Virtual Events Q&A with Amy Hager of SBCA
Amy Hager is the Communications and Online Member Services Manager for the consumer satellite trade association, SBCA. Amy recently produced a highly successful virtual event, SBCA SkyFORUM, which she's run for two consecutive years. We sat down with Amy to talk about virtual events.
Q: Tell us about SBCA SkyFORUM?
A: SkyFORUM is our online tradeshow that we host every fall. It replaced an in person show that we use to have but couldn't afford the costs to host and the attendance dropped.
Q: Give our readers some tips on how associations can run a profitable virtual event?
A: Go with the self-service model. Take the time to learn the ins and outs of the platform. It forced me to be involved in everything and take full control over the event. Working one-on-one with exhibitors so they feel they get more for their dollar. It is hard for them to justify ROI, so if it isn't easy for them to do, they might cut it out of their budget for next year. I have webinars, check lists and other tools for the exhibitors to put the right materials in their booths.
Q: Give our readers tips on building digital events under the self-service model?
A: Start implementing things right after your learn about them. I forgot a few things. Take time to play around with images and try different things. In the exhibit hall, put something to tell attendees to click on the logos of your exhibitors to visit their booths. I also built my booth right away, so I could use it as a demo to sell other booths and train my exhibitors.
Q: Give us some tips on how you market your digital event?
A: We have found that people who register 90+ days out, forget and don’t attend. The ones who register within 30 days of our event are the ones who attend. We only use email marketing and social media to promote. We send a few press releases around our event announcing registration, key note and exhibitors. Reminding people to attend is another key factor. An email the hour before the event starts, day before and even Monday before it starts helps our attendees keep their calendars clear. I also send reminders for big presentations.
Q: What’s the one thing virtual event planners must not forget to do?
A: Update their computer system. If you are running an old Explorer or Java, it doesn’t work and can be frustrating. Sounds simple, but something we don’t think to do regularly.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake virtual event planners make?
A: Assuming people know where to go and click and how to log in. We did a webinar before the event to show people how to sign up, attend and get the full experience. I think I am going to add a step by step guide too. It was naturally for me to click on the logo of a company that I wanted to go see their booth, but then I got an email from a member asking how to get to the booths. Tell them everything they need to do to take full advantage of the event.
Q: What does the future hold for virtual events?
A: I don’t think they can replace in person events. I do think they complement a program though. We have replaced our in person event with our online event and it worked great the first year. But the second and third year our numbers have dropped. So we are considering how we can keep this because it is easy for people to attend and turn a profit. I think the key for our attendees is the presentations and getting information. They see these exhibitors at other events throughout the year, so to visit their online booth isn’t top priority. But the exhibitors are what offset my cost. So, year four for us will be interesting to see what we can do to keep this annual event online, profitable for our association and a value to participants.
Q: Thanks for your insights, Amy!
A: My pleasure.