Many marketers like to say they struggle to get networking off the ground at their virtual events. That’s not surprising. Virtual networking is hard because it often lacks the casual and interaction attendees are used to at in-person events.
Don’t worry. We’re here to help. This guide will provide you with the basic tips and tricks you need to know to facilitate virtual networking at your next event.
Is Virtual Networking Appropriate?
First, you need to understand that networking in a digital environment is inherently different than networking face-to-face. Attendees who are only too eager to grab a drink and gab at a physical conference may clam up when brought into a virtual networking environment.
What this means for you, the event practitioner, is that you need to put more thought into your plan for virtual networking. Establish goals for your networking session at the planning stage and ask yourself if it’s even necessary for the event you’re producing.
Questions to ask during planning can include:
- What are our goals?
- What do we want attendees to do?
- What’s the best way to drive attendees towards our goals?
- What format should this networking session take? (These can include: video, group chat, breakout rooms and more.)
By being results-centric at the start, you can more easily explore your engagement taxonomy and connect the tactics you need to take with the event type you should produce.
If your event is simply a presentation and little else, you will want your attendees to focus on the host. In this situation, consider holding off on networking until the presentation concludes or simply forgo a networking session overall.
By contrast, if your event is highly engaging by its nature, say an expert panel, then networking is a smart move. Formats can include:
- Group chat
- Breakout Q&A sessions
- Breakout rooms
- Expert-led roundtables
The best way to know when to use virtual networking is to plan. Make sure you slow down and plan your event out.
Be Transparent About Virtual Networking
When it comes to virtual networking, it’s important to be purposeful. Assuming your audience knows what to do, when and where to go to network is a recipe for failure.
Instead, give them a helping hand by clearly communicating what virtual networking options are available, where and what audiences need to do to engage in networking sessions.
There are a few ways to go about communicating your virtual networking session. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Announce your networking session on social media.
Have an expert panel? A celebrity guest? Trivia? Announce it all ahead of your event on social media to gin up excitement and let your audience know what they can expect.
Bake networking into your design.
Sometimes networking is baked into the event format you’re running, like a virtual conference or summit. If this is the case, then make sure your design points to these networking opportunities. For example, you can design a webinar console to link directly to a networking session via CTA or, even, through invisible links.
Have your hosts promote virtual networking.
Your hosts can encourage audiences to engage with your brand. They need to. The same goes for networking. At the beginning of each virtual event, have your hosts call out virtual networking features and explain how to use them during your event.
A final note here: Don’t be afraid to let your attendees explore a virtual environment or network on their own. They should be encouraged to explore as much as possible.
Why? Because when attendees explore a virtual environment, you can engage them more, collect more first-party data and get a better picture of how interested they are in your solutions.
Bring Gamification Into Virtual Networking
Attendees — whether virtual or in-person — like to have fun. Gamification is an easy, effective way to craft a shared experience and encourage attendees to network.
One way to create virtual gamification is through badges and ranks. These can promote and uplift people who interact more, ask great questions in networking sessions or talk shop with sponsor representatives.
By bringing virtual networking into your gamification plans, you can create a sense of dynamic competition.
Plan for Networking Outside the Event
Your attempts to foster virtual networking do not need to begin and end with the digital experience platform you are running the event on. You can also create professional networking opportunities in areas that align with your own.
When preparing your event, remember to make good use of social media. Share, tag and promote speaker social media handles early and often.
If you’re up for it — and if you have plan for it — offer a Q&A or live chat on social media channels ahead of your event. Doing so can provide your team more engagement opportunities, create buzz around your event and connect with audiences that would otherwise miss your message.
Plan for Engagement
There’s a lot that goes into facilitating networking within a digital event. That’s why planning is essential. Sit down with your team to match your networking goals to the event you’re producing, then map out the attendee experience.
Done right, virtual events and virtual networking are a powerful combination. Work with your teams, communicate intentions often and assess the results for optimization. Good luck and have fun!