Online learnings, webinars and virtual events are not entirely new ideas. Its recent surge, however, was driven by organisations deploying continuity strategies to remain in touch with their audiences, minimise disruption to operations, and generally mitigate some of the impact of COVID-19 and the ensuing restrictions on travelling and gathering.
For organisations with largescale events and activities that had taken months, if not years of planning, moving these events online is a far more cost-effective option than cancelling them altogether or postponing indefinitely. Users liked the convenience of “attending” events from home and the cost and time savings of not needing to travel, while companies found that they could still get the desired meeting outcomes and upskill employees remotely.
As a result, online platform for personalized webinars and virtual event experiences, ON24, for example, saw the number of webinars hosted on its platform jump by more than 330 percent in March 2020, compared to March the previous year.
The massive and sudden adoption of virtual events also came with unique challenges. According to Julian Chow, Head of Digital at Archetype, who has organised many ASEAN-wide webinars in recent months, the biggest considerations are managing the choice of platform and the audience experience.
“People could be logging in from multiple browsers, devices and operating systems, which come with their own set of quirks, so hosts need to choose a robust and dynamic platform that caters to all of these,” Julian shares. “They should also perform multiple rounds of testing to ensure that all features work seamlessly.”
Driving the new normal
Despite some of its setbacks, online events are fast becoming a significant part of the new normal, with technology providers upping the ante on the quality of their platforms and services.
Worldwide leader in networking, Cisco, recorded 14 billion minutes of meetings on its web conferencing platform Webex in March. This has spurred the company to expand Webex’s capabilities through improved cybersecurity and performance, unlimited usage, and free 90-day licenses to non-customers.
Most recently, the company took its annual global conference, Cisco LIVE! 2020 online through a combination of Webex, content microsite and social media live streaming. The event, which used to be held in San Diego, brought together over 500 people comprising Cisco executive leaders as well as partners, developers, customers and media from all over the world. Participants experienced virtual daily executive keynotes, on-demand content, private tracks, live polls, Q & A and interactive opportunities with experts.
Speaking on behalf of Cisco, Puneet Singh, ASEAN Head of Communications was encouraged by the response: “During Cisco LIVE! 2020, we also conducted an exclusive virtual media session for our global CEO Chuck Robbins from our global HQ in San Francisco, with over 40 journalists across APAC.
“There were a lot of coordination required; from inviting participants and securing their registration, to testing the platforms, and ensuring the quality of the content and discussion, all across three different time zones.”
Online events are also great opportunities to create new revenue streams, as experienced by the Asia Online Publishing Group (AOPG). The media house was one of the earliest to announce a webinar catered specifically for the MCO period. Its Tech Lockdown Webcast is a moderated daily live interview featuring some of the biggest tech and government leaders in Malaysia.
This helped increase its fans and followers, which then translated into other opportunities such as content partnerships, sales lead generation and co-hosting opportunities with some of the most recognised technology companies.
Journalist and AOPG’s Head of Production, Aron Raj, explains that the company had been conducting online interviews and seminars even before the pandemic started.
“When the MCO was announced, we felt it was the right time to put our experience in this segment to good use, while also helping businesses solve the challenges of working from home through using digital solutions,” he says.
Participation for AOPG’s webcasts during the MCO was much higher than before, with an audience mix ranging from university students to C-suite executives.
“By being one of the first media to launch our own webinar series, we were able to capitalise on the growing interest in webinars and establish us as a leader in this format early on,” Aron says, adding that the company was looking forward to developing more creative virtual media and methods to engage with the public in the future.