Build a Convincing Case for Virtual Event Attendance

With a ton of virtual learning options out there right now, associations are turning to new marketing techniques to get attendees interested in their upcoming programming. These three ideas may provide the boost you're looking for.

Since March 2020, all of us have probably attended our fair share of virtual conferences and other educational programming. But now, a year into the pandemic, there are so many online learning options out there that it may feel overwhelming to choose what to attend—or even what events you’ll be willing to be pay for.

This oversaturation in the market also affects organizations, which may be struggling to find ways to stand out in the sea of options and keep up momentum, especially when many saw record-breaking attendance numbers for their 2020 virtual conferences.

As a result, many groups are getting creative about how they’ll build attendee interest in their 2021 online learning opportunities. Here are some examples that could provide inspiration for your association’s efforts.

Source ideas from your potential attendees. The more you get people involved in the event ideation process, the more invested they’ll be and the more likely to attend. One way to do this is to invite your prospective attendees to help shape programming by submitting questions, input, comments, or feedback via your website and social channels. You can then use that information to develop conference session topics or to source speakers. For its June 2021 conference, the Online News Association has a suggestion box where people can share their ideas for sessions and speakers. Once the submission deadline closes, the ONA21 program team reviews every idea (there were more than 400 last year) and comes up with a short list of sessions. According to ONA, these recommendations account for roughly two-thirds of their final conference programming.

Host a make-the-case webinar. CreativePro Week—a May online event for creative professionals who design, create, or edit in Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, and Microsoft PowerPoint—is hosting a “Should I attend?” webinar next week. The 30-minute live discussion will cover everything from conference sessions that attendees don’t want to miss, to a former attendee sharing what it’s like to participate in CreativePro Week online, to organizers discussing why some attendees say they prefer the online event environment. In addition, webinar participants will get the chance to ask questions and receive a special discount code to the event. There’s also a “why attend” brochure [PDF] and a preview video.

Add a wow factor. Can you offer something unique or fun or over-the-top that could give your virtual event a boost? For its IMPACT 20 virtual conference, the Internet Marketing Association got creative. Sinan Kanatsiz, IMA chairman and founder, told Convene that the group did “atomic-bomb-level marketing.” To get attention, IMA set a lofty goal from the start: attempt to break a Guinness World Record for the largest attendance for a virtual marketing conference in one week. Registration was free, and giveaways included a Tesla Model 3, as well as $100,000 worth of merchandise. While this strategy may not be possible for everyone, it seemed to work for IMA: The event welcomed more than 117,000 registrants, setting a new Guinness World Record.

As associations continue to host online-only or hybrid events, they need to make a creative case to an audience worn out from spending so much time in front of their screens about why they should attend.

What new techniques—marketing and otherwise—is your association experimenting with to get people to register for your virtual events? Please share in the comments.

(Yuliya/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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