Planning5 Min Read

The Hybrid Attendee Journey: Bridging the Gap Between In-Person and Virtual

On September 10, 2020, Socio CMO, Corey McCarthy, joined EventMB’s Hybrid Revolution Summit to talk about the attendee journey at hybrid events. Below is an excerpt of her session.

Tell us about your platform pivot from live to virtual and now back to live.

When I joined Socio in January, we already had an amazing event app that was focused on a mobile-first, in-person experience. When our world shifted in March, so did the Socio platform. 

We upgraded the mobile app to adjust to the needs of virtual events, beginning with small shifts like unlocking the time zones so they would read from the user’s location, rather than the event location. We also made a number of major shifts, like the build out of Socio’s web app so organizers could blend their streaming with engagement from the app and web browser.

Today, we launched Socio’s RTMP Player and Session Chat so event organizers can uplevel their event production quality and house everything within one streamlined ecosystem. This will become a must-have feature as we move to hybrid events because organizers will need to be able to sync together multiple attendee groups seamlessly behind the scenes with the RTMP feed. The complexity of streaming hybrid events will make the basic meeting platforms irrelevant. 

Socio RTMP Player

As an industry, I think we’ve already realized that meeting platforms weren’t built for events. We’ve all pushed them to the max with mixed results.

Since March, we’ve also launched Socio Registration and Communities. As it relates to hybrid, both of these releases are important because they allow event organizers the flexibility to segment event tickets by attendee groups, and the community is the glue that binds the virtual and in-person event components together.

It has been exciting to see Socio’s evolution into an end-to-end virtual event platform. Because we were focused so heavily on in-person events going into the pandemic, we had live events covered in spades. With all of the changes we made, now we’re a full blown virtual event platform, and will continue to evolve that side of the platform.

Event technology really is the bridge that will connect the virtual and in-person worlds.

How can we achieve the same level of value for hybrid audiences? What are the tools that will help them live the same experience?

This question assumes that virtual events have less of a value. And it’s unrealistic to think that attendees in a virtual environment would have the same experience as someone attending in person. When we design the event, we need to design the attendee journey for both experiences. This is where we have the opportunity to ensure that value is built into every experience. 

The bigger question to think about is how the in-person and virtual groups authentically interact at each touchpoint.

Once the event design is set, the event needs to live in a centralized location where attendees “go” for everything related to the event. To bridge the gap between virtual and in-person attendees, event platforms become the main venue. If you show priority to the live attendees, you risk losing the engagement of the virtual attendees, which will diminish the perceived value of the event. Event designs need to be in place to keep this from happening.

Registration takes on new meaning in a hybrid world. When registration is set up with your attendee journey in mind, people can choose from live, virtual, or blended experiences. Once an attendee’s event preference is chosen, organizers can segment each group and curate a meaningful experience. Attendees’ registration information flows through the platform, automatically populating their attendee profiles for networking and engagement. As they access the app, their experience can also be segmented to continue to follow the designed event journey. Maybe virtual event attendees have a special moment of delight waiting just for them? While different from the in-person experience, that moment of delight can add value. 

As we move deeper into the hybrid event landscape, I think chat becomes the great equalizer between virtual and in-person events. From what we’ve seen, chat is one of the most exciting parts of an event, and sometimes even the star. Having a chat function that’s native to your event platform allows both attendee groups to participate in the chat simultaneously.

Socio RTMP Player and Session Chat

Live presenters and moderators should have screens available and monitor all of the chats. Moderators can integrate some great points from attendees to add value to the conversation. Done right, this is a powerful engagement tactic that keeps everyone focused and interacting with your content.

What is the learning curve for event planners and how can they achieve economies of scale?

I think we’re in the steepest part of the learning curve now. If you’ve been able to launch some successful virtual events, you already have a head start on mastering hybrid events.

The first thing event organizers need to do is review their virtual and in-person event-tech stacks and reduce duplicate systems. Ideally, you’d want one system that’s built not only for in-person and virtual events, but with hybrid in mind too. It’s features like RTMP that will allow event organizers to stream directly from their live event AND virtually within one system.

Economies of scale will come when you find an event platform that plays well with others, one that you can build your template on. Once you build the event template, using the same system, all of your events can live in one place. Event organizers can save a lot of time by not having to continuously relearn new platforms or keep investing in new technology. It’s even better if the platform is intuitive and easy to navigate. 

Templating hybrid event designs will also help build economies of scale so we aren’t reinventing the wheel with every event. We will get to a point where this isn’t new to us anymore. The changes we make are an evolution of events, rather than a massive change. 

At the end of the day, an end-to-end solution that was designed from the ground up – specifically for events – will be an organizer’s secret weapon for producing hybrid events. 

What are some of the best practices you have seen from your clients when doing hybrid events?

We’ve had clients plan hybrid events, but ultimately pull back to virtual events. Here are some of the best practices they used when planning their events.

  1. Strategy
  • What are you looking to accomplish? 
  • What do you hope your attendees take away with them? 
  • Does the attendee value change for virtual versus in-person? 
  • What is the big draw on each side? 
  • Do you plan to bridge the gap between the two event venues?
  1. Event Design

When making tactical plans and figuring out your event flow, your strategy should guide your decisions. Make sure you create a journey map for each possible attendee experience.

  1. Hybrid-Crossover Plans

Think about where you have the opportunity to bridge the gap between your in-person and virtual attendees. 

  • Include speakers that participate both virtually and in-person
  • Offer gamification that awards crossover connections between the two groups
  • Create unique opportunities for sponsors to engage with both attendee groups
  • Keep the live chat flowing through one centralized system
  • Have speakers and moderators call out and give credit for ideas from chats

While the future of events is far from certain, we know hybrid will play a big role as we start to open up. Instead of fearing hybrid events, we should fully embrace the unique opportunities they offer. We can use this time to learn and evolve, and truly take our events into the future. We’ve only scratched the surface with hybrid, and I can’t wait to see all the innovation over the next year.

Corey McCarthy
Corey McCarthy
Award-winning B2B and B2C marketing executive. Fueled by chocolate chip cookies. Signature catchphrases include "Watch this" and "I got you."