Organizations that hosted virtual events well before COVID-19 were already responding to health concerns about in-person gatherings. Now that the coronavirus pandemic has catalyzed widespread virtual events, they’ll likely be the norm for the foreseeable future.

Even as people gain access to the vaccine and return to normal, the virtual event industry is predicted to grow for the next few years. The international virtual events market was valued at nearly $78 million in 2019, but the market may grow 23.2% by 2027.1 Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fifth annual Global Public Health Conference will be a virtual event in 2022.

If you want to host a virtual event but aren’t sure where to start, this guide will walk you through what you need to know.

What is a virtual trade show?

A trade show is an event that trade associations sponsor for specific industries. Customers or vendors may have to pay to attend, but trade shows present an opportunity for businesses to connect with potential customers and drive sales.2 While these events used to mostly take place in person before the coronavirus pandemic, organizations have since hosted online versions of trade shows.

It remains to be seen how soon virtual trade shows will return to their standard in-person format. In the meantime, there are numerous real-world upsides to hosting virtual trade shows:3

  • More accessible: For small business owners, virtual trade shows are a chance to attend events without taking too much of their time or limited budget.
  • Greater potential for new leads and vendors: Virtual trade shows can connect businesses with potential customers from all over the world without the added costs of attending events in person. Plus, small business owners can find new tools or innovations that their local competitors aren’t aware of yet.
  • Keeping workers safe: Given the health and safety risks that come with large gatherings, business owners must be cautious about exposing their workers to the ongoing threat.
  • More comprehensive data: Businesses that participate in a virtual trade show can capture more information about attendees. One downside of in-person trade shows is that vendors may lose potential sales as attendees pass by. At virtual trade shows, businesses may be able to access the contact information of all attendees as well as data on who viewed your display, how long they looked at it, and other valuable tidbits. That information could help shape your engagement with leads after the event ends.4

How do you create a virtual trade show?

Planning a virtual trade show requires much preparation. Here are the most important steps needed to pull off a virtual trade show:5

  1. Pick the right platform: You’ll need to find a platform that’s user-friendly for people who aren’t too technologically savvy. Make sure you test out the platform beforehand so that the event runs smoothly. A few event platforms to consider are GoExhibit, Hexafair and vFairs.6
  2. Assess possible security risks: Ask your virtual event software provider what security features they have to prevent fraud, viruses, and crashing servers during high traffic periods.
  3. Come up with a plan: Think through what you’d like to achieve from this trade show. Once you’re clear on that, communicate those goals with your team and let them know what results you hope to see.
  4. Create a marketing strategy: Your promotional strategy needs to encompass multiple channels to reach as many people as possible. (More on this below).
  5. Arrange quality content for participants: Make sure your team and sponsors generate ideas for good content. Gather all of your marketing videos, sales materials, and other materials ahead of time.
  6. Schedule your events: You’ll need to line up your speakers and vendors ahead of time and share the list of events in advance. Your schedule should spell out when sessions are available and when trade is open. Since it’s virtual, make sure you’re aware of different time zones.
  7. Check your metrics: Check with your virtual trade show platform to see what data points they can share. That way, you can evaluate the overall performance of different events or the overall trade show.

How to promote your virtual trade show?

It’s not entirely clear when large in-person trade shows will return at scale. Regardless, digital channels will remain critical for reaching possible attendees and leads. To that end, there are multiple ways you can get people’s attention.7

Social media

On which social media platform are your potential virtual trade show attendees most likely to spend their time? Some of the most popular places to connect with a business audience are LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Not only could you promote your virtual trade show through organic and paid posts, but you should also encourage your sponsors and participating vendors to share the event on their social platforms. Be sure to create your own hashtag and share that hashtag with your vendors, sponsors and attendees so that they can amplify the message.

Promotional content

Start off by creating a landing page complete with captivating imagery and critical information about your virtual trade show. Once you have that in place, you can also write articles or blog posts with relevant keywords and compelling information to attract leads. After you’ve nailed down most of the details of which vendors, speakers and sponsors will participate in your event, you can write and distribute a press release alerting the trade publications about the trade show. If you can, you could also create promotional video teasers that preview what content attendees can expect during the trade show.

Do you need insurance for a virtual trade show?

The short answer to that question is: yes, you need special event insurance to host a virtual trade show. But since you’re going digital, you’ll likely need slightly different coverage than in-person coverage:

  • Trade show insurance: This is a kind of special event insurance for those organizing or hosting trade shows, which helps pay for claims resulting from third-party injuries, third-party property damage and liquor liability.
  • Professional liability insurance: This type of policy comes in handy for claims alleging that you didn’t provide your services properly, which resulted in financial or reputational harm to others. It can cover you from having to pay for damages due to actual or alleged negligence and can defend you against false or unsubstantiated claims.
  • Cybersecurity insurance: This coverage safeguards the insured against the financial damage stemming from cybersecurity threats. It comes in two forms:
    • First-party insurance: This insurance pays for expenses associated with data breaches stemming from the loss or damage to data, notification expenses, ransoms, harm to your business’ reputation and loss of income.
    • Third-party insurance: This coverage provides the investigation and a defense if your client makes a cybersecurity claim, and can pay for damages associated with lawsuits, regulatory expenses and settlements.

Some insurance carriers have started to offer policies designed to safeguard event planners from disruptions or cancellations for online events, but such coverage is not catching on with many event professionals.

Find the right coverage before the show starts

It seems that virtual trade shows are here to stay for the foreseeable future. While you’re organizing your event, here are the key things you must keep in mind:

  • Besides convenience, hosting a virtual trade show will keep attendees safer and allow more in-depth data collection.
  • While planning for the trade show, you’ll need to choose a virtual event platform, plan out the schedule and create a marketing strategy to reach potential leads.
  • While a virtual trade show may not have all the risks typical of an in-person event, you’ll still need adequate insurance to protect your business from liability risks.

Once you decide which policies you need, you can get general liability insurance, professional liability insurance, and (soon!) event insurance using Thimble’s fast and easy application process. Fill out a few simple questions about your business and get your instant quote. Click once to purchase and you’ll receive your policy and a Certificate of Insurance right away. Real risks exist even when people gather online, but so does opportunity.

Source:

  1. Grand View Research. Virtual Events Market. 
  2. Entrepreneur. Trade Shows. 
  3. Businessing. The Benefits of Participating in Virtual Trade Shows. 
  4. Trade Show News Network. 5 Things to Consider Before Analyzing the Data Gathered During Your Virtual Event.
  5. vFairs. The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Virtual Trade Show. 
  6. Event Manager Blog. 10 Virtual Trade Show Platforms for Your Next Event. 
  7. vFairs. Marketing Guide: How to Promote Your Virtual Event in 2021.