As brands scramble to reimagine their events in the wake of cancellations resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, there is a resurgence of interest surrounding the virtual event space—one that looks a whole lot different than it did 10 years ago.
Live broadcasts and on-demand content are ubiquitous in the industry today. But despite the advances in technology, from live streaming and social-casting to next-gen webinar tools and video conferencing, the concept of taking an entire event community fully digital (and, potentially, on a tight deadline) is new territory. Enter: The age of the “distributed” event.
So, how do you pivot on a dime toward the event of the future? We tapped Brent Turner, SVP of strategy at Opus Agency, and Miriam Agrell, COO at Tencue, for tips and insights.
1. How much lead time do you have?
To develop your digital event plan, you first have to take into account how much time you have, Turner says. For marketers whose shows are two weeks out, for example, the conversation should be tactical and focus on engaging partners to broadcast keynotes and sessions, both as a backup and to accommodate attendees who are unable to travel.
For marketers whose shows are six weeks out or more, it’s time to think strategically about how to distribute content and develop rewarding networking and creative experiences in case of a cancellation. How will you evolve your marketing plans to meet your business goals?
2. The goals dictate the platform.
Next, establish your digital objective. What experience do you want to create? Is it a straight forward live stream? Do you want to facilitate two-way conversations? Do you want attendees to view the content from their desks or from their devices? Do you want to experiment with augmented reality? There are many platforms to choose from.
“The most important conversation we believe people should be having right now is what’s the story you still need to tell, how are we going to capture your audience’s attention, how are we going to use what we know about groups, and once we’ve had that conversation, then we can make a recommendation on the technology infrastructure to support it,” Turner says.
3. Consider leaning on local.
One of the obvious benefits of the in-person experience is a two-way dialogue, whether that is between attendees and experts, partners and prospects, or attendees and attendees. Anything, from an outbreak like Covid-19, or environmental pressures like flight shaming, could limit global travel in the future, so marketers need to think creatively about fostering human interaction.
“It could be as simple as a collection of geographically-based chatrooms where people watch a keynote from a ceo, and then the vp of that region could be in a chat space with their whole team to answer questions,” says Agrell. “All of this technology exists relatively off-the-shelf. There are a lot of opportunities for second-screen and localization.”
The goal of the distributed event is to offer more than “brand journalism,” as Turner puts it. Another way to think locally: road shows and micro events, like in-office viewing parties and meetups where local attendees can gather and experience one big event together.
“It’s thinking thoughtfully about how do we focus on community and tribe-building and create that feeling of togetherness, because at the end of the day, what’s going to make a great virtual event is education and community,” Turner says.
As Agrell puts it, “It’s the same things that make a great in-person event. How do we get smart and not overwhelm people, and how do we lean into what we already know?”
4. The message matters.
The most important piece in the process of going digital is communication and a smart marketing message.
Facebook, with its cancellation of F8 and move toward a distributed event format this year, communicated its message loud and clear: “We explored other ways to keep the in-person part of F8, but it’s important to us to host an inclusive event and it didn’t feel right to have F8 without our international developers in attendance,” the brand said in its statement. Facebook also described in detail how it will support the community of San Jose, where the event is held.
“In this time of uncertainty, brands showing up and supporting their community in this way builds a lot of brand loyalty,” Agrell says. “People are happy when they have the opportunity to both get the content and stay safe. To me, that’s a way to keep the connection strong—to support the attendees’ sense of well-being and underscore the strength of the community.”
This article originally appeared in Event Marketer, a magazine serving marketers and agency executives in the event and trade show industry.