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Over the past couple weeks, we collected responses from over 130 Community and Event Marketing professionals to get their take on the future of community and field marketing events. While these are indeed uncertain times, some clear trends are emerging that shed light on how we can plan to future-proof what is quickly becoming the most important part of a successful marketing playbook – building, growing, and scaling a strong customer-to-customer community.

It Will Be a While Until We Meet Again

The majority of our respondents have experience in both building in-person and online communities. The key challenge right now is how to replace in-person events which are widely regarded as the most important way to drive meaningful business growth. More than 80% of the people we surveyed have moved their in-person events to virtual, rescheduled, or postponed them. Almost 50% of respondents believe that it will take 6-12 months before they will start hosting in-person events again. 27% are a bit more optimistic, thinking it will be 3-6 months. While less than 2% said they will never host in-person events again.

IRL Left Some Big Shoes to Fill and Virtual Hasn’t Quite Made the Cut

When asked how effective are virtual/online events compared to live in-person, 73% of respondents said that live in-person events are much more valuable, while only 4% of respondents feel that online/virtual events are more valuable than in-person.

As Steve Blank recently wrote, “what’s missing from Zoom reminds us what it means to be human.” Virtual events are just not providing the kind of serendipity and intimacy that in-person events provide. It begs the question, are virtual events just working well now because we can’t gather in-person? Or do they have standalone value in a post-Covid world?

The big challenge for community builders: What do we do to engage our communities while we can’t meet in-person? How do we plan for a future where things will not go back to the way they were before COVID-19? Before we get to that, let’s touch on the business implications between online/virtual and in-person events.

The Business Value of Virtual Events

From a business impact perspective, the majority of respondents felt that in-person events make the biggest impact on Customer Success, while online/virtual events can make a positive impact on Content Creation (motivating members to contribute articles, talks, videos, and other forms of user-generated content). Respondents felt that both online/virtual and in-person events are an important part of driving Engagement and Customer Acquisition.

The Forecast is Foggy

When looking toward the future, 38% of respondents already have a plan for bringing back in-person events, while 35% are unsure and 27% are taking a “wait and see” approach. Unsurprisingly, the resurgence of COVID-19 is the greatest concern we’re all facing.

A Hybrid Future?

While there is no crystal ball to predict the future, an overwhelming majority, 70% of respondents think that the future of large in-person conferences will be replaced with a hybrid of small local events and virtual events.

If there’s a silver lining here, a future state where large in-person conferences are replaced by small local events and virtual conferences is probably a better way of doing business. There is something about the genuine human interaction at small, local events that can’t be felt at a large conference with hundreds or thousands of people. Local events mean less travel for those who are physically or financially unable to. There are also political barriers like travel bans that hinder some community members from being able to enter specific countries. By keeping events small and local, they can be more inclusive.

What Can Community Teams Do to Navigate the Bumpy Road Ahead?

1. Act global, think local.

Start building a global community composed of local chapters or groups that can be managed by your brand advocates based in those local communities. Your smaller, local events will be the first that will return, and you can start building them now virtually. We converted CMX Connect to a fully virtual program and are leaving it up to our local organizers to decide when to bring back in-person when it’s safe. This is our wheelhouse at Bevy and CMX, and we’d love to help you figure out your strategy. Talk to us about your community and how we can help you grow!

2. Test, learn and iterate.

Start hosting virtual events to see who’s interested and what topics they want to discuss. Instead of converting your offline events to virtual, go back to first principles and ask, “how would we design this event from scratch as a fully virtual experience?” Schedule a demo with Bevy for a complete value assessment to understand the business impact your community can make.

3. Audit your tools and technology.

What worked last year, isn’t necessarily what’s going to work this year. Before you renew, reconsider the tools that were built for the future. Download the guide to community platforms. Consider things like data privacy and the flexibility to host events both offline and online.

4. Develop new skills.

Become a CMX Pro member and get full access to all CMX academy courses where you can continue to sharpen your skills and learn from the experts in the industry. Or enjoy over 20 hours of free education by watching the videos from last year’s CMX Summit.

5. Aim high.

Think positive and plan to thrive, not just survive through this pandemic. New constraints will breed creativity, and organizers are already coming up with innovative ways to make virtual gatherings more engaging. We are all in this together!

 

And of course, reserve your virtual seat at CMX Summit 2020, the biggest and best virtual conference for Community Professionals, coming to you live (virtually!) on October 6-7. Tickets are free, or you can purchase an all-access pass!

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