You already know that the COVID-19 pandemic has completely disrupted business as usual for practically every sector of the economy.
Whether you’re an online entrepreneur, content creator, a growing business, or a nonprofit organization, these past several months have spurred some incredible shifts in how we think about and pursue our goals.
Engaging directly with your community of supporters, customers, or partners is an important part of your big-picture strategy or mission.
Virtual events to replace in-person interactions have probably already been on your radar, but if not, it’s definitely time to explore your options. Video is a powerful tool for engaging audiences with your message, so taking engagement live is the natural next step for organizations looking to keep up engagement.
At OneCause, we specialize in nonprofit fundraising and event software, especially tools and strategies to support complex online charity auctions. We’ve seen our own sector adapt to the changing realities of social distancing guidelines by pivoting towards virtual fundraising tactics, including virtual events and livestreamed programming.
However, for nonprofits, virtual events and livestreams are critical for more than just boosting engagement with supporters. They also help to raise essential donations necessary to stabilize their operations and continue pursuing their missions amid an uncertain economic climate. With their virtual events and livestreams pulling double duty, nonprofits have had to quickly develop strategies for maximizing ROI by keeping audiences fully engaged.
Here are several of the best practices we recommend for any organization looking to increase engagement and ultimately drive more revenue with livestreamed virtual events:
- Make it easy to engage with your event.
- Set clear expectations when marketing your event.
- Actively engage with attendees throughout the event.
- Keep the program short and focused.
- Mix it up with a variety of segments and sets.
With these best practices incorporated into your virtual event plans, you’re sure to host a more engaging livestream that attracts viewers and encourages them to stay involved with your work. Let’s dive in.
1. Make it easy to engage with your event.
The first and most surefire way to keep your livestream audience engaged is to simply make it easy for them to get involved in the first place.
This starts with the event registration process. Create a well-designed microsite or dedicated web page for your virtual event. This will serve as a centralized location for anything an attendee might need, including a streamlined registration form, an explainer of the event and its purpose, and any additional materials specific to your event, like an online auction item catalog.
Depending on the specifics of your organization and events, investing in dedicated software built to serve those needs is a smart move to both streamline your own tasks and provide a more intuitive user experience for attendees.
For example, nonprofits might invest in mobile bidding tools and other silent auction software to provide attendees a more streamlined bidding process. This creates a more positive experience than a cobbled-together solution that could risk confusing or turning away users.
Laying the necessary groundwork for engagement is essential. If attendees have a hard (or simply inconvenient) experience signing up and getting involved with your event, you’ll see engagement drop significantly before it even begins.
2. Set clear expectations when marketing your event.
This is another important way to lay the groundwork for strong engagement with your livestream event. Virtual events naturally won’t be able to provide an exact 1:1 translation of the in-person experience, so set appropriate expectations from the start. Attendee disappointment or dissatisfaction will definitely decrease engagement and cause viewers to tune out.
Marketing during the pandemic has certainly changed to meet the moment with new tech and strategies. How you promote your events should adapt, as well.
For example, many nonprofits tend to host annual events at which supporters come to expect a certain experience from year after year. While a livestreamed gala should take steps to signal a degree of continuity to attendees, some (or many) logistical changes will be necessary.
When marketing your virtual event, outline a marketing campaign that clearly explains how it will work and what to expect. Automating an email drip stream for registrants is a time-efficient strategy, and you can use this marketing campaign to ensure no one will be surprised or disappointed when it’s time to get started.
3. Actively engage with attendees throughout the event.
You’ve started your livestreamed event and your attendance numbers are looking great. Now what? To maximize engagement during the event, incorporate a few pre-planned tactics into your schedule.
Without a strategy or two in place for engaging directly with attendees, you might find yourself watching viewers drop out and be unable to actively boost the energy to keep them tuned in. We recommend these two channels for maintaining engagement:
- Social media. Encourage viewers to engage with your event on social media in addition to watching the livestream. For example, pick a creative hashtag for viewers to post or Tweet their questions or submit photos. Have a team member actively check your social media feeds, and answer questions in real-time or award a prize to the winner of your photo submission contest at the end of the event.
- Text messages. If you collect phone numbers during the event registration process, consider sending messages as push notifications during the event. For nonprofit fundraising events, mobile bidding software should have this feature built-in. For virtual auctions, push notifications are extremely useful for sharing updates, creating a sense of urgency, and directing attention to auction items that need more bids.
As conditions and guidelines continue to change over the course of this year and beyond, hybrid events that involve both in-person and virtual elements will likely become more prevalent. In these cases, you’ll definitely want to incorporate direct engagement strategies into your plans, since in-person logistics might easily cause your team to lose touch with your virtual audience.
4. Keep the program short and focused.
A livestreamed event probably shouldn’t be the same length of time as its in-person event counterpart. Unlike a traditional event where attendees are less likely to simply get up and leave if they’re bored or disengaged, this is a real concern for virtual events.
To avoid losing audience members halfway through your event, keep it relatively short. For virtual nonprofit fundraising events like auctions and galas, we recommend that the livestreamed portions of the event take no longer than 45 minutes to an hour.
Additionally, make sure your livestreamed event has a clear schedule plotted out well in advance. Recruit a main host or emcee to handle the actual hosting of the livestream, and prepare them to keep up the pace and flow between segments and activities. Conducting one or more test runs or dress rehearsals is always a good idea to make sure the event runs smoothly with consistent energy, especially if you’re working with any new video technology.
Make sure that your whole team (not just you and the emcee) have a clear understanding of the event’s schedule. This is especially important when you have volunteers helping to power your virtual event behind the scenes since they likely haven’t been involved in the entire planning process. Brush up on some volunteer management best practices if communicating and collaborating with an entire team of volunteers is new for your organization.
5. Mix it up with a variety of segments and sets.
As with any type of event meant to engage an audience, variety will be key for your livestreamed virtual event.
This is especially true the longer or more complex your event will be. For instance, major virtual conferences for associations can become excruciatingly boring for attendees if they’re only able to watch plain livestreams of speakers without engaging in other ways.
Incorporate a variety of types of content and activities into your event plans from the start. Here are a few examples:
- Live speakers, panels, and discussions
- Q&A sessions with attendees submitting or posting their questions
- Pre-made video content highlighting your mission, project, or product launch
- Breakout sessions for individuals to engage with each other
- Raffles, giveaways, and social media contests
- Live auction segments or fund-a-need pledge drives during fundraising events
Many of the best practices you already follow for creating dynamic content on your website and blog still apply. Understand your target audience and what they’re hoping to get from your virtual event. Invest some time in set design (or simply tidying your living room) and consider setting up multiple sets to offer variety. Incorporate user-generated content into your event with pre-recorded videos or photos from attendees.
Finally, think about the order of your event’s segments and activities. This can have a major impact on how much engagement and revenue your event generates, as nonprofits that regularly host and run fundraising auctions know all too well. The exact order you follow will vary heavily based on the specifics of your event and its purpose, but we have one tip that applies for any organization hosting a livestream: Give attendees a reason to stick around!
If you want viewers to stay engaged through your virtual event, incentivize them. For a nonprofit’s event, this might mean saving your major fundraising update, headliner entertainment, touching annual recap videos, or giveaways until the very end.
As a full replacement or hybrid addition to in-person engagement, livestreamed virtual events have quickly become a common undertaking for organizations of all types and sizes that need to stay engaged with their communities, donors, or customers.
While brand new for many, virtual events and livestreamed programs have a lot of potential for growing your audience and boosting engagement despite current challenges around in-person gatherings. Incorporate these tips into your event plans from the start and you’ll be sure to increase audience engagement and ultimately drive stronger results.