10 things to know if you’re hosting a virtual event
This is the year of virtual events.
With mass gatherings restricted across the world many festivals and events are looking to run virtual editions to keep their audiences engaged and maintain their fanbases. But they are fundamentally different to physical events: rather than taking place in a field or a venue where the audience is engaged, they’re being delivered in the home where they’re competing against the whole of the internet, TV and video games.
Globally, there are over 800 million people engaging with livestreams on Facebook and Instagram every day, but even on lengthy music-led live streams it’s not uncommon for the average view length to be under two minutes. A live stream has not achieved its goal of keeping fans engaged with the brand if they only spend a minute or two watching. Isn’t live entertainment designed to be consumed over 30 minutes or longer?
You need to think outside the box for your virtual event if you want to nurture and entertain your fans. Having looked at some of the most successful live streams, here are my thoughts on what makes an exceptional show:
1. Constant engagement with your fans throughout the show holds viewers. A great example of this is Bongo’s Bingo: you play along with them and if you got a bingo line right you’d WhatsApp them and then they’d randomly call some of those people live on air. You can keep the audience engaged with polls, asking for comments and doing shout-outs.
2. Virtualise the atmosphere of your physical events. Secret Cinema produce immersive cinema experiences. They have recently created Secret Sofa, a weekly immersive virtual event. Andrea Moccia, senior producer, explained to me on Business Keeps on Dancing earlier this month they have managed to translate that atmosphere by sending out carefully crafted preparation emails in advance of the shows letting their audience know what to wear, what to cook and what to drink to get into the mood of the film. The audience respond every week by posting up their outfits, drinks and food creation into the Facebook group.
3. Surprise and delight your audience by offering them unexpected rewards. This concept is proven to promote customer loyalty and engagement. Why not give all of your viewers unexpected gifts or offers for your physical events? Running competitions with low barriers to entry and picking lots of winners for a low-value prize is a great way to do this.
4. Make it physical. While social distancing is in place, we may not be able to gather, but can still use a plethora of services to bring things physically to people’s homes – what can you do with Deliveroo, Uber Eats or advance sales of drinks, food and merchandise?
5. Create intimate moments. People attend events to meet people. It’s hard for audiences to have meaningful encounters in a central stream chat. Can you host more intimate after-parties where audiences can interact on video chats directly?
6. Build up to a peak. Keep your audience in the loop with where you’re up to and keep teasing the next parts that are coming up. Radio presenters are great at this; they build up their audience to a peak that’s coming much later on in the show to hold the audience.
7. Go behind the scenes. There’s a degree of unpredictability and spontaneity that you can get away with on a live stream; showing spur-of-the-moment tours of your house, room or studio or backstage bits can be great. Fatboy Slim’s debut of his daughter as Fat Girl Slim on his channels was interspersed with snippets around his house, and her set was punctuated with appearances from Norman as he made sure her DJ set stayed on track. What can you show viewers behind the scenes that gives a personal insight into your acts?
8. Use a host. Bring variation to back to back performances with a host or presenter. The most listened-to radio stations are defined by their presenters. Pick one with a personality who has a following in their own right to present and engage with your audience over the whole show, keep them engaged in what is coming up next, and tie the whole day together. On Tomorrowland’s streams their presenter comes on between each DJ to introduce the upcoming set.
9. Entertain visually. Remember you’re broadcasting video as well as audio. What are you doing to entertain the audience visually and hold their attention? Sunwaves Festival overlay 3D mapped visuals behind their DJs to bring their sets to life. Can you bring in visuals, music videos or fun and games?
10. Offer different entertainment options. Your audience will be in varying moods and viewing situations. Why not have some parts of the day with multiple stages with different tempo activities, as if it were a greenfield festival? Your day could crescendo on the main stream for a headliner performance, just like would happen at a festival.
You’re competing with the best-funded entertainment purveyors in the world. If you want to keep your audience engaged you need to plan your content as if you’re writing a TV show or a radio show.
Take time to create an exceptional concept for your show, building in as many of the key takeaways above as your resource will allow.
Turning sustainability into saleability
The issue of sustainability and the future of our planet has gripped the globe. Greta Thunberg has been arguably the world’s most foremost speaker in 2019, with every week something related to the topic dominating newsfeeds, be it freak weather, Amazonian fires or growing plastic reserves in our oceans.
It’s becoming omnipresent in the festivals and events space as well, with this year’s season being dominated by it. David Attenborough spoke at Glastonbury to congratulate their attendees for not using plastic, the festival also celebrating 99.3% of people taking their tents home and seeing over 2,000 people join climate change campaign group Extinction Rebellion. The Reading and Leeds Festivals also saw an upturn in sustainable behaviour, with 60% fewer tents left behind as a consequence of their own partnership with Extinction Rebellion.
Musicians also continue to take a stand, the most recent involving the 1975 pledging to plant a tree for every ticket on their tour sold.
The carbon footprint of festivals is one reason for the matter becoming so prominent, but we’re seeing it develop into a much bigger issue for the people that fund the events: the millions of festival ticket buyers. As a new generation of event attendees emerges, a younger demographic even more worried about the plight of the planet has thrust it beyond a side issue to an essential component of any festival or event’s identity.
According to a recent YouGov report, “a quarter (27%) of Britons now cite the environment in their top three issues facing the country, putting it behind only Brexit (67%) and health (32%). Among young Britons concern is higher still, with fully 45% of 18–24-year-olds saying environmental issues are one of the nation’s most pressing concerns, elevating it above health as their second biggest concern behind Brexit (57%).”
Could festivals and events harness consumer’s passions for sustainability issues to their advantage when marketing their shows?
YouGov’s research shows that Extinction Rebellion’s protests across the country have been the catalyst for this, and despite former PM Theresa May committing to net zero UK carbon emissions by 2050, the objections continue. We’re continuing to see this trend show up within festivals. Ticketmaster’s recent survey of 4,000 festival punters (the State of Play UK festivals report), found that a festival being eco-friendly was very important for 57% of attendees, and that waste reduction is very important for 62%.
It’s clear that environmental issues are incredibly important for festivalgoers, and luckily we are also seeing that the festival industry is responding. As well as Glastonbury banning single-use plastics this year, the Live Nation Green Charter across 20 festivals made a number of pledges around reducing the impact each event had. And smaller independent festivals have been leading the way for years, with Shambala, Green Man and many more all making sustainability a central tenet of how their events are delivered.
It’s heartening to see the industry make these steps, particularly as the damage to the environment they can cause needs reversing. But many of these initiatives are time-consuming and can also be daunting for newer events with smaller budgets.
I work with a multitude of events and festivals through my role as a director at Mustard Media, a festivals and events accelerator, and sustainability is a common topic of conversation among all our employees and with our discussions with clients. We looked inwards and asked ourselves if there was a way to deliver an impact with a quicker turnaround.
Could festivals and events harness consumer’s passions for sustainability issues to their advantage when marketing their shows, helping save the environment as part of their main marketing message?
It’s clear that environmental issues are incredibly important for festivalgoers, and the festival industry is responding
Corporate responsibility is an integral part of branding across all sectors, and we’re firm believers that if you can instil positive change when promoting your event, then you should take the opportunity to do so. We were curious to see if it was possible to utilise the power of marketing to make festivals more sustainable – and, in turn, sell more tickets whilst helping events reduce their carbon footprint via some simple promotional steps. We looked into our Mustard Media toolbox and decided running a mini version of our Event Growth Hack workshop could help us come up with a range of solutions for festivals to address this issue.
The Event Growth Hack is a simple process for rapidly solving marketing challenges. After initial research and evaluation, a collaborative workshop session is held which pools the creativity of all parties. A cluster of ideas are generated before a streamlined democratic decision-making process whittles down the most effective marketing solutions for events and festivals. We traditionally use it to help energise festivals mid-campaign or provide a quick burst of creativity when there are time constraints. We figured we could utilise the process to generate some positive ideas for festivals helping the environment alongside promoting their event.
We booked a day out with a crack team to see what ideas we could come up with, identifying five quick hacks and five bigger projects any event or festival could deploy. Among our discoveries were being able to utilise social media engagement to plant trees; reward green behaviour of attendees both before and after the event; and even use the power of comedy to raise awareness. Each initiative could directly benefit the environment and keep sustainability as an issue at the forefront of the marketing message. And as with all experiments in creativity, they can be the catalyst for further ideas to do the same.
We already plan to use these initiatives with both our clients and the festivals we work with as partners in 2020 – a new year and new decade where we envisage sustainability will be an even more dominant issue within the industry.
Visit our website and read our article to learn more about the initiatives and how you could implement these in your own marketing plans.
Rob Masterson is managing director of Mustard Media.