In a recent article and webinar, we talked at length about the benefits of virtual events, particularly for SaaS companies with broad, global audiences. And while those benefits centered around an underlying idea of hosting a large virtual summit or online conference, those aren’t the online kinds of events there are. There are many virtual event ideas that brands can explore, from large to small, and with varying goals and objectives.
I’m going to share these virtual event ideas with you today for two reasons.
First, as you read through the list and descriptions, and check out some of the examples I’ve found, I think and hope you’ll be inspired. All of these virtual event ideas, when executed well, can be brilliant additions and benefits to your company and brand presence. And they’re all well-suited to SaaS companies, regardless of their stage of growth. Each event can be scaled according to your available budget!
Second, no matter what kind of virtual event you’re planning, it’s going to require that you invest in a virtual event platform. Those platforms can range in price from $100 a month to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year but, here’s the thing: once you have the platform in place, you might as well use it.
I know some virtual event platforms charge by user and by event and almost have an attitude of trying to get you not to use their platform – shy away from those. If you’re on a demo call with a virtual event vendor and you hear them tell you there are limits on how many events you can run on their platform “so you don’t abuse it” – run away. You don’t need “unlimited” virtual events, but you definitely should feel comfortable creating multiple events throughout the year for different purposes! Not only are you leveraging your tech stack, you’re also gaining valuable experience with the platform.
In fact, I’ve broken out these ideas by two categories: External Virtual Event Ideas and Internal Virtual Event Ideas, because your online events do not have to be focused externally on clients and prospects. You can host events just for your own employees and stakeholders! So, in addition to or even instead of a large virtual summit, consider these other virtual event ideas:
External Virtual Event Ideas
My favorite idea for a virtual event, other than a summit, is a User Conference. While virtual summits are typically open to users and prospects alike – anyone that wants to attend – a user conference is expressly and exclusively for your existing customers.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and imagine what it would be like to be invited to a virtual event that’s just you as a customer of your brand. The event has in-depth training, fireside chats with the CEO and Head of Product, conversations with influencers and brand ambassadors, roundtable discussions with power users, and a whole menu of interesting sessions and valuable resources, along with entertainment, swag, and more!
Wouldn’t that excite your biggest fans?
From a SaaS brand’s business perspective, if you devote one day a year to building out a virtual event that helps your clients work on their businesses so that they can continue to succeed and rely on your services, you’ll watch your churn plummet and LTV soar. And you’ll hit many of the other benefits we’ve talked about such as creating content and establishing thought leadership.
User Conferences can include certification in your product or solutions, particularly if you offer partner, VAR, or white label options, as well as product showcase sessions for key elements or features of your solution.
One fun example is Axiell’s virtual user conference from 2021. Axiell helps institutions organize and share culture and knowledge with the world, and during their user conference, they hosted 40+ sessions spanning two weeks! They covered:
- Updates & Vision
- Tips & Tricks
- User-led discussions
- and more!
It was particularly impressive to note Axiell’s inclusiveness with APAC-friendly timed sessions mixed into the agenda.
Google SheetsCon is another example.
If putting on a first-class virtual user conference appeals to you, let’s discuss how I can help make that a Sold Out Summit for you.
Large in-person and virtual conferences include trade shows where attendees can have fun learning about all kinds of vendors and providers in their industry. While most virtual events may include a trade show element alongside traditional sessions and networking, one of the really clever virtual event ideas I’ve seen is to make your virtual event exclusively a trade show.
In addition being able to introduce your solution to your target audience, you can partner with other brands and organizations in your industry to help organize the event and defray costs.
And virtual trade shows have several benefits over in-person trade shows, including:
- “Meet” all attendees, not just those who let you scan their badge.
- Detailed analytics on exactly who and how they engaged with your brand or virtual booth presence.
- Integrate directly with your CRM to instantly fill your sales pipeline, rather than waiting for a CSV download.
- More cost-effective than in-person booths and staffing.
- Reach a global audience where they are, when they want it, not just 3 days in Las Vegas in October.
CES 2021 may be the most famous example of a virtual trade show, when the annual in-person conference transitioned to online. But as virtual event ideas go, it’s a great approach to consider for your SaaS brand!
One of the truly effective virtual event ideas you can implement, rather easily, is to build and foster your community. Now, you could choose to define community as users, in which case this type of virtual event would be more of a user conference focused on networking and engagement. I would, however, recommend you broaden the scope of your community to include followers on social media and individuals within your target audience as well who may or may not be paying customers.
That way, your brand is perceived as a supporter of the overall community rather than just being focused on revenue-driving users.
“Your brand is perceived as an overall supporter of the community.”
The cool thing about a virtual event that’s specifically for community building is that as a virtual event planner, it’s easier to organize. You don’t have to line up speakers or sponsors or facilitate multiple tracks. Most virtual event platforms offer native networking and engagement capability (and if they don’t, they’ll at least let you stream a Zoom call with breakout rooms into the platform). All you have to do decide is what options you want to make available and how you’d like to schedule them, then invite your community to participate.
You can start the day with a Speed Networking session to give community members opportunities to get to know one another, then schedule a series of table talks and breakout rooms to discuss topics of interest.
This approach works particularly well with virtual event platforms where attendees create a profile once and then use that profile consistently across all your events. That’s something I’d keep in mind, if it’s an option, and avoid platforms where attendees have to re-register for each and every event.
When the University of Iowa’s residency program needed a way to supplement the virtual recruitment season by giving applicants an opportunity to meet each other and learn more about the program, Caroline Martin chose Gatherly. SaaS brands can use similar tools to empower their larger communities to network and engage with each other, creating brand affinity.
Focus Groups & Discovery
Of all these virtual event ideas, the one you need to send to your Head of Product is this one. Great product development must include talking to clients and prospects alike to get their perspectives and needs documented. And while good SaaS companies schedule Zoom meetings and send out surveys, imagine how next-level your discovery could be if you used your virtual event platform?
First, with a platform in place, you could configure it once to support your discovery efforts and client journey, then use it again and again for each new conversation. You could have breakout rooms for specific features or planned upgrades, demo videos which could be watched on demand, embedded polls, analytics on how viewers engaged with the sessions, and automated email follow-up and engagement.
Second, within the same platform, you could now schedule small groups of users to view and discuss certain features or upgrades together. Add to that the capability to host larger town hall type forums where users can ask questions and offer ideas, discussing the best product improvements and integrations real-time, and now you have a tremendous virtual customer validation system.
Some platforms integrate forums, surveys and polling, which would further complement the idea of having a single place where all customer discovery and validation takes place.
Learn more about how to use virtual events as a powerful customer discovery tool.
Internal Virtual Event Ideas
Remember how I mentioned above how great it could be if you used your virtual event platform for other events besides your big summit! Imagine how useful the platform could be for your internal company use? With most virtual event platforms, you can schedule events, set agenda and speakers, mix live video with recorded content and other assets, create breakout rooms and engaging activities, and make everything available on demand over time.
As a result, a good virtual event platform makes for terrific internal virtual event ideas like these:
Company & Team Retreats
While there’s hope that more companies will return to in-person retreats and corporate events now that lockdowns have eased, there’s no denying that virtual retreats have long term merit, particularly for distributed teams that are common among SaaS companies.
At Agorapulse, our annual company retreat and department retreats were all canceled in 2020 and 2021. Instead, our Marketing team hosted a series of multi-day retreats, three or four times, each taking place within Google Meet.
That was not ideal.
The video function was there of course so we could see and talk to each other and share presentations, but imagine if we’d hosted those retreats on a customized virtual event platform instead? We could have:
- Built employee profiles for ourselves to help everyone get to know each other.
- Started with Speed Networking or Table Talks to meet team members from other departments and break the ice.
- Combined recorded presentations with real-time workshops and breakout rooms to facilitate collaboration & discussion.
- Built an entire agenda of sessions and activities right into the platform instead of external Google Sheets.
- Slides, other documents and resources, and additional assets can all be centrally shared and stored.
And the entire experience would have been saved and the venue stored for use again, quarter after quarter.
What was your last virtual retreat like, and how might it have been improved if it had been on a more robust virtual event platform?
If your SaaS company is in a growth mode, it’s not just about experiencing tremendous numbers of new customers… it’s new employees, too! In fact, my CEO once told me that he believes, now, that his most important role is to make strong hiring decisions, as fast as possible.
You may find yourself going from 20 employees to a hundred and twenty or more, often bringing on dozens of staff at a time. And while learning systems and documentation archives are OK, there’s tremendous appeal to using a virtual event platform to help you scale your onboarding!
Welcome emails can be streamed and them made available on demand.
Cohorts and small groups can be assigned and discussions facilitated.
Analytics are instantly available for how new employees proceed through and engaged with elements of the onboarding.
Onboarding and training videos can be grouped into tracks for easier consumption and assignment! While some tools and processes may be unique to particular departments, other topics like benefits and HR may apply to everyone.
While the cost of a good virtual event platform may be too prohibitive to use solely for employee onboarding (or even client onboarding!), if it’s a tool you’re already using for external marketing, more virtual event ideas just help justify and utilize the investment.
Other Virtual Event Ideas
In an earlier article, we talked about more general virtual event ideas and types such as:
- Virtual Training & Webinars
- Virtual Exhibitions
- Virtual Concerts
- Virtual Grand Openings
- Virtual Tours
Even virtual events in virtual reality!
As you explore the possibilities, allow your imagination to consider how different types and ideas for virtual events can help your organization support and reach your target audience. And look for gaps! If there are already several grands in your space doing terrific webinars and live video shows, perhaps there’s an opportunity for your brand to step up and build an online community and virtual summit series, as we have at Agorapulse.
If you have other virtual event ideas, or examples of amazing events you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments!