How do you get people to show up to your party? Pile on the free food and drink, perfect your playlist, promote it in every group chat you’re a part of…anything that guarantees that the friends who mark “Maybe” on your Facebook invite will show up IRL. Low turnout is a bummer, be it at a house party or an annual conference; the recent seesaw from virtual events to in-person events back to virtual makes turnout even more uncertain.
Most event organizers have honed their virtual event planning chops after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are now struggling with how to convert virtual attendees to an in-person audience. While both organizers and attendees are eager for a full return to in-person events, what event planning and marketing strategies can you use to ensure your virtual fans show up to the venue?
In this article, we’ll give you five ideas to convert your virtual attendees to in-person attendees.
As COVID cases ebb and flow in many locations, event venues are limiting capacity as a safety measure. You can use this to your advantage when planning an in-person event. Make a venue’s reduced capacity exclusive, promoting a more intimate, exciting event, encouraging attendees to sign up early to snag a seat.
Instead of worrying about how to sell hundreds of tickets or maximize event registration, make the seat cap an integral part of your event marketing. Tailoring your event’s session around a more limited scope is a great way to embrace exclusivity, too; a smaller event means more chances for one-on-one interaction with industry professionals and sessions that cater directly to attendee interests. For virtual attendees that have been tuning into your online sessions for months now, an exclusive opportunity may be the push they need to join you in-person.
Part of the event turnout equation is ease of access. The standard thousand-person-large expos held in a major metropolitan area requiring travel and lodging can really limit who’s able to attend your event – and that’s not even taking into consideration some guests’ concerns about COVID safety. Give your virtual attendees more chances to join you in-person by changing the way your events look, from scale to location.
Try switching up your location. Instead of one annual event in a (likely expensive) metropolitan hotspot, try hosting pared-down regional events, taking a “chapter” approach so guests can attend the closest event without breaking the bank. You can switch up your space, too, opting for smaller event venues like art spaces, restaurants or cultural facilities. Smaller, more localized events without the big venue price ticket are great for your budget and your registration numbers. This builds on marketing exclusivity, too; convert virtual attendees to in-person guests with these more intimate, yet more accessible, event formats.
For virtual attendees who are weighing the risks of joining you in-person, prove that your event organizing team has guests’ best interests in mind by clearly laying out your COVID safety plan. Advance communication about your venue’s COVID protocols is best practice. Make sure guests are aware of any vaccine-related requirements for entry, mask mandates and measures like social distancing and sanitization.
While COVID cases may be on the decline, the pandemic is still a huge factor in event planning today, and many prospective guests are still giving in-person attendance serious thought. For example, GovEvents, specialists in event organizing for United States government employees, found that people who would not attend an in-person event in 2021 are still wary to attend in-person events, even with lower COVID cases and more widespread vaccine adoption. The best way to welcome virtual guests to your next in-person event is to do so safely.
If you’ve been working in events over the past two years, you’ve heard all the buzz about hybrid events as the next big thing. Hybrid events can be extremely useful when it comes to converting attendees, reaching new audiences and keeping your costs low.
When it comes to converting attendees, past virtual guests feel empowered to join the in-person side of your hybrid event, while those who aren’t quite ready to join you at the venue can tune into your online sessions for one more year. The upside? You don’t lose attendees, and your virtual event can continue to widen your reach. Hybrid event formats can really bring you the best of both worlds. Plus, if you’re working with a limited budget, virtual event components in tandem with smaller in-person events like we talked about earlier keep your purse strings tight. For virtual event attendees who are ready to get back to the hustle and bustle of traditional events, or for online guests who need to stay home but don’t want FOMO, hybrid events are the way to go.
Above all, asking your event community what they want out of an in-person event will guide you towards an in-person event that will guarantee conversion. Fostering and interacting with your virtual event community means you have a built-in focus group to figure out what would most effectively convert virtual to IRL attendance. Understanding your prospective attendees’ locations, money they’d spend for an in-person event, comfortability levels and, ultimately, what they hope to get out of your program ensures you’re putting on a worthwhile event.
Use your event management platform’s polling tools to send a sophisticated form to event hopefuls to get a great idea of what they’d like to see from this year’s annual meeting or trade show. Or, leverage your event’s mobile app to reach out to your event community members for their input. Make your virtual attendees a part of the event planning process and you’ll see them show up in-person.
Your event can have the best catering and the coolest playlist, but to truly convert virtual attendees to in-person attendees, a combination of strategic marketing and logistical smarts will get past online guests in real-life seats. By scaling down your usual events or embracing hybrid formats, and using a reduced scope to your advantage, you can expect a high turnout when you return to the venue. And don’t forget: we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, so making it clear to your attendees that their safety is a priority will provide peace of mind. Your event community is eager to meet you in person – you can make conversion a reality!
Virtual, in-person, hybrid – PheedLoop powers it all.