Virtual Events: Accessing and Nurturing a Worldwide Audience
May 25, 2022
⌚ 15 min read
→ Your growth practice
Add virtual events to your growth playbook. You can choose between running one-time events or hosting recurring events, which you can later transform into full-fledged event brands.
→ Quick explanation
Some big SaaS companies ran in-person events before the pandemic. Other SaaS companies would focus on webinars exclusively without considering running events, as it was too expensive. The crisis, however, conditioned event tech companies to come up with digital solutions and enable people to run inexpensive virtual events.
Compared to in-person events, the costs of virtual events are much lower. To plan a virtual event, one doesn’t have to pay for the venue, catering, speakers’ travel and accommodation fees, audiovisual equipment, additional contractors, such as the cleaning, and more. You just need to pay for an event planning platform, such as Hopin.
Virtual events allowed tech companies to innovate and enable new meeting formats and engagement dynamics.
“Throughout the years I have been following event technology, and I can assure you that there has never been a more exciting time. The speed of development and the richness of the new features genuinely add new dimensions to what virtual events can be.”
These factors motivated many SaaS companies to add virtual events to their growth playbook.
It’s worth noting that the events industry is recovering after the pandemic, and the number of in-person events is growing. Considering this new reality, some SaaS companies are experimenting and trying hybrid events. This format allows organizers to combine both in-person and digital experiences.
► Quick note: To organize a hybrid event, one has to schedule in-person activities for those who’ll come to the venue and virtual activities for those who’ll connect digitally to a virtual stage. These activities can be the same (streaming a keynote speech) or/and different.
Compared to any other growth practice, virtual events combine a distinctive collection of attributes, making them unique:
👉 Richness. Whether you’re running a small or big virtual event, program richness is key. A rich program consists of several sessions or a different, unusual format, allowing people to tackle a topic from different angles or have memorable digital experiences.
👉 Simultaneity. Although not necessary, some virtual events will allow people to personalize their agenda by choosing which sessions they want to attend. That’s the case only when you have different keynote speeches and roundtables running simultaneously.
👉 Interactivity. There should be two-way communication with your attendees. There are countless engagement tools, such as Slido, allowing people to be part of the conversation. Virtual events are rich in pools, votes, and virtual games.
👉 Conversationality. Virtual events aren’t too different from in-person events (except for people’s closeness and sense of presence). That’s why elements such as networking are part of the virtual event’s agenda. Countless event tech platforms allow virtual attendees to schedule one-on-one meetings and discuss professional-related subjects during a specific timeframe.
👉 Experienceable. One key element that makes events extraordinary it’s their experienceable character. The same is true for virtual events. We don’t have immersive technology yet. But we can create experienceable virtual events by scheduling entertainment shows. These shows can involve magic sessions with the attendees, cocktail mixology, meditation classes, and more.
👉 Adaptability. Finally, virtual events allow innovation by enabling a wide variety of session formats. For example, as Julius Solaris, Founder of EventMB and ex-VP of Marketing Strategy at Hopin, notes in one of his tweets about virtual events:
“We introduced new formats such as bullet point sessions. A speaker would present 3 bullet points for 3 minutes, 3 slides, and 1 minute per slide. Only actionable advice. With 5 speakers, you get so much practical advice in 15 mins. Adapted it from Pecha Kucha.”
📓 In-person events: Conferences, product launches, and workshops that allow people to meet in a physical location (venue) and interact face-to-face.
📓 Virtual events: Running conferences, product launches, summits, or any other type of event in a digital environment.
📓 Online events: This term is used interchangeably with virtual events. In the future, though, we might need to differentiate between these two terms, as virtual could refer to fully immersive events.
📓 Hybrid events: Events that combine the in-person and virtual model, allowing people to connect face-to-face in a physical location or engage online from the comfort of their house or office.
📓 Pre-recorded events/sessions: Most SaaS companies run live virtual events. The companies’ marketing teams won’t pre-record the events, preferring to connect and engage live with their audiences. However, some companies will choose to pre-record the event or specific sessions to avoid any technical difficulties on the day of the event.
📓 Webinars: There’s an ongoing debate about whether webinars belong to virtual events. Although the format may seem similar, virtual events are more extensive and elaborate. Usually, webinars revolve around a structured session based on an introduction, an interview or keynote speech, and a demo.
📓 Streaming: Delivering media content, live or recorded, to computers and mobile devices via the Internet.
📓 Virtual networking: A digital interaction session, similar to one-on-one meetings, between two attendees, an attendee and the company representative or an attendee and the event speaker. Its purpose is to reproduce the experience of an in-person networking session, allowing people to develop meaningful professional connections and identify collaboration opportunities during the virtual event.
📓 Virtual stage. The place where attendees can connect to attend the virtual event, see the keynote speeches and other event sessions, engage with the speakers, interact with other virtual attendees, ask questions, and more.
📓 One-time events. This notion refers to a singular event that won’t repeat anymore.
📓 Recurring events. This term refers to similar events (same topic or same events brand) launched periodically or repeatedly.
📓 Event brand. It’s a recurring event with a name, a format, and an identity.
“We found that virtual events don’t exist in a silo; they impact the entire marketing funnel.”
The survey also shows that:
92% of respondents have shifted to virtual events in 2021, with 94% planning for virtual events in 2022 and 48% planning to increase the number of virtual events they host next year.
28% of respondents run virtual events to increase brand awareness, 21% to generate revenue through ticket sales, 17% to build new relationships, 15% to nurture existing relationships, 11% to drive direct sales, and 8% to establish thought leadership.
Asked to choose their top three benefits when running large-scale virtual events, 36% of respondents answered increased registration, 26% with greater ROI, and 25% with greater attendee engagement.
36% of attendees attend virtual events to learn about the company, and 36% to acquire general knowledge.
✅ As Vimeo highlights:
57% of respondents use virtual events to educate and engage with their customers.
59% of respondents host webinars for lead generation and marketing purposes, such as promoting their brand, product, or service.
→ Most popular types of virtual events
Summit: Virtual events dedicated to top-level executives, industry leaders, and people with influence inside their companies or organizations.
Conference: Half-a-day, 24-hour-long, one or more-days meetings of industry professionals with a shared interest, during which people learn new things, engage with each other, and exchange knowledge.
Networking: Virtual events dedicated exclusively to one-on-one meetings, ensuring a match between an offer and demand. For example, one can run virtual networking events for startup founders and early-stage investors, during which attendees can meet each other, discuss, and agree upon future collaboration and investments.
Fireside chat: A short-format event where the speaker engages in an informal conversation with the moderator.
Ask Me Anything (AMA): A short-format event where the speaker will answer the attendees’ questions.
Product launch: A virtual event dedicated to introducing a new product, a new version of the product, or product features.
Workshops: Virtual events that engage attendees in a specific learning activity.
→ Your growth opportunities
By adding virtual events to your SaaS growth playbook, you’ll be able to access multiple growth opportunities, such as:
Outshare and out-teach your competition. There are two types of SaaS companies. The first type will prioritize scaling the sales team, building sophisticated outbound sequences, and investing in ads. The second type will prioritize knowledge and learning, focusing on out-teaching and outstaring their competition. And although there’s no straight path to growing a SaaS company, focusing on the audiences’ needs to learn is far superior to tweaking or scaling systems to generate higher sales. Educating became key to building trust and long-term connections with your audience. Finding ways to out-teach and outshare your competition will result in a higher return on investment and bigger profit (long-term). And virtual events are excellent learning platforms for your audience.
Activate the marketing funnel stages. Compared to other marketing and growth practices, virtual events will allow you to connect and engage with people regardless of the buyer’s journey stage. You can run virtual events to increase brand awareness, attract more leads into your pipeline, transform prospects into buyers, cross-sell/up-sell your products, and more.
Engage with industry stakeholders. You’ll get to know and connect with the industry stakeholders by identifying and inviting thought leaders and experts to speak at your event. Later, these connections may result in business and collaboration opportunities.
SaaS companies benefit from global outreach. And that is something virtual events can achieve. According to “Virtual Event Tech Guide 2021” by Event Manager Blog, Skift, “Increase in attendance or reach is consistently considered to be the top benefit of pivoting to virtual. In fact, the data shows that event professionals have reported improved performance for virtual events in attendance and reach, and will perhaps become more proficient at attracting larger audiences.” Virtual events will help you erase boundaries (at a lower cost) and attract the attention of a global audience.
Compared to inbound or email marketing, event marketing enables a two-way communication platform that allows you to connect and engage synchronously with your attendees.
Running virtual events will enrich your content library. Later, you can offer on-demand event recordings.
You can expand your business model and monetize your virtual event. For example, you can offer a free pass to those attending the event synchronously. Then, you can charge a fee to those who want to access the recordings. You can also set a price for attending the virtual event synchronously. Although it’s not a widespread practice, some SaaS companies charge a fee for attending the event.The decision to monetize your virtual events will depend on your marketing and sales goals.
Build a community around your brand. Virtual events are crucial for building and nurturing a broad community. You’ll grow a strong event community by creating a space for conversation, synchronous engagement, and knowledge sharing.
→ Case examples
>> Miro, a visual collaboration platform
In 2019, the Miro team launched Distributed, a recurring virtual summit for enterprise product teams.
During his Distributed 2021 Keynote, Andrey Khusid, CEO at Miro, highlighted, “What started as a relatively small virtual gathering in 2019, has grown to a global community event.” This statement is live proof of virtual events’ compound power and their impact on growing extended communities.
>> ClickUp, an all-in-one project management platform
In 2020, ClickUp introduced LevelUp, a recurring virtual productivity conference.
The 2021 edition of LevelUp was hybrid, as people could attend in-person, in San Diego, and virtually. The company notes, “Over 45,000 people worldwide registered to learn how today’s leaders redefine productivity with powerful new work tools and strategies.”
ClickUp announced LevelUp’s third edition in 2022. The details are to be published.
>> Figma, a web-based graphics editing platform
Figma is running a 24-hour knowledge marathon called Config, a free global design conference. Config is a full-fledged, 24-hour knowledge-packed experience for Figma users worldwide compared to other virtual events.
24-hour long virtual events are still unusual for the industry. However, Figma decided to go beyond the conventional and launch a day-long conference that consists of 100+ speakers, 65+ sessions, simultaneous tracks, and translations.
As the Figma team highlights, people should join the sessions as much as possible without feeling the need to beat the clock. All talks will be recorded and shared out the week after the conference. Laster, everyone will be able to access the conference content on YouTube.
>> Commsor, a platform for community-led companies
Commsor announced The 2022 Community-Led Summit, a three-day virtual event for builders and leaders in community-led companies.
The event is 100% free, and it presents 25+ speakers and 15 sessions.
>> Webflow, a no-code website builder
The No-Code Conf is an annual event that brings makers, creators, and visionaries behind the no-code movement. According to Webflow: “No-Code Conf 2021 brought more than 18,000 no-coders together across 135+ countries — including companies like Adobe, Apple, Airtable, and Google, and more.”
In 2019, Gong launched Celebrate, an annual Revenue Intelligence Summit.
The event’s page highlights that “Celebrate is a unique, virtual experience for revenue leaders to hear from go-to-market execs at the world’s fastest-growing companies, uncover key trends with industry analysts, and unlock their team’s potential.”
Celebrate comes back with a new Online Roadshow edition in 2022. The event focuses on getting attendees to connect with revenue executives for a day of revenue-driving insights, key market trends, and experience sharing.
>> Stripe, online payment processing for internet businesses
Stripe is running Stripe Sessions, a global virtual conference featuring product updates, demos, and talks around the future of the internet economy.
The event is free and available to watch on-demand after launch.
>> ThoughtSpot, modern analytics cloud
ThoughtSpot is running Beyond, an annual user conference for analytics leaders.
In 2020, the ThoughtSpot organizers pivoted to digital for its third edition and ran their first virtual event. As a result, more than 6,000 people connected to the event, allowing the company to expand its outreach. The 2021 edition was a one-day virtual event and gathered thousands of global customers and partners.
In 2022 Beyond 2022 is returned to Las Vegas. People can watch the event’s content on-demand.
>> Drift, a conversational marketing platform
Drift runs an annual virtual summit called RevGrowth.
The 2021 edition was a one-day event packed with multiple talks and simultaneous sessions. People can watch the summit sessions on demand.
Atlassian was one of the first companies to take its event virtual. The event team was in the process of planning the annual summit when the pandemic restrictions were imposed. They had 18 business days left until the event. The organizers had two options: cancel the event and ten months of work or pivot to virtual.
According to Angela Smith, Head of Experiential & Field Marketing at Atlassian, nobody was prepared for this quick transition. However, the first Atlassian Remote Summit gathered over 27,000 attendees from all around the world.
From its first Atlassian Remote Summit until Autumn 2021, the company held more than 600 virtual events.
In terms of marketing results, Smith highlights the following KPIs:
60% of attendees had an active salesforce engagement.
79% of attendees resulted in growth opportunities.
Coverage increased from 25 or 26 countries for in-person events to 150+ countries for virtual events.
People spent 200 minutes (on average) engaged during the event.
As Smith notes, Atlassian will invest a significant amount of resources into creating more digital experiences* than in-person events.
→ What to consider?
What are my marketing and sales goals?
What’s the goal of my virtual event? What do I want to achieve? (Usually, the virtual event goal should derive from your marketing and sales goals.)
On what buyer’s journey stage should I focus my event?
Who’s my target group, and what their educational needs are?
How much budget should I dedicate to my virtual event?
What my event KPIs are? How will I evaluate whether my virtual event was successful?
What type of virtual event should I run?
What will my agenda look like?
Who are my speakers?
Should I run one-time virtual events or launch a recurring event brand?
► Quick note: One-time events lack the compound element. It’s the same as sending one email, hoping it will help you grow a mailing list. Regular virtual events will have a compound effect on your efforts to build a community. Note that recurring doesn’t mean running events often. It can be one virtual conference per year. The consistency, though, matters. Take a look at the No-Code Conf by Webflow. It’s a yearly event, yet there’s a lot of press and community attention. When you run a recurring virtual event, you have the space to establish an event brand, such as the No-Code Conf, that will enrich your marketing assets and strengthen your overall communication strategy.
Dedicated team and bandwidth
Strong event tech partner. Luckily, multiple planning software options will help you to help set up the virtual event.
Leverage to promote your virtual event. After all, you don’t want to invest resources into a virtual event without having the certainty that people will attend.
→ Your action framework
📒 Review your marketing and sales goals. It’s important to discuss with your marketing and sales teammates before launching anything. Book a meeting with them, discuss their main goals, and agree upon a specific, business-aligned goal, to pursue with your virtual event.
📒 Identify your target group and the buyer’s journey stage you want to engage. You may have different buyer personas or ICPs. However, to have a greater impact with your virtual event, it’s always better to narrow it down and focus on a specific niche. Also, knowing your target group and its buyer’s journey stage, you’ll be able to:
Decide the event’s topic
Articulate the agenda structure
Create the event’s sessions
Design the networking experiences
Prepare extraordinary experiences, such as virtual concerts
📒 Decide whether you need a translation. If you want to engage people from other geographical areas, it’s always better to offer simultaneous translation.
📒 Identify the speakers you want to invite to your event.
► Quick note: Invite a star speaker. When planning your first virtual event, inviting world-class leaders as speakers may be difficult. However, if you attract a star speaker, your marketing campaign will have a more significant impact, and people will be more interested in attending the event. Your star speaker can be a celebrity, an industry thought leader or an author. The main goal is to invite someone whose name will grab people’s attention. For example, Trevor Noah was the star speaker at No-Code Conf by Webflow.
📒 Book your speakers and assist them in creating their presentations.
📒 Choose an event tech platform that will help you set up elements such as:
Payments (if you’ll monetize the event)
Virtual booths for your partners or sponsors
📒 Identify your virtual events’ partners/sponsors. For example, you can partner with online media outlets or other industry-related brands.
📒 Create your event’s landing page.
📒 Craft a marketing plan to promote your event.
📒 Design the virtual stage.
📒 Create a minute-by-minute plan for the day(s) of the event. This plan should include things such as:
What happens at any given moment
Your speakers’ contact details
Who’s backstage with the speakers
What comes next
Any other information that will help your team run the event
📒 Run a test with your speakers, ensuring they understand how the platform works and what’s expected from them.
Expert Advice from Angela Smith, Head of Experiential & Field Marketing at Atlassian
Always measure the average time people spend watching the event. This way, you’ll know if your content is relevant or not.
Overprogramming is easy. Yet try to stay away from it as digital fatigue is real. The Atlassian events team reduced to 25% the amount of content they’re broadcasting during a virtual event (compared to an in-person event).
If you want to run more events, keep it simple. Atlassian has four types of events only: strategic events, field events, demos, and webinars. If an event idea doesn’t fit one of the categories, it won’t happen.
Segment your customers and ensure you’re not tapping on them more than you want to be tapped yourself. In other words, don’t overload your audience with too many virtual events. Also, make sure that your event is well-attuned to the segment’s interests.
💥 To remember: Digital marketing is evolving, and SaaS companies are experimenting with new engagement practices. Although virtual events aren’t new, the pandemic conditioned tech companies to innovate and create ubiquitous virtual event platforms. The planning software became more accessible and cheaper.
Moreover, compared to in-person events, virtual events are cheaper to plan. There’s no need to invest money in catering, venue, audiovisual equipment, speakers’ travel fees, and more. At the same time, the efficiency and the reach of virtual events are growing.
As a result, more SaaS companies added virtual events to their growth playbook. Virtual events allow companies to connect synchronously with a broad audience. Plus, they’re removing the attendance barriers, such as the distance. Now you can connect with people and users worldwide and build brand affinity by experimenting with new digital formats.
Virtual events allow you to create new engagement formats, involving your audience/community in knowledge creation. Also, events will help you nurture a sense of belonging and strengthen the bond between your community members and your brand.