Embracing digitalisation in the events industry accelerated with the advent of the pandemic. Events had to continue, but in-person had to be put behind the curtain — leading to virtual coming into the spotlight.
Event planners, thus, had to uptake a digital-first approach for their events.
As many parts of the world now resume life like pre-pandemic times, event planners are again faced with the dilemma of whether to switch back to in-person events or continue with virtual.
So should one consider a digital-first approach to hosting events in 2022 and beyond? On the fourth episode of Event Exchange we sat down with Shawn Cheng, Senior Strategist at DAHLIA+ Agency to answer this question and much more.
But before diving into it, let’s understand what is a digital-first event strategy.
What is a digital-first event strategy?
Before the pandemic, it was common for events to be held in person. As infections rose and lockdown restrictions were imposed, event planners were left with no choice but to make virtual events their first choice.
Even as restrictions now cease to exist in some countries, the benefits offered by virtual events continue to have an impact on event stakeholders. The ease of signing into an event digitally – anytime and anywhere – is one of the major reasons for its increasing popularity.
It’s evident that a digital-first approach has allowed event planners to take a step back from the conventional methods of organising events.
Simply put, a digital-first event strategy takes the event a step ahead by consolidating digital technology to make the event experience far more enriched for all stakeholders — the organiser, attendees, sponsors and exhibitors.
That said, there’s more to what a digital-first strategy has to offer to the event organiser. For instance, it allows them to engage with an audience even before and after the main event – through social media channels, emails, video content and more.
Clearly, a digital-first strategy opens the doors to a more holistic event experience – one that was not possible earlier at in-person events.
The reliance on digital technologies, in present times, to remain connected shouldn’t come as a surprise. But what this also implies is that to thrive in a digital-first world, companies need to adapt to it as well – especially when it comes to organising events.
Let’s dig deeper to understand the growing relevance of a digital-first strategy for organisations.
Why is it important for organisations to adopt a digital-first event strategy?
One of the prerequisites to hosting an event in post-pandemic times is to take into consideration the proportion of people who are willing to attend an event physically as well as virtually.
When looking closely into different territories, it’s possible for a set of audiences to prefer logging into an event online to in person.
Thus, adopting a digital-first strategy is a reality now. Event planners have to be mindful of their audience’s preferences — and having a digital-first approach to organising events is likely to help them cater to a wide spectrum of attendees.
Also, it’s worth noting that online events have a greater scope of reaching a global audience. Speakers, exhibitors, sponsors and attendees can join from any part of the world – making it easier now to take events to an international market.
Speaking about the importance of adopting a digital-first strategy for events, Shawn Cheng says, “The reality is, we are still very uncertain. So we might still have to remain with virtual. A digital-first strategy gives you the flexibility to be agile and you don’t have to be in the panic mode like how many did in 2020.”
In the last two years, many events planners pivoted to virtual events allowing them to engage with a worldwide audience. Now, returning to in-person events completely would mean losing this audience as they may not have the chance to visit a physical venue.
To avoid this, organisations – in 2022 and beyond – need to adopt a digital-first strategy for their events.
This raises an important question among event planners: how can they adopt a digital-first strategy?
Adopting a digital-first strategy for your events
For starters, organisations need to understand their audience better. This can be done by mapping out an attendee’s behaviour from the first event touchpoint – which is when the event announcement is made.
Understanding how people are reacting to the event announcement and engaging with this content on platforms such as social media helps event planners get a deeper insight into what can trigger them to register.
Once someone has registered, it’s worth building a conversation with them before the main event. Event planners can also encourage attendees to share about the event on social media – turning them into micro-influencers.
Whilst adopting a digital-first strategy, event planners also need to be mindful of the different segments of the audience. For instance, in a hybrid event, there are two sets of audiences – one that visits in-person and the other that logs into the event virtually.
Event planners need to ensure that they cater to both sets of audiences differently. This is because each audience will have distinct behaviours based on their objective of joining an event in person or virtually. It’s vital that event planners understand such behaviours.
For an event to be successful, it’s imperative to have a solid promotion strategy.
A digital-first strategy to promote your events can help you reach the relevant audience and create significant buzz about it.
We have unearthed how you can go about using a digital-first strategy to promote your events.
How to use a digital-first strategy to promote your events?
Promoting an event is challenging. But to make this easier, event planners must take into account the value that they seek to provide to their audience through the event.
Simply put, to effectively promote an event, it’s worth outlining the reasons that would make people attend your event. These reasons help you map out the right messaging and content that you can use to promote your event.
A digital-first approach to organising events allows for the smarter utilisation of time. For instance, at in-person events, attendees would have to invest considerable time to attend a session that is of interest to them.
On the contrary, when using a digital-first strategy to promote your event, you can provide specific time slots that your attendees can tune in to watch a session that they are interested in – or even watch later on-demand.
Thus, when promoting such an event, you can highlight specific sessions that you plan to have on the agenda of your event to create excitement among your audience.
Enhancing your attendee’s experience can have a major impact on the success of your event. So what are some ways to do this?
Which digital touchpoints should event professionals focus on to optimise an attendee’s event experience?
Your attendee’s event experience starts right from the announcement of the event. Event planners should focus on creating engaging content to build excitement among the audience during the announcement. It’s also recommended that the announcement clearly states what an attendee can gain from the event.
Other important touchpoints include making the registration process as seamless and fast as possible. People tend to lose interest in an event when they have to fill up a registration form that consumes a considerable proportion of their time.
Offering templated content to event registrants can also motivate them to share about your event among their peers – which in turn convinces more people to sign up.
Finally, it’s worth focusing on providing a great onboarding experience to your attendees when they join the main event.
Using reliable events platforms like GEVME helps you ensure that your attendees are able to enjoy the event right when they log into your event.
Ever since the pandemic, event technology platforms have played an integral role in ensuring that the events industry continues to grow. Event professionals had to pivot to these changing times and unlearn what was relevant in pre-pandemic times.
To adapt to this uncertain period, event professionals were compelled to get familiar with event technology platforms.
So to make it easier for event professionals to acquire more knowledge and gain a fair understanding of the new technologies arriving into the industry, Shawn Cheng and his colleagues formed a community called #EventProfsBreakShit.
Talking more about this community Shawn says, “We talk to technology companies and host events together to understand how the platform works and learn more about the product. We then document all our findings and feedback.”
More details about this community can be found here.
What’s obvious is that event planners now need to have a good understanding of event technology platforms to host events that are relevant today.
So when choosing an event platform, should they opt for an integrated or an all-in-one platform?
Well, to know this, event planners need to reflect upon the purpose of hosting an event.
Every event is unique and has a distinct objective. The platform to host the event used is of least importance to attendees. This is why event planners need to lay out what it is that they are planning to achieve from the event and what it is that they are planning to offer to their audience.
Based on this, event organisers can decide if an integrated or an all-in-one platform would suffice to host their event and derive actionable results.
To know how you can make your events stand out, check out our free report where we provide data-backed insights to help you host better events.
If in-person and virtual events will continue to exist in harmony continues to be a matter of debate now as many countries now have relaxed lockdown restrictions. However, there are also countries where COVID-19 infections continue to be rampant.
So in such times of uncertainty, will a digital-first event strategy continue to remain relevant?
Relevance of digital-first event strategy in 2022 and beyond
For a long time, in-person events have been the industry’s most preferred – and the only choice – when it came to organising events. Now as events have turned virtual, event planners and their audiences have more flexibility.
While the charm of face-to-face interactions will continue to matter, the benefit that the digital-first strategy for events offers cannot be neglected.
It should be understood that a digital-first event strategy is subjective for different companies. For instance, a digital-first event strategy for one company may be used to redirect its audience towards the in-person journey. This could be digitally engaging with attendees before the main event through community pages on social media, sending them emails or even hosting a virtual micro event.
On the other end of the spectrum, the need for a digital-first event strategy for another company could be to extend the shelf life of the event content. It could also be a strategy used to engage with a community online and continue to remain connected throughout the year.
For now, it’s fair to say that events are no longer bound by geographical and demographic limitations. And a digital-first strategy is making it far more scalable to host events that are beyond the scope of in-person events.
Watch the full episode below to learn more about designing a digital-first strategy for your events.