5 Tips for combining digital events and brand-owned communities: How Khoros Engage did it successfully

Ashlee Ernst and Katie Manthei, Senior Event Marketing Managers

Working in the fast-paced digital space is thrilling and challenging, though it sometimes lacks opportunities to connect with others in the field. But each year at Khoros Engage, our annual digital customer experience conference, marketers and community managers have the chance to be inspired by industry leaders, inspire one another, and make important industry connections.

We’ve always loved everything about Khoros Engage: The inspirational keynote speakers, the opportunity to shape the future of digital engagement, the breakfast tacos, and the chance to interact with leaders from nearly every industry. As COVID-19 restrictions stretched on this year and large, in-person gatherings were deemed unsafe, we decided to transform 2020 Khoros Engage into a digital event.

Overcoming the challenges of a digital event

There’s no doubt that events have changed, and they probably will remain changed for at least the near future. But the value our attendees experienced during our digital 2020 Khoros Engage surprised and delighted us, and many of our attendees, too:

"Engage was like no other digital event I've been on. I don't know how to describe it except it felt warm, genuine, and trustworthy. An amazing feat during these times, and a testament to how Khoros stands out in gathering communities of people through digital. Your vision unites!"
- Wahb Dogui, Business Analyst at Teleperformance

Successful digital events take months of advanced planning, and can actually be even more difficult to host than in-person events. At Khoros, we put our 20 years of experience with digital communities to work to launch 2020 Khoros Engage.

So, how’d we do it? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what we learned: The five most important lessons digital managers can apply to future digital events.

1. Understand how digital events differ from webinars

We’re no stranger to webinars — we found value in them before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shift and we continue to find value in them today. In fact just this year we’ve hosted webinars on community strategy, customer experience, contact center modernization, and agile marketing (to name only a handful).

But digital events like Khoros Engage are categorically different from webinars. Whereas webinars are largely about giving the audience information, events are more interactive and collaborative. Now, this isn’t to say that attendees shouldn’t get lots of information at an event like Engage — just check out some of our breakout sessions to see the wealth of thought leadership that occurred there. But it’s important that attendees feel personally included, just the way they would if the event were in-person.

To give the event a more human feel, we incorporated live Q&A sessions and networking events alongside pre-recorded keynotes and transitions. But most importantly, we leveraged our own digital community, Atlas. By hosting an Event within Atlas, we were able to facilitate conversations both leading up to and after the day of live broadcasts, extending the potential for genuine human connection.

2. Set expectations ahead of time

From the very beginning of the digital event awareness campaign, it’s crucial to communicate clearly to potential attendees about what to expect. Of course digital events differ from in-person events, but they all differ, well, differently. That means attendees won’t know what to expect, unless you tell them ahead of time. So, tell them.

To prepare for Khoros Engage, we set up a GroupHub in Atlas, our own online community. With our Events tool, we created digital events for each breakout session and keynote. We also used our Events tool to manage the calendar, publish agenda updates, and connect with the audience both before and following the event itself.

One of our biggest areas of focus was the networking event: How could we bring such an in-person type of event to life in a digital space? The spontaneous connections Khoros Engage attendees experience at our annual in-person event are some of the best parts of the experience — and we knew it would be one of the most difficult things to recreate digitally.

But we leaned on our community for help brainstorming. With input from community members, we created a unique, exciting experience: attendees could join virtual rooms based on topics of interest, with conversation starters we provided. The experience exceeded our expectations. One networking session even ran an extra thirty minutes because the conversation was so involved.

3. Balance live presentations with previously recorded ones

These unique times have created unique circumstances, and when brands offer attendees as much flexibility as possible, they can increase attendance and engagement with the event. That’s why it’s important to know that not everything can happen live. Having some pre-recorded content for your event won’t just help you with planning (and with stress on the day of); it’ll also help your attendees feel more relaxed and comfortable.

For Engage 2020, we aired some content live to just our employees as a beta test for our new Events tool. Khoros employees viewed keynote sessions in real time with the Events livestream video link capabilities and rich-text discussion threads. (In the future, the Events tool will also be able to show livestream videos from social media directly on the Event page.) We offered pre-recorded content to our attendees before the event, to consume on their own time, so that they could come prepared with questions for our speakers.

Of course, some of the content — Q&A, networking, etc. — had to be live. But by mixing pre-recorded content in with live content, we were able to maintain smooth transitions and reduce the stress of the event for attendees, moderators, and planners alike.

4. Invest in personal connections

To run a successful digital event, you can’t just take content from an in-person event and make it digital. You need to maintain the personal connections that make live events so great. But it’s crucial to find ways to keep alive things like the experience of sharing an impromptu lunch or breakfast conversations with new folks, or the unplannable benefits of sitting next to a competitor or a startup founder at a networking event. These types of experiences are the social glue that make events worth it and help produce new ideas across industries.

This, of course, is difficult.

One way we found success in fostering personal connections with virtual attendees — and creating a little much-needed warmth — was to send everyone some event swag ahead of time. Before Khoros Engage, we sent attendees event kits with Khoros brand merchandise, non-perishable snacks, and even a playful robot for the tiniest work-from-home coworkers. This little something yielded big community engagement to help bring a bit of the in-person feel to a digital experience.

5. Consult the experts to get it done

Building a digital event experience is the true partnership between your event managers and community moderators. We tapped into our own Strategic Services team to assist in moderating community engagement in Atlas. While the event team focused on creating an experience during Engage, we leaned on our Community Moderators to create discussion both before and after. See some of the posts here.

Hosting a digital event can be tricky, but with the help of your online, brand-owned community, you’ll have exactly the support you need. Learn more about Events in Khoros Communities by scheduling a demo today.

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