For most organizations, a hybrid event strategy will remain the best approach for the foreseeable future. Hybrid events, which include both in-person and virtual elements, provide a powerful combination of audience reach, data value and measurability, content ROI, and attendee accessibility.
As we prepare to begin another year of bringing together the best of virtual and in-person elements, many event leaders are still looking to improve and refine their hybrid strategy.
Expert guidance can help show the way. At RainFocus INSIGHT Premiere, which kicks off the INSIGHT 2023 program, a panel of industry vets offered tips and best practices. Here are some of the most important takeaways:
What is a hybrid event?
First, “hybrid event” still means different things to different people in different industries.
“I talk to a lot of professionals and am not sure ‘hybrid’ is fully defined just yet,” said panelist Adam Parry, co-founder and editor of Event Industry News. He described a recent event his organization held as a three-day hybrid offering with a dedicated digital kickoff on the first day. For the next two days, a curated stream of content from an in-person gathering was translated into multiple languages and shared online.
“We will have standard definitions of what a successful hybrid event is — who it’s for and who is trying to achieve it for — and then build on key components,” he predicted.
Allison Crooker, director of experiential marketing at VMware, noted the term “hybrid” may suggest a combination or synthesis that does not work for all events. Because in-person and virtual programming each have different needs and qualities that need to be addressed separately, describing the approach as a “multichannel event strategy” could be more appropriate, she said.
“Multi” is an effective descriptor, agreed Rodney Hart, VP of events at RainFocus. He recommended creating defined experiences for virtual audiences and always being mindful of audience types in both gated and ungated content experiences.
What are the advantages of a hybrid event program?
No matter what you call it, paying attention to hybrid (or “multi”) events is increasingly important. Parry predicted that eventually the industry will land on standard definitions and success measures, but organizations nonetheless need to start thinking of their hybrid strategy now.
“Hybrid will be a competitive advantage to keep in touch all year-round with audiences,” he said. “Those that don’t do so will be left lacking, with less accessibility and less information.”
Should you use the same content and experiences for in-person and virtual event audiences?
With an official theme of “Unifying Experiences,” the INSIGHT conference emphasizes the importance of consistency and seamless connections within an event program. “Unifying experiences involves everything from event delivery to content personalization to attendee data,” Hart explained. “It also touches on how unifying with other tools via integrations and other ways of making the process seamless can improve events.”
Streamlined, seamless, and uniform experiences deliver advantages to attendees and the organization hosting the event. However, the panelists cautioned, this does not mean trying to provide all audiences with the same experiences and content.
“There is a best-in-class in-person experience and a best-in-class virtual experience,” Crooker said. “Content overall should be like a flowing river, and where it gets channeled and how people access it should be an optimized experience. This can be challenging because you may not have gotten more budget or headcount, but you’re looking to reach additional audiences.”
“It’s about giving choices to attendees and determining how they want to interact,” agreed Parry.
What’s new and emerging in the world of hybrid events? What trends should we be aware of?
First, the shift to a world without cookies and third-party data will make event data even more vital. Gathering data on attendees and their event behaviors is mutually beneficial, Hart noted.
“You can leverage information to make experiences better — and to make your products better,” he said. “Events are an excellent way to keep doing that and continually optimizing the experience.”
For optimal hybrid events, Parry recommended investing in new talent and technology to support event delivery. Deployment of event software can require a highly developed skillset and collaboration among many different teams, so prioritizing hiring and retaining the best people will be a competitive advantage.
Finally, even as AR and other trending topics capture attention, mastering the basics and always remaining audience-centric will continue to make a difference. “It always comes down to your audience,” said Crooker. “Value is in the eye of the attendee.”