Originally published at Hoovers.com
Online events are fantastic for building brand awareness and driving small business sales. Unlike traditional events, which require a physical location and incur a variety of different hard costs, online events are low-cost and low-maintenance with the potential for very high returns.
Just like a live event, virtual events require a strong marketing plan to ensure their success. The right preparation is key to making sure your online event is not only well attended, but attended by the right people – the ones most likely to purchase your products and services and become loyal fans of your brand.
Whether your online event is one-time or ongoing, a webinar or a course, a large virtual summit or a VIP mastermind group, these 7 secrets of marketing success will help you get more sign-ups, attract more attendees, and transform those attendees into paying customers.
- Choose a Proven Topic
No matter what format your online event takes, the topic and format of the event should be based on research. The best online events have components of education and entertainment. They provide an enthralling experience for attendees while sharing valuable information that make their lives better.
While it may be tempting to brainstorm highly creative, innovative topics for your online event, it is far more effective to design your event around the problems, questions, and interests of your prospective customers.
Find out what your prospects are struggling with, or what they’re most passionate about. Then, choose event topics, speakers, classes, and offerings based on what you have discovered.
How can you determine which topics will succeed with your target market?
- Create a survey and send it to your email list
- Research comments and threads on forums and social platforms
- Look at past events held by your competitors, and poll attendees about what they liked and didn’t like
When you plan an online event around a topic your audience is sure to be interested in, half the marketing battle is already won.
- Conduct social outreach
Even if you have a robust email list and social following, one of the biggest benefits of holding an online event is exposing new prospects to your brand.
In addition to marketing your event to existing and past customers, leave yourself enough time to connect with new leads that may be interested in attending your event.
- Track trending topics and keywords on social media that are relevant to your event. When the opportunity presents itself naturally, engage with prospects and share your event as a solution to their problem or answer to their question.
- Follow and friend prospects that fit the target market description for your event. Engage them by sharing their content, liking their pages, and commenting where appropriate. Work to build an authentic relationship first and then direct them to your event sign-up page when the time is right.
- Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups whose members may be interested in your event. Become an active member of the group and provide valuable insights and help to other members without asking for anything in return. When the moment feels right, share your online event with members who may be interested.
You can also conduct a paid PPC campaign to promote your event via social media. However, given the organic nature of social interactions, your best bet is to develop authentic relationships with individuals first, then supplement with a paid campaign second.
- Design a great landing page
For online event marketing, your landing page is everything. It is the catalyst that excites prospective attendees and inspires them to sign up for your event.
In Step 1 and 2 above, you laid the foundation to drive targeted traffic to your event landing page. Now that you have a proven topic for your event and targeted traffic coming from social media and your email list, it’s time to create a landing page that converts.
- Choose a strong, benefit-rich headline that immediately captures the attendee’s interest.
- Make use of video, graphics, and multimedia. Consider split-testing different layouts to see which page design works better.
- Focus on the benefits of your event. What will participants get out of attending? How will your event make their lives better? What problems are you solving?
- If applicable, include the photos and testimonials of past event attendees. If your event features industry experts or thought leaders, be sure to include their photos and bios as well for an extra boost of social proof.
- Make sure the only place people can click is to the registration page. Don’t include any external links that could distract them from your goal.
Your landing page can make or break your online event. Make sure it’s benefits-focused, light on text and heavy on social proof. Make it as easy as possible to sign up for your event, and constantly remind the attendee what they’ll get for attending.
- Create an email autoresponder campaign
Now that you’ve secured plenty of sign-ups with a great event landing page, you’re marketing is as good as done, right?
Sorry! Step 4 is actually where the real work begins. Getting sign-ups is great, but what you really want is for everyone who signed up to actually attend your online event.
According to Shibani Roy, a senior digital marketing executive at LeadSquared, the average registration-to-conversion rate for webinars is as low as 30%.  Hubspot estimates even lower average attendance at just 25%. That means if you get 125 people to register for your online event, only about 30 are likely to show up.
The best way to increase your chances of higher attendance is by making use of email autoresponders. These ‘set it and forget it’ campaigns allow you to automatically remind registrants about your upcoming event through strategically timed emails.
Autoresponders are not only great ways to remind registrants about your event in the weeks, days, and hours before it happens; they are also fantastic for promoting the benefits of your event, providing further testimonials and social proof, and introducing registrants to other aspects of your brand.
- Leverage brand ambassadors and industry experts
The next proven way to market your online event is by leveraging relationships with brand ambassadors and industry experts.
Work with your current customers and colleagues to promote your event to their networks and exponentially expand your marketing reach.
- If you have a loyal customer who’s also well connected, ask them to share your event with their friends and followers.
- Offer affiliate incentives or discounts to current customers who can secure sign ups to your event.
- Reach out to industry experts and thought leaders in your field, and ask them to take part in the event. Find ways your event will benefit their audience, and offer an incentive for sharing your event with their email list and social networks.
Leveraging personal connections is the best way to market your online event, but don’t worry – they don’t have to be your personal connections! Reach out to colleagues and even competitors and present your event as a mutually beneficial opportunity to provide value to your respective audiences.
- Time it just right
When it comes to online event marketing, timing is everything. Give yourself plenty of time to engage attendees and partner with influencers long before your event is scheduled.
As the event draws near, make sure to time your email campaign for maximum impact. The closer you get to the day and hour of the event, the more reminders you’ll need to schedule.
Here’s a sample email campaign schedule for the week leading up to an online webinar:
- 7 days before the event – benefit-rich reminder email
- 5 days before the event – email with video testimonials from past attendees
- 3 days before the event – reminder email with social share request
- 2 days before the event – reminder email with incentive to share with friends
- 1 day before the event – TWO emails with last-chance incentives and reminder of benefits
- Day of event – email link with online event access
- 30 minutes before event – resend link with time-sensitive reminder
- Event start – “We’re live, join us!” email reminder
- 10 minutes post start – “We’re live, where are you?” autoresponder sent to registrants who have not joined the event
Depending on the type of online event you’re holding and the nature of your attendees, you may need to send more or less reminder emails in the days and hours leading up to your event.
Regardless of your event type and audience, the marketing experts at Hubspot recommend sending a minimum of two email reminders in the 24-hour period before your event happens. 
- Follow up
After choosing a killer event topic, conducting social outreach, designing a great landing page, creating an email autoresponder campaign, leveraging relationships with industry experts, and timing your reminders perfectly, you’re sure to hold a successful online event.
After the event, you have an opportunity to entice attendees with special offers and to purchase your products and services.
While you’ll likely make a special offer during your online event, not everyone will make a purchase. While interest is still high in the days and weeks following the event, be sure to follow up with another email autoresponder.
Use this campaign to…
- Reiterate the value provided during the event
- Give access to slides, videos, or recordings from the event
- Offer complementary products and services attendees will likely be interested in
Online events are a great way to boost profits short-term, but they’re also wonderful tools for cultivating long-term lasting relationships with new and existing customers. If you take the time to prepare and research before the event, and follow up strategically after the event, regular online events will prove to be some of the most indispensable tools in your marketing toolkit.