Business Rules for Women CEO, Gabrielle Deculus, has spent the past five years growing her community of female entrepreneurs and business leaders through virtual meetups and happy hour events. She’d finally reached the point where she was ready to bring her global audience together for a live event.

Under the mantra “Get Paid This Decade,” Deculus teamed up with event producer Sandra Aderibigbe of DTR Events and scheduled the BRFW 2020 conference for April 2 to 4 in New Orleans. 

While they were busy planning, an unprecedented outbreak was ramping up in the U.S. In-person events were starting to cancel, at first just a few. But with each passing day, the cadence picked up. The BRFW team realized their fast-approaching conference would likely be impacted.

But they’d worked too hard growing their community to just pack up and cancel the event. They didn’t want to try and wait it out, or get shut down at the last minute. The decision would be made on their terms.

With just four weeks to spare — and in the midst of a global pandemic — BRFW bravely pivoted their live conference to a virtual event. 

Key Challenges for Pivoting to Virtual

The BRFW team had to innovate — and act fast. They were familiar with planning webinars, but this event had to be more dynamic. There had to be that human connection. Initially, they considered building a landing page with links to their various sessions. But they knew that wouldn’t cut it.

“We set up a meeting with Socio, saw the platform and we were just kind of like, ‘This is perfect,’ Aderibigbe says. “Because, it actually creates a whole virtual world for us.”

After deciding on their event technology, BRFW still had to make it all work. That meant overcoming several key challenges.

  • Communicate their virtual pivot: First things first: they needed to get the message out to their community. Deculus crafted a press release announcing the change and posted the update across their social channels and website. They also reached out to sponsors to communicate the change and answer any questions or concerns.
  • Choose their event tech stack and Pivot BRFW 2020 to a virtual format: After deciding to use Zoom and Socio’s event app, they had to translate their content, power panels, and speaker sessions to a virtual format. They also had to coordinate several live streams, build a new run-of-show, and orchestrate how it would all come together on the backend.
  • Ensure app utilization: With the app becoming the hub for all of their content, speaker profiles, and session information, it was imperative that every attendee could utilize the app. BRFW needed a creative solution to make it seamless for attendees to download and use the app.
  • Engage, educate, and amaze their attendees — virtually: Their carefully crafted content was the reason attendees signed up in the first place, so they had to nail it. That meant finding engaging ways to bring top-notch content to their audiences.
  • Showcase sponsors: Having already secured several sponsors, the challenge became figuring out how to promote them in a virtual environment. Sponsors have to see a return on their investment, and not being able to connect in person posed some unique challenges to the BRFW team.

Solutions for Pivoting to Virtual

Deculus and Aderibigbe got right to work on their virtual pivot, and fortunately had a team of 14 key people to execute their virtual solutions.

1. Make the event app the central communication hub of BRFW 2020

They started by mapping out how everything would run on the backend. There were a lot of moving parts to coordinate and new skills to learn, and they all had to work in concert — flawlessly. 

“We started to build it out and were kind of seeing, ‘Okay, what are the capabilities?’” Aderibigbe says. “And the more we played with it, the more we were like, ‘Okay, we can literally do the same things we’re already doing. Just make it virtual.’”

They not only had to sync all of their content with the app, they had to link multiple Zoom live stream links with the sessions, and coordinate who would run the event behind the scenes. Aderibigbe says running a virtual event is similar to a live awards show: You need an emcee, somebody to introduce each speaker or session, and somebody to take presenters in and out of virtual sessions.

“We had a run-of-show where at each minute everybody knew what they were supposed to do,” Aderibigbe says.

The app ultimately became the hub of their virtual event, where attendees could access all of the agenda and session information, find live streaming links, network with other attendees, browse sponsor profiles, post selfies on the wall, and much more.

2. Utilize the event kick-off party to acclimate attendees with the app

The night before the conference kicked off, the BRFW team held a virtual happy hour and invited all attendees to join a live stream. But this wasn’t a normal happy hour: Attendees were asked to dress to impress, and of course, bring a glass of wine.

They used the opportunity to explain how everything would be run out of the app. They helped the attendees sign up and then invited them to post a selfie in the app’s social feed as a way to introduce themselves to the other women (and get familiar with the app). 

The good thing about it is that it wasn’t an option. If you wanted access to the event, you had to download the app because there was no other place where you were going to get the link. With this, the app was actually the event. The app was the virtual event space.

Gabrielle Deculus, Business Rules for Women CEO

Not only was it a creative way to encourage in-app engagement, it added an element that’s lacking from most virtual events — getting dressed up. Anything that can help recreate the live experience is critical for virtual events.

3. Convert content to a virtual format and deliver an amazing attendee experience

In total, BRFW 2020 featured 30 speakers, six power panels, and eight interactive workshops. They structured the flow so the more in-depth sessions occurred during the morning, and scheduled the lighter content in the afternoon. For the transition periods between speakers and sessions, (which can get awkward in a virtual setting) they ran commercials.

“It’s always about who’s engaging with what we’re creating, and how do we make it so much more valuable and enjoyable for them,” Deculus says. “So, that’s how all of our cool features came together.”

In addition to their panels and speakers, BRFW came up with some truly innovative ways for their attendees and target audience to experience BRFW 2020.

Custom agendas: Allowing attendees to curate their own agendas plays a big part in creating an event experience. The BRFW app took full advantage of Socio’s “My Agenda” feature, which lets attendees build their personal agendas by track, or handpick the sessions and speakers they find most intriguing.

Virtual commercials: They used the commercial breaks to preview upcoming speakers and sessions, provide real-time conference updates, and sometimes just to play music. It gave the BRFW team a much needed buffer while they worked behind the scenes.

Virtual workbook: This app feature housed all the event collateral, with downloadable session information, worksheets, and other relevant handouts. Having all conference materials centrally located ensured attendees had access to everything they needed.

Virtual therapist: In one of the more unique features, attendees could schedule a one-on-one appointment with a virtual therapist. Using the Calendly integration, attendees could view open appointments, and schedule a same-day virtual appointment.

Virtual financial coach: Similar to the virtual therapist, attendees could schedule appointments with a financial coach. As business leaders and entrepreneurs, being able to book time with a financial coach was highly relevant.

4. Maximize Sponsor Visibility

The app offered endless possibilities for promoting their sponsors, and BRFW took the ingenuity to the next level. 

“There’s so much visibility that we can do for vendors, and so many things that we probably wouldn’t have even been able to do in real life,” Aderibigbe says. “We were able to use the banners. We were able to use integrations as far as linking speakers to their products, linking speakers to workshops. There’s just so many ways to link things to make that customer journey easy.”

Some of BRFW’s virtual sponsorship solutions included:

Virtual marketplace: You can’t have an event without vendors, and you definitely need swag. BRFW got creative and added a virtual marketplace where vendors could give live product demos — just like the QVC home shopping network. Attendees could tune in at any point during the event and interact face to face with vendors. To keep the excitement going all day, they promoted hourly giveaways.

The BRFW team made sure to set up all of their sponsor profiles in the app and link them to the virtual marketplace. They also offered a virtual swag bag with promo codes for special offers from each vendor. 

Commercial breaks: They didn’t just use their commercial breaks to promote upcoming sessions, the BRFW team used the transition moments to allow sponsors to pitch their products, or show promotional videos — just like on television.

 “The commercials helped because we had a whole other area for e-commerce that people could go to,” Aderibigbe says.

This was an innovative solution as many event organizers are searching for virtual sponsorship solutions. 

Virtual trainer: The BRFW team had a personal trainer reach out about sponsoring their event. Rather than simply adding the trainer’s logo to a banner ad or session, they invited the trainer to lead a group workout one morning.

“We had about 80 people show up for the workout, and that’s before the first session started,” Aderibigbe says.

Banner ads and sponsored panels: The BRFW team took full advantage of the event app’s sponsorship capabilities, utilizing branded banner ads, a splash screen, and icons. Additionally, they added sponsor branding to their live streams and presentations. 

One of their top sponsors was promoted in the app via a dedicated icon in the menu. Talk about premium placement!

Growing BRFW brand awareness: As marketers and event designers, Deculus and Aderibigbe understand the power of growing their brand identity. That meant their event app had to reflect their brand. But time was running out.

Behind the scenes, Socio was piloting a new program called Orange Glove, a type of premium support where Socio’s service team helps with executing a virtual event. Socio’s Orange Glove team stepped in and created some custom icons and a beautifully designed app layout with all the bells and whistles. 

The Proof is in the Results

The event wrapped April 4, and the BRFW team thinks it was nothing short of a tremendous success. 

“The moment that you step back and you realize how much time is necessary to put together a virtual experience, I think that’s when people really start to appreciate the creativity and the innovation happening right now,” Deculus says.

After the glowing attendee reviews, the best part was the tremendous business success BRFW achieved.

Take a look at these stats:

BRFW exceeded their attendance goal of 100 registrants —163 people actually attended, and every single attendee downloaded the app. 

Some events struggle more than others with app adoption, but BRFW knew it was crucial, and were proactive about getting their attendees to join. The virtual happy hour was a creative idea and ensured everybody was comfortable using the app in time for the main event.

With 163 active attendees, that’s an average of eight new connections per attendee. And since the BRFW is a tight-knit community of women entrepreneurs, each connection proved highly valuable.

“People were like, ‘I talked to more people today at this event than I’ve done at the last several happy hour events or conferences I went to in person,’” Deculus says.

More than 60% of attendees used the in-app feature to map out their personal event experiences. It’s also a testament to the ingenuity and planning the team put into crafting their content. 

After the dust settled and the BRFW team had time to catch their breaths, they started pouring over their attendee and vendor feedback. Deculus sent out a survey using the app’s push notification feature to collect their responses.

“The feedback that we received in the survey was really kind of mind blowing,” Deculus says. “Even during the event, people were just really excited about being connected.”

Two of the survey results really stood out:

  • “Would you attend another BRFW virtual event in the future?” 100% of attendees said yes! 
  • “Were you able to connect with other attendees to network through the Socio app?”  93% said yes!

Take a look at some of the qualitative feedback:

  • “The conference is one of the best I’ve ever attended.”
  • “The standard for virtual conferences has been set! The app was great and the content I consumed was what I was looking for!”
  • “Even though I was sad about the event not being physical, ya’ll made the virtual event so intimate and intentional.”

What’s most impressive is how the BRFW team made the transition to virtual in a matter of weeks, all while the event community was searching for answers. Overall, they estimate their team spent a combined 200 hours planning their virtual conference. But it was truly worth it. 

“I would imagine that these events are going to vary depending on who your audience is and what’s happening in the world,” Deculus says. “But I really think that people loved it, we loved it. We had a great time utilizing these tools to get it done.”