As part of a lockdown pivot, Blogosphere has embarked upon a new journey that includes virtual events. It has been a learning curve, but now with ten events complete and many more planned, we thought we’d share our experiences and knowledge of this new reality.
When lockdown struck and the world came to a halt, the balance of life as we then knew it was shaken up. All upcoming summer plans were cancelled. Uncertainty was everywhere. How could we would organise photo shoots, print the magazine, distribute to shops that were now shut? And what about our events – the Awards, the Festival? Should we furlough?
Although furloughing could have been an option, we decided instead to pivot the business. Over the years, we have developed many branches of Blogosphere – our magazine, our events, our podcast and our network. But we hadn’t pulled all of that into one place. We hadn’t built out one community.
We realigned our focus and worked on creating a proposition that was valuable to our existing magazine subscribers, podcast listeners, event attendees and network members. We wanted to bring them all together and really cultivate a community.
We soon realised that to build this community successfully, we would still need to bring people together in some sort of events capacity. Usually we would host physical events to connect with one another, but the restrictions on social gatherings meant this was off the cards. The first thought was adopting Zoom, but it didn’t feel very ‘Blogosphere’, and even back in April the amount of quizzes with friends was leading to #ZoomFatigue. We wanted to create something more immersive; something as close to real life events as possible.
Before coronavirus, virtual events were slowly gaining traction, but when the virus took hold and social gatherings were banned, they moved to the forefront of the events industry’s conversations.
We set about brainstorming what components previously made a successful Blogosphere event. Once we’d done that, we removed the element of people interacting face-to-face and saw what was left. The remaining components we found were shared location, guest journey and shared common interest.
1) Shared Location
A key part of organising an event, prior to coronavirus, is the venue search. Getting the right venue took site visit after site visit because the style of the space you are holding your event in determines the kind of behaviour guests will adopt.
Having a designated location where an event will be taking place makes the attendees not only feel a part of something, but they also commit to sharing that time with everyone there.
2) Guest Journey
This needs to give the guests autonomy. Autonomy of conversation, of event experience and of who you talk to. The guest needs to be in control of their own experience. Without autonomy you strip away the ‘by chance’ causality found in real life events. An organic encounter between two strangers is one of the best ways to network.
3) Shared Common Interest
The guests attending come for a reason, whether that is entertainment, socialising, or education. The content provided at the events needed to be stronger than ever to combat the non live aspect and to make sure the engagement levels were as high as real life events.
We called our findings our ‘component compass’, and with that in mind, the search for a virtual program began! As mentioned, for many, video call programs were the popular go-to as many people had been using programs such as Skype, FaceTime and such for a long time and thus were already familiar with how they worked. However, this option didn’t have one of our key components – shared location – so we kept looking.
Our industry (the influencer industry) has the advantage of being slightly more technically savvy than most. Our audience lives online. This led our search into the realms of virtual realities; worlds that exist in real time via an online platform. Our thoughts kept falling back to programs like the SIMS, Club Penguin and Animal Crossing (the amount of Animal Crossing tweets we saw during lockdown was incredible!), but we needed a more professional setting; a LinkedIn sort of version.
It was then that we found VirBELA; a virtual office space and events platform where individuals create avatars, which can move around the virtual world and interact with each other using their own voices.
Our virtual events
The first event we had in mind was a Blogosphere Virtual Festival. We invited guests to attend panels, interviews, talks and workshops via their avatars. We had found our virtual venue and were eager to make up for the missed time. 120 attendees joined us for the day experiencing everything from our previous live events now in the virtual world.
In the build up to the event we realised that even though the program is easy to use, this was a whole new concept for everybody involved. We didn’t want people’s first experience of the platform to be at the main event, we wanted to familiarise them to the software and iron out any potential glitches ahead of time.
Our solution was to introduce our community members into the virtual world by hosting smaller free events in the run up to the main event. Each week we ran a free webinar for our community who were planning on coming to the upcoming festival. The more time you spend in the virtual world, the more familiar you become with it and the more you get out of each visit. Having the webinars leading up to the main festival provided enough learning time so that the festival itself ran smoothly and, from the feedback we received, was a big success.
“I was able to promote my website and a variety of products using interactive screens in my private room and I achieved a large number of downloads… My presentation in the conference room went smoothly, the technology worked perfectly and the Q&A session in my private room afterwards allowed for more in-depth and personalised engagement.”– Rupa Shah, Hashtag Ad
Benefits of the platform
While we were looking for a platform that would be as close to real life as possible, what we didn’t expect was to find that some elements of virtual events actually work better than real life:
- You can make certain imagery in the space clickable – so brands can track how many downloads of materials there have been
- During presentations (if you are an admin) you can mute everyone in the audience and guarantee that there are no interruptions
- There is a chat box, which means that as the presentations are going on audience members can ask questions without interrupting the flow
- There’s an option to send private messages to other attendees. So if you want to arrange to meet someone, you can contact them direct
- There is an option to ‘find’ other attendees. So if you arrive and know that someone else is there, but not where they are, you can click on their name and press ‘Go To’ and your avatar will find them. (Not ideal for hide and seek!).
- You have an option to ‘Zoom in’ on the presentation screen, which means that is doesn’t matter where you are in the room, you can guarantee good visibility
- You can kick users out of the world. Fortunately, we haven’t had to use this, but should there be someone mis-behaving, you don’t need to worry about security!
- Another big positive of running virtual events is that they are accessible to members of our community who are unable to travel to London. It has been great to get to meet members who have been part of Blogosphere for years, but unable to make it to events.
In addition to two Blogosphere Virtual Festivals (one in May and one in July), we have hosted a Creative Day, webinars on SEO, Influencer Marketing and Photography, and a Community Networking Event. You can read more about each of these on Blogosphere’s blog.
Although there are some areas that virtual events can’t fill – an Awards ceremony is never going to feel as special online as it does in real life – we have found that they work incredibly well for education, exhibitions and networking. And we intend to have them as part of our mix even when we reach the other side of Covid-19.
If you are thinking about hosting virtual events, or want host one in conjunction with us, please do get in touch – [email protected]