Monday, January 31, 2011

The New Hybrid Frontier: How Will Events Evolve in 2011?

This post was featured in the recent Ebook, entitled “What’s Next in Events,” published by Lara McCulloch. (aka in Twitter as @ready2spark)  I am honored to have been selected, by her to participate in that collaboration.

With the arrival of the New Year, meetings and events professionals are optimistic about the future of their businesses.  Events industry analysts are collectively predicting a noticeable improvement, in the economy, for 2011.  They expect even better in 2012.  That is certainly encouraging!

Realistically, for now, the economy is still in “recovery mode.”  As was the case in 2009 and 2010, many businesses are exercising caution with their finances.  Subsequently business travel and education expense are still under a watchful eye.

With reduced budgets employees are, in some cases, competing with one another for company funds, making it nearly impossible for everyone that should attend conferences, and events, to do so.  Those fortunate enough to get their travel expenses approved must work hard to convince management there will be a viable return on their travel investment.

Even with improved economic conditions, there remains an education void for many event professionals, with fewer travel dollars to spend.  So, how do we fix this problem?

Hybrid Events May Be the Best Solution for Your Event in 2011?

Image courtesy of Janet Rudolph

In late 2009/ early 2010 hybrid events emerged as an affordable, viable alternative event solution of interest for many meeting organizers.  For context, a hybrid event is one in which organizers provide customers (potential attendees) the option of remote access to all, or a portion of the conference content, utilizing some or several forms of social technology.

In 2010 several major meetings industry associations (i.e. PCMA, MPI) successfully introduced Hybrid components into their events.  In fact these organizations are now featuring education sessions, at their 2011 conferences, to teach attendees about the advantages and “best practices” for use of hybrid technology.

Over the past couple of years I have participated in numerous hybrid events, either as a remote attendee, or as an organizer.  On both sides of the ball I have learned a remote participant experience does not replace its face2face counterpart.   However, if executed properly, in the right context, a hybrid event can serve a very functional purpose.

The Litmus Test – Why Create a Hybrid Event?

If you are wondering whether a hybrid event makes sense for your organization, then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are there customers or prospects that will most likely not be able to attend your organization’s conference due to their own financial, geographic or scheduling constraints?
  • Are there potential customers you could reach, through online access, that otherwise would not be accessible?
  • Are you interested in exceeding your customer’s expectations, by offering them conference access options that meet their needs, in a difficult economy?

If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you need to strongly consider introducing hybrid components to your 2011 event.

The Hybrid events world is the new frontier of the conference business.  Since the technology and processes are so new, there are not a lot of rules, and only a handful of best practices to follow, as of yet.  However, the quality of these events is accelerating.  It is fair to say new enhancements will bubble to the surface in 2011.

In a shaky economy, and with many quality online education alternatives available to business people, organizations can no longer rely upon their past successes with traditional conference design to attract attendees.  In this social technology era, folks have more online options available to them than ever, to address their education goals.

Organizations can certainly choose to ignore these competing online education channels, at their own peril.  A smarter approach may be to jump on the hybrid event “bandwagon” meeting the competition head-on.

There may be an opportunity for your organization to strengthen its relationships with customers by offering them innovative hybrid conference solutions that will meet their unique needs during this economic recovery.  The payoff, for your thoughtful approach will be their extended loyalty towards your conference and organization far into the future.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ted Cocheu February 7, 2011 at 11:08 am

Mike, great article, thanks! And it was great talking with you at the recent Virtual Edge Summit. I just wanted to add a little color to your definition of Hybrid. Making an event hybrid means making the conference content and social interaction available to different audiences in different modes: in-person live, in-person on-demand, live on-line, and on-demand afterward. Even in-person attendees are on-line at the event, maybe especially so–and they consume content on-demand while they are there. This means that Virtual Events, which have focused on live on-line, now must evolve quickly to accommodate all these forms of participation.

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP February 7, 2011 at 11:29 am

Hi Ted,

It was great to meet you at VES.

You bring up a really good point. Online access to content can come from many different directions. Yes, event f2f attendees will access sessions or interact with others from an on-line presence of some sort.

At PCMA I actually attended f2f, yet watched some content from my computer, due to a business commitment that arose.

These are interesting times and I believe that eventually all conferences and meetings will have hybrid components to them.

Thanks for adding to the conversation.

Mike

Reply

Tony Lorenz February 12, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Great context Mike, and thanks again for your strong support of our efforts with PCMA in Las Vegas.

Physical event marketing is the most powerful media on the planet. That said, it is by far the most expensive and despite the tools out there, the hardest to measure with any consistently when compared to other media in the marketing mix.

Hybrid leverages the content from physical events, which is the primary expense and output, and also provides the entire event ( physical and virtual) a capacity for measurement that is increasingly attractive to corporate marketers.

Event marketing is a maturing industry if left to its historical model. New models, hybrid of which is just one, give event marketing an opportunity to stay in the growth mode for years to come.

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP February 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Hi Tony,

Thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation about Hybrid events.

Hybrid events present organizations with opportunity to grow the awareness of their products and services through marketing channels never before available to them.

I can’t wait to see what surprises us next!

Mike

Reply

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