While the success of virtual events might be to the dismay of many eventprofs, the format’s true potential has yet to be discovered. Tech providers are now looking past traditional place-and-date event limitations toward long-term, ongoing engagement.
The pandemic has significantly changed the way attendees engage with content, and while eventprofs are waiting with bated breath for the large-scale resumption of in-person events, there has been an undeniable shift in the industry that will continue to affect event programs moving forward.
This is particularly true of the corporate sector, where decision-makers within marketing departments value the robust data virtual events generate and will likely keep the format around on its own merits — not just as a replacement for in-person.
The principle merit in most cases is reach, and virtual event tech providers are now looking to leverage it to facilitate ongoing engagement. In some ways, it’s a question of applying the old marketing adage — ‘it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an old one’ — to events.
Having successfully attracted several times your normal audience to a virtual event, how do you keep the momentum going in an increasingly competitive market and retain their attention until the next one?
The solution is an event strategy that has become somewhat of an industry buzzword in 2021, after being touted unsuccessfully since the early days of event apps: 365 community engagement.
EventMB sat down with several providers to get their take on the market drivers for this shift, the potential forms this could take, and the impact on event planners. The result is a three-part series on 365 engagement; this first part will examine what 365 engagement is and why developers are banking on it.
What Is 365 Engagement?
The ultimate goal of 365 engagement is to continue to engage a community — whether it's customers, employees, association members, etc. — beyond a single event.
However, exactly how this will manifest remains a subject of some debate. Some of the providers EventMB spoke with see 365 engagement as a series of smaller, more frequent but still acute virtual events, while others conceive of it as being more of an ongoing content delivery strategy, like a social platform.
"Ultimately, what 365 engagement features look like for one organization may not make sense for another. It comes down to understanding where your audience is, what they want, and how you can enhance their experience."
- Patrick Smith, CMO, Cvent
Regardless of the precise definition, there are several components that tech providers agree will be key to ongoing engagement. At its core, this strategy is about community building, consolidating touchpoints, and extending opportunities for brand engagement. Event attendees will become more like users as they continue to engage online, outside the confines of specific event dates.
What's Behind the Shift to 365 Engagement?
The adoption of a 365 engagement strategy is in many ways a natural progression from the recent increase in virtual event programs.
"A certain percentage of previously live-only events will likely shift over to virtual-only platforms, and then there will be this massive universe of virtual-only events that didn't exist before, because people realize the scale of efficiency of those virtual events."
- Jim Sharpe, CEO, Aventri
This evolution is in part being motivated by the rapid improvement in virtual event tech in the past year alone. “In the past, the same technology being used for in-person events was being used to power online events,” notes Bob Vaez, CEO of EventMobi.
Now that virtual event tech platforms are beginning to compete with typical webinar tools, Vaez explains, the foundations are being laid for a single space for event and ongoing engagement. But having a single digital hub for interacting with your audience shouldn’t be confused with a narrowing of options. The multiple ways to consume digital content means the opposite is pretty much the case.
As Cvent CMO Patrick Smith points out, offering a choice between a combination of formats allows the audience the ability to select the content delivery vehicle that appeals most to them in the longer-term — expanding an organization’s impact and business opportunities.
Digital marketing and digital engagement has long been a marketing staple, and as virtual events shift more toward occupying the same (or similar) online spaces and offering the same (or similar) levels of engagement data, we can expect marketing teams and other stakeholders to increase their buy-in.
First Virtual, Then Hybrid, Now This?
It’s not hard to imagine planners reeling at the thought of yet another format to learn, but 365 engagement will not become another cross for event planners to bear.
Although the idea of managing an always-on platform may seem overwhelming, tech providers maintain that engagement will ultimately require less effort on the part of event organizers in the long term as on-demand content and user-generated engagement pulls some of the weight. The trick, after all, is to get the virtual event attendees who are already on your platform to stay there so you can build on that audience rather than having to win it back every time you do an event.
"When you have 70,000 people excited about an event and getting on a virtual platform to experience it, your job becomes much easier in terms of converting it into a 365 engagement strategy. Leveraging an existing audience gives you a leg up to the tune of what could be 50% of your user base."
- Joe Schwinger, Founder, MeetingPlay
When it comes to future events, Julius Solaris, head of engagement at Swapcard, adds that the platforms will establish context around events and the overall community, as opposed to planners having to start from scratch every time they organize another in-person event.
Vaez elaborates on this concept: "As you add more people, the value of that platform and the community becomes more significant, and it's actually less work every time you add another element of content."
Your existing event content can also be used to ease the burden ongoing engagement, says Sharpe. The key is in the data.
"Key data points – page views, digital networking, session selection, dwell time, question submissions, polls, downloads social media likes, etc. – provide valuable insights into attendee interests that marketing teams can use to create interest-based micro-communities. Then, they can combine event material in new ways to create specialty content for highly targeted niche audiences and encourage continued engagement."
- Jim Sharpe, CEO, Aventri
Moreover, if the format takes off and necessitates dedicated content programs, it’s likely this will actually come with new, dedicated roles or fall on existing digital content marketing departments. Particularly in a corporate event context, this shift will mark a further blending of events and marketing departments.
The event industry has had to adapt to a number of major changes throughout the past year, and although much is still up in the air in 2021, the industry has yet to witness the full impact of virtual events. One thing is for certain: It has completely changed the possibilities for content and event delivery.
The next phase on many tech providers' radars is 365 engagement. Planners may not be thrilled about its implementation, but it promises a better experience for users who will be able to access all content and networking opportunities in one place, and in a richer community context.