If you stream it, will they come?
Back in 2009, the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) addressed that question head on and began an initiative to add live-streaming and other virtual features to its own flagship events. PCMA represents the world’s largest network of event and meeting strategists.
To understand more about PCMA’s initiative, we sat down with Jennifer Kingen Kush, Vice President and Executive Director of PCMA’s Digital Experience Institute. According to Jennifer, there was an industry-wide concern about adding options like live-streaming to face-to-face events. Many feared that such steps could cannibalize in-person turnout. On top of that, some were skeptical that people would even want to attend a conference virtually.
“PCMA leaders felt strongly that just the opposite was the case,” Jennifer said.
In other words, PCMA saw streaming and other online options as a way to expand event reach to a hungry pool of virtual attendees. In turn, the actions of those attendees could actually bring about a series of positive long-term outcomes for PCMA.
Ultimately, those leaders were right, to put it mildly. Not only did face-to-face attendance grow year over year at PCMA events; the push into virtual event options generated $1M in revenue and added nearly 2,000 new members. If you’d like to see the numbers that quantify PCMA’s astounding success, you can check out its six-year case study.
To get you and your colleagues thinking about – and perhaps planning for – your own digital events initiative, we’ve distilled five key insights from Jennifer and her team at PCMA’s Digital Experience Institute.
- Define your goals and establish metrics. Well before the cameras are turned on, you need to define what you’re trying to achieve by adding a digital component to your face-to-face event. For example, let’s say you want to live-stream in order to extend your event’s reach and generate more interest in your organization. In that case, you may want to track the number of digital attendees you get and then follow their behavior after the event. For instance, did they . . .
- Open post-event emails?
- Make any purchases?
- Become a member?
- Register to attend online again the following year?
- Upgrade to attending in person?
By demonstrating that you have purposeful goals and a way to measure them, you’re more likely to get buy-in from stakeholders. On top of that, the data that you do end up gathering can be extremely valuable in helping you continually improve your digital strategies.
- Wade in wisely: strategize and start small. Speaking of strategies, even if you’re already gung-ho about digital event options, you still need to be deliberate about how you begin incorporating them. A good rule of thumb is to start small. By doing that, you’ll be able to use each digital endeavor as a learning experience upon which you can improve the next time around.
This also helps from a budgetary standpoint. If you’re new to the world of digital events, your executives may be wary of allocating funds to something they deem experimental. Easing into things with carefully selected – and closely tracked – virtual options will help you establish a path of year-over-year improvement.
- Focus on engaging your digital attendees. First, you’ll likely need to be selective with what goes online, so choose content you think will be particularly compelling for your online viewers. But that’s only the beginning. Your digital attendees want to be more than just observers. Prevent them from feeling like second-class participants by making a concerted effort to engage them:
- Use event emcees to lead discussions on social media
- Use facilitators to connect online attendees directly with event sessions, especially for Q&A opportunities
- Give online attendees a chance to provide feedback with features such as on-the-fly polling
- Expose online attendees to experiences that go beyond regular sessions and take them into the conversations going on in the hallways
One note on that last point: Based on feedback from online attendees, PCMA has successfully begun conducting “virtual happy hours” as part of its regular online event programming.
- Seize the power of repurposing. Let’s say you’re live-streaming keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and Q&As with industry experts. You should seriously consider capturing all that great content. The resulting video can be repurposed for a multitude of other uses:
- Rebroadcast it to an audience that may be on the other side of the globe
- Repurpose it for educational use and develop a searchable library of video resources
- Slice and dice video content to create promotional videos for your website
- Have transcripts created and convert insights from the video into blog posts, articles, whitepapers, and e-books
- Think long-term: this is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember that tip about starting small? Consider PCMA’s approach. Through careful planning and beta-testing, PCMA learns and adjusts each year, and then expands its online event presence accordingly.
More specifically, PCMA began planning for digital events in 2009 and then live-streamed just six sessions the following year. Today in 2018, at its most recent conference, PCMA live-streamed 19 sessions, 63 interviews, four virtual happy hours, and two lunch-hour tech-focused spots – plus it captured a ton more for people to review on-demand. That’s an impressive scope of online activity, but it’s important to note that it’s the culmination of a nearly decade-long process.
If you’d like to start adding live-streaming and other virtual features to your own annual events and conferences, check out our Mediasite Events team, which has been a long-time partner with PCMA.
Jennifer also recently presented a webinar with us called “How to Generate $1M+ and Thousands of New Members with Event Streaming.”
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