Many people use the internet to connect with friends and family. But virtual events are also a cost-effective way to connect with other professionals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of business, networking and social life shifted online, and the virtual event industry is currently booming.
In this article, we will explore what virtual events are, how they work and how you can host an engaging event that will have your guests coming back for more.
Free E-Book: How to Launch Virtual Events That Stand Out, Scale Up, and Soar. Find out the best techniques and tools for planning and delivering outstanding virtual events.
What are virtual events?
Virtual events are events held online. Depending on the purpose, they can be hosted in the form of invite-only webinars, publicly available live streams, online conferences requiring paid passes or informal social media events, e.g. live tweeting or AMA (ask me anything) sessions.
Virtual events usually take place on online platforms like Instagram, Twitter or Clubhouse where you can connect with your audience via video chat or voice call. There is also a growing market of specialized virtual event platforms for webinars and conferencing.
The biggest benefit of hosting a virtual event is that it’s relatively inexpensive — no need to rent out space! In addition, you can speak to a global audience from the comfort of your own home.
However, there are some disadvantages to hosting virtual events, too — namely that you’re not physically in front of your guests. Some attendees might feel disconnected or will have trouble focusing on what you’re saying as they struggle with video and audio quality, poor soundproofing or background noise.
Types of virtual events
While you can host a virtual event for virtually any reason and occasion (no pun intended!), here are some popular types of virtual events:
Virtual networking events
Virtual networking events allow attendees to come together and network in a virtual environment. A wide range of networking events can be hosted, including happy hours, after-work get-togethers and more.
Virtual team-building events
Virtual team-building events allow participants to engage in a variety of team-building activities and build team morale, all from the comfort of their own home offices.
Virtual fundraising events
It was once difficult for a charity or non-profit to have their voice heard, but with new technological advancements, virtual fundraising has taken off and is one of the most popular methods of raising money online.
Virtual hiring events
Virtual hiring events offer a great way to narrow down the applicant pool and identify qualified candidates without requiring employers to spend too much time or money on recruiting.
Virtual shopping events
Experts believe that live stream shopping is the next big thing in social media and e-commerce. Virtual shopping events are essentially online product demos where attendees can virtually “shop” for clothes, cosmetics and other products.
Head to our Social Media Updates site to learn about Facebook’s virtual shopping event, Live Shopping Fridays.
Virtual social events
Virtual events are not all business. You can also set up small, informal virtual social events, and, for example, play board games online with your family or friends.
Virtual event ideas
Now that you know why you might want to throw a virtual event, here’s the how. Consider these live event platforms and formats for your next big online get-together.
Live tweeting is actively posting tweets, offering commentary to a live event that your audience is aware of and likely following — for example, a concert, conference or sporting event.
This type of event is the perfect way to provide hands-on training when providing traditional live face-to-face instruction is impossible. They’re also great for training where there might not be enough space to accommodate all participants.
Virtual conferences allow you to host large gatherings without the need for a pricey venue or a big team. Like their traditional, in-person counterpart, virtual conferences provide plenty of opportunities for attendees to interact with one another and collaborate on new ideas.
AMA on Reddit
AMA stands for “ask me anything” and is a way for people to get real responses from someone they’re interested in. You can start an AMA by going on Reddit and asking others, “Am I interesting enough to do an AMA?”
When you answer questions in your post, be sure that your answers are thorough so that the audience has a sense of who you are and what’s important to you. A best practice is for those involved with the AMA to include links back to their site or social media profiles to get new potential followers.
Webinars are an easy way to connect with other professionals from all over the world. Hosting a webinar is a great way to build your reputation and expand your network in the virtual space.
Social live streams
Live streams on platforms like Instagram or Facebook can help you make connections with existing and potential customers, and other people in your industry or niche. They are a great way to build awareness for your product, share new ideas and opinions, introduce yourself to potential clients and expand your reach.
10 tips for hosting virtual events
Hosting a virtual event can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. There are some great tips and best practices that will help you ensure your virtual event is successful and leaves everyone with an amazing experience:
1. Set clear goals from the start
Before you get to planning the agenda of your virtual event or picking the best virtual event platform, make sure you know why you want to throw an event. Set SMART goals, and make sure the whole team in charge of the project understands what you want to achieve.
Source: The Reserves Network
2. Choose the right platform to host your virtual event
There are plenty of platforms that offer different features, from co-hosting with another organization or company to advanced moderation tools.
3. Choose the right time for your event
You want to take into account how many people will be able to attend, whether or not they’re in different time zones and how much time you need for Q&A.
Remember: Different countries have different holiday schedules!
4. Promote your virtual event
Don’t plan on an audience coming to you – make sure you advertise your event well in advance so attendees know when it’s happening and how they can participate.
5. Develop a clear agenda that includes speakers and timeframes
You don’t want your attendees to be waiting around for long periods of time. Provide a clear agenda with the timings clearly marked and include any relevant links, so that participants can plan ahead.
6. Include moderators at your event
You want to make sure you have enough moderators on hand during your virtual event in case things get out of control. Remember: Not everyone is as polite online as they are offline!
7. Engage your audience
Your audience doesn’t need an “hour lecture” – instead, plan activities that involve active participation. Encourage your participants to have conversations with one another — and to ask the hosts questions.
8. Prepare to troubleshoot
You might want to consider using more than one platform. Just in case there are any technical difficulties with your video or audio, you can switch over to a different service and continue the event as planned.
9. Send out a post-event follow up
Be sure to communicate with your participants about how they can get access to recordings of the event afterwards. This will also encourage them to join again next time!
Once the event is over, take some time to connect with your team and go over what worked and what didn’t. That way, you will be better prepared for your next virtual event!
Virtual event platforms
If you’ve never hosted a virtual event before, one of these 4 platforms will help you get started.
If you have a big following on Instagram, live streaming on the platform is your best bet. Use Instagram Live Rooms to host a stream with up to 3 other speakers. Your viewers will be able to comment on the stream and ask questions, and you will be able to access the stream’s analytics once you’re done.
This rapidly growing audio app is perfect for events that are more of a discussion than a presentation. You can send out event invites with links to create rooms, and then anyone who has the app installed will be able to listen in and comment on what’s being said live.
If you have a large following on Twitter, try the platform’s alternative to Clubhouse — Twitter Spaces.
And if you’d like to learn more about Clubhouse, check out our guide to the Clubhouse app, where we explore how it can be used by businesses.
GoToWebinar is a popular virtual event software perfect for events with a limited number of attendees. The screenshare option ensures that everyone can see all slides in real-time and guarantees a great attendee experience.
An easy-to-use no-download webinar tool. BigMarker allows you to create digital whiteboards for your live event. Attendees can comment on the board and post questions in a group chat in real-time.
Virtual event examples
If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some examples of virtual events that businesses and influencers have hosted across social media and beyond.
Benefit Cosmetics’ makeup tutorials on Facebook Live
More than 2.4K viewers tuned in to learn how to create a brow-mazing glow-up.
The Earful Tower Podcast’s live Pub Quiz
Oliver Gee, host of The Earful Tower podcast, hosts Parisian-themed trivia events from his YouTube channel—and even offers prizes for the winners.
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s Facebook Live concert
The country superstars held a jam session on Facebook Live, taking requests from fans head of time and during the broadcast.
Antron Brown’s behind-the-scenes tour on Twitter
The NHRA driver showed Twitter viewers around his shop, which houses dragsters and trophies, among other gearhead treasures.
— #NHRA (@NHRA) March 23, 2020
Live baking lessons from LinkedIn’s executive pastry chef
LinkedIn’s pastry chef shows members how to make croissants and bread pudding.
Purple Mattress’ sleepy Facebook Live
More than 295K people watched this 45-minute video of a woman yawning and brushing her wig.
Lunch Doodles by Mo Willems
Every day at lunchtime the Kennedy Center Education artist-in-residence hosts doodle sessions for kids on YouTube.
Lululemon’s Yoga livestreams
The yoga brand’s global ambassadors are leading workout, meditation, and yoga classes on Instagram live.
Online exhibitions by VanGogh Museum
The VanGogh Museum in Amsterdam lets followers take tours of gallery from the comfort of their couch.
Our tour continues! Today we dive into the bright and vivid paintings that Vincent made in Paris: https://t.co/Yz3FpjxphC Which is your favourite artwork from this part of the museum? #museumathome pic.twitter.com/k8b79qraCX
— Van Gogh Museum (@vangoghmuseum) March 24, 2020
British Museum opens its doors to Google Street View
More than 60 galleries of the British Museum can be visited from Google Street View.
Did you know the Museum is the largest indoor space on Google Street View?
— British Museum (@britishmuseum) March 23, 2020
Fire Drill Fridays goes virtual
Jane Fonda’s organization takes climate activism online with virtual rallies every Friday.
— Fire Drill Fridays (@FireDrillFriday) March 24, 2020
Girlboss Rally goes digital
Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso plans to host her brand’s annual conference entirely online this year.
Skift’s Business Travel Online Summit
Skift will use Zoom to host this online summit featuring multiple speakers and attendees. Guests have the opportunity to ask questions and will have access to a recording of the event.
— Rafat Ali, Media Owner & Operator (@rafat) March 23, 2020
3% Conference livestreamed presentations
This organization—founded to remedy the fact that only 3% of creative directors were women—offers livestreaming of its conferences for reduced costs. The group also regularly hosts Instagram Story takeovers to inspire followers.
Hootsuite can help you promote your virtual events on social media and connect with attendees. Schedule all of your social media posts, engage with followers, and measure performance from one dashboard. Try it for free.