2022 was the year of proving the value of in-person events, and 2023 is the year of really digging in and understanding what hybrid can and should be. Planners can start by examining four important questions.
We’re going back to in-person. I didn’t have a hybrid strategy in 2019, so why do I need one now?
Pre-2020, virtual events existed but they did not have the scale they do today. There are two reasons for this: 1) Nearly every potential attendee has been exposed to a digital offering, and 2) we now have the resources and infrastructure that we did not have access to previously. It was harder to scale when people were not as comfortable executing or attending digital events. But now we live in a world where nearly everyone can Zoom. It has moved from being an add-on to an expected feature. In addition, we are entering a time where the pendulum that has swung from purely digital to purely in-person events is settling. We’ve got six solid months of data on in-person events and the return to the office. We can finally start to find patterns in behavior that can guide us making decisions about what kinds of in-person and digital experiences we want to deliver.
What is hybrid anyway?
Hybrid simply means that some of the content is consumed in person and some of the content is consumed digitally. There’s no shortage of options for how to create digital content. For example:
- Live presentation
- Livestreaming of live presentation
- Recording of live presentation available at a scheduled time
- Recording of a live presentation available on-demand
- Pre-recorded presentation available at a scheduled time
- Pre-recorded presentation available on-demand
But there are many other creative ways to capture and repurpose content, including:
- Interview with presenter after session, sharing key takeaways
- Audio-only recording of the session
- Five-minute edited highlight reel of the session
- Social post that shares a 30-second clip of a key session point
- Article that shares the top 10 takeaways from the session
- Podcast where the session presenter is interviewed
- Podcast where outside experts discuss the session
The list goes on and on. Remember that a hybrid strategy is actually a content strategy. It starts with understanding what you want that piece of content to accomplish, then you can determine the best way to deliver it. We shouldn’t make the mistake of jumping right to the execution phase and trying to define hybrid through that. Don’t start the conversation at livestreaming or on-demand. Use the following questions to guide your decisions:
- Who is the audience for this piece of content?
- How long is their attention span?
- What are the key things we need to deliver — e.g., information, education credits, promotion of our organization?
- What channels do we have available to push out the content?
Answering these questions will help you to determine the best path forward for your content.
Bonus tip: You should always be thinking about how you will reuse session content and include this in your content-planning process.
Isn’t hybrid expensive?
It’s important to understand your level of investment through the lens of the results it delivers. It will vary depending on an organization’s strategic goals and objectives, but you can build a simple framework to help you make decisions by understanding who is partaking in your digital offerings and weighing that against the cost and resources spent. For example, if you are spending $5,000 to livestream a digital session and 50 people attend, then your cost per individual equals $100/person. It makes it simpler to assign a cost to the audience, which helps with your ROI measurement. If you are expecting 50 mid-career professionals whom you are targeting for membership, you may consider that $100/person cost well spent. If you are expecting 50 students who currently do not have a lot of impact on the organization, you may choose to just record the session and make it available later, or only record the audio. This kind of thinking can help you develop a cost-effective, decision-making framework.
Who should own our hybrid strategy?
It’s a question that people may not — but should — be asking. Many organizations have existing programs for online education that are funded and successful. There may be a lot of overlap between the digital content repurposed from the in-person event and education modules offered. It’s important to develop a holistic approach to ensure the organization is fully leveraging both the available content and the resources.
By taking the time to think through these questions and being very intentional with our strategies and resources, planners can feel confident in their decisions around integrating hybrid options into their events.
Beth Surmont, CMP, FASAE, CAE, is vice president of event strategy and design for marketing, strategy, and experience agency 360 Live Media.