Hybrid events are dead

In 2021, you couldn’t move for posts on how hybrid would transform student recruitment. But the reality turned out to be different. Today, universities are pivoting back to in-person events. But the marketing potential of these moments is often missed. As you've probably guessed, the answer isn't straightforward either...

Let’s talk about “hybrid events”. In 2021, you couldn’t move for blog posts (and events) on how hybrid would transform student recruitment. But the reality turned out to be different. Today, universities are pivoting back to in-person events – hard. But the marketing potential of these moments is often missed. They are locked away in on-demand platforms, limited to the audience who attended on the day and miss your (far larger) secondary audience that lives on social media.

Here’s how to take advantage:

  • Capture footage as you normally would for on-demand content.
  • Review the content for stand out, exceptional moments.
  • Repurpose these into short video clips.
  • Write accompanying text posts.
  • Share across channels.
  • Repeat.

Make your in-person content digitally discoverable. Using this method, it’s possible to create weeks of digital content from a single event. Giving your in-person strategy a long digital tail will reach far more students than hybrid events ever could.

Nathan Monk
Hello, and welcome back to Most Clicked. I’m joined by Kyle Campbell from the Education Marketer and Matt Lees from SMILE. I’m your host, Nathan from SMILE. And this week, we are here to discuss the rather provocative title, which I’m not sure that I 100% agree with his hybrid events are dead. Kyle, why did you make me say this?

Kyle Campbell
Are we actually going with that title? That’s a bold decision. Yeah, I mean, this is based on a post I wrote recently on LinkedIn, I didn’t go as far as hybrid events are all dead per se. What I said was, was more along the lines of what we imagined hybrid events would be but hasn’t quite come to pass. So let me articulate what this means in a bit more context. So I think the kind of peak of the pandemic and through 2021, really, we were very much focusing on all events that we’re delivering now we need to do a simultaneously with this or the hybrid elements. So we can entertain both a digital and an in-person audience at the same time. But the reality is in the sector, we’ve pivoted hardback to in-person. And there’s nothing wrong with that because students want it in person for the higher education experience, and to make people feel like they’re part of campus. And that sort of thing in person is clearly the superior option.

But that doesn’t mean digital isn’t important and in some cases for international audiences and postgraduate students digital is very valuable. But looking at holistically, what you have, there isn’t a hybrid model where you’re desperately trying to make the in-person stuff happening on campus translate into a digital experience. There are other ways you can do this. So for one option, I said that you can have your in-person days, but you can also run like digital ones. So you know how to cater to your audience. But the one that has resonated with people the most was actually saying, right, it’s not just about the in-person day and the event as it happens, it’s about what you do with the content afterwards. And this was an idea that resonated with quite a few HE marketers where you, you actually record your in-person sessions. But rather than just publishing what you’ve recorded on the day, as it was, you actually go over that content. And you look for the highlights throughout it.

So in any sort of subject taught, there’s probably like a good couple of minutes worth of footage, where an academic is absolutely killing it, the rooms engaged, they’re really passionate, and in that zone on the topic, stuff like that. It’s just perfect to be cut up and repurposed on video across social networks. But that doesn’t happen. To the extent I feel has, it has so much potential to happen. In higher ed, it’s quite common in b2b and like, you know, SAS organisations where they have podcasts and they chop it up and they use it again. But it doesn’t happen in higher ed, we tend to take it and then put it online, we don’t process it, and then turn it into low social content that can be used. And, and this idea seems gained a bit of traction, which is, which is really cool. So I think, you know, rather than saying hybrid events are dead. I think the promise of hybrid events is perhaps not as it was supposed to be. But now there’s a new opportunity that we can tap into in that regard.

Nathan Monk
Do you even have a clearer idea of what a hybrid event is meant to be? Because I’m not sure I do personally and I’m coming from an agency that builds an online event platform. And like we, people come to us and say, okay, we need to do hybrid events is your platform set up to do and I’m like, Well, what is a hybrid event?

Matt Lees
What does that mean?

Nathan Monk
What does it mean? Because I’m a bit like you, Kyle I don’t think the delivery mechanism is it? I think it’s about for years I’ve said this before we even invented an online events platform. We’ve talked about universities should be more like publishers, and they should be prolific in content. And you know, you’re a content man, you know this, but why, our platform is built around repurposing and repackaging content into a unified narrative, right? And for me, you can take out the word hybrid, the hybrid means nothing. It’s just an event. I don’t care if that’s online, in-person delivered in the metaverse, I don’t care. It’s the content that I actually really care about, and whether I’m able to consume it. So my challenge to you, Kyle, is, what is hybrid anyway?

Kyle Campbell
This is it, isn’t it? I mean, I have an understanding of what some of my audience understand hybrid to be. For me, I would say a hybrid delivery mechanism is meeting the audience’s needs. But I think where the confusion, not the confusion, but the challenge comes and the problems come in when you try to run an event, and you go it’s a hybrid event, and you try and cater to both of those audiences at the same time. That is incredibly challenging. So for me, I think it’s better to split those out. So you don’t necessarily have a hybrid event, you have one for digital and one for in-person. However, I think it’s possible to have hybrid elements throughout an event. So for instance, I’ve spoken in the past about Amazon explore, right? So Amazon Explore, it’s like a digital tour, where a tour guide takes someone around a city. But a the end of the tour, the tour got to take someone into a shop, and they get to pick a product, which is then shipped out to their house. And it arrives two days later, right? That, for me, is a hybrid experience, because it links that digital and in-person experience.

So rather than saying this is the hybrid event, it’s quite nice to marry digital with in-person elements to make them more, you know, feel like they’re part of that. And that’s where the most powerful elements of a hybrid for me are. But I think if you’re using things like university events, for instance, I think you have your in-person Open Day, you give it a long digital tail with all the content that you can generate from it. And then maybe you have like a programme of ongoing digital events to target niche platforms, maybe postgraduate students, maybe that international audience, because now that technology is there, and we know how to do it, rather than trying to hone it all in on one day? It just seems like you’re adding so much risk for no reason.

Nathan Monk
It’s such a, an outdated concept of the open day in a virtual presence, at least because the whole point of an open day in the physical presence was that logistically, it makes sense to get everybody to come to one physical location on one day, because of the logistics of that with digital is that’s not actually a problem.

Matt Lees
There are some cool examples. Going back to your example, Kyle of Amazon a few years ago, I can’t remember who it was. But I think they had somebody like on a bike or something with a 360 camera, and they were there was a live chat and they could they could kind of, so applicants could send in messages and then this person would ride their bike around to a certain place on-campus show. That seems like a really cool way of showing off campus for those who perhaps can’t make it. Or maybe it’s not, maybe it’s not a top choice University for them. But they’re still interested to find out more maybe their international audiences. But a good way to kind of show things off without needing to make a trip to campus.

Nathan Monk
It’s, for me, it’s those, it’s the real-time elements of a longer-lasting digital experience that make something hybrid like if you don’t put something into an online medium, that’s real-time. If that doesn’t exist, then it’s just a webpage, right? It’s just there could just be a page on the website. So there’s got to be that element of real time-ness to it, which is like Carl said, it’s got to address a problem. It’s got to address a need. But there are so many things that could be you know, from live streams, live Q&As, all these things are so easy to get set up. But also, there’s this risk that because we attach the word hybrid to it, we overthink what it needs to be. I don’t think any applicant on this planet is going, Gosh, I really need to attend a hybrid event this year for that university that I’m considering. They’re just like, I just need to know this information and it’s gonna make sense at some point to have a real-time interaction with somebody and the university needs to be there, it needs to be present. And it needs to use platforms that make it dead easy for people to have that and to be prolific in how they generate content and engage with audiences. So for me that, you know, the question of what is hybrid, I kind of, I know I started with what is hybrid anyway? But for me, it is those long-lasting digital experiences with elements of real-time interactions in there.

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, I think you’re right. And there’s also that fringe technology coming down the line as well, isn’t there, like wider use of AR I mean, are quiet if you’re looking like few years into future probably it’s five years for it’s widely adopted in event spaces. But Nathan, you and I spoke about this quite a length in the past and how, you know, VR is limited, whereas AR is like, open. So it’s quite easy to access those platforms and put a digital layer on top of something. So you could say that that’s like a hybrid experience of the digital layer, add something to that in-person experience. So you’re not trying to cater for these two audiences, you kind of use technology to enhance the audience in that physical space.

Nathan Monk
Well, last week, you know, we talked about Leeds Beckett and there, they had that period of prolific innovation online and stuff. And the experiment, I’d love, you know, I would love to see that around online events at the moment, especially as we are coming out of the pandemic, I suppose, to some extent, I’d like to see these miniature experiments as to what these types of events could be, and what technologies we could use to power that I’d also like to have these things happen, where they’re not even badged as events, you know, like LinkedIn audio, for example, I’d like to see some of those rooms just popping up in people’s feeds for PGR and PGT courses and stuff. So I think it’s a very interesting time. I think there are a lot of tools at universities’ disposal to do lots of stuff. And I think we’re what I think what we’re saying here is that we’re ending the episode realising that our headline has fooled everybody. Hybrid events aren’t head, so sorry. Well, thanks as always appreciate your time. And thank you to all of our wonderful subscribers out there. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please drop us a like, and until next time, see you next week.

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Elliott Barnicle

Lead Designer