Virtual Events and the Art of Effective Listening
Why just “targeting” your customers may be missing the mark
If you ask most companies what they hope to accomplish with their next virtual event, they will probably give you a long list of sales-related KPI’s including “# of customers reached”, “# of new leads generated”, and “$X in new sales”. Without a question, virtual events are powerful tools for driving incremental revenue. At the same time, by focusing exclusively on direct ROI, many companies miss the opportunity to build relationships with customers that may be earlier in the customer purchase lifecycle.
The irony is that by leveraging listening tools, companies will drive more revenue in the long-term than simply by–passing red-hot leads directly to their sales team. As a result, every company should have a strategy for how to capture the right information and gather insights at every step of the virtual event, from sign-up to interactive polls, to Q&A sessions, to post event evaluation.
Data capture may be tactical, but, listening is strategic
Just a few years ago, data capture at events was pretty much limited to pre-event and post-event questionnaires; the former to capture contact information and the latter to evaluate the conference and plan for future events.
Squeezed between these two surveys was a massive black hole, where customers moved from activity to activity, largely invisible to the eyes of marketers. Fortunately, virtual events provide a much richer platform for listening to, and ultimately building relationships with, customers at every stage of the event. And by listening real time, companies can gain intelligence that can be applied during the event and after.
Below are five of the most important listening tools that every event owners should use to capture information, learn about their customers and build stronger relationships. But, before any of these tools can be effectively leveraged, it is critical that companies decide up front what their listening priorities are.
For example, they should discuss how much information to capture, which conversations to start in social media (and who will start them), who will be responsible for following up with leads and how data captured during the event will be fed back to attendees (both during and after the event). Asking these questions will help to create a listening platform and not just a data-capture platform.
Five listening tools that every virtual event owner should use
- Pre(and post)-event surveys – Of all of the possible listening tools, sign-up forms are probably the most ubiquitous. Unfortunately, despite their popularity, most pre-event surveys are not optimized. However, there are a few simple rules that you can follow to improve your pre-event sign-up process. First, only ask information that is both useful and actionable. If you don’t have a plan for how to use the data from a particular question, don’t ask it. Second, consider breaking your survey into sections (or multiple pages) in order to avoid overwhelming your customers. Finally, be transparent with customers about what you are capturing and why; unless you want a database filled with names like “Mickey Mouse” and “Bill Gates”, it is better to engage customers with honesty and forthrightness from the very beginning.
- Facebook and Twitter – Everyone knows that social media (along with video) is one of the most powerful trends on the Internet. As a result, virtual event companies have worked hard to integrate Facebook and Twitter into their platforms. In order to fully take advantage of this integration companies need to put a proactive monitoring and engagement plan in place – they need to have people watching conversations and joining in where appropriate. Regardless of whether this role is played by an agency or directly by company representatives, it is absolutely critical that organizers do not miss this critical opportunity to engage in active discussions before, during, and after the event.
- Interactive polls – Interactive polls are another “standard” online marketing tool that has taken on new color and meaning in the context of virtual events. The best interactive polls are purposeful, provide instant gratification, and actionable. In terms of purpose, all polls should link back to the core information that event planners identified as a part of their listening strategy. Results should be provided in real-time, and, where possible, the most interesting results should be used in upcoming presentations or featured in Q&A sessions.
- Q&A Sessions – Virtual events represent a huge opportunity for companies to interact directly with their customers in a leveraged and scalable way. There are a few ways that companies can make sure that they get the most from their Q&A sessions. First, as previously mentioned, they should incorporate and respond to feedback that was captured through other listening tools during the day. Second, they should separate sessions into specialized topics with true experts available in each to answer questions. Third, they should record and (where appropriate and possible) leverage the session outside of the context of the event so that other customers can benefit from it.
- User Generated Content – Most virtual event platforms today offer a number of ways for users to post their own ideas, comments, and even videos. Beyond being useful to other attendees, this content is often extremely useful for event organizers – but, only if they have the right listening tools in place. At Social27, we regularly work with our customers to build game dynamics to encourage users to post their own content. At the same time, we help our customers to actively monitor user generated content so that it can be analyzed and used.
“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation” – Chinese Proverb
Virtual events are undoubtedly a powerful tool for driving sales leads and building 1:1 relationships. At the same time, they offer unprecedented opportunities for event managers to gain valuable insight about their audience, by listening to customer needs and respond appropriately.
But, in order to get the most from the listening tools available, companies need to be proactive in their approach to building a listening platform strategy. When they do, they will be well on the way to building experiences that win the hearts and minds of their customers in the long term.
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