What we think we’ve learned about networking for virtual events

Most manufacturers are frustrated with the level of engagement, but the customization options expose the limits of these virtual experiences.

The hardest thing about hosting events is creating rewarding and scalable networking opportunities for all audiences. It was also the least satisfying aspect for visitors, exhibitors, and other event participants.

It does not exempt creators from breaking the code of successful virtual networks, be it a profitable organizer or a company that organizes virtual opportunities for customers.

The “event” analogy fails … again

The first part of this series concludes that the experience (of personal and virtual events) is so different that it is unfortunate that the analogy and terminology “event” was used to describe virtual events. The network is still an example.

“Networking” in the physical world means different things to different participants: visitor per participant, exhibitor per participant, speaker per participant, exhibitor per exhibitor, print per exhibitor, and so on.

For exhibitors, networking usually means finding potential customers, business partners, press/analysts, and investors. Exhibitors often use ‘engagement’, ‘interaction’, and ‘network’ to describe these activities. We use ‘network’ as a general term for activities that connect exhibitors with potential buyers.

However, the expectations of ‘network operators’ can vary greatly depending on the type of event they are attending. The motivation to attend can be mainly commercial, for example, visitors buy products for their shops and businesses. Business opportunities are central, while training and networking play a supporting role.

Conferences, on the other hand, are dominated by educational sessions and conferences. Commercial activities are usually limited to cocktails, coffee breaks, and meals. Conference participants can define networks as professionals with similar interests during meals or after-hours activities, speakers ask questions during/after sessions, or organize meetings via game tables, high-speed networks, or meetings such as Braindate or Brella.

Given the diversity and potential incompatibility between exhibitor and attendee expectations, it is not surprising that online event producers have struggled to meet the network’s expectations. 50% of producers surveyed said their biggest frustration with virtual events is their involvement in in-person events.

It’s just that you’re not there

The reward for participating in a face-to-face meeting has kept participation at a high price, as it is worth being physically together with other people with similar interests and sharing a common experience, provided it is well orchestrated by the manufacturer of the event. (Want to learn more about the psychology of events? I suggest The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have an Extraordinary Impact, by Chip and Dan Heath.)

Unfortunately, the tangible joy of dating isn’t in virtual environments. Each person’s experience is determined by the device they access the event on, the software they use, and the bandwidth they have.

Furthermore, the environments they choose – cafes, living rooms, offices, or conference rooms – influence the experience and are beyond the control of the organizer.

However, today it is not possible to overcome the mediated nature of virtual events. The organizers have no choice but to work in between and do their best to push the boundaries.

Connect the link between the exhibitor and the visitor

Like other important generation tactics, the involvement of participants in virtual events is often based on the exchange of value. Exhibitors offer visitors something valuable in exchange for their attention and permission to share their personal information.

Valuable content is the most used tactic to grab attention. Sessions involved and successfully promoted are typical reasons for participation.

Once the attendee has access to a presentation, the opportunities for participation begin to develop: live chat and questions, questions and answers, discussion of a demonstration, questions, and polls are just some of the presentation links on the screen.

Additional experiences can be enhanced by attracting visitors, for example, video conversations in small groups, face-to-face meetings with speakers, and invitations to visit a virtual booth.

Encouraging bids (a version of gamification) is another way to grab the attention of visitors. Gift certificates, candy, and food/drink/gift wrapping are tactics used by exhibitors to achieve these goals. Information on how to register before or after the event to invite attendees to an additional activity is critical to the success of these incentives.

Allocate resources to create connections

Exhibitors should note whether these networking events are “live” or asynchronous and schedule resources accordingly.

If the activity is very lively, such as in the case of questions and answers, group chats, and virtual huts, these programs should not be left unattended; the team must be present and able to respond to everyone’s requests. If the team is not available to respond, asynchronous alternatives must be available.

Asynchronous engagement programs don’t require staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but they are an integral part of the virtual event experience. Since space and time don’t apply to virtual events (at least not on request), exhibitors should be able to communicate with potential customers whenever they want.

Access to applications generally available on the exhibitor’s website – “request a demo”, contact us, or even chatbots – are effective ways to respond in an on-demand environment.

No matter how you connect, consider attendees’ willingness to attend – just because someone agreed to be contacted, attended a virtual session, attended a networking event, or attended a virtual hockey match that participated, you will not say anymore. no buyer. Just like in the physical world, they must be qualified before they are sold.

Making connections in the virtual world is clearly becoming the problem that producers and exhibitors will face in the coming months and years. Do you have anything to add to the thoughts I shared above? Give me some ideas about Chris [at] thirddoormedia.com.

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