Hybrid events are sweeping the country, and there are lots of reasons why: people are still wary of health issues, stores and other venues are ramping back up, travel is still daunting, and the prospect of additional variants simply makes some people hesitant to leave their homes.
Whether it’s a grand opening or a new product launch or a rebranding, people want to be involved; they want to be included. Hybrid events enable people to “attend” your event even if they can’t be in your store or showroom in person. Attendees can listen to retailers, and view new products and services while safely and inexpensively sitting in their own homes and offices. The hybrid option allows you to reach an entire audience who cannot or will not travel at this time.
Hybrid events are more important than ever, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they are temporary. Yes, we need to get back to our in-store interactions, and we will. However, hybrid events are not just a stop-gap solution. Most likely, they are here to stay. Now that we’ve done it and know we can do it, there will be an audience for it. There are just some people who will always prefer (or sometimes prefer because of circumstances) to attend events virtually.
And if you want to keep that audience, you’ll need to adapt. Fortunately, we’ve provided several essentials to keep in mind as you plan your hybrid event. In addition to making sure that you have cohesive and accessible content for all of your attendees, you’ll also want to ensure that everything is set up to create a seamless experience for you and your audience. The goal is for both to feel like the event was created for THEM, and not for one or the other to feel short-changed by the presence of both.
SEPARATE REGISTRATION PAGES FOR VIRTUAL AND IN-PERSON ATTENDEES. While it will be tempting to lump all the registrations together and have a small box to check for what kind of event (virtual or in-person) the person is attending, don’t do it. In-person attendees and online attendees need their own separate registration pages. This promotes the feeling of each event being equally important. The registration page will also include the personalized pieces of each option – session times, networking options, etc. – and while the in-person event will have the time/place/booth number of these groups, the virtual option will need to include the breakout room details so that they can enter in and most likely a virtual “show room” for them.
EQUIVALENT PROMOTION OF VIRTUAL AND IN-PERSON EVENTS. A lot of managers will make the mistake of heavily promoting their in-person event with all the bells and whistles and then add as an afterthought: “Join us on Zoom!” This communicates that the hybrid event is an afterthought, an add-on. To both audiences, you want your event to appear thoughtful and catered. If there’s a deadline or a joining special or an early bird price, give it to both. If you’re giving out gift bags on social for attendees who register, find a way to provide something similar your virtual group. If there are door prizes, think of an alternative for your online crowd. THINK!
EQUAL ATTENTION TO ATTENDEES. Like the previous step, every attendee, whether virtual or in-person, needs to be tended to. They are your actual consumers or at least potential consumers. If there’s a drawing, it shouldn’t be reserved for only those who “show up.” Find a way to include the online audience. Or even better, have a completely different, tailored option for the online audience – content created for them and available only to them. If there’s a swag giveaway at the event, mimic that for your virtual peeps. If you’re releasing confetti or balloons (or doves or whatever!) in your store, that’s EASY to duplicate on line. Filters make it snazzy. Don’t punish your online attendees or shortchange them by leaving them out of the fun stuff. Get creative with your team and figure out how to honor that digital crowd.
CLEAR GOALS FOR EACH HYBRID OPTION. A new kind of event means new goals. Maybe a hybrid event means a bigger audience for you, which means higher sales goals, more foot traffic, higher retention. Maybe you’re now able to reach a wider audience, not constrained by geography, which could mean loftier goals related to your branding and content and online sales. Your goals also need to be specific to each platform. Goals for the in-person event will clearly need to be separate and different from the goals for the virtual event.
QUICK FOLLOW UP WITH VIRTUAL AND “REAL” ATTENDEES. As always, the fortune is in the follow-up. A special perk of hosting a hybrid event is that your online attendees will be easy to follow up with almost immediately – they’re already home at their computers and they’re probably ready to pull the level on the decision machine. The quicker you follow up on the engagement you’ve created, the more of an impression your company makes. And if you take a minute or two to follow up with your virtual audience, by that time, in-person attendees are settled back at home ready to hear what you have to offer.
DISTINCT TRACKING OF EACH PLATFORM’S SUCCESS. Again, it will be tempting to track the event’s success all together. It’s easier, it’s simpler, it’s quicker. But it’s actually not very accurate. Tracking each event separately will tell you where you need to improve with each. Maybe consumer satisfaction is high in-person, but lower on-line. You need to know this very important distinction. A post-event survey is the best way to hear from attendees. Both experiences offer unique benefits and challenges, so ask about those. Physically crowded events aren’t a concern for your online attendees; network connection and sound aren’t a concern for your live attendees. Customize your surveys. Virtual events are easy to track and the results are clear – when was attendance highest (and lowest), which content was most engaging, what parts didn’t “work.”
Offering hybrid events are simply another way of keeping up in the industry. As more and more businesses offer them, more and more of your clientele will be drawn to them. And you will be left behind if you don’t join in. There are also lots of ways to engage your at-home audience besides offering an entire virtual event – you can livestream from your store’s event and post it on social media, you can host your own happy hour with those at home, you can offer an online Q&A. Reach out to us for many more ideas! It’s a brave new world and we’re here to help you.
This article was inspired by “5 Steps to Remember When Hosting a Hybrid Event” by Briquelle Neyens and first appeared at skyline.com
Photo by Blake Wisz