Our friends at Splice — an organization working with media startups across Asia – recently hosted the successful online media festival Splice Beta. In this resource, “How to Beta,” republished here with permission, their team analyzes how to approach the “virtual experience” and discusses what they learned from the festival. We think virtual conference organizers will find much of interest here.
Unshakeable Pillars, Sacred Cows, or Just Splice Principles
- Be a fan, not a thought leader (cringe). We’re creating a showcase of people we look up to. They are our heroes. We’re here to celebrate them with you.
- The community comes first. This is a welcoming, accessible, judgment-free space for all. We love the people who found their way to Splice. We’re fortunate enough to know most of you by your first names — and if we don’t, we want to. Beta is for you.
- Kill the hierarchy. The fact that we are organizers and ran the sessions doesn’t make us the purveyors of wisdom. Keep things flat and simple. The lens is important: as hosts and moderators, we don’t see ourselves up on a conference stage so you can see us perform; we’re geeking out about people we think are amazing, and we’re just so happy you want to do that with us. We’re all learning from each other.
- Access and diversity. This has always been a key value of Splice. We want to make it easy for anyone to join this welcoming community, either in participation or to share in the knowledge. We also want this to be a diverse community, especially around gender and language. We achieved a 55:45 ratio of female-to-male speakers, which we’re very proud of. If a small little pink thing like Splice can do that, imagine what more you could do. We however still have a long way to go in making Beta accessible to non-English speakers. Our friends at IMS [International Media Support], were kind to subtitle some of our YouTube videos into Burmese (like this one), but we know there’s still a lot to do on that front.
- This isn’t meant to be a “conference” replicated online. We dropped every reference to in-person events. Beta Online is meant to be digital — not a sad cousin to physical events. By letting it all go, it made it easier just to focus on building the best experience on digital, and not trying to replicate an in-person event. Just build the greatest virtual experience possible. (And don’t even call it a webinar. The world doesn’t need yet another.)
- Document everything. Everything needs to be recorded so that it benefits more people outside our immediate community. What’s the point of putting together all of this if it’s only live?
Rethinking Virtual Events
We didn’t decide on a month-long festival because of sheer insanity. This stuff is hard. But what’s also hard is everyone working from home and jumping on more video calls for work. No one wakes up thinking they want to do five more calls today, or sit through three full days of video calls.
Our working assumptions:
Keep to short sessions.
Don’t cram it into a couple of days.
No one wants back-to-back sessions to sit through.
Don’t assume that everyone wants the same thing.
So make it easy for people to choose what they want…
… and if they can’t show up, make it easy for them to get this content in their free time in a format that they want.
Perhaps more importantly, the marketing of online events has changed. The heavy lifting that’s required to get your attention about an event is harder than ever because you have more distractions at home — and other video calls to attend.
By spreading Beta out a whole month, we were able to:
Create a wider swell of social media attention (i.e., if we’re doing this right and adding value, people will spread the word for us) that would do a better job sustaining the interest.
Create multiple topics that would address a diversity of interests.
Reduce the overall stress of attending yet another video call.
Here’s the thing: this stuff is not cheap. It’s (in)valuable. We want to keep doing virtual events because it’s an accessible format. But there are costs involved. We spent money on software, hardware, video editing, audio editing, and we paid ourselves (as we should). Yet there’s the impression among some sponsors that this stuff is cheap because it’s digital. We wanted to create something distinct that was worth the sponsorship fees we’re charging, and hopefully that means we’re on to creating a viable event business.
Remember the state of digital publishing a decade ago? Everyone assumed that digital was free, and consumers and advertisers weren’t keen to pay for digital content and audiences respectively. We wanted to see if we could set a high bar so that its value is apparent at the outset. Giving content out for free so early in this evolving model of virtual events will set the industry up for disaster.
You Need Good Answers to These Questions
What do people want from you? For us, this community wants role models, case studies, and connections. They want to know that there’s a positive, optimistic view of media. This isn’t a basket case.
Why do this live? Don’t default to live. It creates more complexity — timings, tech, Zoom fatigue. Is a recorded event just as accessible?