In 2020, as brands adapt to remote work, they're also learning how to shift their in-person events to online-only programming.
When you surf the web on any given day, odds are you'll see at least one social media post, email, video, or stream that promotes or covers an online event.
And, although some brands might be temporarily shifting their event tactics, this new adjustment has allowed companies to identify some of the great perks to online events. For example, unlike physical events, virtual events, such as live streams or webinars, enable your brand to gain awareness from international audiences, period.
At this point, it seems like online events aren't going away anytime soon. But, with the popularity and necessity of online events in 2020, the landscape has become quite competitive. For any given event, there are a handful of competing webinars, live streams, or Q&As that discuss similar topics.
If you're one of the many brands switching your in-person events to a virtual, how do you promote them to keep attendance up? And, in a sea of virtual events now being promoted all at once, how do you stand out?
HubSpotters Tell All: How to Promote Your Virtual Event
To answer those questions, I spoke with a handful of HubSpot marketers who have experience in these tactics. Here are their five go-to tips.
1. Be clear about what the audience will see.
Setting expectations about what your in-person event will entail is always an important promotion tactic, but it becomes especially important when you're promoting a virtual event.
"Set expectations! Not all virtual events look the same and your audience likely wants more details on what they will get," says Juliana Nicholson, the program manager of HubSpot User Groups.
"Will the audience be able to ask live questions? Is their camera going to be on? Is this event tactical or more high-level?" Nicholson asks. "Set the stage to make sure the right people are registering for your event, and then feeling satisfied with the experience they have when they show up."
Aside from explaining what will happen at your event, Clara Landecy, an associate marketing manager in our Dublin office, notes that you should also send emails or messages to remind registrants of why they signed up for it in the first place.
"Have a strong purpose or "why" to the event," Landecy says. "Leverage the 'why' in reminder emails about the event to remind people why they signed up in the first place."
Reminding registrants why the event might be valuable to them will refresh their memory about it and increase the likelihood of them showing up to it.
2. Leverage co-branded opportunities.
Co-branding, also known as co-marketing, is another common and effective marketing tactic that also works well for virtual events. The strategy involves partnering with another brand or sponsor to create the event and jointly informing your audience about when and where they can attend.
"I'm a big believer in co-branded webinars," says Emily Raleigh, Senior Marketing Manager of Brand & Strategic Partnerships. "We’ve seen major success in promoting live and virtual events with a three-pronged partnership approach: a brand partner, a community partner, and HubSpot for Startups."
With this three-pronged approach, Raleigh says, "the brand partner adds credibility and can help us get some great speakers for the event. The community partner helps drive attendees because they have deep connections in the specific ecosystem we are targeting and our end-user trusts them, so if they say an event is worth their time, they are very likely to go."
Another marketer who echoed this sentiment was Henni Roini, an EMEA marketing manager.
“If you have speakers from other organizations, make sure to ask the thought leader or brand to promote the event — or their session — on their channels," Roini says.
Aside from asking brands affiliated with your event to market it on their channels, you can also incentivize event marketing through a lead-share agreement. A lead-share is when you allow a brand you co-market with to get the same list of leads you've gained from a co-branded event or campaign.
"A lead share will motivate your event partner to drive registrations. This will not only increase sign-ups, but you’ll likely be left with a lot more net new contacts,” says Roini.
3. Enable speakers and employees to promote your event.
Aside from working with other brands to promote your brand, don't forget all of the individuals who can help too. These people could include speakers, those in your network, and your company's employees. The more people post about an event, the greater the word of mouth marketing will be.
While you can simply ask your employees, colleagues, and speakers to share a link to the event signup page, it helps to go a few steps further and send them assets such as images, videos, tracking URLs, and coverage of the event to encourage a variety of different promotions and enable them to share it quickly.
"Whoever the speakers are, internal or external, offer them assets that they can use to promote their session. This will make them way more likely to go ahead with the promotion," says Roini.
Aside from providing assets to your team and speakers, you can also create incentives, such as contests, which reward individuals for solid event promotion.
“If you’re able to create a buzz around the event or incentivize employees to promote the event, it’s a win-win for everyone," Roini shares. "If you really want to invest in employee advocacy, there’s a ton of great software to automate the process.”
4. Segment event invitations for different audiences.
One area where audience segmentation could be easy and effective is email marketing.
“If you’re planning on doing an email promotion, ask yourself, 'Is the value proposition the same for the whole list?' if not, you could segment and personalize the emails to better highlight the value this event is bringing to different groups of people,” Roini advises.
5. Track your promotional tactics.
Whenever you need to use time or resources to promote an event, you'll want to track the results of your marketing tactics.
Why? If one time-consuming promotional tactic falls flat, while another simple strategy yields signups, you can embrace the stronger strategy to promote upcoming events.
To learn which tactics work best, Roini suggests using a number of tracking URLs to isolate where signups or event-related traffic came from.
“When you ask employees, sales, event partners, or anyone else to promote the event, ask them to use UTM links or otherwise make sure that you’re able to track the registrations. This will help you to determine where you should put your efforts the next time,” Roini explains.
Creating a Marketable Virtual Event
Promoting an online event is similar to marketing a physical event. However, there are a number of key differences. While you might be able to promote an online event to a broader audience than a physical event, you'll need to remember that the online event landscape is competitive.
Even if your event is helpful and informative, there might still be a dozen similar events that offer similar content.
Additionally, while the goal of promoting a physical event is to get audiences to buy a ticket, the goals of most online events involve getting people to sign up for the event, reminding them to tune in, and getting them to follow calls to action — such as purchasing a product — after the event.
Since many online events are affordable or free, getting someone to sign up and watch the event without being locked in to a ticket purchase might take more time and effort.
Ultimately, the goal of promoting an online event is to highlight and remind audiences of the whos, whats, hows, and whys behind it. Noting these factors in your marketing will not only show audiences how and why it will value them, but it will also separate your event from those that might be similar.
Even in the event's planning stage, thinking about how you will promote it could help you create a marketable virtual experience worth attending.
For example, if you choose well-known thought leaders to host an event, that will boost your promotional results and the success of your event. Or, if you take on a co-branded event, the content will be marketed to two audiences — rather than just your own.
For more tips on coordinating and planning a virtual event that people will actually want to attend, check out this helpful blog post.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in June 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Sep 2, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated June 16 2021