It’s no news that when it comes to virtual networking events, audience engagement is the biggest challenge. The next big challenge is getting people to interact. The aim of a networking event is to connect people together. But how do you do this when you’ve lost them in the first 60 seconds? And how do you prepare ahead for those pesky technical issues that may happen during your event? In this article we’ll show you 13 best practices for successful virtual networking events.
Virtual event best practices for 2022
Before the event
1. Set clear goals from the start
If you have a clear idea of the goals you intend achieving through a certain event, then you will be better able to measure its success. It is imperative that you define specific objectives for your team before setting up the event.
Consider what you want your networking session to accomplish for your company.
Here are some pertinent questions to ask:
- What do we get out of this event?
- What was the initial impetus?
- Who are the attendees and what should they walk away with?
- What would success look like?
- How does this virtual networking event tie in with the company’s goals?
Remember to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goals and make sure the entire project team understands what you’re aiming for.
2. Promote your virtual event on social media
When marketing an event, you can’t do without social media. You need to plan out a social content strategy for promoting your event. This would include the right hashtags, paid ads strategy, appealing visuals and outreaches for your event.
There are a plethora of ways to use social media to advertise your virtual networking event. Create a unique, brief, and easy-to-understand hashtag for your virtual event and post it on all of your company’s social media accounts. You can leverage platform tools like the countdown sticker on Instagram or the geotag filter on tiktok. You can also share teasers with pertinent details on the event to create buzz or host giveaways with support from your sponsors to increase engagement.
3. Choose the right virtual conferencing platform/virtual event app
Some virtual networking events are easy to accomplish with just a simple Zoom call, whereas others require the use of an appropriate and functional virtual event platform. Virtual event apps and platforms will make it easier for you to plan and host your event. They also include features to increase engagement and improve user experience.
Most allow you to create breakout rooms for smaller groups or private meetings for speed networking. Hosting keynote presentations, sharing links and papers, and allowing participants to share their contact information with others is also easy.
Some virtual networking event platforms provide a more immersive experience through gamification, rewarding user interaction and activities. This not only helps to duplicate some of that in-person vibe, but it’s also a way to host memorable and fun virtual events.
4. Choose the right time for your event
One of the first tasks in the planning process is to choose the right time for your event. Timing is an aspect of event planning that’s often overlooked, but that could influence the success or failure of your virtual event.
So what’s the best time to host a virtual event? Based on data from StreamGo, a virtual events platform based in the UK, the best time to host a virtual event is between 1 pm – 3 pm on Mondays and Fridays. Their research also found the ideal duration for virtual networking events to be between 2-4 hours.
Generally, you’ll want to think about how many people can attend, whether they’ll be in different time zones, and how much time you’ll need for questions and answers. It’s also worth remembering that paid vacation time varies between countries.
5. Survey potential attendees
A pre-event questionnaire will help you understand what attendees want from your virtual networking event. Some pre-event questions to ask include:
- Which of these topics interest you most?
- List potential speakers you’d like to speak at the next event?
- Is there any reason why you wouldn’t be able to attend the event? If so, how can we accommodate your needs?
- Have you attended this event before? What was your biggest gain?
- Which of these times work best for you?
- How did you hear about this event?
The purpose of a pre-event survey is to assess your participants’ needs, engage potential participants and acquire data to improve your event. Multiple-choice options are convenient for collecting data, but you should also provide open answer alternatives to learn more about your participants’ preferences. You may also offer incentives to encourage people to respond and start generating buzz for your virtual networking event.
6. Send out a well designed video email to improve CTR
Sending out a well designed video email is one of the most effective ways to reach your potential attendees and improve your click-through-rate. A short video can convey everything attendees stand to gain concisely and effectively.
Also, just including a video thumbnail in your email is sure to improve click through rates. A Wistia experiment found that video thumbnails improved clicks by up to 25%. Your thumbnail could direct people to a landing page where they learn more about the event. It’s also worth remembering that the majority of consumers believe a promotional video should go no longer than two minutes.
During the event – How do you make a virtual event fun?
7. Use gamification to create engagement
Some virtual event apps allow you to incorporate game-like elements such as scoring, awards, and competition. This is a smart way to set measurable objectives that will help increase event engagement. These are particularly useful for educational and coaching events.
Instead of scavenger hunts and leaderboards, think of fun ways to engage your audience while achieving your goals. For instance, in March 2021, the National Housing Federation organized a 4-day, networking-heavy virtual event – a version of their housing finance conference and exhibition. The event was a success with 75% active user rate and 3,100 connections made.
Aside from the normal fun games and engagement features supplied by their chosen virtual events app, Swapcard, they allowed users to give back by participating in the event. The NHF contributed 50p for every connection made, every discussion created, every session registration and every booth bookmark. The campaign was called ‘The more you connect, the more we donate’.
To leverage gamification, you’ll need the right virtual event platform. Only 10% of virtual event platforms have gamification features. Some platforms allow you to choose from premade challenge options while others allow for more customization. You could, for instance, assign certain games to specific staff members.
8. Introduce everyone
The majority of virtual networking events begin with an introduction. This is a great opportunity for people to get to know one another, as there will almost certainly be new faces.
When it comes to presenting themselves at online or in-person gatherings, not everyone is comfortable. Ask your attendees to discuss their favorite ice cream flavor or to tell the group about one of their major life goals to make this icebreaker moment flow smoothly. Create conversation starters that aren’t impacted by a guest’s title, company, or industry, and keep it light and uncomplicated.
9. Be creative
One of the downsides of virtual networking events is that it’s hard to create connections with people compared to physical meetings and watercooler chats at tradeshows and conventions. This is a problem echoed by a large number of event marketers as a Bizzabo survey shows.
How do you solve this problem? Infuse creativity into your event planning just like the folks at the NHF did. You could have challenges like virtual escapes where teams have to piece together clues to solve a puzzle and escape locked rooms.
You can experiment with ideas such as pre-event photo contests where attendees could send in a selfie in an outfit that matches the theme of the event. Attendees could also send pet photos to create an interactive atmosphere.
In another example of creative thinking, the Coffee Talk feature from digital events company, Virtual With Us, fosters interaction even before the event. Attendees receive a list of Community Members and a coffee kit before the event.
“The panel will introduce themselves to the group and discuss a few topics of interest,” explains Henry Guttilla, executive creative director for Virtual With Us. “Once the discussion is over, Coffee Chats will commence”. Participants can network and meet one-on-one in virtual break out rooms.
10. Showcase your sponsors
The growing popularity of virtual networking events has created significant opportunities for businesses. To reach a larger audience, businesses are trying to partner with the right event organizers. Your event sponsors don’t have to feel left out in the virtual world, and there are plenty of creative ways to make sure they’re noticed.
As with a conventional event, provide your sponsors a place to promote themselves. In a virtual environment, you can employ a variety of ways to display brand logos, material, or sessions. This would have the same impact as a physical event.
After the event
11. Appreciate attendees
It’s important to send a thank you note to your event participants. It’s time to thank them for contributing to the success of the event.
In your email, share any resources you mentioned at the event, as well as any additional ways they may keep in touch with you. This is also an excellent opportunity to obtain useful feedback. If possible, ask participants to write a quick rating or review of your event using a review collection platform.
12. Promote a future event
Because most networking gatherings aren’t one-time affairs, now is the best time to start advertising future events. Use the success of your most recent gathering to generate interest, excitement and registrations for your upcoming event.
Share recorded excerpts of your keynote and speeches with permission, and compile them into a highlights reel to entice people to attend future events.To pique attention, use screenshots from your entertaining virtual environment in your ads or social media posts. Take some of the positive feedback and ratings you’ve received from attendees and use them in your event marketing.
13. Check your analytics
Virtual event analytics provides you tremendous insight into what your audience is interested in. Detailed demographics about your audience, the most interactive sessions, subjects, and presenters, social media buzz, how long attendees spent with exhibitors, which sponsor ads were the most effective, and much more. All of this information provides you with a variety of metrics for assessing the success of your virtual event.
Event audience data can be used to generate more accurate personas, which can lead to more relevant messages and more engaging events.
Virtual Networking Event Ideas
Happy hours are just what they sound like. They present a fun way for team members to relax after a long, stressful week; celebrate a new milestone or just network. They may involve fun virtual event ideas like trivia games, drinks and snacks games, charades, and song challenges.
Mini skills classes
There’s nothing quite like a group learning activity for forging new bonds with those around you. It gives everyone a common discussion point and is a great way for the group’s less confident members to participate.
Bring in an expert to offer a mini skills lesson for a small group at your next networking event. This could be something creative, such as a seasonal craft activity, or something food-related, such as a mixology or cookie decorating class. Keep it professional by hosting a lunch and learn focused on soft skills like communication, leadership, or sales. This not only gets people talking, but it also allows them to learn something new in an entertaining way.
The purpose of a virtual fundraising event, like any other in-person fundraiser, is to collect money by asking contributors and supporters to watch, participate in, and donate to your nonprofit during the event. At a time when distant connectivity is vital and many in-person fundraisers have come to a halt, virtual fundraising events can really pay off.
A virtual hiring event is a group interview in which businesses collect resumes and conduct interviews in both group and individual settings online. As new COVID-19 trends emerge, many firms are moving toward virtual hiring events. We see this happening with real estate job searches for example. They may result in on-the-spot job offers, cutting down on your job search time dramatically.
Corporate Wine Tasting
Corporate wine tasting has always been a pleasant way to get together with friends, family, or coworkers. It’s an activity that allows you to learn something new, interact with others over tasty bottles, create wonderful memories, and develop useful wine knowledge.
Virtual corporate wine tastings have enough structure to provide a worthwhile online experience while still allowing for genuine moments of interaction and plenty of laughs.
This article has equipped you with some best practices and tips for hosting successful virtual networking events. Now your next event doesn’t have to be dull and dry. Check here for some virtual conference preparation tips.