I started this crazy year by joining the Socio team in January. The in-person event business was booming and my first trip to meet with the team was amazing. By my second trip in early February, travelers at SFO were starting to give people the side eye, and god forbid you cough or sneeze.
Over the course of my career, I’ve produced enough events to know how difficult it can be to bring in attendees — even during the best of times. With people starting to get anxious, I could see that this was going to be an issue for the event industry, but at the time we didn’t see how big of an issue it would be.
When I suggested to my team that we needed to write about hybrid events, they looked at me like I was crazy. I was concerned. An event app at a live event makes perfect sense, but how did an app fit into a virtual event?
After working through many scenarios and taking a look at the platforms out there, we quickly realized that when it comes to virtual and hybrid events, the event tech actually IS the venue.
Live streams were never designed for events. They’re built for meetings and presentations. Live streams don’t exist before they switch “on” — and when they’re “off,” everything goes dark. The event only exists when your stream is live and on your event landing page. Neither is set up for engagement and networking.
THIS is where event tech is a must. It becomes your venue. It’s where your agenda, speaker profiles, attendee list, chat, polling, livestream and other event functions live.
There has been a lot of buzz around event tech as everyone has been moving their events online. Here are a few tips on how to best leverage event tech before jumping in.
Start with your strategy
When we first think about virtual events, we start with what we know. It feels comfortable. Our go-to has been to try to fit the square peg in the round hole. Since virtual events will be the norm for the foreseeable future, it’s time we start rethinking how we approach events. Clean slate.
What are your goals? What would you like your attendees to gain from your event? How will you measure success? Is it attendee turnout? Engagement? Be sure to think about your metrics and how your tech stack will track everything you need. Data will become increasingly important and the metrics you have better be good, because your sponsors will ask.
Without the ability for sponsors to collect leads and serendipitously interact with attendees, your sponsors will be looking to you to prove the ROI of your virtual event, which will make the reporting of your metrics more important and valuable than for in-person events. Keep in mind that when we flip back to in-person events, the expectation for data and reporting isn’t likely to fade, so make sure the solutions you choose can pivot from virtual to in-person…and back again if need be.
A consideration when it comes to data is how to connect all your point solutions with one another. If your metrics are reliant on too many sources, fragmented data makes it difficult to pull everything together when the event is over. Thinking about this upfront will help guide your technology decision.
Once you have your strategy nailed, you can move on to event design. It’s time to rethink your event and how it needs to flow with our new normal and accomplish everything outlined in your strategy. What content needs to be delivered? What is the story line? How will you position your content to optimize for attendee engagement? Will your audience tune in to an all-day event? How will you engage your audience?
When you’re thinking about event flow and attendee experience, content is the center of gravity for events, which means that nailing the video streaming is very important. It has also been one of the biggest challenges we’ve seen in putting event tech stacks together. There are event nuances that the webcasting companies like Zoom don’t understand. In the next few months, we will see more event tech companies embracing streaming and designing it from the event organizer’s perspective. I think we will see better green room and speaker prep experiences.
When you think of the attendee experience and all the elements of event design that leverage technology, here’s what an ideal experience might look like:
Once attendees register, their information flows into the rest of the event platform where they can research panel discussions they find interesting, build their agenda, start introducing themselves to other attendees, and chat in the social walls. The apps should work on desktop and mobile to keep up with the new way of life and content consumption.
Push notifications are sent by the organizer and received on the attendee’s phone, letting them know a session is about to begin. The mobile device should be able to play the session or push it from the mobile device to the live stream. Once they’re in the live stream, it should be branded and all of the features available on the mobile platform should be mirrored and optimized for the desktop.
Keeping attendees in your event ecosystem will help avoid drop-off. To help keep people focused on your content, avoid sending people to too many other platforms. There’s a higher likelihood of drop-off once some exits a page or tab. To prevent this from happening, the live stream should convert to picture-in-picture while the attendee surfs your ecosystem to ask questions in the Q&A and polls, or check out the speaker profiles.
Once the live stream is over, speakers should stick around and invite everyone to connect with them in an AMA session. Content, questions, and conversations should be curated and available for attendees to revisit often.
By dissecting your content and attendee experience, you might want to keep people coming back for a weekly series that keeps engagement flowing between sessions, providing that frequent and consistent interaction brands need. Sponsors will love the repeated exposure and opportunity to authentically connect with their prospects.
You’ve gone to all the trouble to find and attract the right attendees and get them into your system. This is gold. With Google dropping cookies in April of 2022, if you haven’t already thought about how to attract your audience and keep them engaged, now is the time to do it.
Communities can easily be launched from a successful event, and some love from your marketing teams. The opportunity to create a venue for like-minded people to come, meet, and share ideas will become more and more valuable.
Once Google kills the cookie, if you play your cards right, you’ll control your own domain and significantly lower your cost of acquisition.
The ability to create a seamless experience for attendees, sponsors, speakers, exhibitors, and yourself is technology’s greatest advantage. So, keep in mind the following tips:
- Start with your strategy, move to event design and roadmap the journey for each of your stakeholders.
- Find point solutions that play well with others, or better yet — a single platform solution that plays well with others.
- Pick tech that will help you pivot to hybrid.
- Invest in the future of your events, not something that is good enough for now.