By Victoria Neeson & Erica Boeke
As the pandemic drove us from conference rooms and sports arenas to online-only experiences, the fortunes — both literal (cha-ching!) and figurative — of virtual platform companies have soared.
A whopping $5.65 billion valuation for online events platform Hopin, a mere toddler at less than 2 years old. A 3,200% increase in profit for Zoom. A live audio app basically born yesterday that’s already worth a reported $4 billion and spawning copycat products on the daily from tech OGs like Twitter and Spotify. The list goes on, and as the pandemic drove us from conference rooms and sports arenas to online-only experiences, the fortunes — both literal and figurative — of these virtual platforms have soared.
New platforms are popping up everywhere to help us navigate our increasingly virtual world and help result in better features for businesses, whether as end-users of the technology (e.g. attendees), or those using the backend to build out virtual experiences.
The most important thing is, it is still — always has been, always will be — all about making meaningful, relevant, memorable content. No matter how seamlessly it’s delivered and how elaborately it’s dressed up, if it’s not good — if it’s ho-hum or played out — businesses will lose their audience and credibility along with it. The platforms are the tools that help us build the ‘good stuff’ — they are not themselves the actual ‘good stuff’.
Together, Dreamtek CEO Victoria Neeson, and Liberty & Co. CEO Erica Boeke, have created the ‘New Rules of Post-Pandemic Experiential’, that will help shift focus from today’s distracting chatter around dollar signs and bells-and-whistles to what really matters to brands.
1. Always start with the why
One of the key tenets of creating good work — whether it’s part of a festival or a corporate town hall or an educational series — may seem obvious, but somehow it’s often overlooked: figuring out “the why” of it. In the time of Corona, the why is even more critical than in normal times — people are juggling more than ever before, there’s more streamed content available than ever before and honestly, for the end user, everything is just overwhelming these days. Think about writing a mission statement of sorts for what you’re creating. Have an authentic, editorial point of view. Define why the world needs what you’re making.
2. Embrace the hybrid
To go IRL, virtual or hybrid? That is the question. Or is it? Even in a totally post-Covid world, the overwhelming majority of experiences we’re creating will have a virtual component, in addition to any IRL gatherings. Now that everyone’s realised the exponentially larger event audience that can be reached digitally, there’s really no going back. Companies have proved that this double rainbow view that going the hybrid route enables you to ramp up one channel when another one becomes cumbersome.
3. It’s all about the UX
When you have your why, think about the user experience that will best serve your audience (or each of your audiences if you’re going hybrid, which you should.) It’s not all about you. It’s about them. Does it best benefit the audience to keep things small and intimate, or would going big better suit their needs? What does the IRL audience want? What does the virtual audience want? How do they want to be connected to each other? How can you create that value for everyone, through your brand’s lens?
4. Pick your platform wisely
The platforms are but the tools! However, your choice of tool will make all the difference. Your choice of platform determines your ability to deliver the right UX to your audience. And remember: the venue — and the platform-as-venue — is a character in the play. Make the platform you choose your own. It’s your tool — make it cool.
5. Timing is everything
We’re all global now. Be time zone sensitive. Be sensitive about the ask you’re making of your talent, your audience, and your staff when it comes to timing — the “when” of it really matters. Comic-Con is getting a lot of heat these days for their decision to jump back into the IRL world with their San Diego flagship event this November — over Thanksgiving weekend. That’s a hard no. No one wants to sit at their laptop for eight hours during a four-day Zoom-free weekend – be aware of what else your audience could be doing with that time.
6. Assemble an all-star team
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s also key. A hardcore focus on hiring the best and the brightest — a team with a diverse set of skill sets and experiences — is essential to making magic. Every role matters, whether behind-the-scenes or in front of the camera or running the tech. Building an all-star team for your clients when needed is also key and can, in turn, lead to rapid business growth for yourself.
7. Prep. Prep. And prep again
Rehearsals and run-throughs are incredibly important, regardless of whether you’re going IRL, virtual or hybrid (which, per earlier, you probably are). Given the complexity involved in the tech, remote production and the scale of the types of content we’re all putting out these days, proper prep is a must. The whole Zoom call with the lawyer-cat was hilarious, the unintentional audience, but probably not so much for whomever the attorney was representing, or the judge, or the lawyer himself.
8. Engagement counts
Now that we can measure everything, you should have a clear sense of your KPIs before you start creating. Coming up with a picture of success beforehand will help you craft powerful content. If your goal is facilitating business connections, come up with a number for how many matches per person feels right. If you want to inspire a particular reaction in people — laughter? joy? — think about how you would measure that. Maybe it’s through counting likes or smile emojis on a video or tracking positive comments in the chat, or perhaps you want to take it a step further and gamify audience feedback to get some in-depth stats. Whatever it is, map it out.
9. Don’t overdo the tech
So back to basics. It’s the work and the content that matters, that will inspire people and make them want to stick around. We both agree that the tech should be seamless and integrated. But don’t overdo it. Make sure that at every turn, the tech is serving the mission. It is a tool and it should be used as such — don’t let it get too overcomplicated or take center stage because it can flop.
10. The end is just the beginning
The really good stuff always lives on, not just in hearts and minds, but in the community it fosters. Great content is about bringing people together — whether to share a virtual or IRL experience or both — and then finding ways to grow and multiply these connections. The good stuff doesn’t come from a “one-and-done” approach. Always leave them wanting more, and then tell them when / how they’re going to get it? A newsletter… a Slack community… the next event. How will you continue to deliver the good stuff?