By Ronn Levine, originally published on SIPA blog.
When you go on the Pro Farmer site, you see a cool ticker-tape message: “Register for free to attend this year’s nightly Crop Tour virtual meetings & watch from your own home.” Crop Tour is perhaps their biggest annual event; I’ve had great conversations with marketing director Joe May about it in the past, and I’ve promised to catch up with him after this year’s event—going on now—ends.
One thing that I will definitely ask him is, when in-person events return to our world, will virtual participation be a part of that? In other words, will hybrid events be the new normal?
“There are people in your community who will never come to an event but would benefit greatly from it,” Brian Cuthbert, group vice president, Diversified Communications U.S., told me a couple months ago, speaking about the potential of virtual participation in the future. “Are you leaving money on the table by not giving that segment of audience an opportunity to become a customer and spend some money with you?”
We’ve all been disrupted to different degrees during COVID-19. But when we do return to some sort of normalcy—hopefully soon—hybrid events will be a new staple. Here are other elements that might remain prevalent post-pandemic:
News hubs. Many organizations, SIPA members among them, were quick to create a coronavirus news hub with free resources and articles. Almost every publisher I’ve interviewed has said their hub has brought excellent engagement—and goodwill because most are paywall-free. Of course, we all hope that nothing takes over our lives like COVID-19 has. But the success of these news hubs could provide a blueprint for future hubs around big-ticket or charitable topics.
Virtual demos. According to a Brand United report, B2B publisher HousingWire has been hosting virtual software demo days to educate its audience of mortgage lenders and real estate professionals about technology solutions that enable business continuity during the pandemic. “We looked at the environment, we looked at what our clients were looking for, we looked at the needs of our audience, and were able to bring together a product that we’re going to repeat again and again and again that solves a lot for those needs on both sides of the equation,” says HousingWire CEO Clayton Collins.
More collaborative meetings. People are getting more comfortable with their cameras being on for meetings and making comments. In a webinar last October on managing remote employees, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, said that “frequency of cameras being disabled has become an issue that we’ve tried to address. We are encouraging people to use the video component.” Added Prashara: “It’s very difficult for people to talk on top of each other because the system can’t handle it. People will give people the opportunity to finish a sentence before they talk and etiquette starts to get creative. You don’t even have to define it—it starts to happen.”
Remote working. In comments from a video call published by Associations Now, Sunil Prashara, president and CEO of the Project Management Institute, said that workers’ increasing comfort with remote work and videoconferencing will outlast COVID-19. He also believes it can increase productivity. In a survey of some members we did here last week, 38% of respondents checked, “I actually like remote working and will do it more when offices reopen.” Added Fink: “There are people here that we would’ve hated to lose if we didn’t allow them to work remotely.”
Better listening. With more people working remotely, the sense of being “left out” of meetings may dissipate. Said Prashara: “There could be 30 people watching, but I’m just seeing your face and you’re just seeing my face—therefore, it’s a bit more intense. There’s more of a likelihood that you’re going to be listening a little bit more attentively.”
Better platforms and tools. Zoom, of course, has become hugely popular, and other similar platforms will follow. Copyrightlaws.com, was having great success with their Zoom On Ins prior to the pandemic. Making these platforms part of our everyday—even in the best of times—will only improve what we offer. Money-Media was quick to order “kits for a number of staff who were having difficulty being efficient in their home work space; things like a mouse, keyboard, monitor, office chair, etc.,” Fink said. “Most of these items are pretty inexpensive on amazon.com but go a long way to helping staff be productive and letting people know how much we appreciate their hard work during this crisis.”