Almost a year flew by since the COVID pandemic decimated in-person events across the globe. From the early days of powering virtual events with meeting software to producing complex, TV-quality virtual experiences, the event community responded with tremendous resiliency and innovation.

On February 16, 2021, Socio CEO and Co-founder, Yarkin Sakucoglu, joined Julius Solaris, EventMB Editor-in-Chief, for “The Future of the Event Industry: 2021 Outlook,” to talk about Socio’s virtual pivot, key learnings of 2020, and the event outlook for 2021 and beyond.

Key 2020 pivots drive strong results

Solaris kicked off the discussion by asking Sakucoglu to reflect on 2020, where Socio became an early trailblazer in the 2020 pivot to virtual event technology. Sakucoglu explained how his executive team spent the early part of the pandemic listening to customer concerns, and used the insights to shape Socio’s 2020 product development roadmap.

“Our customers really needed us to be the platform and the top leaders to help them in that pivot,” he said. “And we realized the opportunity to be the platform that’s leading the change, and our teams have been working tirelessly to make that happen.” 

Sakucoglu mentioned how COVID greatly accelerated Socio’s planned transition from a mobile event app to a comprehensive, end-to-end event management platform. In 2020, Socio launched three new products — Virtual Event Suite, Socio Registration, and Socio Communities — and released 66 new features, including a native streaming solution, real-time data and metrics dashboard, and session-specific engagement features. 

Sakucoglu noted other 2020 achievements, such as becoming the No. 1 event management platform on G2 based on user satisfaction ratings, adding over 600 new customers, launching Socio’s Professional Services Team, 3X-ing annual recurring revenue, and doubling headcount across the company’s U.S. and EMEA offices (and without laying off any employees).

“We don’t intend to slow down,” Sakucoglu said. “Our goal is to continue to be a great partner for our customers and the industry moving forward.” 

Virtual remains dominant, with hybrid growing by the day

As the conversation shifted to the near-future state of the industry, Solaris asked Sakucoglu specifically when the event community would feel comfortable meeting in person, even if only as a component of a hybrid event. Sakucoglu said demand — at least for Socio customers — still leans heavily toward virtual events, but customers are increasingly booking hybrid events.

“We already have hybrid events in our system that are happening in February,” he said. “And it’s exponentially growing month over month from this point on. Even the number of in-person events are growing in the system.” 

Sakucoglu said customer surveys show demand continues to be virtual-centric until Q3 or Q4 of 2021. 

“That pretty much reflects what we just discussed at the very beginning of the event,” Solaris said. “We showed some of the data pointing at Q3, Q4, and the first part of 2022 as what the industry is betting on. Because honestly, it feels like we’re betting on stuff these days, that we don’t have a lot of certainty.”

Hybrid events: An unexplored frontier

Sakucoglu and Solaris discussed how the industry is a buzz with “hybrid-ready solutions,” when in reality, most event organizers, sponsors, and even event technology vendors have only just begun to understand the complexities and nuances of merging virtual and in-person audiences.

“I think we, as an industry, have to understand that hybrid isn’t just in-person plus virtual,” Sakucoglu said. “We have to accept that there are some fundamental unknowns with how hybrid events are actually going to work, and work efficiently, right? It can’t just work, it has to work efficiently as well.”

Sakucoglu stressed that event technology vendors need to understand hybrid is an evolving process, and there’s no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all solution.

“Different kinds of hybrid events will require very different tools, budgets, and skills,” Sakucoglu explained. 

In the face of uncertainty, Sakucoglu said Socio’s focus remains on building a future-proof event management solution, noting that Socio’s product team ensures every new virtual feature also works for in-person events.

“We have invested very heavily into the pivot to virtual and our virtual offerings, but we actually never stopped building more on top of our in-person offerings, as well as creating more features that will enable a hybrid future,” he said.

Meaningful networking, better sponsor insights fuel 2021 development

Circling back to Socio’s product roadmap, Solaris asked about planned releases for 2021 and beyond.

“Next month, we’re launching our clubhouse-like, topic-based networking rooms,” Sakucoglu said. “They’re audio plus video, not just audio. The goal is to really help our customers create more engaging, and more importantly, relevant networking opportunities for their attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors.”

He said many event organizers rely on matchmaking software to foster meaningful connections, but the effort often falls short.

“The random matches or matchmaking works fine, but we really want people to gather around the topic they’re interested in. That’s going to be a game changer.”

In addition to upgrading their networking offerings, Sakucoglu announced an upcoming release that will help sponsors better understand their ROI for virtual, hybrid, and in-person events.

“I’m actually excited to share for the first time publicly that we’re developing a whole personalization engine that will allow sponsors and exhibitors to run personalized, micro-targeted and account-based campaigns with video ads, banners, and more to reach the right audience within your event,” he said.

Looking to a hybrid event future

While the event community is jumping at the bit to return to in-person events, Solaris and Sakucoglu agreed that some components of virtual events, such as greater audience reach and inclusivity, will stick around long after people feel comfortable meeting face to face.

“I don’t think virtual is going anywhere,” Sakucoglu said. “It’s a very powerful tool that’s now in the toolbox. And I think we should flex that muscle whenever it’s the right time, the right place and the right fit. But I think we all agree it didn’t perfectly replace in-person events. So, I’m hoping for a future where we can get the best of both worlds with a hybrid approach.”

Sakucoglu ended the conversation by sharing his thoughts on the future of the event industry.

“What I am very excited about in 2021 and beyond, is being able to measure an optimized event ROI,” he said. “I think as organizers and marketers, we have to be ready to answer the magical question. What’s the ROI of this event, what’s the ROI on this budget? And to do that, we have to become more data-driven. We have to measure everything and optimize everything. 

“And I say this internally to the Socio team all the time: Events can, should, and will be as measurable, optimizable, and repeatable as the rest of the marketing technology stack.”

A best-in-class solution for virtual, hybrid, and in-person events

Socio’s end-to-end event management platform seamlessly pivots between virtual, hybrid, and in-person events, so you can rest assured you’ll have the right tools to hit your event goals — no matter what the future brings.

Interested in learning more about how Socio can power your event success? Reach out to take a tour.