When winter melts into spring, radio stations will inevitably turn their attention to the live events that have become a mainstay of the listener experience. Last year, stations were forced to cancel events or scramble to figure out how to take them online. While our view of the future is still hazy at this point — and may vary from location to location — we at least have more time to prepare.
Last month, we turned our annual VIP tour of CES in Las Vegas into an online experience for the first time. We used the Remo platform which was new to us. The event was ultimately a success, but we had to figure out a lot of things along the way. If you, like us, are mulling over a new virtual event platform, here are some factors to consider:
1. Presentation Tools
First and foremost, what will the main entertainment look like for your event? Whether you're hosting an acoustic concert with a singular focus, or a business conference with concurrent sessions, you'll want a thorough understanding of what different platforms are capable of. Make a list of things that you need to pull off a good presentation. For example:
- Do you need the ability to play videos during the event?
- Do you need more than one person on screen?
- Do you have presenters who need to share their screens?
- Do you need tools for an off-screen producer who is separate from the on-screen talent?
We chose the Remo platform for its stellar networking capabilities (see below). However, the platform's presentation tools are fairly basic, and did not provide all the bells and whistles that we wanted. As a result, we used a second piece of software — eCamm Live — to bring more functionality to our event.
2. Networking Capabilities
One thing the absence of live events has robbed us of is the casual interactions we have with other attendees. Whether it's running into an acquaintance at a festival or seeing a colleague at a workshop, these chance encounters have become a casualty of COVID. If your event platform can restore some of those encounters, it will make for a more enjoyable event.
Remo's networking capabilities, which virtually recreate the feeling of chit-chatting with folks at a table in a ballroom, were the primary reason we chose it for our CES tour. After months of attending events on platforms that limited attendee interaction to a text-based chat window beside the main presentation, we loved the way Remo allowed our attendees to interact with each other. Every time I have used the platform, this feature gets rave reviews.
3. Ticketing Functionality
Whether you are selling tickets or just giving them away, you'll want to look into how robust your platform's ticketing capabilities are. Do you need the platform to accept credit card payments? Can you create a discount code for attendees? What happens if people want to purchase tickets in bulk?
This is one area where we found the Remo platform to be limited. Remo does not offer native ticket functionality built in to its system; however, it can be integrated with other platforms, such as Eventbrite. Ultimately, we chose to build a registration form using Formstack, a form-building app, and accept payments through Formstack's PayPal integration.
4. Sponsorship Opportunities
If you can sell sponsors into your events, you can generate more revenue. How does your event platform handle sponsors? Does it provide value for these sponsors beyond just slapping their logo onto the screen?
For the CES tour, Remo provided virtual booths for sponsors. However, we decided to go above and beyond that by dedicating specific virtual tables to sponsors and mentioning the sponsors throughout the presentation. If you're checking out a potential event platform for the first time, it would be wise to have somebody from your sales team join you to see how they think potential sponsors will react to it.
5. Communication Tools
You will need to communicate with your event attendees before, during, and after the event. How does your platform handle pre-event email communications such as sending event reminders or login credentials? During the event, can you make announcements to all attendees or choose to chat privately with specific individuals? After the event, how can you follow up with attendees?
While Remo offered solid communication tools during the event, it did not allow us to customize the emails sent to attendees before or after the event. For that reason, we chose to bypass their emailing features altogether and manually send our emails. Frankly, this was more work than it should have been.
6. Data Gathering
By now, we all know that being a competitive company in the internet age requires compiling and maintaining a robust database. How well does your event platform help you in this quest? What data does it provide out of the box? Does it allow you to customize the data you can gather? Can you pass that data to another program such as a CRM or email service provider?
Because we used Formstack for our registration form, not Remo's built-in registration forms, we were able to customize the data we gathered.
7. Integration with Other Digital Tools
One of the most important things to consider when evaluating a new piece of software — not just a virtual event platform — is how well it integrates with other programs, especially those that you already rely on. If your radio station uses Salesforce or Constant Contact or WordPress, will your event platform integrate with or pass data to these tools in a way that is useful to you?
Sometimes, integration requires a third party to help pass the data, such as Zapier or IFTTT. For our CES tour, we used Zapier to connect Formstack to Remo; when an attendee purchased a ticket by filling out our form built in Formstack, Zapier would pull the address from that form and send it to Remo, registering the person for the tour. This integration allowed us to overlook the fact that the Remo platform doesn't have ticketing capabilities built in to its system.
Your event is a reflection of your radio station, so you want the ability to customize it. Does the platform allow you to put your logo onto the event, customize the colors, or incorporate branding videos?
9. Audience Interaction
How can presenters or performers at your event interact with the audience? Whether your main entertainment is a band that wants to take requests, a speaker who wants to take questions, or a stand-up comedian who depends upon audience feedback, you'll want to give some thought to this aspect of your platform.
In the case of our CES tour, Remo allowed us to take questions from attendees, and even allowed attendees to upvote questions asked by other people, but it did not allow speakers to poll the audience, a basic feature found in many other webinar programs.
10. The User Experience
How easy is the platform to use for attendees? Do they get frustrated by the experience? Is the software so confusing that you'll spend a lot of time and energy answering basic questions? Making sure that the platform will work on the operating systems and browsers that your attendees are most likely to use is key.
While we inevitably had a couple of people with technical difficulties, the vast majority of the attendees found the platform intuitive and figured it out right away. We had a number of staffers standing by to help out anybody having difficulties; fortunately, we hardly needed them.
You will want to record the event to either make it available in password-protected form after the fact or to cut out highlights to share them online. You may care about certain aspects of these recordings; for example, does the platform provide you with an audio-only recording?
12. Customer Support
Finally, never commit to a platform without first making sure that its customer support will meet your needs. Does your organization need a 24/7 hotline it can call for help, or will a support ticket system with a 48-hour turnaround time do? Make sure that you can get the help that you need.
Choosing the right platform is key to hosting successful online events. What platform does your radio station use? How has it worked for you?
If you missed our CES tour, you can join Fred Jacobs and the RAB for a more traditional webinar this Thursday. It will fill you in on all the new technological trends we saw at CES this year and what they'll mean for the radio industry.
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