virtual events seem like an innovation of the future, but you’ve likely experienced some aspect of it before. If you’ve ever attended an exercise class online or had meetings over video chat, you are already familiar with the basic virtual event tools.
Put simply, a virtual event is an experience your organization creates for guests that can be done through digital tools rather than in-person. Event guests can register for a virtual event and attend it all from the comfort of their own homes.
Why should you host virtual events now?
Living during a global pandemic has caused organizations across the globe to rethink their event schedule for the year and research virtual offerings instead. Due to health guidelines, almost all in-person events are either canceled or postponed for the foreseeable future.
However, virtual events aren’t just for times of crisis. With multiple social media platforms enabling free livestream capabilities and popular video conferencing tools facilitating face-to-face engagements at no cost, these virtual tools are now more accessible than ever.
Tech has enabled us to rethink what events are. Just last year, YouTube’s Coachella livestream garnered 82.9 million live views, the highest viewership for the festival’s streaming since 2011. It’s clear that society has been moving to this type of digital medium or a hybrid version for a while now.
Virtual offerings in your event can:
- Increase accessibility. People from all over the world can choose to attend the event, not limiting you to just those in your general location.
- Reduce budget. If your event is purely virtual, your overall budget will likely be less than an in-person event. Without having to secure a venue or figure out the best catering options, you can help lift the strain on your finances.
- Boost convenience. Many virtual events will record their offerings so that guests can experience it whenever they want from wherever they are.
- Decrease carbon footprint. By having all engagements take place online, you don’t need to waste any paper or other resources that might go into a live event!
- Add another revenue stream. Before COVID-19 prevented gatherings of people, some organizations offered a virtual alternative for their in-person events for those who couldn’t attend or afford the event. Coachella and its YouTube livestream is a good example of that. Consider offering the alternative at a lower price, adding another revenue source for your organization.
Right now, virtual events are our only option. However, even once we enter a post-pandemic era, incorporating virtual capabilities in your future events can still have the same effects. Start thinking about what hybrid events might look like for your organization, one with both in-person and virtual engagements.
Virtual Event Ideas
As we enter this “new normal,” it’s time to think about what kind of virtual events you can host. This likely depends on the type of organization yours is and the types of events you’ve hosted in the past. Even if you think your events thrived due to face-to-face efforts, with the right tools and software solutions, you can make the quick pivot.
Consider these top options as a starting point and work towards what is right for you.
- Webinars. Webinars are great for educational events with a speaker or panel. With a simple video conferencing tool or just a webcam, you can record a webinar on any topic that fits your organization’s mission. Either livestream the webinar to registrants or save the video to distribute once it’s all done!
- Further education opportunities for accreditation. If your organization is an association, you likely have hosted official learning opportunities to help members advance in their fields. Instead of hosting live classes, consider offering virtual classes. With a webcam and video conferencing tool, teachers can reach students from wherever they are.
- Online training courses. Many companies and nonprofits use training courses to ensure their staff members and volunteers are prepared. Consider hosting this entire process online through recorded video or another platform! This is also a great way to track each user’s progress.
- Virtual tours. Oftentimes, people want to physically visit an attraction but can’t. Whether it’s due to a global pandemic or they’re just in a different country, many potential guests miss out on experiences they want to have. Consider filming a walkthrough of your attraction, whether it’s a local park or a new museum exhibit, and posting it online as a virtual tour.
- Digital conferences. If you host large conferences involving multiple days and speakers, don’t worry. Digital and virtual conferences do exist and can be as engaging as the traditional event. Incorporating your event tools, a video conferencing tool, and other solutions, you can provide a place for guests to visit different virtual “booths”, ask questions of experts, and even interact with each other via an online forum.
- Recorded interviews/performances/speakers. Whether you want to livestream this or simply post it on your website, it’s easy to tape interviews, performances, or speakers. A great idea is to use a video conferencing tool where the audience can engage back. This way, guests can ask questions or make comments just like an in-person event.
If you had to recently cancel one of your upcoming events, consider if any of these options can work as a substitute. It can be daunting making the switch, but your guests will likely appreciate the digital alternative. Not only do they get to still experience the event, but they can do it all from home.
Before you get started, a good tip is to invest in a capable event management system that will facilitate a smooth transition from a live event to a virtual one. Read on to the next section for more best practices!
Planning a Virtual Event: Best Practices
As you begin planning your virtual event, you’ll realize that many of the steps and processes are similar to planning a regular in-person event. If anything, it might even be easier because you don’t have to rent a venue or figure out decorations and catering.
Just like a traditional event, you have to consider your marketing strategy, how you’re going to communicate with guests, and the types of tools you will depend on. However, there are also special considerations you have to keep in mind. Let’s review the following best practices:
- Keep up active communication. Exactly like in-person events, it’s important that your guests are actively informed about your virtual event. Whether you need to announce a change or just want to send out a helpful reminder, actively communicating keeps your guests engaged and gets them excited for the big day! Take a look at your event software and make sure you have a top communications tool that can segment your recipients based on event-type and other metrics, as well as schedule out or trigger emails based on actions. For example, scheduling emails in advance is great to send out reminders on registration deadlines or just technical instructions for the event.
- Create an online-focused marketing strategy. Since your virtual event is taking place online, ensure your marketing strategy also does. Especially during times like a global pandemic where everyone is encouraged to stay home, a strong online marketing strategy will be the main way people find out about your virtual event. Using your strongest channels—whether it’s social media, email, or your website—advertise your virtual event and get potential attendees excited! To ensure this goes off well, make sure your online presence is optimized. For example, take a look at your website and make sure it’s easy to navigate and shows all the important details about your organization.
- Encourage engagement with attendees and between them. One of the downfalls of a virtual event is that it can lack face-to-face interactions. A good way to encourage engagement is to incorporate a video factor into your event. This way, guests do get some sort of face interaction! If you’re hosting a speaker, let guests ask questions once the speaker is done. Take it a step further by also letting your virtual attendees engage with each other on some sort of online discussion forum located on your website.
- Offer multiple ways for your supporters to give. Encourage your guests to donate throughout your event. To make sure they have the right tools for doing so, ensure your online donation form is working, and put the link to the form in the event chat room. Another option is to create a fundraising web store that you can promote and link to throughout the event. Sell merchandise that is closely tied to your cause. For example, if your organization is focused on educating school children about the environment, you might sell flower bulbs supporters can grow at home. Whatever giving options you decide to offer, make sure to give consistent encouragement so that your guests take advantage of them.
- Collect key virtual event data. The more your organization hosts events, the more data you accumulate. This includes attendee data, as well as the marketing strategy used and other event data. The more data your organization has, the better you understand how past events went and determine the best ways to improve future events. Because virtual events are likely hosted all online, you’ll collect even more data. For instance, you can figure out the panel that guests were most engaged with or create landing pages to track how registrants found out about your event. Use those insights to help you plan future virtual events!
- Be prepared for technical difficulties. Since this is a virtual event, technical difficulties may arise. To combat this, make sure you test out and troubleshoot the event beforehand. Ask staff members to use the tools and mark any areas that seemed too slow or are not working properly. Additionally, send out an email to all guests explaining very clearly how the event will work, whether it involves a video portion or a live chat room. If there are any problems on the big day, assign some key staff members to work on helping those with technical issues. If things cannot be solved, brainstorm some alternatives beforehand. This can be a non-video option with just audio engagement.
These best practices seem simple, but your virtual event still needs ample planning. That’s why a global crisis like COVID-19 has put a wrench in so many organizations’ plans. Instead of taking the time to plan out their virtual event, many are finding themselves having to make a quick pivot. The best best practice for a virtual event is to invest in a dedicated and comprehensive event software solution, like Fonteva Events.
Virtual Events Platform: How Fonteva Can Help
Fonteva Events is a Salesforce native comprehensive event management platform that has helped organizations across the board plan and host events. As an all-in-one software solution, Fonteva gives you all the tools you need to plan any type of event. Within the Salesforce CRM dashboard, you can view the entire event lifecycle.
Here are just some of the benefits Fonteva Events can bring your organization:
- Host multi-session/day events with ease.
- Easily schedule speakers and venues for larger conferences.
- Centralize all data within the Salesforce CRM platform.
- Promote your event online with branded event microsites.
- Ensure quick and seamless online registration.
- Provide an integrated payment process.
- Take advantage of communication tools to segment guests and send more targeted information.
Fonteva is especially great if you have to suddenly cancel one of your regular events and transition to a digital one. Instead of canceling the entire event, refunding money, and losing out on that revenue and customer engagement, Fonteva lets you quickly pivot to a virtual event with the following additional features:
- With a tech accelerator, Fonteva event planners can quickly connect a third-party video conferencing system, like Zoom, GoToWebinar, or On24, to a virtual event. With just a simple button, push all important registrants’ and event details to the webinar platform. This way, you don’t have to manually transfer data into the new tool and it instead seamlessly integrates with your event data.
- Track attendance time for each guest. If you’re hosting a conference with many different panels, it’s helpful to track how long each guest attended each panel. This way, you get a sense of which were most successful and those that didn’t garner as much engagement. This is also valuable for schools that had to recently make the switch to remote learning.
- Easily plan new events or sync your virtual event tools with an existing event. Whether you’re creating a new virtual event or coming up with a virtual alternative for an event that’s been canceled or postponed, Fonteva can help. When we live in unpredictable times, having the option to quickly pivot to a virtual event is key to maximizing success. You never know what may come up! For instance, if you have to cancel an in-person event that has already garnered a bunch of registrations, you can still easily transfer that data to your online webinar platform.
The Fonteva Events platform is unique because it is native to the Salesforce CRM. This ensures that all of your event data is centralized in one dependable place. From the Salesforce dashboard, you can plan your virtual event as well as see how certain strategies are doing in real-time. Compile reports and view trends with ease! Plus, with all your data in Salesforce, it makes it that much easier to turn an existing event into a virtual one.
As event tools become more advanced, it’s clear what the future holds.
With Fonteva Events, you can successfully manage and create hybrid events, combining both in-person and virtual elements. Easily allow attendees to experience both elements or just one or the other. Fonteva even lets you create different revenue and registration requirements for live vs. virtual offerings, which increases accessibility to all your guests. Those with less money or those who can’t physically make it can still experience what you have to offer, providing you with an additional revenue stream!
It’s important now more than ever to have dedicated and flexible technology. You never know what can happen and having the ability to respond and react quickly to critical time-sensitive changes can make all the difference to your supporters, event attendees, and staff members. Easily manage both traditional and virtual events with Fonteva and be prepared for anything.
Fonteva Events has helped many organizations manage their data and utilize the powerful Salesforce platform. ZERO TO THREE is a great example. As an organization dedicated to ensuring babies and toddlers have a strong start in life, ZERO TO THREE works to support parents, professionals, and policymakers with valuable resources and aid.
ZERO TO THREE has successfully leveraged Fonteva Events to create virtual offerings for their community. Thanks to Fonteva Events’ accelerator, ZERO TO THREE was able to integrate quickly with GoToWebinar.
“Having a partnership with Salesforce and leveraging the AppExchange ecosystem for solutions like Fonteva ensures that we are utilizing tools within the Salesforce ecosystem and reducing integration issues,” Edima, CTO of ZERO TO THREE says in this blog post written by Salesforce. With a solution native to Salesforce, Edima knew that she could create a holistic strategy that addressed any technology gaps across the organization, even during a global pandemic.
Even if clients have to pivot a live event to a virtual platform, Fonteva can automatically sign up attendees for the virtual alternative using the existing registration data in Salesforce. Thanks to this seamless and easy process, ZERO TO THREE is able to use a single event registration system for all their events, whether in-person or virtual.
In the end, it’s clear that the event industry has been moving to virtual offerings for quite some time. However, because of COVID-19, organizations have to make that switch quickly and more directly. If you’re curious and want more information on how Fonteva can help your event planning, check out these additional resources:
- Salesforce Event Management: The Essential Guide. Fonteva’s connection to Salesforce is one if it’s strongest features. Learn how to take advantage of Salesforce event management with this top guide.
- Member Engagement Strategies: A Guide for Associations. Engaging your members during a global pandemic can be difficult, especially if everyone is encouraged to stay home. Check out this article to figure out some top member engagement strategies that you can implement while still practicing safe social distancing.
- 40+ Virtual Fundraising Ideas. If your virtual event is to gain fundraising support and revenue, make sure you have a good idea. This article can help you determine the best virtual fundraising event for you.