With social distancing in place for the foreseeable future, event organizers continue to be challenged to create the same levels of connection virtually that attendees have always felt in person.
Fortunately, from the 2020 NFL draft to the One World: Together at Home charity concert, virtual events have quickly become a powerful way to not just preserve connections but enrich them and build vibrant communities online and off.
Even before millions of people fired up their videoconferencing apps, tech industry leaders had been embracing virtual events for years. For example, Made by Google has been livestreamed since 2016, Disney livestreamed its 2019 D23 Expo fan club event and viewership of The Game Awards increased from 1.9 million livestreams in 2014 to 45 million in 2019.
The benefits go beyond cost savings on event spaces. Brands can reimagine these events to provide a deeper, more connected experience. Here’s how.
1. Virtual events provide greater accessibility
Many of the most popular technology conferences are also some of the most expensive and exclusive. Virtual events can disrupt that model to invite a wider audience into the (virtual) room.
“This is an exciting opportunity for the tech industry to make information more equitable and open,” said Hilary Hartman Mostofi, technology industry manager at Facebook.
When hosting its annual Adobe Summit in person was no longer possible, Adobe marketing leaders made 140 pre-recorded videos public. Through Adobe’s Sensei AI engine, viewers consumed the content they wanted whenever they wanted, without having to choose one talk over another.
“The whole conference is about delivering engaging digital customer experiences, and it has never felt more relevant than it is right now,” said Alex Amado, VP of experience marketing at Adobe. “We leapt at the opportunity to bring the event to life on the web, using Adobe tools to deliver a dynamic and personalized video-based experience.”
2. Virtual events create more diversity of thought
Without geographical restrictions, imagine the diversity of speakers and participants you could attract.
For example, after postponing the annual in-person gathering, the organizers of the retail event ShopTalk pivoted to Virtual Conferences that have been free to watch. The series of virtual events, which kicked off in April, features a diverse array of topics, including how Covid-19 will impact consumer behavior and retail technologies.
At Facebook, we want to help the nearly three billion people who use our products monthly to connect, so we’re expanding video features like Messenger Rooms, WhatsApp calls and Instagram Live. We want to make it easier to access live video from anywhere—even with limited data, a spotty connection or no Facebook account.
3. Virtual events empower community building
Without physical constraints, a participant can attend more groups and activities online. Features like live commenting allow people to connect with speakers and each other. Even if participants miss a livestream, they can join the conversation in the comments after the event.
At Facebook, we see virtual events as another way to fulfill our mission of building community and bringing people together. For our UnSummit conference, a virtual event we created recently to replace an in-person gathering, we used tools like closed Instagram profiles, hashtags and group photos to build community. We’re piloting other interactive and cinematic experiences to connect and inspire people and help them break the virtual networking ice.
It’s time to rethink the future
As you experiment with the virtual format, adopt the attendee’s point-of-view. Think of the convenience of personalizing your content and schedule, as well as the ways to engage with others through real-time question and answer sessions and breakouts. Imagine which channels would allow for quality facetime lasting beyond the event itself.
Virtual events will keep us connected in new ways, from business to business and person to person. One of my favorite examples showcasing this medium’s potential happened quite recently when a virtual graduation was broadcast live on Facebook and Instagram.
Walking across the stage at graduation is a moment that a virtual event cannot fully emulate. On the other hand, a virtual graduation event can still create a one-of-a-kind experience, especially when it’s hosted by Oprah and involves thousands of other graduating seniors in the U.S.
State by state, students at high schools and colleges were acknowledged by name and through photos and videos as deans and principals across the country delivered inspirational messages.
While the many seniors from around the country who watched the virtual graduation couldn’t sit next to their classmates, our hope is that they felt commemorated and comforted. For me, the event was a great reminder of the true power of virtual events: to create a community around a collective moment, reaching people across boundaries, time and space. I can’t wait to see where virtual events take us next.