After nearly two years of pandemic fear and Zoom burnout, virtual events are still the way we come together to connect, learn, and share.
Whether they’re about company goals, team birthdays, or product launches, these events have been a common ground that gives us all a sense of belonging while we work remotely or in hybrid offices.
But the world of events is still changing. Attendees are no longer just employees or clients or customers. They're busy people with lives, growing to-do lists, and a million distractions. Digital experiences aren’t just nice-to-have, but essential. Attention is earned, not given.
As vaccination rates rise and in-person events become more viable, what’s ahead for virtual event marketing in 2022?
Virtual Events: From Pivot to Pivotal
When the world shut down in 2020, virtual events were a quick band-aid for in-person events around the globe. Consisting of little more than a slideshow with speakers sitting in their living rooms, virtual events allowed marketers and companies to quickly stay connected even while apart. They were lo-fi and low-cost with a low production value.
Now virtual events have become more sophisticated, more engaging, and more dynamic. They're no longer a necessary substitute for big-ticket events, but big-ticket events themselves with their own set of advantages: scalability, accessibility, affordability.
In fact, according to LinkedIn’s State of Virtual Events Report, 75% of event marketers plan to continue running virtual events into next year and beyond. As we look to the year ahead, one thing is clear: the bar for virtual events keeps rising.
Great virtual event marketing doesn’t just happen, it’s planned.
The model for how we plan, launch, and market virtual events has shifted. Attention is more important than attendance. Experience and content demand a digital-first approach. Leveraging virtual event platforms to foster engagement, connection, and participation is table stakes.
When planning a virtual event, it’s more important than ever to know your audience inside and out. Who are they? What are their needs and interests? What are they hoping to gain from attending? What might be their time constraints or distractions? And where will they be watching?
No matter your audience or your company’s goals, consider ways to make your event the most valuable way they can spend their time. Diversifying your speaker lineup, producing entertaining videos, and planning breakout sessions are good places to start.
Going back to in-person events
While the idea of “back to normal” might be a thing of the past, going back to in-person events isn’t. According to a 2021 MarTech study, nearly 85% of marketers surveyed expect to attend an in-person event in 2022.
However, expectations for these events have changed. People are less-likely to travel internationally to attend a conference, preferring smaller, local, and more intimate settings, like localized “pods.”
Many attendees are also interested in safety measures, like mandatory masks, sanitizer stations, social distancing, limited attendance, and proof of vaccination.
According to that same MarTech study, however, more than 90% of respondents want to see virtual events remain—even as in-person events reemerge. Enter hybrid events.
Hybrid events: more than just a buzzword
2022 is shaping up to be a hybrid year that straddles the line between a pre- and post-pandemic world. Remote work, flexible schedules, and mask-wearing will be coupled with the opening of travel and larger in-person gatherings. It’s no wonder, then, that hybrid events are front and center for event marketers, sales teams, and companies.
By definition, a hybrid is a mixture of two different things.
When it comes to hybrid events, hybrid means optimizing the experience for both virtual and in-person audiences, and purposefully creating opportunities for these two audiences to engage.
Instead of live-streaming keynotes or using recorded video for on-demand viewing, incorporate audience Q&As, offer intimate fireside chats, and include live polling. Think of ways to make your digital and in-person audiences feel engaged, included, and appreciated, like high-quality video and exclusive opportunities with speakers.
Tech Tip: Bring your in-person and virtual attendees together, no matter where they are. Choose a virtual event platform with a mobile web app, like Welcome’s, which bridges the gap between hybrid audiences. Even in-person attendees can chat, ask questions, and participate in polls—right from their phones.
2022 Virtual Event Marketing Trends
The need for experience-driven virtual events is here to stay. And with it comes the opportunity to engage a far wider, more diverse audience. Here are some of 2022’s biggest trends in virtual event marketing to incorporate into your event strategy.
Accessibility is front and center
Virtual events have made attending conferences more accessible than ever. Costs are lower, which means companies can send more employees. There’s also fewer logistics for attendees to coordinate, and zero plane tickets to buy.
Since audiences can now attend a virtual event from anywhere in the world, here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Language - Incorporate live translation technology that offers a seamless viewing experience for attendees, no matter where they are or what language they speak.
- Ability - Include live captioning and screen reading technology to make your event inclusive.
- Time - From parents to freelancers, attendees are juggling priorities more than ever. Create shorter, more intentional events that last hours instead of days—while still delivering meaningful content.
- Cost - People will most likely attend virtual events from their homes, bedrooms, and other shared living spaces. If you're saving money on location costs, consider how making your event more affordable opens up doors to a new audience.
Entertainment and production value is on the rise
Audiences expect jaw-dropping experiences no matter where they are. Taking into account the demands of peoples’ lives and the demands on their attention, virtual events need to be interactive and entertaining.
- Create high-quality video that offers something additional to the live content. Think trailers, recaps, and cameos.
- Pare down your speaker list and invite only the most relevant experts. This way, you can increase opportunities for attendees to engage, meet, and share.
- Boost production value by live-streaming speakers from stage, either in-person or virtually.
- Partner with a virtual marketing platform to increase audience participation, host breakout groups, and track engagement.
Think digital first, even when going hybrid
Digital experiences often get overlooked during traditional event planning. But hybrid events depend on a strong digital focus. Understand who you’re engaging, how you’re encouraging participation, and which interactions your attendees find most valuable. .
- Build informative agendas and schedules that are easy to find and use.
- Blend live and pre-recorded content to create entertaining, crowd-sourced videos.
- Offer lounge and breakout rooms to facilitate networking opportunities.
- Leverage live Q&As, chats, and polling technology to make digital audiences anywhere feel included.
- Promote safety first, even when going virtual. From gated entry and restricted registration to SSO-enabled logins, keep your attendees and their data safe.
Micro-events, mini-summits, and intimate gatherings
Sometimes less really is more. And in the case of events, this adage proves true. From global summits to small sales conferences, giving attendees an intimate experience is important. With the scalability of virtual events, creating intimacy is no longer a nice-to-have. It's a must-have.
- Focus more on conversation and connection than pitching. You can follow up with a targeted sales call after the event.
- Offer 1-on-1 or small-group chat sessions about certain topics or interests.
- Host virtual micro-events that target specific audiences or time zones.
- Instead of multi-day affairs, launch a weekly or monthly event series that people can look forward to and can easily fit into their calendars.
Virtual events target the entire marketing funnel
Digital events will continue to play a role in sales and lead acquisition. However, it's easier than ever to leverage your events for awareness, consideration, loyalty, and advocacy, too.
- Engage your audience before, during, and after the event. Consider when "awareness" versus "consideration" messaging is most welcome and appropriate.
- Focus on event quality and entertainment value. This will likely push sales messaging to new mediums, like post-event emails, calls, and meetings.
- Give your event a second and even third life. Make keynote speakers available on-demand and leverage short-form video for marketing campaigns, just as Forrester recommends.
Looking ahead to 2022, the exciting changes in event marketing make two things clear: virtual events are here to stay and digital audiences expect to be awed. Luckily, with event marketing platforms like Welcome, creating jaw-dropping virtual and hybrid experiences is easier than ever.