With large in-person events unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future due to Covid-19, Toby Daniels and the team at Social Media Week decided in March to launch a new, completely virtual event – #SMWONE – in place of two large scale, flagship conferences that were due to run in New York (May) and Los Angeles (June).

Toby generously offered to share the #SMWONE journey and learnings with MPG’s community (thank you Toby!). So, last week, over 100 of MPG’s ‘friends and family’ joined us for a 2-part webinar series breaking down ground in our industry (thank you friends and family!).

In part 1 of our webinar series, I had a ‘fireside chat’ with Social Media Week founder Toby Daniels to explore the strategy and practicalities of ‘going virtual’.

This was followed in part 2 by a marketing-focused session, where MPG’s Kirsty Joynson and Alicia Drew shared unique insights on how they developed the marketing strategy and then executed an innovative, fast paced marketing campaign to launch #SMWONE – with only a 4 week lead time.

Due to popular demand, we’ve put together a ‘content package’ to share with you:

 

Our top 7 takeaways:

1. Social Media Week have always had a strong digital presence and 365 content-led offering for their community. They’re just taking digital up a notch with a fully virtual, large-scale event – at a time of crisis, when their community really needs the knowledge and networking #SMWONE can deliver.

The most forward-thinking and ‘future-proof’ event organizers think first and foremost about their purpose around serving the needs of their community. Then they think about how best to serve that community – be it delivering and creating value via a 2-day in-person event, or a 4-week virtual event. The format/platform is there to serve the community’s needs in a way that is practical and engaging at a point in time. In 2020 – that’s digital.


2. It’s very important to focus on how you can create something new that is truly valuable for your community, instead of obsessing over when you can ‘go back to how things were’.

Brands that view adversity as an opportunity to innovate for long term success will be the winners. Event organizers that focus purely on cutting costs and damage limitation over the next 6-12 months will fall (far) behind. Our ‘new normal’ will inevitably look different and we should be embracing the unavoidable change, not shying away from it.


3. Virtual and hybrid events are here to stay. The tech you choose must support the needs of your community.

Virtual meetings are not a new idea, they have been around for a long time. We all have a vast (and often confusing!) choice in digital event platforms. Social Media Week chose a new platform from Bizzabo to run #SMWONE because it promises the best combination of features to best serve Social Media Week’s community. Work out your community’s needs first, then choose the tech.


4. A virtual event creates new opportunities (and challenges) for marketing

With the physical constraints of an in-person event removed, marketers can now reach out and engage a truly global audience.

However, virtual events demand marketing that is more digitally sophisticated and precision-targeted, at a higher volume and a much faster pace than live events. This can create significant operational challenges if the right skills and level of resource is not in place.

Plus, event marketers are facing a very new, essential requirement: planning, setting up and running automated and effective conversion campaigns to ensure a high percentage of registered attendees turn up to the event and engage with the content and networking opportunities.


5. There are 5 pillars to marketing a virtual event…

…and they aren’t dissimilar from marketing a live event. These are:

(1)  An effective marketing funnel – with the right message, sent at the right time to the right audience to generate and then convert leads
(2)  An optimized pricing strategy – to achieve the right balance between revenue, delegate volume and attendee quality
(3)  Effective positioning – around your event’s USP and key benefits
(4)  Excellent execution – with a strong focus on digital enablement and automation to achieve the relevance and volume of marketing activity needed
(5)  Ongoing measurement and analysis of results – to ensure ongoing data-led decision making can enable a responsive and high-performance marketing campaign

These will all be familiar to event marketers, but their application must be adjusted to fit the virtual environment.


6. Test and learn is the name of the game

With a shortage of ‘case studies’ on how large, paid-for conferences have successfully transitioned to virtual formats, we need to be brave and truly agile. It’s essential that senior event professionals and their marketers quickly embrace tech and get stuck into working out how to deliver value to their communities digitally. The only way to really know if something will work is to do it. We don’t have time to wait for someone else to do it first to reduce our risk. Move fast and break things. Test and learn. Then quickly switch your focus to building stable infrastructure.


7. Have a back-up plan

Technology will always be prone to hiccups, as the MPG team discovered when our chosen webinar platform encountered technical issues 45 minutes before we were due to go live for ‘part 2’. The world’s fastest platform switch (citation needed) commenced and the stream started on schedule on a different platform. Digital event organizers should be prepared with some ‘Plan B’ options and the ability to make a quick switch if needed. The show must go on!


Part 1: Strategy – Replay

Part 2: Marketing – Replay

During part 1 of the series, our audience members’ combined challenges were prevalent as we saw an influx of questions surrounding both the short- and long-term considerations when taking a previously large-scale conference fully virtual. With input from Toby Daniels @ Social Media Week and MPG’s Alicia Drew and Kirsty Joynson, we have reviewed all the questions and provided full answers here for you to download.

We hope you found the webinar content package useful and that you have been able to gain some valuable new insights on how to approach your virtual event strategy and marketing approach going forward.

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