Here's How To Create Lasting Connections with Your Virtual Networking Events

August 10, 2023

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As the world continues to become increasingly digital, virtual event marketers are looking for ways to recreate every aspect of the physical event experience—including networking!

There's no doubt that many people sign up for events in hopes of building their professional network, learning from likeminded colleagues, and maybe even making new friends. So, how can we as event marketers make sure that happens?

By thinking through the purpose of our virtual networking events, creating a logistical plan to run them, and measuring event success afterward, you'll create spaces in which people develop powerful, lasting connections with other attendees.

Today, we'll discuss:

  • What is a virtual networking event?
  • Why host networking events online?
  • How to set up online networking events
  • How to run your online networking event
  • How to measure the success of virtual networking events
  • Tips from virtual networking pros
  • Why marketers use Goldcast for virtual networking events

Sound interesting? Read on to learn more!

What is a virtual networking event?

A virtual networking event is exactly what it sounds like: a scheduled meeting, or series of meetings, that allows you to connect with others online. These networking events are hosted via virtual event platforms like Goldcast, and they allow more participants than a physical space could accommodate.

Typically, online networking events offer some sort of structure. For example, the agenda might be set up "speed networking" style, where you meet someone new every 5-7 minutes and go over a set of questions together to learn more about each other. Or maybe the attendees are sectioned off into "breakout rooms" that are managed by the event host, and a moderator helps get the ball rolling.

There are myriad variations here, too. Perhaps there are breakout rooms, but attendees have the ability to go in and out of them as they please, forging new business relationships. Or, the event host rotates a certain number of people out of a room every so often, adding new attendees to the mix and shaking up the conversation.

No matter what structure you choose, the common thread between all of these events is that the central point of them is to allow your attendees to mingle and learn from each other!

Why host networking events online?

While the initial popularity of virtual business networking events was due in large part to the pandemic, they're likely here to stay—and for good reason.

There are lots of benefits to virtual networking events, including:

Accessibility: Virtual networking events improve accessibility by allowing people from all over the world, from all income levels, and from all backgrounds to attend your event.

Cost savings: Virtual events are typically cheaper than putting on an IRL event for both you and your attendees. Attendees don't have to worry about the hassle and money required to travel to a physical location, which makes it an easier commitment to make.

Ability to reach a wider audience: Again, because you aren't location-restricted, you can invite people from everywhere! This boosts the experience for your attendees, who are getting to meet folks they might not be able to otherwise.

Improved brand affinity: When people leave your event feeling like they learned something valuable or made a new connection (or both!), they're going to have a more positive impression of your company. They can see that you're invested in their personal and professional growth, and that will stick with them long after the event.

Relatively easy to plan: Hosting an online event still takes work, but the task list is much shorter than it would be if you were throwing an IRL event.

Platforms like Goldcast allow you to offer a webinar event with the same level of engagement as an in-person event. With features like live chat, in-event polls, breakout rooms, and more, you'll be able to foster meaningful conversations among attendees and leave them feeling wowed!

How to set up online networking events

Planning a successful virtual networking event takes some prep work on the front end. Here are some key steps to walk through before you push your event out into the world!

Know your goals

This is typically the first step in any event planning process. Ask yourself: Why am I hosting this event? What do I want to accomplish? How will I know if I've been successful?

Here are some common goals to consider:

  • Registration: Are you hoping to have a certain amount of people sign up for the event?
  • Attendance: Are you more interested in how many people actually showed up on the day of the event?
  • Attendee demographics: Perhaps you know exactly who you want to attend from the guest list, and that matters more than the overall quantity of registered or attended people. Whether it's prospects, leads, active customers, or another group, identify who you're hoping to attract.
  • Post-attendance action: Do you want people to sign up for something after the event, schedule a demo, or take another action? (Hint: If you do, be sure to tell them during the event!)
  • Social media following: This one's all about getting your social media numbers up. If you're looking for more LinkedIn or Instagram followers, your goal falls in this bucket.

Having these goals in mind will provide clarity as you move through the next phases of the planning process. For example, if you know that you're focusing on a certain number of active customers attending, you'll want to focus most of your promotion efforts within channels that contain your current customers.

Pick your audience

With your goals in hand, it's time to select your audience. Be very selective and intentional here! People are unlikely to be attracted to a networking event with an extremely wide audience; they likely want to meet people who are either more similarly matched to themselves or can help them grow in their careers.

Think carefully about your ideal attendee and what their job title, industry, location, and current challenges are. Who does that person likely want to meet, and what value can you provide to both roles?

The answer to the latter question can clue you in to how to word your marketing materials.

Choose your virtual networking event platform

You may already have this one figured out, but if not, here are some features to consider to ensure your virtual networking event is engaging and interactive.

  • Rooms: Online networking events are most successful when small groups of people can be placed together; people are just more likely to talk in small groups than they are in bigger ones. Using rooms allows you to create smaller, more intimate networking areas while still catering to a larger audience.
  • Chat: One Goldcast feature we've found super handy is the option to see chats across all participants, as well as in your specific room. This can spark larger discussions and keep everyone on the same page.
  • Polls: Get the conversation started easily by using an in-event poll to gauge thoughts and opinions. You can share the results (with Goldcast, they keep updating in real time as people respond) to prompt further discussion and help attendees learn more about each other.
  • Strong video component: It goes without saying that whatever platform you choose will have to provide a strong video component, complete with high video quality, solid connectivity and reliability, and a modern look and feel.

At Goldcast, all of the above features (and more!) are table stakes at this point. Every feature within the platform has been carefully crafted to help B2B marketers like you boost engagement and provide value to attendees.

What's the difference between a breakout session and a roundtable room?

You already know that breaking your attendees into smaller groups will allow them to network more effectively. If you're confused about the difference between a breakout session and a roundtable, or a room, here's the quickest explanation:

Want to learn more about building community through events? Check out our article Building Communities Through Events: 7 Ways to Drive Engagement and 5 Formats To Try.

Select a theme

Are you hosting the event under a specific discussion point, or is this a general chance to mingle for certain roles in your audience? This isn't a trick question—either is fine!

The theme you choose will depend on your goals, of course. If your goal is to get people to sign up for a new tool, you might want to theme the discussion around the challenges that would get them to do so. But if you're looking to simply give people a chance to connect, go generic.

Set up and promote your event

Now it's time for the fun stuff. Choose your date and time, create your event, slot it into your internal calendars, take care of all the other logistical backend stuff, and get to promoting!

Once again, the way you promote (and the channels you choose for promotion) will depend largely on your goals. If you're looking for marketing executives, for example, you might create segments within your CRM system to find contacts with those job titles and add them to a dedicated email campaign about the event.

How to run your online networking event

It's showtime! Here are some best practices to ensure your networking event runs smoothly.

Select moderators

We touched on this before, but each room within your event should have a moderator. This helps ensure the conversations continue to flow and keeps the discussions focused and on track.

Moderators can be employees, brand advocates, part of your community, or even highly engaged customers! Just be sure that the people you choose have great communication skills and the ability to keep dialogue flowing.

Prepare questions and icebreakers ahead of time

Awkward silences don't stand a chance against a prepared host or moderator. Whip up questions ahead of time for your moderators to use to keep the convo going.

We recently hosted some virtual networking events for members of our Event Marketers Club. Here’s our shortlist of questions that were on deck to drive discussion:

  • Since we're at a virtual networking event, what are some of your virtual event must do's and don'ts?
  • AI is a hot topic right now! Is anyone using AI in their event marketing? How?
  • What are some tried-and-true virtual networking formats/activities?
  • What compelled you to join the Event Marketers Club?
  • Any predictions on what will be trending in events the rest of this year?

If a question requires some forethought to answer, send it out before the event so everyone shows up with their answer ready to share. Take the first question above; you're likely to get more thoughtful responses if you let people think about it before they show up on event day.

📢Are you a part of Event Marketers Club yet? If not, what are you waiting for?! There's a goldmine of networking opportunities in this group!

Share the agenda and directions up front

Even if your intent is to host a general networking event, lay some ground rules when the event begins and provide any specific instructions people will need, as well as the agenda for the day. Your directions might include info on how to join rooms, which rooms are discussing which topics, how to share LinkedIn profiles and contact information to connect with others, and more.

Don't forget about technical support!

At Goldcast, we always have one person present at every event who can help troubleshoot any technical issues that arise. The last thing you want is to be midway through an amazing networking event and then be derailed by a glitch you don't know how to solve! Having one person there in case anything happens provides peace of mind and keeps things running smoothly.

How to measure the success of virtual networking events

You don’t run events just to run events! There’s got to be some kind of ROI to make them worthwhile.

Let's think back to the goals you set at the beginning of this process. Did you reach them? If you wanted to bring in a certain number of target accounts, for example, how many did you end up seeing at the event? What can you learn from this data?

If you hit your initial goal, that's great! That means your promotional efforts worked for this specific goal. If you didn't, how close or far off were you? What kind of feedback can you get from your internal teams and the event attendees to find out where you can improve?

Here are some other metrics you can use to see if your event was successful. Even if these aren't directly tied to the goal you set, they're still worth evaluating so you can understand how your events are running and improve your future strategy.

Registrations: How many people signed up? Was it around the number of people you expected? If not, what did you learn that you can apply before your next event? If you did pull in the expected amount, congrats! Should you create new targets to hit as your program continues to expand?

Attendance: Was there a good conversion from registered to attended? Your attendance rate should be fairly high, since networking events are not typically consumed on-demand. If you had a significant amount of no-shows, consider surveying your non-attended registered audience to gather feedback on why they could not attend or what would have increased the likelihood of their attendance.

Engagement: Were attendees engaged? Some of this feedback can come from your hosts and moderators—you can often "feel" that an event was on fire while it's going on!—and you can also use reporting tools to dig into how many people were answering polls, using the chats, asking questions, and so on.

“At Goldcast, we learned how strategic event organizers can be with the polling functionality,” says Reagan Hochmeister, Community Marketing Manager at Goldcast.

Polling the audience can be a great icebreaker to kick-start a digital event, and valuable information can be gained for post-event follow-up. As an example, give your audience 3-4 poll response options to choose from on topics that they’d most be interested in learning about at your next event. Consider adding the most popular answers to your event lineup! - Reagan Hochmeister, Community Growth at Goldcast

Feedback: Post-event surveys are a great way to solicit feedback from attendees; sending them right after the event ends is the best timing because the event is still fresh in everyone's minds. In Goldcast, you can later analyze the responses within your Analytics section and report back to the team on what you've learned.

Follow-up actions: If you set goals around attendees taking a particular follow-up action—whether it's liking your page on social media, joining your community, or downloading an asset—report on those follow-ups!

One note: Not all outcomes are easy to report on. While tangible metrics are definitely important (and key to proving ROI to leadership!), there's also something to be said for the relationship building that events like this create.

For instance: You might notice an increased level of engagement among your audience after the event, which is a positive thing and absolutely points to the success of your event!

Oh, and if you haven't checked out the Goldcast Event ROI Dashboard, the time is now! With our new, cutting-edge dashboard, you can easily pull all of the info above and assess how your events are really doing.

Tips from virtual networking pros

We polled both Goldcast experts and top marketing pros from our Event Marketers Club to get their best tips on virtual networking. Here's what they had to say!

💬Having specific conversation starters or prompts in mind helps a ton. While your attendees likely have a lot to say, you may have to help them get there! Come prepared with meaningful ways to get the dialogue going.

If you'll be asking some *big* questions during the event, share them ahead of time so that attendees can think about their answers and prepare for the discussion. This will give folks a chance to come up with deeper insights than they might be able to generate on the spot.

Remember that the goal of any virtual experience—networking-oriented ones included—is to make the attendee feel seen throughout the entire event, from registration to post-event. Be intentional; put yourself in the attendee's shoes and think about what will best accommodate them.

🥐If you've got the budget, offer lunch or a snack (via gift vouchers, coupon codes, or something similar) to give attendees something to enjoy in real time during the event! You could even host the event during happy hour time so that it feels even more like a face-to-face meetup.

🪑If you're using round table rooms, theme each one by topic so people can choose the topics they're most passionate about. Cap virtual groups around nine or less; this gives more people a chance to speak up and be heard. Bigger groups can be intimidating and drown out some voices during the discussion.

🎁Send a branded swag item afterward to continue the dialogue! People will feel like they're part of something bigger and even be inspired to share on social media, amplifying your brand and future events.

Always, always, always push a clear CTA before you end the session! You want people to leave knowing exactly what to do next.

One last reminder that Event Marketers Club is a great way to get tips and expert knowledge from other B2B marketers—all while sharing what you know and giving back to the community!

Why marketers use Goldcast for virtual networking events

We've definitely hinted at it, but in case it was too subtle, let us be clear: Goldcast is a powerful platform for hosting your virtual networking events!

Want proof? Check out some quick snippets from our Hall of Famers! Whether it's Smartling's networking rooms, category-based rooms at Attentive's event series, Vivun's discussion rooms, or another example, we think you'll see why B2B marketers trust Goldcast to facilitate powerful connections for their attendees.

And when you're ready to see Goldcast's virtual networking capabilities for yourself, schedule a free demo and one of our awesome sales reps will be in touch!

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