This week’s #EventIcons guest is one of the most respected figures in digital media. He has a 20-year history in thought leadership, experiential events, and technology. Got your attention? Read on!
This iconic guest has developed integrated digital video strategies for large media companies, including Viacom and Discovery. And last but not least, he is the CEO of VidCon, the world’s largest convention for online video creators. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Jim Louderback!
The Success Story Of VidCon Now
First, Jim and Sarah talk about how VidCon handled the beginning of the pandemic one year ago. When they realized they won’t be able to do in-person events in 2020 and the initial shock wore off, they started thinking of ways to pivot to virtual events.
“We could do a virtual version, but it’s just going to be four days of non-stop Zoom calls,” says Jim. But that didn’t sit well with the team. “We have an audience of fans, teens that want to see their creators. We have an audience of creators that want to learn how to make better content. They need VidCon. So we said, why don’t we do VidCon all summer? We’ll launch an online platform and create an online community on Discord. If they can’t come to us to VidCon, we’ll bring the power of VidCon to them.” And so, VidCon Now was born. “All summer we did 200 sessions, but over the course of 13 weeks.”
Hybrid Event Trends: Keep Doing Virtual & Bring Back In-Person!
Sarah wonders whether it was hard to come up with all that content. “It wasn’t hard to do the content,” replies Jim. “The hard part was taking a team that was used to doing face-to-face events and having them learn how to do events that are digitally delivered. How to promote it, how to market it, how to build it? We basically had to do something completely different. As it turns out, the fans really wanted that all around the world.”
They were so amazed by their outreach that they decided to keep doing VidCon Now. “We love engaging with our audience around the clock and reaching people all around the world. We’re planning five events in different parts of the world, but we were able to reach people in 180 countries. Some people can’t come to VidCon because of money, time, or distance, but they still want that VidCon experience. This year, the goal is to keep doing that for three or four things a week. At the same time, we’re starting to plan what face-to-face events will look like at the end of this year. Our goal is to bring all of them back the second half of this year.”
Hybrid Event Trends: Creating Models For The Future
Sarah brings the conversation to current trends in the events industry: the hybrid models. “The virtual portion was a learning curve, but now, we are marrying that with the in-person, which can be challenging,” she says. “What do we need to consider when thinking of future hybrid models?”
“First, look at the people and see who can do what and who has interests in different areas. Once you figure out the people that you have and what they can do, also figure out how you break down the hybrid situation. So it’s not just one big, scary thing, but it’s really three different things,” explains Jim. “The first thing you need to ask yourself is how are you going to engage your audience when your event isn’t happening. Maybe it’s once a week, maybe it’s once a month. Just think about ways to engage your audiences digitally and help them rediscover the joy and the wonder of the concept of your event, what you do, and the community that you bring.”
“Then think about the event itself. During the event, you want to be able to make that event available to people who can’t come physically for health, distance, or time reasons. You don’t need to stream all of it. You don’t need to just to replicate that live experience digitally, but pull the best pieces together, crafted into something that you think is going to make sense. Make that available digitally for people to connect. Figure out where the intersections are, where you want to bring the digital version and the face-to-face version, IRL and URL, together. It’s not going to be everywhere. Some things just don’t work digitally and vice versa.”
“And finally, after your event, capture the essence of some of those sessions and then package them up. That way, people who couldn’t go to the event can watch them and experience them later at their leisure.”
Keep An Open Mind!
“Be open to being surprised about what might work. For example, we do meet-and-greets. You get to meet your favorite creators, take a selfie with them and get a hug. I thought that there was no way we’d be able to do that digitally. It’s an entirely different experience. But as it turns out, we ran into this online service app called Channelize that actually let us do digital meet-and-greets that actually worked. You didn’t get a hug with your favorite creator, but you did get a minute conversation with them, you got to snap a selfie and post it.”
“We’re a B2B event and a fan event. On the B2B events side, the virtual fatigue got real. On the industry side, we decided to find a really important topic. And rather than doing 30 minutes or 45 minutes, we took one day of a month and did two hours with a little virtual networking afterwards and really dove in on that topic. Rather than doing industry stuff all the time, we do one key, big event per month and bring people together.”
Hybrid Event Trends: Expectations Of The Next Generation Attendee
Sarah thinks that the future generations have different expectations of events as we move into the future. She asks Jim whether he can offer any insights into what those expectations might be.
“I told the team as we moved from from face-to-face events to virtual events that we’re not making television. These YouTube stars and TikTok stars are going to be way better at making video than we ever will be. What we’re about is the three Cs. It’s about community, connection, and content. So lean into all three of those because they are the three pillars you need to build your digital strategy on,” he says.
Building An Online Community
Jim talks more about how he built a community online and what he thinks he should’ve done differently. “I made the decision not to put industry on Slack and everybody else on Discord because I wanted everybody in one place. Because that’s the power of VidCon.” In retrospect, he thinks it might have been a better idea to move some of it to Slack. “Think about your audience and the sorts of experiences in the digital world that they’re used to. Try and shape it a little bit to that versus forcing them into an experience they just might not be ready for.”
“Also take a look at the things that you’ve been building and what you’re learning. It may not be right in one context, but it could be better in a different context. So for example, we moved towards doing AMAs on Discord with the creators. That’s working out really well. As we start to go back to doing face-to-face events later this year, I want to start reinvigorating Discord so that when you buy a ticket, you get invited to a special area of our Discord server where you can come connect with other people that are going as well.” That way, they use online tools to build community and expectations about the event before it event happens.
Sarah wants to know what Jim’s team is planning for the rest of 2021. “What’s possible and what we still have to wait around for?”
“When you look at events over the last four or five years, we had to react really quickly when some terrible things happened in the world. We built perimeters around our event, we put in metal detectors and bag checks,” says Jim. “The Anaheim convention center is wide open, so anybody can stroll over from Disneyland into the convention center. So we had to create the reality and the visual indicators of security. So when we go back to doing face-to-face events, we’re going to have to do the same thing with health and welfare. We have to create the reality of a healthy space and we have to create the visible markers as well. Is it temperature checks? Are we handing out masks to everybody? Do we social distance?” Jim’s team will do it all.
Conclusive Thoughts & Tips
To wrap up this wonderful conversation about VidCon and hybrid event trends, Sarah asks Jim to share a tip for event planners in these unprecedented times. “Just be flexible. Things are going to change really quickly. The thing that we think is going to work might not work, but something else that somebody else is doing might. Listen to this podcast, listen to others, read, see what other people are doing and borrow it. Network with people who are in the event business. I learned so much just from talking to people who are facing the same problems.”
Even if you’re unsure about throwing a hybrid event or going back to in-person events, just try it out! “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because the audience will be forgiving,” adds Jim. “They want to come back to see us. They want the experiences that we build. So as long as we adapt to that and try different things, it’s going to be great.”
So, follow Jim’s advice: make sure you join us again for the next #EventIcons episode and read some extra hybrid event content if you wish to learn more about the hottest trends in the ever-evolving world of events industry!