Mara H-W

Chief Growth Officer, Tessitura

Five tips for building engagement with virtual experiences


5 min

Zoom fatigue has hit.

We’ve been physically distancing for months on end. And yet, in many places, virtual experiences are still the primary way that cultural organizations can connect with their audiences.

Against this backdrop, it can feel challenging to deliver quality virtual experiences while continuing to build customer engagement. But it’s possible! Your mission is still the same, even if the way you’re fulfilling it looks different. These five tips will help you leverage your existing tools and experience to stay grounded in your organization’s unique mission and keep your customer relationships strong.

1. Be intentional about mapping the customer journey

Before the pandemic, organizations were successfully engaging audiences by intentionally mapping out the path from unknown to participant to supporter. That process will serve you just as well today. A customer engagement roadmap is a powerful tool for bringing your CRM strategy to life: the framework helps you define the specific interactions and goals for each customer and customer segment.

Diagram showing a progression from Unknown to Known to Transaction to Philanthropy

Virtual experiences might feel new, but they are just as much a part of your customer engagement roadmap. Envision how you want these audiences to engage over time, and build that into your customer journey planning. How you will connect with different segments before and after a virtual experience?

Keep in mind that you may have a whole new long-distance audience, since virtual programming can be accessed from anywhere. How will you engage your new far-flung audiences differently from your local audiences? Intention is the key to success.

2. Create experiences that engage your participants in new ways

We all know first-hand that engaging on screen has a different quality from engaging in real life. As you are planning your virtual experiences, think creatively about how you can engage the participants in new ways. Can you incorporate social interaction? Have you built in learning opportunities? Can you send them something physical they can have at home to enrich the experience?

Stratford Festival chose to deliver their mission digitally through Stratfest@Home, a program that champions the art of storytelling and celebrates the craft of theater-making. Their Early Modern Cooking Show demonstrates the preparation of famous Shakespearean dishes, complete with recipe downloads for participants to tackle in their own kitchens.

Screenshot showing two yellowed pages, one a recipe for Cremini & Goat Cheese Stuffed Pork Loin and the other a recipe for Mince Butter Tart

3. Offer a familiar and flexible buying experience

Your customers already love you, even from a distance. They know your brand and are familiar with the buying experience. When you invite them to purchase virtual experiences, make sure the buying experience will feel familiar to them — in both the look of your brand and the ease of the transaction.

While the past year has taught all of us to expect the unexpected, it’s also created the expectation of increased adaptability. With that in mind, offer your customers as much flexibility as possible when purchasing virtual events. This can take several forms, from pay-what-you-wish pricing to the ability to apply funds from previously canceled events. For experiences that are time-specific and not on demand, make sure customers can let you know if their plans have changed.

Finally, expect new audiences who haven’t visited your venue in the past, and make sure your website purchase path is welcoming and clear for them as well as for your existing customers. There’s no such thing as overcommunicating when it comes to any technical requirements, time restrictions, and any other policies that might come as a surprise to either new or returning audiences.

The team at Celebrity Series of Boston created a comprehensive FAQ page for their website so virtual event participants can see how to view content, technical information, and troubleshooting tips.

Screenshot with the Celebrity Series logo at the topic. The heading Frequently Asked Questions is followed by a list of topics, the first one being Questions About Paid Streaming 

4. Build on virtual experiences

As you plan your virtual events, think about how you can extend the virtual connection during or after the event. Can you capture the excitement from an event and translate it into a donation? Can you offer hybrid events, where some audiences are virtual and others are in person?

State Theatre New Jersey made a simple $5 donation ask during their online trivia night. To their surprise, the average donation came in at around $23 — more than four times the ask amount.

The Houston Symphony is offering live performances in a hybrid format: in person, physically distanced with reduced capacity, with a livestream option for virtual audiences at home.

Screenshot reading 'Schubert's Death and the Maiden' - in-person and livestream tickets available  

5. Experiment, analyze, and iterate

The shift toward digital has pushed all of us to try new things. As you are planning your virtual experiences, define what success will look like for your specific programs and audiences. Then use that definition to map out the data points you’ll need to analyze your efforts.

Screenshot of a map overlaid with translucent dots of various sizes and colors. A popup reads: 06480, Portland, CT, USA -  Total ticket count 3, Total ticket value 54.

After each event, evaluate where you exceeded expectations and where you fell short. Then make some changes and try again. Over time, you’ll understand what works best for engaging your customers through the experiences you offer.

By keeping your audiences at the center of your planning, you can use virtual experiences to deepen engagement with your customers — and create new audiences — even from a distance.   


Top photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash


Business Strategy




Virtual Experiences

Mara H-W

Mara Hazzard-Wallingford

Chief Growth Officer

Mara Hazzard-Wallingford has over 20 years of leadership experience in technology, academia, and the arts.

She is responsible for communicating the Tessitura Network vision to our members and to the world at large, while ensuring the continued growth of our community.

Prior to joining Tessitura Network in 2013, Mara served as Director of the Yale University Tessitura Consortium; Director of Audience Services at Adrienne Arsht Center; Senior Consultant at JCA; and Manager of Subscriptions and Telemarketing at Boston Symphony Orchestra. Throughout her career, Mara has led teams and projects of all sizes with a focus on improving individual and organizational performance to accomplish strategic goals. She served as a Lecturer in Theater Management at Yale School of Drama from 2010 through 2014 and is sought after as a speaker at conferences and as a guest lecturer at arts administration programs. 

Mara holds graduate certificates in Marketing Strategy and Women in Leadership from Cornell University, an M.M. from New England Conservatory, and a B.Mus. from Boston University. She lives in Rochester, NY.