Let's Do This recently had a chat with Vanessa Cain-Tait, founder and CEO of Secret London Runs. Secret London Runs is an events company that focuses primarily on running tours, as opposed to races, and recently teamed up with Let's Do This to power their first virtual event - the Virtual Gin Run held on 2nd May. Previously, Secret London Runs had only ever offered physical events, virtual events being seen as 'off brand' due to Secret London's Run's heavy focus on exploring London's rich history. Despite this initial concern, the Virtual Gin Run proved itself to be a success, attracting not only long-term Secret London Run devotees but also plenty of new faces. Following the success of the Virtual Gin Run, Secret London Runs chose to launch another edition of the event - Virtual Gin Run World Gin Day Edition.

Expectations

The effects of COVID-19 on the events industry cannot be overstated. With races being cancelled through to - at the very earliest - July and the prospect of no physical events until potentially December, Vanessa chose to launch a virtual edition of her popular Secret Gin Run running tour. As was the case for the Social Distancing 6k, the main drivers for launching a Virtual Event were the need to generate revenue and to keep existing users engaged.

This isn't to say that there weren't concerns about launching a Virtual Event. Vanessa told us that she had some initial reservations about the product being off brand and was unsure how to market a Virtual Event. However, the Secret Gin Run proved to be a success, selling 162 tickets and generating over £2000 in revenue. The World Gin Day Edition generated over £4500 in revenue and sold 303 tickets.

Engagement Channels

Stacked bar chart of bookings by channel for the Virtual Gin Run
Fig. 1 Total number of bookings by channel for the Virtual Gin Run
Stacked bar graph of traffic by channel for the Virtual Gin Run
Fig 2. Traffic by channel over time for Virtual Gin Run

Fig. 1 shows that by far the large majority of booking traffic for the Virtual Gin Run came through social channels - i.e. Facebook, Instagram, and other social networking sites - with the next largest being organic searches. Vanessa told Let's Do This that by far the most effective channels she used to promote the event were the Secret London Run Facebook page and their mailing list. Fig. 2 also demonstrates the effectiveness of social channels, with the majority of traffic coming through social channels followed by direct email traffic. The domination of traffic via social channels is consistent throughout the weeks leading up to the Virtual Gin Run.

Fig. 3 Bookings by channel for the Virtual Gin Run World Gin Day Edition

Moreover, for the Secret Gin Run, World Gin Day Edition, Secret London Runs also made use of paid Facebook adverts targeting potential users. This was also highly effective, as is shown in Fig. 3, with referral traffic taking the lion's share of booking traffic on the event. Social sharing was the next highest booking channel, followed by email.

With a lack of face-to-face interaction owing to the ongoing viral pandemic social media is being used more than ever to facilitate connection between different households. As well as notifying their mailing list, Secret London Runs made highly effective use of their social media channels to promote the Virtual Gin Run - as is evidenced by the domination of traffic from social channels seen in Fig. 1, Fig. 2. and Fig. 3.

Timing

blue bar chart of booking volume by week for the Virtual Gin Run
Fig. 4 Bookings for the Virtual Gin Run by week.
linear chart with blue shading showing changes in booking volume by day
Fig. 5 Bookings for the Virtual Gin Run by day April 24th - May 2nd.

Fig. 4 demonstrates that from the week commencing 20th April to the week commencing 27th April there was a 122% increase in the number of bookings made for the Virtual Gin Run, Fig. 5 showing that bookings created peaked on the day before the event (1st May), with another peak on 28th April. A sense of immediacy and urgency is a major driver in the booking of virtual events, with events that launch 1-2 weeks before the event date - like the Virtual Gin Run - faring much better than counterparts with longer registration windows. Unlike with physical events, with Virtual Events there is much more of a desire for immediate gratification and a sense of immediacy - something which is reflected in both the booking and traffic data for the Virtual Gin Run.

This is also seen in the World Gin Day Edition event, with bookings peaking on June 12th - the day before the event - and the heaviest tracking and largest booking numbers happening on the week of the event itself. Tying the Virtual Event to an international celebration of gin was also an effective way of driving traffic and bookings.

Vanessa also highlighted the importance of the more compact time frame, noting that it added a sense of urgency to the virtual event which was motivation to head out and run further and faster than you would otherwise on a training run.

Coming Together, Whilst Remaining Apart

finishers' gallery for the Virtual Gin Run, women in athletic wear posing with glasses of gin and tonic.
Fig. 6 A selection of finishers' photos from our virtual finish line gallery for the Virtual Gin Run.

All virtual events powered by Let's Do This feature a gallery of finishers' photos (Fig. 6) - the Virtual Gin Run features 132 individual finishers' photos uploaded by participants in its gallery. Feedback from users and event organisers alike has shown that the ability to post finishers' times and photos was a distinct draw for participants. Whilst races are being run separately, the ability to share times and photos fosters a greater sense of participation, community, and connectedness in what has otherwise been a period of history characterised by isolation.

It may come as no surprise to those already familiar with Secret London Runs that they have a great community of die-hard fans and a thriving presence on social media.  However, Vanessa told us that only 20%-30% of sign-ups to the events came from existing Secret London Runs fans, in fact most of the participants were totally new faces. The community aspect of our finish line photo gallery was not lost on them, though. Users are able to high-five one another and comment on finishers' photos - Vanessa herself gave out 21 high-fives - and 95% of finishers chose to submit a photo to the gallery. Vanessa also said that several new users have expressed interest in coming to London once lockdown restrictions have been lifted in order to participate in one of Secret London Runs' physical events and private 1-on-1 guided tours, and that it was also a great way to keep previous participants living outside of London engaged.

For the World Gin Day Edition event there was also an added finish line challenge which asked participants to collectively drink at least one gin from all 70 gin-producing countries. Collective challenges like this are a great way to foster a sense of community collectivity and encourage interaction to really emphasise that finish-line feeling. Moreover, this event also featured a donation option for small charity Freedom From Fistula; as smaller charities have been disproportionately affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Virtual Events have become a valuable fundraising opportunity to make up for the fall in donations generated by Physical Events.

Fig. 7 A selection of the Virtual Gin Run's fastest finishers' times

Virtual events also feature participants of all abilities. Finishers' photos display verified race times and are ranked in order of time of submission (i.e. newest photos appear first), however these times can also be ranked in order to create a leaderboard (Fig. 7). These times van further be sorted by both age category and time, allowing hardcore runners to pit themselves against the rest of the pack - which has the potential to be global. However, the no-pressure nature of the finish line - the lack of an automatic ranking from fastest to slowest - was, in Vanessa's opinion, one of the major drivers for the creation of a sense of community amongst the Virtual Gin Run participants.

Race Swag and Prizes

Unlike US events which have a more heavy focus on race swag in the form of clothing, the Virtual Gin Run included a more cerebral form of race swag: a virtual tour of London's gin-related history courtesy of Vanessa.

Despite initial concerns about a virtual event perhaps being off-brand for a company based primarily around running tours, the ability to offer virtual guided tours to participants keeps the message and branding of Secret London Runs alive.

Moreover, as well as bespoke gin bottle shaped finishers' medals for participants and guided tours, the top three finishers' photos were awarded gin-related prizes. This included tickets to existing Secret London Runs physical events, as well as a bottle of City of London Distillery gin. The Virtual Gin Run's finishers' gallery showcases the awesome creativity of the Secret London Runs community, with some incredible creations in the pursuit of first place.

The Bottom Line

Virtual events provide a lifeline for event organizers whilst physical events have been temporarily been put on hold. They allow organizers to continue generating revenue by producing high-quality virtual experiences for their users. The Virtual Gin Run is an excellent example of the successful conversion of a physical event into a virtual event; marrying the creativity and community connection of Secret London Runs with the streamlined user experience of a Let's Do This event page.

Our team is passionate not only about connecting people through sports but also supporting event organizers in these tough times. Tired of the traditional, often laborious, virtual events experience, we reimagined the entire experience by making it more dynamic, more engaging, and bringing some of the best parts of real life events online.

To learn more about powering a Virtual Event or series with Let's Do This, get in touch here and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.