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Guest Post – Virtual Events: Top 4 Tools for Planners in 2020

Events, Technology Lindsay Rutz

The following post is a guest contribution from Regpack – an online registration software company.

If your organization often hosts events, your plans have likely been thrown off course by the coronavirus pandemic. With social distancing in effect, all in-person events are either cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

For associations, the lack of face-to-face engagement and traditional events pose a deeper concern for membership renewals and retention rates

If you run an association, you know that individuals become members to meet other professionals in their field and gain networking and development opportunities. Whether they renew their memberships is dependent on the value that your association provides. And without any in-person meetings or events bringing together members, there can be an increased risk of higher member attrition.

Instead of putting a pause on events for the time being, consider pivoting to a virtual alternative. Virtual events, though taken place entirely online, can be just as engaging as their more traditional counterparts. You just need the right technology and tools to pull it off. 

Here at Regpack, we often work with event planners to increase registrations through software. As soon as COVID-19 started posing a larger threat, we knew that we had to start prioritizing the specific needs of virtual events as well. In this guide, we’ve put together the following tools that you’ll need to pull off a successful virtual event:

  1. Event registration
  2. Payments
  3. Communications
  4. Data analysis

Learning the best ways to transition your event to the online sphere isn’t just helpful during times of crisis like now. Virtual events are increasing in popularity and have been for quite some time now. These tips and tricks will most definitely help you even once the pandemic is over! Ready to get started? Let’s begin.

1. Event Registration Tool

If you’ve ever attended an online class or watched a concert livestream, then you are already familiar with the basic components of a virtual event. Virtual events are more accessible than ever, especially since most of your members and vendors are likely equipped with a camera and a device that connects to the internet. 

Whether your association is hosting a large digital conference with multiple speakers or an intimate members-only online webinar, an essential tool you’ll always need is your event registration tool. 

While some organizations turn to platforms like Eventbrite for their event registrations, your best bet is to host the process all within your association’s website if possible. A good idea is to add the form into a page dedicated to the event. According to this article, keeping your event registration within the same site can increase conversions by 27%. Keeping users on the same website ensures the process is streamlined and convenient, increasing your event registration rates. 

Along with embedding your registration form in your website, your event registration tool should also have the following capabilities to boost attendance rates and increase convenience for registrants:

  1. Customizable forms. Customized forms ensure that you’re only requiring the information that’s necessary for the event, streamlining the registration process for your attendees and mitigating data you don’t need. This is especially important when planning a virtual event with a web recording or Zoom video component. Easily add the relevant link and details within your registration forms to ensure each registrant receives the proper information.
  2. Mobile optimized pages. According to the findings from the World Advertising Research Center (WARC), around 51% of the globe solely uses their phones to access the internet. Because of this, you’ll want to ensure that your entire association website is mobile-optimized, especially the event registration forms, ensuring you can easily convert those who discovered the event while on their phones.
  3. Personalized registration process. Some registration tools leverage conditional logic to personalize the registration process. Conditional logic works by reacting to the answers and choices the registrant enters. For instance, if a member registers for your virtual event, the form will change to display the different sessions under that event. This cuts down on lengthy registration processes and ensures everyone completes what is needed.
  4. Branded to your organization. No matter what, your registration form should be branded. Make sure you’re using your association’s colors and logo so that non-members can recognize the organization hosting the event.

For any event, whether virtual or in-person, a well thought out registration process is crucial for maximizing success. Make sure that you’re taking full advantage of all the capabilities in your event registration tool in order to increase attendance and streamline the process.

2. Integrated Payment Processing Tool

After a registrant finishes filling out your registration form, they submit their payment information to complete the process. However, with COVID-19 affecting the global economy and unemployment rates at a record high, some of your potential attendees might be a little hesitant about registering for your virtual event. That’s why it’s so important to consider your payment forms and processing tool.

For one thing, your members might not even be able to afford your upcoming virtual event. If this is the case, look at your payment processing tool and see if it can:

  1. Provide custom payment plans to allow attendees to pay on a schedule that correlates with their financial needs. Make sure your tool can also automatically bill the registrant so you don’t have to constantly remind them. Bonus: Custom payments provides your association with a steady source of income!
  2. Set up and automatically apply discounts for those who are eligible. Consider setting up discounts for some of your members to offset the financial burden of the virtual event. For instance, if you’ve recently had to cancel a live event, send those disappointed attendees a discount code that can be automatically applied if they register for your virtual event.

Offering your members options like this not only makes it easier for them to attend your virtual event, but it also shows them that you’re willing to adapt to their financial needs in order to make your membership valuable.

Another reason why potential attendees might be cautious when completing the registration process is that they don’t trust the payment processor. This often happens when users are sent to a third-party page to pay for something, which is why it’s recommended to invest in an integrated payment processing tool. Then, users can simply pay on the same page that they filled out their registrant information.

To assure your members that their data is safe and secure, your integrated payment processor should have the following:

  1. PCI Compliance
  2. Encryption
  3. Tokenization

These are the common security protocols that your payment processor should have in order to ensure important data is secure. So even though the event registration and payments take place on your website, it’s not necessary that your  website is PCI compliant — you can just depend on the payment processor tool. Payment is a crucial part of the registration process, so make sure you have a dedicated tool to reflect that.

3. Communications Tool

In order to effectively get the word out and market your virtual event, you’ll need a capable communications tool. As an association, you likely communicate with your members through emails. That’s how you announce any upcoming opportunities or remind them of deadlines.

In times of instability, a carefully crafted email communications strategy is more important than ever which is especially true if you’ve had to suddenly cancel or postpone a live event. A dedicated and efficient communications tool is necessary in order to update your attendees on new details and next steps, whether it’s a refund process or transferring the ticket credit to a future event.

Your email communications should focus on providing value to your members and further develop your existing relationships. Developing content that is relevant to the recipient and offers personalized opportunities that they’re genuinely interested in helps you become a valued resource in their career development journey.

Take a look at your current communications tools and make sure it can:

  1. Segment your members. According to Doubleknot, one of the best ways to personalize communications is to segment your recipients by different data points, helping you to create targeted content based on your unique audiences. For instance, you shouldn’t be sending all members the same virtual event information if some of them have already registered. Instead, segment your members based on registration status. Then, create targeted content for those who haven’t registered and those who have.
  2. Automate details in the content. An email with a personalized subject line is 26% more likely to be opened. Make sure your communication tools can automatically input data like members’ names within your email content and subjects. Personalization is especially is helpful when sending out virtual event-related content to those who registered. Your communications tool should automatically populate the email with relevant information like Zoom, livestream, or pre-recorded video (Facebook Live, YouTube, etc.) links.

Along with a dedicated communications tool, consider the other ways you can expand your virtual event marketing strategy. Due to the accessibility of most tools and the internet’s vast offerings, there are many digital ways you can engage with your members and potential attendees. Social media platforms and your association’s website are great places to start!

4. Data Analysis and Reporting Tool

For any campaign that your association executes,  tracking interaction and success metrics help you to  learn from mistakes and pinpoint areas of success. Virtual events are especially informative since every interaction likely takes place online. Hosting a virtual event means more valuable data and information that your association can collect and analyze.

In order to improve future virtual events and expand your association’s memberships, you need a robust data analysis and reporting tool. Having the ability to track member engagement, ie.,  any time a member opens an email, someone registers for the event, and other engagements regarding the event provides you with insightful data you can use to evaluate the success of your event, and inform you for future events. The more data you collect, the easier your event tools can automate tasks that bring attendees back year after year. 

Having a comprehensive view of a clean and accurate database is the best way to ensure that your association’s processes and engagements continue to improve. This is something that members definitely notice, especially if you fail to correct a previous event mistake in future ones. 

For instance, let’s say you hosted a virtual event that had unclear instructions on how to connect your webcam. If this is a problem in all of your virtual events, your members may not register for future events. 

To ensure success for all future events, your data analysis tool should be able to:

  1. Filter and sort attendee data. Being able to filter and sort data allows you to answer any questions you may have on your attendees and registration process. For instance, filter and sort attendees who were members and those who were not prior to your event, giving you a clearer picture of how successful your events are for member recruitment purposes. This tool should help you plan ahead and see the bigger picture.
  2. Generate reports. Comparing different data points and strategic efforts helps pinpoint areas of weakness and strength. For example, consider generating a report on the channels that drove registrations— compare the numbers on those who found out through email, social media, SEO, digital advertising and more!

With these capabilities, you can better visualize trends and determine what is working, and which areas need improvement. From here, a good way to gain even more valuable data from your virtual events is to conduct post-event surveys, giving you direct feedback on your virtual event and ensure success for the next event.

Virtual events are a great way for associations to continue engaging members and other supporters, especially during a global pandemic. However, in order to pull your virtual event off and ensure that it provides just as much value as its traditional counterparts, you’ll need to depend on a couple of tools. Hopefully, this guide helped you gain a clearer picture of what you might need moving forward. Good luck!

Author Bio

Asaf Darash, Founder and CEO of Regpack, has extensive experience as an entrepreneur and investor. Asaf has built 3 successful companies to date, all with an exit plan or that have stayed in profitability and are still functional. Asaf specializes in product development for the web, team building and in bringing a company from concept to an actualized unit that is profitable.

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