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A Playbook to Grow Your Online Community in 2021 (and Beyond...)

by Erin Chesterton
on November 30, 2021
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Your Virtual Events Playbook for 2021

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the past year, it’s to expect the unexpected. Industries and organizations of all sizes have been tasked to shift their traditional community-building tactics on a dime to meet the new demands of a virtual world. Whether you're a marketer, community manager, nonprofit, corporate or educator, chances are your day-to-day looks drastically different now, than it did a year ago. Here's everything you need to know to take 2021 by storm and craft a virtual event strategy that stands the test of time:

From “Nice-to-Have” to Necessity, Why Virtual Is Here to Stay

What seemed like a short term solution to alleviate the uncertainty in the events industry nearly a year ago today—virtual events have now become a fundamental component to drive growth. This, coupled with the boom in online communities and forums post COVID-19, has presented an opportunity to shift the landscape as we know it—as Jim Kruger, Chief Marketing Officer, Veeam, summarizes in a recent interview with Forbes magazine:

“In the face of the COVID pandemic, events became virtual out of necessity. As we move into 2021 and beyond, many events will stay virtual not only because of continued safety concerns, but also as a result of lessons learned in 2020. Companies found that by going virtual, they opened up their event to an entirely new audience as virtual events are more accessible than in-person events."

Not only is virtual opening the doors to better experiences for your community, but they provide you with new opportunities to fuel your content engine. According to HubSpot, 70% of marketers say that video is the top converting of all marketing channels. By doubling down on your virtual event strategy, you can begin to create highly engaging video content that drives conversions across all of your channels. 

Overcome The Tik Tok Effect

As COVID-19 forced communities apart—people are craving new ways to connect and engage online, and the trends speak for themselves. How we consume content has changed—for good. Scientists now claim we have shorter attention spans than goldfish.  That means you have only a matter of seconds to make an impression. New channels like Tik Tok have completely shifted consumer's expectations for how we engage with content, which means it's time to get creative with your approach. 

Opt for shorter form content and give your community the opportunity to engage with you live! Virtual events are a great channel to support these efforts as research from Wordstream shows that live videos hold users’ attention 10-20x longer than pre-recorded, on-demand content. The takeaway here: how your audiences and community engages in their day-to-day—whether across social media or e-commerce—needs to be mirrored in your event strategy. You don't need to reinvent the wheel here, keep reading for five low-lift community-driven virtual events you can set up in just minutes.

Who Can Use Virtual Events Technology? 

As the data today is clear, virtual events are extending far beyond the traditional use-case, and they should be. For anyone who has a community of any size, across any channel—events are a fantastic way to maximize your customer engagement and retention efforts. Why? In an inundated online world, crafting a truly unique Experience is EVERYTHING. Understanding how to quickly adapt and engage your community with truly unique experiences will be key. Learn more about how industries across the board can best leverage virtual to up-level their community building efforts.

For nonprofits

For an industry where just several events a year can make or break your success, virtual is a crucial component for the nonprofit industry to adopt. As fundraising continue to shift in response, your donor retention and engagement strategies must follow suit. Virtual events are a great vehicle to get your strategy started and support the entire lifecycle of your marketing efforts.

For event managers and marketers

Virtual brings a new channel to the toolkit of event managers and marketers alike amid a year of unprecedented change. Staying nimble is a challenge, but putting virtual strategy first gives you access to new content opportunities and ways to engage your community. 61% of marketers say a benefit of live streaming video is that it creates content that can be viewed or repurposed later.

What does this mean for you? Just because your event ends, your engagement strategy shouldn't! A little preparation can go a long a way. Get more out of every event you host and map out creative ideas to repurpose and infuse your video content across channels, post-event.

For corporates

Talent retention, training opportunities, employee engagement. The shift to remote work has put more pressure on enterprises to go virtual and adapt quickly. According to Forbes, the top challenges faced by enterprise live streamers include: live streaming to employees working remotely (41%) and live streaming from remote locations or conference centers (39%). 

For educators

Remote education skyrocketed with COVID 19—according to Forbes, the eLearning market as a whole expected to grow to a $325 billion market by 2025. Training, workshops, lectures, seminars, alumni events, networking opportunities, career fairs. Bridge the gap between you and your students with a virtual solution. Promote advancement for all of your students and access to the tool they need to thrive in any environment.

Virtual Event Opportunities: 5 Low-Lift Ideas You Can Try Today

If you have a community, odds are they want to be connected. Expectations from virtual events have shifted in the last year, which means you need to overhaul your strategy to meet the demands, which are constantly in flux. This is where you need to get creative (and data-driven) with your strategy. To help you get started, here is a list of the five low lift (yet highly effective) virtual event ideas:

#1. Virtual VIP Event

How well do you know your existing customers? Considering acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer, it’s likely you’re sleeping on these highly valuable relationships and opportunities. Dive in to your data and determine who your best customers are and treat them to truly one-of-a-kind VIP experiences. The time you take to drive more value from this base of VIP customers will pay dividends in the long run.

#2. Virtual Recruiting Events

Job seekers now need even more unique incentives to be attracted to the new world of work, as the hiring process has shifted astronomically post COVID-19. Plan unique events for your employees and prospective hires—give them access to business leaders to help them build their internal networks and integrate them within your organization. Hold team building exercises virtually, host team happy hours or raffle off prizes! 

#3. Virtual User Groups/Roundtables

Share new trends in the space - invite some of your long time customers or biggest users for an intimate gathering. Use your connections and make the opportunity worthwhile for them and their networks. Merge your online communities and show how you can help drive value more across the board. Finally, you can also use the talking points and highlights from your event and repurpose it into highly engaging blog posts for your community.

#4. Virtual AMA Sessions

For any community leader looking for a new approach to engage with their community the “Ask me Anything” (AMA) structure is a great starting point. Why? 

  • They Feel Exclusive—Make your community feel recognized and give them the opportunity to engage with their peers and learn from your close-knit community.
  • Unlock New Insights—Learn about data blindspots you weren’t aware of before. Think of this as a forum to capture invaluable customer insights you can use to better serve your community in the future.
  • Build Authenticity—Showing your community you are open to feedback—good, bad or otherwise—proves your commitment to improving their overall experience. Communities crave authenticity now, more than ever before, and AMA sessions are a great tool to help build trust in your brand. 

#5. Virtual “How To’s” & Hands-On Workshops

Are you a creative online looking for new ways to drive revenue and engage your followers? Host a paint night and invite your community to join. A marketer? Hold a hands-on workshop that maps out how to create a campaign. If you’re stuck on ideas, ask your community! Launch a quick poll on instagram, dig through your blog comments for FAQs, send out a survey to your customers for feedback—the opportunities to get inspired are endless.



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