ORLANDO As companies and associations grow more comfortable with producing hybrid events, they are transitioning to new online strategies to provide year-round engagement. That was the message from Michael Doyle, executive director of the Virtual Edge Institute, during a panel discussion Monday at the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders conference at the Orange County Convention Center.
Doyle cited Cisco, which created Cisco Live 365 as a free site for ongoing engagement. “Every month there is activity within Cisco Live 365 that brings the audience back into the environment,” Doyle said. “Their concept is really to build that digital bridge with valuable content and valuable subject matter expertise available to people.”
Planners can use the online platform as a hub for all education programs, including content developed at face-to-face events as well as additional seminars and programs developed throughout the year for online distribution. As a benefit, users don’t have to create new profiles or learn to navigate new systems since the content is all housed in one platform. These online communities can also serve as a valuable tool when it's time to promote the physical event.
Marketing the online component of conferences and meetings should happen in tandem with marketing the face-to-face event. Panelist Corbin Ball, a consultant, said planners should accept that some of their target audience are unable to attend in-person events, so offering some content online reaches a new audience. He cited a survey by Meeting Professional International that found the top two reasons people do not attend a business event are lack of money or lack of time. Online programs can also benefit those who do attend in-person events. “It’s a sales tool for them to go back to their management and say, 'Not only can I go to the event, but I can have access to all the content, all the sessions that I didn’t get.' That is a number one selling tool for them to justify attendance at your physical event,” Doyle said.
For the second half of the discussion, two representatives from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society explained the evolution of their hybrid strategy. JoAnn Klinedinst, vice president of professional development, and Karen Malone, vice president of meeting services, shared how they are switching from last year's multiday hybrid event to a format in 2013 that has a live stream of one keynote—President Bill Clinton—and an exhibition floor with educational highlights recorded and shared on demand. The organization has also made a dramatic change to its online registration fees. In 2012, the online event had fees ranging from $295 to $549, depending on the type of registrant. For 2013, online access will be a flat $39. “We are looking at this year’s program as a briefing, so we want the program pricing to be in line with expectations. We are competing with so much free content on the Web,” Malone said. In 2012, 852 people registered for the online program; the organization hopes the low price will help that number grow to 3,500 this year.