If your association has to cancel in-person conferences and events, do you see it as a disaster or an opportunity? Resist those negative feelings. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention. Look at your cancelled events as an opportunity to design new experiences for attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors—virtual events that generate both revenue and engagement.
The ongoing pandemic crisis has caused many in the association community to experiment with new revenue and engagement strategies for their virtual events. These new strategies shouldn’t be discarded after the crisis is over. They provide a sustainable approach to diversifying non-dues revenue and deepening your relationship with members and even reaching new supporters.
Increase event registration revenue
Virtual events expand your potential market. You can now offer an event experience to people who didn’t have the budget or schedule flexibility to come to your in-person events, such as:
- Employees whose professional development budget doesn’t cover travel and hotel expenses
- New hires, young professionals, self-employed, and others who can’t afford to pay travel and hotel costs
- Parents and caretakers
- People who find travel and in-person events difficult to manage because of disabilities or shyness
- People who are so geographically distanced that travel is an unreasonable expectation
With virtual events, these barriers are no longer an issue. Associations that have turned an in-person conference into a virtual conference have seen their attendance double or triple.
You can offer registration to the event alone, but since it’s online, it’s natural to provide an optional package that includes a subscription to an on-demand library of session recordings or other online learning programs.
Offer non-members a registration option that includes access for a limited time to a special online forum for event attendees in your Salesforce Community. In this forum, they get a taste of what it’s like to be a member—a great way to warm up and activate membership leads.
Help sponsors and exhibitors achieve marketing goals—while contributing to your bottom line
One of the biggest concerns about shifting to virtual is the loss of sponsorship and exhibit revenue. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Talk to your revenue partners early in the virtual event planning process. Ask about their marketing goals, listen to their ideas, and discuss the ways you can help them meet those goals during and beyond your virtual event.
Be open to changing the way you’ve always done things. Sponsors won’t be satisfied with merely having their logo displayed on your website and event platform. In fact, think of this an ann opportunity to create customized sponsorship opportunities to match the unique needs of sponsors. How can they contribute value to the event in a way that helps them meet their marketing goals?
You certainly will have plenty of opportunities to increase sponsor brand awareness, for example, by displaying sponsor logos or running sponsored video ads on the screen between sessions. You can also give sponsors the chance to run contests, polls, and raffles during breaks. Or, ask them to introduce and/or moderate sessions.
Zoom breakout rooms provide lots of options for attendee interaction with each other and with sponsors and exhibitors—made even easier by the Zoom integration with Salesforce. Assign sponsors a breakout room where they can host VIP sessions with keynote speakers, Q&A sessions with session speakers, roundtable discussions, virtual product theatre, and ask-an-expert sessions.
Sponsors can also host virtual networking events, such as happy hours or coffee breaks, before, during, and after the virtual conference.
Exhibitors can treat breakout rooms like booths and even pre-schedule appointments with attendees. Company representatives act as hosts who are there any time to chat with attendees, share marketing materials, and run demos. Give each exhibitor a website page too where they can post marketing materials, videos, and a link to a special landing page on their own website. Incentives to “visit” all the breakout rooms can be provided much like a traditional, in-person conference. Provide exhibitors with metrics following the event on number of breakout room attendees, demos viewed, clicks from landing page, etc.
Offer sponsored content opportunities to your biggest sponsors. Allow them to present a session in which they can share their expertise—but make sure they know, no commercials allowed. The fact is, sponsors would rather teach than sell so this shouldn’t be a problem.
If you don’t have room for their session at your virtual conference, repurpose it into a live and on-demand sponsored webinar using the Salesforce integration with video conferencing systems like Zoom, GoToWebinar, or On24.
Repurpose sponsored sessions into on-demand videos. Reuse small portions of the most compelling recordings in future event marketing campaigns. See if any of the recordings fit into the curriculum for existing (or future) online courses—either as required or supplemental content.
Think about sponsorship opportunities that go beyond the virtual event. For example, create a series of sponsored webinars. Publish other sponsored content, such as articles, blog posts, podcast, or reports. Send out sponsored polls and surveys on topics of immediate interest to members so they look forward to the shared results. As your team brainstorms sponsorship opportunities, consider pricing tiers for sponsorship throughout the year as well.
An advantage of virtual events: event data
When you put on a virtual conference, the advantage of everything being digital is that everything is digital. Unlike an in-person conference, on a digital platform, you know exactly how attendees behaved.
- Sessions attended or watched
- How long attendees stayed in sessions
- Breakout rooms visited
- Poll and survey responses
- Chat/discussion topics and questions asked
- Links clicked
- Resources downloaded
Plus, you can collect demographic data as usual, such as their location, career stage, specialty, position, and so on. All this data—demographic and behavioral—is useful for planning and marketing future events and educational programs.
You can also integrate this data into scoring models and nurture programs so you can guide attendees along engagement paths after the event. Plus, sponsors and exhibitors also value this data for following up on leads and planning their marketing.
Whenever it is that our world goes to the next normal, one positive legacy of this time will be the addition of virtual and hybrid events to your association’s programming mix. Virtual events provide new opportunities for generating revenue and engaging members and customers who can’t attend in-person events.