In 2021, Fan-Focused Digital Events Provide Unique Opportunities for Brands

By Michael Elkind, Director of Strategy, gnet

With digital events taking the place of cornerstone conferences and gatherings for publishers, brands, entertainment franchises and more, the ongoing question of how to best translate that experience for the digital medium lingers. Looking into what 2021 holds for marketers, brands have a timely opportunity to embrace the growth of digital events–with a focus on fans as a keystone component. Empowering the participation and contributions of these passionate groups will be key to driving engagement and building communities to last well beyond a one-day online summit. A return to in-person events and conventions is still something fans are hungry for, so reframing digital events as exciting precursors to the “real deal” events, instead of a 1-to-1 translation from in-person to virtual, can keep fans engaged until they’re able to return to the hyper-specific frenzy of excitement that is the fan convention.

By reframing these digital events as a celebration of fans, not the product (and allowing that to dictate our event programming), a world of possibilities opens up when it comes to creative cultures and sparking an organic online conversation that will extend beyond the brand’s live viewership. With more fans stepping up to create their own content, brands should own the unique capabilities of a digital event to give these creators a broader platform to share their voice and be recognized for their talent by their community. With ROI being an ongoing (and at times stressful) touchpoint, success should be measured through a combination of organic conversation, viewership, and participation. Future event programming can then be optimized to meet evolving fan needs and expectations.

How can brands optimize their participation in digital events by focusing on fans?

Partner With The Fans

Brands should never underestimate the willingness of fans to participate in UGC. With the democratization of creator tools, the definition and confidence of digital content creators are broader than ever. Sharing and showing off are cornerstones of fan event culture, and the global pandemic has only deepened the craving for human interaction and recognition. Producing a digital event is a daunting endeavor for a brand, even without factoring in the current extraordinary circumstances. Partnering with fans to help create content or provide footage is a great way to leverage and celebrate community talent–as long as brands are careful to compensate and credit them accordingly. By getting fans involved and giving them a platform to flex their creativity, brands can transform short-term engagement into powerful long-term loyalty.

Don’t Fear The Niche

Investing in “niche” interests can be a tough sell for traditional in-person events. However, the digital medium provides a huge opportunity to build on a small-but-mighty core audience that is deeply invested in specific parts of the brand and its community. Brands should leverage social listening tactics to discover unique audience interests that can fuel relevant and innovative content series, strategically optimized to reach these niche audiences. By finding a balance between “niche” community empowerment activations (like the craft) and traditional “buzzworthy” content (like trailers), brands can drive more organic conversation, while nurturing corners of their community that drive advocacy but might feel underserved.

Connection Remains the Key to Global Fandom

While the medium of the con has changed from IRL to virtual due to the pandemic, it hasn’t changed its primary purpose in fan culture: to connect. To translate this sense of belonging that comes with reaching a like-minded community, brands should centralize community chat to mimic the bonding of in-person events. Creating safe, official channels for fan discussion is not only a way to centralize key brand messages like news and official updates regarding the event, but can also serve as digital meeting spaces and a resource for fan coordination, for things like virtual meetups, eventually translating to IRL meetups when fans can celebrate in person together. By enabling this free exchange digitally, brands are keeping the most critical element of why fan events matter–connection–while facilitating the organic buzz which fuels fan culture.

Empowering fan connection is essential to successful digital events, with the goal of fostering communities and building long-term brand loyalty. Whether it is through interactive trivia, dedicated Discords, or creative fan briefs, encouraging fan creativity surrounding digital events not only puts the power of creation into the hands of fans but also continues to market that event and drive organic chatter within their communities. With the inherently virtual nature of our society that continues into 2021, brands that embrace this kind of engagement stand to come out on top while navigating a drastically altered digital media landscape.

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