Way back in 2015, I wrote an article called “Events are Flowers; they should be Elephants” making the case that the surge of compelling event technology should enable events to expand their attendee engagement well beyond the duration of the actual event.
“The mistake we have made is treating events like a perishable; like an ephemeral flower that will bloom and die in three days. Events should be elephants. Thundering on for a 100 years, and remembering everything. This is the promise of what events can become, of what the physical world and software together can accomplish.”
But alas, this vision has not yet come to pass.
How am I so sure? Because we saw the data. At DoubleDutch, between 2015 when I wrote the Flowers / Elephants post, and 2019 when we sold DoubleDutch, we powered thousands of events, some with aspirations to become year round communities.
We had built functionality to serve precisely this 365 day use case; features such as messaging, groups, and content feeds. But nothing seemed to work. We consistently saw a drastic drop off of event app engagement when the event ended. Attendee posts to the feed fell off the cliff. Attendees mostly stopped messaging each other, and frequently the messages that were sent post-event were not answered. The numbers don’t lie - your engagement is what your metrics say it is. Events remained events; white hot, but fleeting engagements that withered to zero when people got on planes to return to their lives.
Why did we fail? It’s hard to say for sure. Perhaps event teams weren’t properly structured or incentivized to drive year round engagement. Perhaps the tech wasn’t good enough, or attendees didn’t want to be engaged year round. Changing behaviors is hard; sometimes you need a big, external event to cause a behavioral reset.
For 12 months we have learned as a species how to live primarily online. Within our industry, eventprofs learned new skills, and an explosion of new engagement tools hit the market serving everything from virtual events to online communities to remote teams. More importantly, attendees learned that parts of the event experience translate very well to online. Suddenly, every event is accessible to anyone, from the comfort of their own home.
Event design is also changing in the face of the pandemic’s realities. We are seeing more and more “events” that are happening over weeks, or even months, not days.
Day-long engagements are becoming week-long engagements. For example, three customers and prospects which I spoke with today, have recently made the decision to transform what had previously been 3 day destination events, to 4-6 week long virtual engagements with daily content drops, periodic networking, and a mix of synchronous and pre-recorded content.
Events, which traditionally have been a point in time, are becoming lines - longer, continuous engagement with attendees.
And if you squint your eyes, how much of a difference is there between an “event” that lasts 30 days, and an event that lasts 90 days? Or an event whose engagement lasts 90 days, and one that lasts the full 365 days of the year?
Could the lines become circles? Could events become year round communities that flare up for in person meetings, but stay engaged virtually year round? This is certainly the future that event owners and event tech companies want. But do attendees want it?
Points, Lines, and Circles
The skeptics out there will rightly say that just because event owners and event tech companies want year round engagement, doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen
But maybe, just maybe, this time is different. Here are some of the questions that I have as we enter into a post covid world:
- Assuming perfect tech and perfect community execution, how many events have the strength of connection with their attendees to support year long relationships?
- Will the learnings and habits of the Pandemic persist? Or is the world just going to snap back to where it was?
- What are the tactics that eventprofs and community leaders should test to keep the engagement alive? Content, social, mini / virtual / regional events, networking… what else?
- How do Associations fit into this vision? If any group should be on fire to keep member engagement going, it’s the Associations. Who are the thought leaders here?
- Are events just an element in a healthy community, or is an event powerful enough to spawn its own community?
- What event brands are most ambitiously going after year round engagement?
Our industry is resetting before our eyes. The lines are blurring between events and communities, and opportunity abounds for ambitious eventprofs and event technology companies to help invent the next chapter.