Originally Published: 3/8/20
Updated On: 3/16/20

With year-over-year 2020 revenue projections for media companies flat or slightly increased — the unanticipated impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) has already had a massive impact on the event industry, and is surely the main topic at quarterly board meetings across the globe.

Take coronavirus out of the equation for a moment: There are natural disasters and other freaky things that force event cancellations. Your team works for the better part of a year planning, selling sponsorships, gathering speakers, and marketing for attendees. With so much investment and revenue at stake, there’s far too much to completely walk away from.

In some ways, business mirrors biology. As Darwin surmised, those who survive “are not the strongest or the most intelligent, but the most adaptable to change.”

Smart event organizers will see an opportunity to not only keep their event assets alive in 2020, but understand that a fundamental shift can help their business thrive in the future. Building a solid event contingency plan into all events moving forward can lead to stronger audiences with more reach, and additional sponsorship opportunities.

Rather than cancel, let’s go virtual and get creative. 

What if my event is in or near a region impacted by COVID-19?

In many cases, the decision on whether to cancel your live event or not will be made easy by government travel restrictions, and in some cases, governments prohibiting events over a certain size. The Swiss government banned large-scale events — those that expected more than 1,000 attendees. 

Your decision might have been made for you, but what should you do about the lost revenue from sponsorships and attendee registration?

Sure, you can push to 2021, but hosting two events will likely reduce sponsorship and attendance numbers at each — not to mention impact the stress level of your staff.

And what about 2020? Are you ready to completely walk away from both the financial loss and the opportunity to engage with your audience?

Rather than canceling altogether, what if you could leverage what you already have planned in a retooled version of the event?

How? Leverage your event app, which attendees already know and love, as a virtual branded event hub. 

Here are 8 things to consider as a part of your event contingency plans while maintaining a unified attendee experience no matter what.

1. Take Advantage of Your Current Speaker Lineup

Your speakers and attendees have already cleared their schedules for your event. Make some tweaks by keeping the best panels and transition them to a series of webinars. If possible, keep them in the same time slots and use the same speakers and presentations you were planning on anyway.

2. Use Your Event App to Give the Next Best Thing to the IRL Experience

By keeping the existing event app, the attendee experience will feel a little more like it would IRL, specifically by including some of what would be exhibited at the live event. They can network with others, post on social, and continue to be engaged. It’s also a great way to mask all of the other tech and tools needed to make the transition to online a positive experience.

3. Leverage Distribution Capabilities In Your Event Communications Plan

One of the many benefits of event tech like apps is that you can send push notifications to attendee mobile devices to keep everyone up to date. 

Leading up to and during the event, you can drive attendees who’ve registered to attend digital sessions. During the event, keep everyone engaged and moving from session to session seamlessly and in real-time. You can also segment notifications to different audience groups, which opens up opportunities to get more creative with your content and sponsor messages. 

4. Seamlessly Transition Between Digital Sessions on Desktop and Mobile

Add links to your webinars or event streaming services where ever your agenda already exists. For instance: it’s easy to link each session’s digital asset (webinar or live stream) to the existing agenda in your event app. Another easy hack: rather than setting up a separate landing page, most event apps have a web browser version where attendees can access their live links from their computers, making streaming more comfortable. The pages are already formatted and will auto-render to the device, which means you don’t have to create new web pages for the digital elements you include.

Note: You’ll still want to push people to apps to collect data and attendee sign-ins.

5. Use Audience Polling and Live Q&A’s

Dig deeper into the tech you have and take advantage of elements you would have utilized in person, like audience polling and a live feed of streaming comments that can be shown between sessions using a tool like live display. To make sure there’s perceived action, have your content or editorial teams actively populate the live stream with the key takeaways as the panels progress.

6. Upgrade Sponsor Visibility

Adding sponsor logos and links back to their websites help add value and salvage revenue. Set up branded splash pages for sponsors (whenever attendees open emails, websites and apps), display sponsor banners with custom links from the site and app home pages, and add sponsor logos to specific panel discussions within all applicable pages. You can also allow sponsored push notifications through mobile app announcing new sessions – not so many that you loose the ability to push people to your digital events. 

7. Drive Digital Attendee Engagement with Gamification

Gamification is another option to drive engagement and event revenue. Similar to the well-known “passport sponsorship,” gamification features can boost engagement and incentivize attendees to attend all of your digital sessions.

Looking for a gamification idea? Place sponsored Easter eggs in each presentation with the announcement, “For those of you playing along, the code for this section is “THIS SPONSOR ROCKS.” Offer free admission to next year’s live event or some other fun give-away to the attendees who collect all the codes. (Some apps will have this feature baked in)

8. Post-Event Follow-up

After the event, keep the conversation going!! Reach out and encourage continued engagement over email and in your mobile apps. Thank attendees for sticking with your brand during some uncertain times. Send post-event surveys to gather input on how the event went, giving you valuable feedback for future digital or hybrid events. And, of course, leverage a discount code to invite them to register for the next event.

Bottom Line: We’re Here to Help

No matter how your events are impacted by COVID-19, we’re here to help. As Julius Solaris put in a recent EventMB article, “Be strong, keep calm and make people meet.”

We’d love to hear your ideas on how you are transitioning events, keeping things alive in 2020, and any success stories, so please give us a shout.

IMPORTANT: If you are a Socio customer and your event has been affected or is threatened by COVID-19, we want to help! Please reach out to your customer success manager to discuss any questions, concerns, or to set up a brainstorming session.