Live events are one of the many casualties of Coronavirus, as thousands of conferences, trade shows, forums, and other networking opportunities have gotten called off since the pandemic began. For digital publishers who relied on hosting live events to generate revenue, the disruption has been especially painful.
According to Forbes Magazine’s Coronavirus Cancellation Tracker, more than 83 million attendees have changed their plans because of Covid-19. Festivals, conferences, shows, meetups, and sporting events have all been cancelled, postponed, or moved online.
With no concrete timeline as to when things will return to normal, publishers who had been generating revenue through live events are left wondering what’s next for them. Will people still want to attend live events in 2021? If not, then how long will concerns about Covid-19 decrease attendance? Will live events ever be a profit driver for digital publishers again?
Nobody knows for sure what the future will hold. In the interim, there are plenty of things that digital publishers can do to prop up their live events while they wait for the “new normal” to arrive.
We’ve talked a lot about how local publishers use live events to drive profitability here at Web Publisher PRO. We’ve seen publishers hosting conferences, community festivals, reader meetups, awards shows, festivals, and concerts. We’ve also seen publishers sponsoring similar events hosted by other businesses in their communities. Now that it’s clear that few publishers will be hosting live events this year, and possibly not until the second half of 2021, it’s time to reimagine what’s possible.
What do virtual conferences, forums, and festivals look like in a practical sense?
Face-to-face events can’t be exactly replicated online. Outside of the technology requirements, which can be vast, publishers who are hosting live events are finding that most attendees simply won’t pay for tickets to an event that basically amounts to a Zoom meeting. In order to generate real revenue from virtual events, publishers need to get creative and find ways to add value.
Planning a Virtual Conference
Hosting live events in the Covid era can still be a profitable endeavour. While a certain amount of creativity is needed, virtual conferences and other events can still provide value for both attendees and sponsors.
The types of events that digital publishers usually host are about more than just education. Yes, the speakers are important. But networking with fellow readers and industry leaders is a big part of the value proposition, as well. If they expect to be hosting live events in the Covid era, digital publishers need to think about what attendees are looking to get from their events and how they can provide that value in a virtual setting.
Finding Sponsors for Online Conferences
One way that publishers can attract event sponsors is by offering to feature their companies in social media posts and by creating sponsor landing pages that are linked to from their websites. In this way, hosting live events in the Covid era is not unlike selling website sponsorships. Publishers might entice sponsors to participate in their virtual conferences by offering to create and publish content on their behalf.
Another thing that publishers should think about when hosting live events in a virtual setting is what networking opportunities are available to attendees. The chance to network with likeminded peers is a major selling point for live events, and it’s what has traditionally helped digital publishers drive ticket sales at conferences, forums, and community gatherings.
Although it is still too early to point to a single, sure-fire approach, we are seeing more and more publishers developing private social media groups and pages for event attendees. Inviting attendees to join private groups on Facebook can be an incentive to sign up for virtual conferences. It also gives the publisher the ability to keep an eye on the crowd and navigate group conversations toward topics that are relevant to the specific event.
Another way to entice people to purchase tickets to a virtual event, or hold onto tickets for live events that have been postponed, is by publishing on-demand content online. Giving attendees access to webinars, videos, and podcasts that the general public is not privy to can serve as a big incentive for people to keep their tickets.
Industry-wide, digital publishers are finding that attendance at webinars has increased since this spring. People are still looking for professional education and information, even during a pandemic. Publishers who can meet that demand and find ways to host events safely stand to see real gains, both financially and in terms of industry reputation.
Have you attended any virtual conferences or seminars this year? Let us know what’s worked and what you hope to see from other virtual events as the industry moves forward.