Community-First is the Key to Successful Virtual Events
For much of my career, I have worked for B2B event organizers and publishers in a variety of industries from spa and beauty to software and event production. In almost every organization post-2009, an Events-First strategy was one we were encouraged to embrace. I witnessed the decline of print publications, shifts to digital content and inclusion of webinars and podcasts to product mixes. I loved watching the surge of events, large and small. I participated in senior strategic planning sessions and events with investors who encouraged companies to lose their print magazines and pivot to an Events-First mentality.
The upside is that there are a ton of industries who rely heavily on the events within their niches for networking, education, recognition and commerce. The events themselves are widely recognized within their industries and hold serious clout. The downside is that when organizations, who are now scrambling to digitize previously scheduled events, do so from that Events-First mentality.
As such, I would encourage all of us to think about our events from a Community-First mindset. That means that education and networking should be the key pillars of your event with event design and experience taking priority. Your virtual events should still be the place where relationships are forged and renewed, and learnings elevated. The community should dictate the tone, voice(es) and the desired outcome for the gathering. This is a small shift in thinking however, one that could pay off in dividends.
For those events that rely heavily on exhibit hall revenue, the key to pivoting will be smart one-to-one and one-to-a-few meetings and lead generation. Many virtual platforms are getting better at delivering just that. Also, imagine a platform that simultaneously meets the needs of e-commerce for attendees who must purchase product and also allows for suppliers and manufactures (exhibitors) to upload existing product catalogs directly into the system? What if event organizations could take a small percentage of the transaction? These virtual events just became that holy grail 365-day presence I have so often heard events-industry executives hoping to achieve.
I would also encourage in our immediate, virtual-only timeframe that organizations shift expenses that were allocated to food and beverage to hiring experience designers and community wranglers, marketers and production persons who can create that cohesive visual and professional experience. John Krasinski has done an awesome job with his SGN (Some Good News) series from his home but, let us also acknowledge he is utilizing colleagues for key editing and production as well. If you haven't yet watched his, Corona-virus, lock-in web series, you'll find it here. We can all learn from his authentic and humorous content delivery.
Virtual events are here to stay. For the short-term, they will be the exclusive and in the long-term, a required add-on to augment our live events. This is a great thing! This added reach creates new opportunity and needed innovation to elevate our contribution and events for the communities we serve.