Let Content Be the Bridge That Builds Your Hybrid Events

Hybrid events—parallel events that differ in scope, style, and interactivity—present a tough road for associations. Well-designed content could make the road a little less rocky.

By Melissa Bouma

With the shifts in our culture that have taken place since the pandemic began, many associations have simply been trying to keep their heads above water in hopes that in-person events—and the comfortable business model they support—make their return.

The struggle is real, as they say. Even as people begin to emerge from their home offices and conduct business in person, the reality is that there’s going to be a lengthy “mushy period” in which events will live in both the digital and physical worlds. This may pose challenges for a number of reasons—not least of which is needing to plan two events that are related but have to be organized separately, with different target audiences and different distribution methods.

This, in turn, will lead to other hurdles. For example, what if your event has in-person attendees but virtual speakers? Or live speakers for virtual attendees? Recording all of these sessions could get expensive fast. Given that events make up as much as 40 percent of an organization’s revenue, according to a Personify study, juggling all of these considerations can be complicated. Equally important is that attendees continue to derive real value from events, regardless of whether they’re in person or virtual. So how do you make sure that all attendees, virtual and live, come away with, if not the same, then a similar experience? Ultimately, the goal is to make all the elements of an event available to everyone, regardless of location—and content can be a great way to do this.

Here are a few ideas for using content to conquer all your obstacles:

Find new ways to leverage the content later. People are wary of traveling right now, and many will not be in a position to go anywhere anytime soon. And as we know, while people may register for an event at a set time, they may not get to it until later. This makes it all the more important to create content recaps of key event takeaways, in either digital or print form, so virtual attendees can still engage with the event in some way. Plus, content recaps can become an opportunity to repackage and re-form information differently down the line—a concept called content atomization. Reusing content in this manner not only builds member engagement but can also help your organization find ways to experiment, single out successful strategies, and scale up what works.

Build a digital microsite. Sure, you can have a digital event, but simply trying to re-create an in-person conference in a virtual format may not be enough to keep the attention of a digital audience. Building an experience that’s tailored to what a digital audience needs—whether that’s in a live setting or after the fact—could have a strong effect on people participating at home. (Especially if it’s personalized.) There’s a good chance that people may still be working while trying to attend a virtual event, meaning that they’ll be distracted. By leading with strong content and a creative design—think Apple’s use of virtual “Memoji” heads during its Worldwide Developers Conference this year—you might be able to change the conversation. (It might also prove attractive to sponsors, too.)

Lean on a “flipped learning” model. Getting people to return to an in-person venue will take time, but you can use your hybrid events to start to encourage them. One type of nudge: What if you built your event around a flipped model, where the learning was done online, but the post-learning discussion happened in person? That way, before people even stepped into a room, you’d know that everyone was on the same page—and the in-person interactions would gain new power. Such an approach could encourage people to get back to the expo hall, as they are reminded of the real synergy and value of “live” interactions. It would also maximize the best aspects of each setting: focused learning at home, social interaction in person.

In summary, high-quality content can provide a bridge between audiences that might not be in the same room. And when trying to prove that your organization is vital to its members, that bridge may be just what’s needed to ensure that everyone ends up on the same side.

Melissa Bouma, president of Manifest, has more than 15 years of experience building insight-driven branding and content strategy, with a client base representing large companies, major universities, and prominent associations.

(Jorg Greuel/DigitalVision)