Ongoing ‘365 engagement’ is on the horizon, according to event tech providers, but they have yet to form a clear picture of just what it will look like. Community building through virtual events will be key, but how should you fold that into ongoing engagement?
Virtual event tech has introduced a number of new vehicles for events and content, from public video broadcasts to private product demos to be consumed from the comfort of your couch.
While some of these developments have left many event planners nonplussed, tech providers across the board (predictably) report encouraging engagement metrics that are likely to win the favor of event and marketing stakeholders. And the pressure to explore these formats will only increase as the tech gets better.
In the first installment of this series on 365 engagement, several tech providers shed light on the market drivers pushing virtual events toward more ongoing digital engagement — the latest shift in a trend of increasingly blurred lines between events and marketing departments.
This post will help to disambiguate what that shift will look like in practical terms, whether that's more frequent events or more ongoing community management akin to social media management.
How Will Community Engagement Work?
Within the 365 context, engagement will likely be very different from the types of interactions planners are used to facilitating. It will be characterized by multiple scalable, low-stakes touchpoints and high-value, niche networking experiences.
"You can run your big annual user conference, then follow up around a particular product launch next month, then have a partner summit the month after, and so on," explains Bob Vaez, CEO of EventMobi. "You can continue to engage these customers via different formats, whether in-person or virtual, but they can all happen on the same platform."
Julius Solaris, head of engagement at Swapcard, describes the concept as a hub for brand engagement: "The virtual platform will be one-stop-shop where you log into one place [to find] an event-driven community and an activity feed as you would have on Facebook or Twitter, as well as individual events that you can attend." Solaris adds that these platforms will also eventually allow eventprofs to host Clubhouse-like activations or Facebook Watch-style events, which will all be owned by the event organizer.
How Does That Add Value?
But given the existence of these popular social media platforms, will users find value in joining a separate, event-related community? What is the advantage of moving everyone to a virtual event platform rather than meeting them on already-ubiquitous platforms they already use, and is that too big an ask of the audience?
"An event is very purposeful — it has an agenda, expert speakers, a curated list of attendees, and overall goals," says Patrick Smith, chief marketing officer at Cvent. "Having a place on social media to hang out and talk generically is one thing, but it doesn’t replace the need to discuss things in-depth and have curated sessions and targeted conversations with like-minded experts, which is what an event does extremely well."
Aventri CEO Jim Sharpe similarly believes that, "the weak spot in social media interactivity right now is professional networking," and that community engagement platforms have an opportunity to provide value in this area. "It doesn't have to be that complicated, you just have to leverage specific tools." These include matchmaking engines, chat and video chat functionalities, and features like shared drives for collaborative projects with other people. Ultimately, the features that currently exist within a Facebook Group-like environment but in an environment moderated and cultivated by the event organizer.
Solaris adds that there is a growing trend of brands being able to own their own content and community, rather than hosting it on a network like Facebook. As he puts it, "You own your audience and you decide what goes on within the community with clear avenues for monetization." Moreover, hosting everything within the event platform means that organizations will have total control over security and privacy.
Rethinking Vehicles for Event Branded Content
Much of the ongoing nature of 365 community engagement will be thanks to content made available on-demand on the event platform. The virtual event platform will act as a hub for the community and for all of the content that's been created and curated within — not just for a single event, but on an ongoing basis.
"Virtual events allow you to turn your entire event ecosystem into a library of content that is easily accessible, editable, and transmittable to an international audience — and it can be leveraged in any way you see fit, before, during, and after the event."
- Jim Sharpe, CEO, Aventri
This shift will require not only building out on-demand content libraries, but reconceiving the way event content is designed to be more format-centric. Finding ways to make that content appealing and digestible to users who may be consuming it long after the event may require a deferral to existing paradigms in digital content.
One way this may be done, Sharpe suggests, is by editing down content, sharing short clips, and tagging different micro-communities by interest, which AI may eventually facilitate.
MeetingPlay Founder Joe Schwinger similarly describes a feature wherein attendees can react to virtual event sessions by clapping, and if more than a certain percentage clap during a specific part, it becomes a ‘hotspot’ within the session. This hotspot can then be made into an on-demand video or clip. (Realistically, this should probably be implemented everywhere as a general engagement-tracking mechanism.)
Solaris adds that on-demand content may be the key to monetizing these communities by allowing for subscription models and different tiers of access. For example, certain events may be subscriber-only experiences, while others may be one-off events that are open to anyone. This content will then feed off itself and keep people within the community, "instead of sending them to YouTube where they may click on a related video from your competitor."
While 365 engagement will likely happen on the same virtual event platforms planners are currently learning to use, the mechanisms for successful engagement and revenue generation will likely evolve on par with the consumption of on-demand content.
Of course, the viability of the concept will in some sense depend on how successfully event tech providers can demonstrate the value before a return to normalcy is well underway. But should the trend continue the way event tech providers are predicting, those planners who follow the development will have a leg up on those who don’t. More on how this shift will affect the role of event planners in Part 3 in this series on 365 engagement, coming soon.