By Aileen Barron, Green Acre Marketing

Agri-events serve as a great tool for bringing the agri sector together, connecting: farmers; suppliers; associations; sponsors; and many agri-businesses in a more direct and relatable way, which can generate tangible benefits, strengthen relationships and build loyalty.

Since the onset of Covid-19, hundreds of events in our sector have been cancelled and, unfortunately, I cannot see this changing before the end of the summer.

Over the past number of weeks, agri-businesses and organisations have redesigned how they conduct their business to meet the requirements set out by the Irish Government during Covid-19.

This has led to a significant number of meetings and conferences being conducted as virtual events. This meeting format offers a new alternative in these challenging times and, in some cases, greater efficiency and use of time.

By their nature, virtual events allow attendance irrespective of travel restrictions and facilitate the delivery of cutting-edge information. As long as virtual events are strategically planned to use the latest technologies, they have the potential to reach a much wider audience, than more traditional live events, while reducing costs and carbon footprints.

So, what is the definition of a virtual event?

A virtual event is any organised meet-up that takes place online rather than in a physical location. Events can range from small question-and-answer (Q&A) sessions to large-scale conferences with thousands of attendees.

Agri-businesses can choose from many different kinds of online business events to host: webinars; how-to videos; or demos; tutorials; training courses; behind the scenes tours; and conferences.

Whilst running a major international event, virtually, is a considerable feat, switching to host your own virtual event calendar may be easier than it appears.

These events rely on mediums and formats that agri-businesses are now mostly already familiar with and currently using on a day-to-day basis. In most cases, the audience will previously have attended some sort of online event or meeting, such as a webinar or live-streamed training course.

This type of communication is due to increase considerably as we continue to conduct an increasing number of activities and interactions online during Covid-19.

What are the benefits to shifting from physical events to virtual events?

Professional agri-events have several key benefits, such as: increasing brand awareness and revenue for the organiser; sharing the latest technologies and information; and networking.

For a long time, traditional face-to-face meetings seemed the best way of achieving this, and resistance to adopting new meeting formats such as virtual events mainly came from not knowing how valid or accepting these alternative formats would prove at meeting business objectives.

All event types have their pros and cons, whether in-person or remote. Virtual events can be a powerful communication tool to connect with your customers and engage with a new audience.

They can also be highly cost-efficient since they partly or wholly eliminate the need for venue rental, insurance, staffing, catering etc.

The technology used to deliver online events has built-in capabilities that allow organisers to measure success in real-time. Such data can be subsequently used to make changes to improve the experience and to gauge the audience’s reaction.

In short, online event technology allows for continuous improvement both during and after the event.

Using social media to maximise virtual event strategies

Like any event, in order to ensure high attendance, it must be promoted. Social media is the perfect platform for agri-businesses to launch and promote their virtual agri-business event journey and below are a few top tips on other aspects of social media you can utilise for your virtual event.

Twitter is a good place to start an online discussion by live tweeting an event, asking a question, or hosting an ‘Ask Me Anything’. Use a hashtag to help people find and follow the conversation.

Stories on Facebook and Instagram are great platforms to share videos and visuals of tutorials, interviews, demos and more. Add filters, special effects, and stickers to take questions, conduct polls, or host an influencer takeover.

These are just some creative ways to communicate and engage with your audience. Instagram has a nice feature where you can save your story as a highlight for future viewers.

Just about every social media platform has a live video feature. Live-streams are known for driving engagement. According to Facebook, live video averages six times more engagement than regular video.

Most livestreams show comments and attendees in real time. And some, like Instagram, make it possible for you to go live with a colleague, influencer or industry expert. This is a good option for a Q&A or co-presentation event.

If you are replacing your event calendar by way of introducing a virtual event, be sure to remain social. The danger with virtual events in this instance is that they become ‘lecture halls’ with one-way information and conversation.

Virtual meetings should fulfil two critical functions: circulating information; and providing a space for professionals to network. Therefore, ensure to take the time to plan and map out the kind of experience you hope to deliver, and make your virtual event is as professional and engaging as possible.

By doing this, you will set your event apart from competitors, while bringing some sort of normality to your audience during this challenging time. Virtual events should be a top consideration for agri-businesses that have physical events planned in the future.

For further information or support on running a virtual event, please do not hesitate to get in contact at: [email protected].