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Turning Your Virtual Event Into an Ongoing Series Has its Benefits

In a post on Skift’s Event Manager Blog today, Julius Solaris writes that we need a better business model for virtual events. “[These events] need to help brands keep the conversation alive while bringing in revenue. We risk losing track of the endgame if we get sucked into the vortex of free events without a solid business proposition for what we are doing.”
He gives six suggestions:
1. Decide whether you are a conference or a tradeshow.
2. Use a subscription model for ticketed events.
3. Build a community.
4. Reward live attendance.
5. Offer better content on demand.
6. Offer one-to-one meetings and networking.
Number two intrigues me. “One of the best ideas for ticketed events that happen regularly is to bundle them and offer subscriptions,” Solaris writes. “As Netflix does with shows, planners should deal with events. Bundling creates more value than selling tickets for individual events.”
This strategy makes sense. BVR did something similar with their Virtual Divorce Conference, extending event sessions over the course of a month to do exactly that, add more value. Matthew Cibellis of Cibellis Solutions, an expert on events—virtual and in-person—expressed similar sentiments to me last week in an email.
“I want to emphasize that SIPA member companies might want to (at least for the near term) begin thinking through a sponsorable monthly series, rather than one or two big annual events as a means of engaging their attendees and sponsors,” he wrote. “Could you take each track for an annual conference and now divide it up by month? What about a month-one-track-one, month-two-track-two, etc. approach where sponsors who more closely align with track 2, say, can sponsor the monthly event that focuses on track 2 issues?
“Your attendee price may drop, but the sponsor experience should be far more actionable with real leads that are warm or seeing their business as more Top of Mind,” Cibellis continued. “If [organizations] are flexible in thinking this way, they do not need to do it all themselves. They can hire a marcom events pro or any number of more webinar-focused solutions companies and develop affordable approaches to the rich content developed for their annual meetings.”
Another possible strategy for virtual events that plays off of what Cibellis suggests is something akin to what Netflix has been doing: plan your monthly series, sell the bundle, but then also sell just the first session as kind of a trial. Netflix, which ended its practice of using 30-day free trials in the United States, began using free content sampling as an alternative subscription promotion strategy during the past year.
Writes MediaPost, “Through a free sampling portal (no registration required), prospects can view the first episode of Netflix original TV series like Stranger Things and Grace and Frankie or watch select full movies like Murder Mystery… At the end, Netflix shows a simple message suggesting that if you liked the content, you can join now to see ‘everything on Netflix that everyone’s talking about’ (including the rest of the TV series, if you just sampled one).”
Solaris, who mentioned Netflix, has obviously considered this: “Attendees may be busy for an event, or timing may not work out. That’s missed revenue. Bundling means selling more than the individual event; it means selling the many opportunities available throughout the year. An alternative is to consider a freemium model that offers one event for free and asks for payment going forward.”
I think the content is too good to offer free, especially when other people are paying for an entire series, but I like the idea that it can be an enticement to buying the whole series or “event.”
“Thinking outside the live event box in this way need not take the time of your staff,” Cibellis writes. “Outsource the consulting and have them lead the execution, using your team to drive the content to best align with what your sales team needs or would want. In the end, you don’t have to sacrifice quality for ad dollars.”
Solaris adds that for him, the missing piece is “virtual event technology, still largely unable to offer subscription model features for planners. It’s a pretty stupid feature to miss; we hope they can get on with it soon.”