If content was considered king before the pandemic, the enforced move to virtual and subsequent evolution to hybrid event formats has seen content’s ascendency from monarch to deity in the space of just 18 months.
Not only has the planner content role evolved from in-room to online, but it has also now evolved again with organizers needing to consider a blended balance of both digital and physical content streams that will keep two different audiences engaged in the event offer. Digital content strategies are now at the forefront for planners and marketers alike.
In a virtual event environment, without the distractions of venue, the show-floor bar, or bumping into someone you haven’t seen for a while on your way to an educational session, the online attendee’s focus is squarely on the content.
They want to know what they’re going to learn, who they’ll learn it from, and how they’ll continue their learning and development journey with on demand sessions and follow up content, long after the event has finished
So, how do you do this? How do you develop content for the stage that will bring attendees back into the room, while curating virtual content for broader reach and a 365-day brand engagement strategy?
Step one: Set your objectives
First things first, your virtual event isn’t the same as your in-person one. Broadcasting what’s happening onstage to a remote digital audience isn’t a hybrid event and charging online viewers to sit and watch a series of pre-recorded YouTube videos won’t result in positive delegate feedback.
Your mix of in-person and online content needs to be carefully considered, by first setting strong goals and objectives.
Basic questions to ask should include:
- Why are we doing this event?
- Who is it for?
- What do we want to gain?
- What do we want our two different audiences to learn or take away?
- How will we measure success?
Some further content-led goals may include:
- Does the event form part of a wider sales, marketing or communications strategy?
- Do you want to share knowledge, information or demonstrate products?
- Do you want attendees to be able to communicate with one another?
- How will you track attendance, engagement and attendee satisfaction?
Clear KPIs will inform your content agenda and help you to determine the right hybrid format and the necessary engagement tools to make your content more accessible and participatory.
Step two: Understand your audience
When it comes to your audience, consider offering personalized content steams based on different attendee profiles.
For example, a recent virtual conference on the subject of digital transformation segmented its content into sessions that focused on healthcare, manufacturing, supply chain management, and pharmaceutical. Senior executives from these four sectors were targeted with specialized content on different days, before they were all brought together for a concluding session, which covered sustainability.
The four sector attendee profiles were supplied by the sales team, based on companies who were already using their digital services or were considering working with them. The C-suite seniority meant that the content needed to be high-level and in-depth, requiring a full day for each stream.
Maybe feedback has informed you that your in-person audience has chosen to attend rather than view online because they enjoy the more fun elements of getting together with peers. In that case, you may wish to add gamification or ice-breaker sessions.
If you’ve made it clear that an in-person ticket will get the full event experience, while an online ticket will purely focus on the content, don’t then expect digital viewers to get up and do a virtual yoga class during one of the in-person networking sessions.
Introverts and extroverts engage with event content in different ways. Being able to curate the right content for the right audience is one of the big advantages of the hybrid model.
A more introverted audience profile for example, may engage more with anonymised polls or chat functionality. But they won’t be impressed if you hijack their webcam and beam them onto a live video wall to ask a question to a speaker onstage in front of a physical audience.
Step three: Decide on your format
There’s a lot of terms being banded around currently for hybrid formats - ‘Hub and Spoke’, ‘Match of the Day’, ‘Ted Talk', ‘Echo’, ‘Book-end’, and ‘Community 365’ are just a few of the ones I’ve heard recently.
Basically, they boil down to whether or not you want to use a studio, complete with moderator, production team and optional guests to serve content to the digital viewer and how you want to disseminate content both during and post event.
Many planners find that bringing speakers into a studio to deliver online content inspires them to raise their game from sitting at home in front of a webcam.
Combine that with additional support - like having a professional coach able to guide them through a rehearsal, or the opportunity to practice with auto cue in a rehearsal room - and improved results are guaranteed.
Also. there is only so much anyone can do with a speaker who has poor broadband and an untidy bookshelf behind them. Get them into a studio however, the whole thing becomes more harmonious and the production team can help your speaker to lift their slot creatively.
Content dissemination could feature the in-person presentations being recorded but not streamed on the day and then edited, mixed with live virtual sessions and delivered on a different day.
Advantages of this format are huge – only one event to organize at a time, and less cost to capture but not stream the video.
Presentations can then be delivered "live" online with Q&A elements added and the presenters participating again but virtually.
Any attendee who didn’t get to ask a question in the physical room could then rejoin the virtual session and ask via the anonymised chat functionality.
Planning content for these example formats obviously needs to take additional factors into consideration, such as timezones, speaker commitments, investment in a professional emcee and more production resource.
However, by adding on studio content, additional sessions and asking your speakers to play a larger part, you’ll gain a richer library of broadcast quality content that could be disseminated online for the rest of the year to build community or generate a new on-demand revenue stream.
Step four: Content audit
Staging a blend of in-person and online event activity will of course see your content requirements grow so it’s important to revisit the audience profiles and review what’s being scheduled against the event goals and objectives.
It’s also a good time to understand if speaker content is available in various formats – infographic, slideshow, video, eBook and so on. This will help you offer downloadable content for online viewers and help you to plan what assets can be made available post-event.
You may also need to plan a promotional campaign to attract the right audience to your hybrid event and/or set out your credentials in a particular specialism via thought-leadership articles, press releases, video content and advertisements.
Your choice of format may attract new sponsor interest and provide opportunities for sponsored content or tailored brand messaging when viewers log onto the platform.
How many times have you sat at your desk waiting for the live stream of a conference keynote to begin while being forced to watch an empty auditorium slowly fill up or, even worse, stare at a visual place-holder? Your content strategy needs to consider not only the educational content but also what content attendees will see when no-one is on-stage or on-screen.
Follow us next week for part 2