Event Planning

6 Strategies for Increasing Online Event Attendance

By Lulu Gao. Updated: February 21st, 2021

Even though online events are cheaper, more accessible, and less time-consuming than in-person ones, attendance rates are often low. Perplexed, our team interviewed dozens of event hosts in search of ways to increase engagement. We summed up 6 key strategies.

But First, Let's Understand the Problem.

"Just 10 years ago, people registered for and attended events much more seriously." - Adrian Segar, renowned event consultant and author of Conferences that Work (www.conferencesthatwork.com)

The world is now flooded with meetings that are getting easier and cheaper to sign up for. This absence of mental and financial investment leads to more and more no-shows. Because of COVID-19, it's even more important for hosts to combat both the culture of no-shows as well as "Zoom fatigue". So how can you convince potential attendees that your event is worth showing up for?

6 Ways to Increase Attendance to Your Online Events

1. Understand the Goals of Your Audience

Hand adding reminder to calendar notebook
Photo by STIL on Unsplash

Whether you're planning a physical or online event, you should always begin by determining the goals of your core audience and how your event can help them meet those goals. Some questions you might ask include:

  • What are they are looking to learn?
  • What topics are they interested in?
  • How do they want to participate? Q&As, panels, webinars, or 1:1s?
  • Why they would attend an online event like yours?

The answers to these questions can come from pre-event surveys, interviews, observations of trends, or direct requests. Once you have the answers, use this knowledge to inform what content you market with and where you market to.

For more on attendee-based events check out this post from Adrian Segar's blog about valuable conferences that solve participants' problems: Designing conferences to solve participants' problems.

2. Pace the Event

Alarm clock on desk
Photo by JESHOTS.com on Pexels

Be Mindful of Timing

Online events compete with the attendees' at-home lives. They may have work to finish, dinner to cook, kids to attend to, or a well-deserved nap planned. Here are a few tips for event pacing:

  • Don't schedule during mealtime.
  • Don't schedule in the evening, which is often family time.
  • Don't forget to consider the timezones of your audience.
  • Don't make the event or the session too long.

Dedicate Time for Networking

Consider specially dedicating time to a networking session like you would a speech or presentation. It might even be worth it to host more frequent, shorter networking sessions outside of your large conference. We've found that 45 to 60 minutes has been a good amount of time for simple networking sessions. These smaller events help strengthen and grow the community, which directly increases the number of people in your core audience.

Schedule Sessions with Breaks

Physical conventions happen within a hotel or conference center. Attendees are present in body and mind just for your event, so you can plan a packed itinerary for the whole day and expect people to show. A networking session often serves as a fun, social break in between presentations and speeches.

For any long event, it makes sense to have multiple different sessions with transition times in between. However, an online networking session that's squeezed between two long seminars is going to suffer in attendance since people will be tired and want to log off for a bit. That's why it's important to add at least 10-15 minutes of buffer time between online sessions.

3. Minimize Logistical Confusion

"DOUBT" with the "UBT" crossed out so that "DO" is left
Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels

The platforms and technology your attendees are familiar with may vary. If they get confused or lost, they would get frustrated and maybe even drop out of the event altogether. That's why when you plan the logistics of your event, you want everything to be as simple and as clearly communicated as possible.

Create Seamless Transitions During the Event

When planning what platforms to use for the event, consider ones that don't require downloads or accounts. Your goal should be to make every transition in your event as seamless as possible, otherwise, you risk losing attendees in the middle of the event. You could even consider integrating all the tools you'll need for presentations, breakouts, and networking all on the same website. This way, everything is consolidated for your attendees and you avoid confusion that could cause them to log off or not show.

Alleviate Tech Anxiety

Some attendees might be a bit anxious about all the technical difficulties that could accompany an online event. To help increase their confidence, you should always reiterate when and where to tune into the event, and in the case of any new platforms like Gatherly, you also want to emphasize how to use the platform you've chosen. This can both prepare your attendees to use the software and set expectations accordingly. Send out easy-to-process resources like those from our Help Center far in advance to minimize confusion and frustration the day-of.

4. Make Registration Frictionless

Shoes next to "Welcome On Board" mat
Photo by Mabel Amber on Pexels

Meet Your Audience On Their Turf

There are a lot of distractions in an online environment. People have flooded inboxes, book virtual meetings daily, and constantly get social media notifications. With so many parts of their lives competing for their attention, it's important to meet your core audience on their turf. Find out what social media platforms to engage them on and what contacts to reach out to to spread the word about your event.

For example, an event for college kids passionate about design might find success in an Instagram campaign while a networking summit for industry executives might need to push for people within the industry to promote the event through referrals and social media.

Make Initial Sign-Up Quick

Once you have their attention, make sure their minds don't wander in the process of signing up. Here are a few best practices:

  • Use simple and clear calls to action. The more you ask of your audience (sign up, subscribe, join, etc.) the more likely they are to get overwhelmed, tired, or lost.
  • Popups on your website can quickly gather emails, and landing pages can directly point people in the right direction: sign up.
  • Don't ask for too much information all at once. Initial registration shouldn't take longer than a minute. It's tempting to get as much info about them as possible, but you want to focus on getting them to sign up first! If you need more information, you can include an extra form in your follow-up email.

5. Use Email Effectively

Smiling woman sitting in front of laptop receiving new email notification
Photo derived from Ivan Samkov on Pexels
"76% of marketers say that email is the single most effective way to drive registrations." (2020 Markletic survey of almost 3000 participants)

Consider Email Design

Both designed and plain emails have their use cases. A consciously-designed email or set of emails can both entice people to register for the event and get them excited to attend, all while providing the information they need to join the event.

Design-heavy emails are eye-catching and can increase click-through-rate for your marketing goals (Source). On the other hand, plain emails are easy to read and free from distractions. You could use a mix of both depending on whom you're emailing and for what reason.

Optimize Your Emails

The average person receives over 120 business emails per day (Source). This means sending one untested email out and hoping for the best is not an ideal strategy for raking in registrations. The basics of email marketing include:

  1. A/B testing the subject line for open rate, click rate, or revenue generation
  2. Adding exciting and memorable graphics
  3. Catering different emails to different segments of your audience

Hubspot offers free email design and testing and can even integrate your landing pages, forms, and socials so you can manage all your contacts with ease.

Send Frequent Reminders

This focus on engaging with your user should, of course, continue after they've registered. Send a follow-up email or registration confirmation, and make sure to add a calendar link so it's easy to set the event as a reminder. Sending email follow-ups, the calendar link, and reminders are all strategies to stay in their inbox and make sure your attendees keep your upcoming event in mind.

6. Generating Pre-Event Hype

Excited man smiling with hands in the air
Photo by Lay Low on Pexels

In-person events generate lots of value for attendees by creating hype. This comes in the form of swag, lanyards, plane tickets, hotel bookings, and a lot of dedicated time. When you can join an online event at the click of a button, this pre-event excitement doesn't come as naturally. Use what you know about your target audience's likes and goals to generate excitement.

Consider Swag — Physical and Digital

Two hands holding a small wrapped gift
Photo by Kim Stiver on Pexels
"Swag, which used to be taken for granted as a convention staple, has taken on fresh value as a physical means to enhance a virtual event experience" (Convene Magazine)

At a physical event, booths with swag or giveaways are key to getting participants to engage with sponsors and presenters. For online events, they can be a way to bring an exciting level of physicality to your event. In addition to the engagement aspect, sending platforms like Sendoso are built to incorporate marketing data to improve your returns and increase sales.

Don't worry—we're not suggesting that you ship packages to all your attendees for every event. Whether you should consider doing so depends on the expectations your attendees have. An event that costs hundreds to attend might justify sending out individual swag bags or hosting a big raffle, but a free event could promise something more easily distributable. This could be anything from a coupon to an informative pamphlet to a trial subscription of a service. Think about what would make sense for your target audience and budget.

For more, check out PCMA's Convene Magazine's article on the impact of swag and great suppliers: Using Swag to Bring a ‘Physical Dimension’ to Virtual Events

Build Suspense

Woman sitting on couch looking excitedly at her phone
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels
"80% of people join virtual events for educational purposes. The next biggest reason for joining virtual events is networking." (Markletic survey)

Since people are interested in the content and connections your event will provide, use emails or social media to build suspense by gradually revealing sponsors, program details, behind-the-scenes content, etc. Different events can create suspense in different ways:

  • For small networking events, you could send out a list of attendee names, descriptions, and socials, so people can scope out potential connections before the event.
  • For larger poster fair events, you could send out a list of presenters so attendees can do some preliminary research on them before the event.
  • For large conferences, you could hold contests on Instagram or post discussion topics on Twitter. Make sure to set up a hashtag to keep track of the conversations and posts!

Maintain Social Buzz

Phone showing social media apps in hand
Photo by Tracy Le Blanc on Pexels

Consider using socials to reach new registrants and keep registered attendees in the loop. A well-organized posting schedule can emphasize and deliver all the event information they need in manageable and repeatable chunks.

Hashtags for your event are also great for spreading the word and connecting your attendees before, during, and after the live sessions. By connecting attendees beforehand, they will not only get excited about the event but also share it with their friends and be more involved during the event.

Leverage Endorsements

Elderly man giving a double thumbs up
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

Your collaborators, sponsors, and speakers usually have their own social media followings and fans. Getting their support for your event can convince your audience that attending your event is a valuable use of their time. Sponsored endorsements are great, but you should also strive for non-sponsored ones which can mean more to the endorser's audience.

This is a two-way relationship where they can promote your event, and you can highlight their merits and participation. Use these connections in meaningful ways to increase interest in and the reach of your event.

Conclusion

The online events space is as saturated as ever. Many tools have tried to make event hosting quick and easy, but understanding, designing for, and appealing to your specific audience simply takes a lot of dedication and effort. We hope these tips empower you to craft events that draw crowds that want to come back again and again.

Lulu Gao
Lulu does design at Gatherly.
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