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Virtual events have become popular over the past two years as a result of the pandemic. However, according to a survey by Hubilo, event planners say it can take more than a year for an event novice to plan and execute an event.

With companies battling screen fatigue, production values of events have gone up significantly. Organisations were also sent scrambling by COVID-19 to put together non-traditional event planners such as internal communications departments, HR groups, and DEI councils.

However, do-it-yourself events may still not be enough, and Hubilo’s VP of corporate marketing, Liesl Leary-Perez (pictured), shares why in this latest episode of In Conversation With.

Listen to the podcast here. This conversation is powered by Hubilo.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Over the past year, we’ve seen many non-traditional event planners, such as internal comms, HR groups, and even DEI councils, pick up event skills. What do you make of this changing trend?

Leary-Perez: This happened to me! I started at Hubilo in January 2020 and was in a new industry and role. I had just gotten to the sales kick off, and also fell sick. After I came back, all of a sudden we were being asked by my internal communications team to put together all of the communications regarding COVID-19, and the response for over 50,000 employees globally.

We realised that we couldn’t put together the email communications fast enough because regulations were changing every single day and every country had a different set of requirements.

For example, in the Philippines, the government closed down metro Manila so you could only go to work if you were within walking distance of your office. We had plenty of employees living in the call centre and that obviously required a lot of communications to explain how it was going to work, what was going to happen, what we were doing for them, and the health and safety aspects.

You had to have daily conversations with people and it became pretty clear that we also needed to get morale up. We used to host big events and fiestas, but that was suddenly not a thing that we could do.

So, of course, people asked for the internal communications team to do town halls. But here’s the reality of holding a global town hall for 50,000 employees - our Zoom licence could only take 3,500 seats, so who ends up paying for that? There are also different time zones so you can’t do a global town hall.

There’s also different content needed for different regions. Plus, a lot of people don’t realise that every time you plan any of these events, you need to have dry runs to explain what needs to happen.

Also, everyone just wants to hear from our CEO and what he wants to do. But now he has to do the same presentation six times for 50,000 employees in six different regions and you only have 3,500 licences.

So you’re sort of trying to host an event, and yet hoping that people don’t show up because then they were going to realise there weren’t enough licences for everybody to go to the event. So it was really a challenge because my team wasn’t resourced for that and the internal communications team was used to creating communications for health and safety.

All of a sudden, we had to host town halls and we had to do six of them every month just to get everyone together. I think a lot of people found themselves in that situation.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: A virtual event is not just about getting in front of the camera and saying your piece, you also need to be really engaging. And this is getting harder as people around the world are suffering from virtual fatigue. What are some of the ways you’re seeing brands trying to engage their audiences?

Leary-Perez: I don’t think people are actually fatigued because they’re watching screens. Nobody is saying they’re Netflix-fatigued, because people are bragging about their binge marathons. It’s not because of the screens that people are actually getting fatigue. I think what ends up happening is that when you’re sort of stuck on a boring storyline, you’re going to change the channel.

And we have to think about changing the channel whenever we’re producing a virtual event, because it is more like a broadcast. It needs to have a really great storyline, great content, and a lot of different types of things that the attendees can do.

We also have to just embrace the fact that people are multitasking. So asking them to do something and also providing them with value from doing that activity is actually also really important.

What I’ve seen be really valuable for people is when they can win a contest, and then they get a prize in the mail, or they get a nice shout-out from the host. I think those are the kinds of things that really engage people and lead your audiences; it is also an expensive investment.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: We often think that once an event is over, the work is over. But it’s clearly not the case, as that’s when the data mining starts to truly understand your audience. Do you think enough importance is placed on this?

Leary-Perez: No, I don’t think there’s enough importance placed on this. There are a lot of things that event planners can do because when you think about it, events are really just another great avenue for content.

What we’ve started doing is taking the event content and running it through AI transcription services. We then turn those event presentations into blogs.

There’s actually a lot that you can do with the content in the event itself. You can then get into the analytics and see how many interactions were there, how many meetings were set, how many comments were made, and that’s also very interesting as well. It’s definitely interesting for me to know what sessions rated the best and what topics are the most interesting.

We had one client called “Our Africa” and the event lasted for two weeks because it is a travel show. That one event had over 200,000 interactions which was amazing. We tend to think of events as being a day, but they no longer have to be anymore.

The fact that some people are keeping their events open longer is actually working to their advantage because people don’t necessarily want to be tied into a day or a time. Some just want to watch certain parts of the event. They don’t necessarily want to watch the whole thing and we should embrace that.

As long as the content is relevant to those people and you give them ways to engage even after the event is over, I think you’re going reap a lot of benefits. So the after-event is actually becoming much more critical than it was before.

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