You’ve come up with an ingenious virtual event. You’ve scored the speakers you’ve always dreamed of, set a date, picked a digital platform, and are anxiously awaiting the day to arrive.
Now you’re just waiting to see who RSVPs and shows up to your event.
Remember that famous quote from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come”?
Well, let’s just say that line wasn’t uttered by an event planner. Virtual events are a powerful way to bring people together, build your audience, and cultivate community. However, people can’t come to your event if they don’t know about it!
That’s where event promotion comes in.
If you don’t see attendee sign-ups pouring in, don’t panic. That just means you’re not getting your event in front of the right eyes yet. Luckily, there are lots of tools available for you to change that.
Read along and learn how to develop a customized promotional strategy for your event that can help boost that attendee number and make your virtual event a success.
What Is Event Promotion?
Event promotion simply means sharing that your event is happening. To promote your event effectively, you want to share the who/what/when/where of your event with the right people and clearly demonstrate why they should come.
Promotion for virtual events can take various forms, including:
Social media posts
Running paid ads on social media
Flyers and posters
Telling your friends or colleagues
There are people out there who could benefit from your event — whether it’s making new connections at a networking hour, developing a skill at a workshop, or having a fun time at a game night or concert.
You believe that your event is worth attending. Now your job is to share this opportunity with those people who would benefit from it.
Building the Foundations of an Event Promotion Plan
To make sure your promotion plan is as effective as possible, it’s helpful to ground yourself in the purpose of your virtual event. Here’s where to begin.
1. Set promotional goals
Before you start promoting your event, sit down and map out what you hope to achieve. Be specific! Maybe your goal is to bring in 20 new attendees or drive traffic to your content channels. Your goals will dictate your promotional strategy, so it’s best to be clear about them from the start. Therefore, your marketing can be as strategic as possible.
2. Summarize your event in a single sentence
Your event is interesting and can offer something valuable to attendees — that’s why you’re hosting it! Figure out a way to communicate that in a sentence. You’ll use this concise blurb throughout your promotional materials.
Ideally, your event summary will communicate what people can a) expect and b) gain from attending.
Remember, screens are small and a reader’s attention is even smaller, so make sure you get straight to the point about the value you’re offering.
You will likely also want to develop a longer description for emails and event listings (e.g. on Facebook or Eventbrite). Here you can get into more detail. But starting by creating a single-line version, then expanding into a few sentence or paragraph description, ensures that you’re staying true to the essence of your event and the most important information for an attendee to know.
3. Create your visuals
Graphics can help you catch the attention of a potential attendee. Whether it’s an image, short gif, or video, make sure that what you’re presenting captures what your event is all about. Just like with your short event description, graphics can be used across channels — in social media posts, emails, print flyers, etc. You’ll want to keep visuals consistent throughout your promotion, adapting them as needed for different platforms or purposes.
Whatever images or videos you choose, you will accompany that with crucial event information such as: event name, date, day of the week, time, and location/platform. Together, all these elements will form the content for flyers or graphics that you will use in your various promotion channels. You can also include the short blurb about your event on the graphic, but remember that all text must be legible on a variety of screen sizes.
(By the way, you don’t have to be a graphic design wizard to make something visually appealing. Tools like Canva provide templates that you can customize, or allow you to easily build something from scratch with drag-and-drop elements.)
Choosing Your Event Promotion Channels
Now that you have goals in place and your raw promotional materials ready to go, it’s time to start promoting.
Craft a Multi-Platform Approach
It’s likely that your potential attendees spend time in different places and view different media. So, your promotion should live in different places!
Let’s say you’re hosting a free “Intro to Cooking” class on zoom. Your audience may range from a parent and child cooking together, to a young student looking to make the most out of their dorm room kitchen. These two audience members likely frequent different parts of the internet — but they’re equally important to your event.
Data plays a key role in how you shape your promotional strategy, and where you push it. Here are two tips for using data to make informed promotional decisions:
Are there any existing virtual events out there that share your audience? Research where they market and aim to do the same.
If you’ve hosted events in the past, harness the data you got from your attendees (such as where they discovered the event) to promote this one!
Where to Promote Your Virtual Event
Below are common and simple places and ways to promote your event and gain exposure.
Perhaps the easiest of all event promotion platforms, Eventbrite can act as your “one-stop-shop” for event needs. With room for a graphic, blurb, and an exceptional ticketing platform, Eventbrite is a valuable tool for all event hosts.
Don’t underestimate Facebook’s event promoting capabilities. Their ‘Events’ tab can sort events based on category and also recommends events to guests based on their interests and previously attended events. Plus, you can link your event back to your social media page. Lastly, you’re able to pay to promote your Facebook event right on the platform (more info on that below).
Local Community Calendars
The power of community is strong! 2020 has proven that community is a necessity, and that stands true in a virtual realm. Check to see if your city or county has any online bulletin boards that you can post your event on. Local government often has a community calendar you can submit to. Local newspapers and magazines often have community calendars, and you may be able to pitch your event to them to get a small write-up posted.
Aside from event calendars and websites, there are some other options available:
If you already have a captive email audience, it’s time to leverage it. Send out an email blast about your event — after all, your email subscribers are people who care about your brand and have shown interest in the past. Be careful not to overload inboxes, though.
If you find yourself hosting multiple events and emailing your lists more than once per week, maybe it’s time to look into an events newsletter so that you can condense your information. HubSpot and Mailchimp are two great softwares with easy-to-use templates that look sharp and appealing. However, use what you’re most comfortable with!
Paid ads on social media platforms can do wonders for reaching the audience you need. However, if you’re just guessing about the audience you want to attract, you can end up throwing money at a platform and not seeing the return. What data do you have on your intended audience that you can use? If you find holes in your data, make a note to collect that data during your next event.
Overall, paid ads can be a great tool to make sure you get plenty of eyes on your event. Just keep in mind that it’s important to know exactly who you’re targeting when running paid ads so that you avoid overspending.
Knowing where your event is posted, who responded to it, what updates need to be posted — thoughtful promotion can be an intensive and overwhelming process. Organization is your friend.
Keep a spreadsheet of all the promotional work you’ve done as a way to organize your efforts. This will prevent you from doing the same thing twice, help you track your progress, and also give you a place to put valuable insights along the way. When your event is over, save this sheet. It’s an incredible blueprint and can help you plan for future events by showing you exactly what went right and what went wrong.
Don’t Do All the Work Yourself
Event promotion can be time consuming, so don’t be afraid to ask for some help. Let’s look at some ways to bring others into your promotional process and expand your reach.
1. Ask speakers/event participants to promote
Do you have people presenting at your event? Reach out to them to see if they’d be willing to promote the event on their channels! Often, people will be happy to do so, because more attendees means more exposure for their own work. Still, don’t take their promotion on your behalf for granted. Make it easy for them to say yes by sending pre-written copy and graphics suitable for different channels.
2. Partner with organizations in exchange for press
Many events have event sponsors, which are companies or organizations that exchange exposure for promotion. Oftentimes sponsors will receive a logo placement on promotional materials and an event shoutout, and in exchange, the sponsors agree to promote your event through their own communication channels. It’s a relatively easy way to leverage each other’s networks and brand recognition. Before you enter into a partnership deal, however, make sure that the partner aligns with your goals and attracts the audience you’re looking for.
3. Inspect your network
Beyond your own social media followers or mailing list, look at who you know. Connections are the most powerful thing to leverage, and you never know who may be hiding in your Linkedin! Remember that event promotion is about sharing useful information with the right people. With this in mind, there may be people in your networks who would be glad to know that your event is happening, or who want to help their contacts by sharing this event.
It’s easy to get caught up in event registration numbers, especially when you don’t hit the quota you’re looking for. However, events aren’t all about the numbers, and there are often better ways to measure success. Oftentimes, five happy and engaged guests are better than twenty-five bored guests.
Find ways to track success that are unique and relevant to your event, such as:
How engaged was the chat?
How many attendees reached out to me at the end?
How many attendees are recurring attendees?
While these metrics can be a bit harder to track, they can help give you a more holistic perspective of how successful your event was. Remember, your event is worth more than the number of attendees — your event is part of your larger mission.
Honing Your Event Promotion Skillset
Event promotion can appear daunting at first, but it’s a necessary step for getting your virtual event in front of the right sets of eyes. As you host more events and promote them, you’ll gain experience on what works, what doesn’t, and get more comfortable with the process. By focusing on clear goals and sticking to your promotion schedule, you’ll be setting good habits in place. Every audience is different, and you may have to tweak your strategy as you go along — it’s hard to get it right on the first try! So keep pushing, stay flexible, and you’ll be on the right path.
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