Hybrid Events: What They Are and How to Get Started

Hybrid Events: What They Are and How to Get Started

Should you host your next conference or meeting both in-person and online? Also known as a hybrid event or multi-access event, this approach is becoming more and more popular. In this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of hybrid events, and what to keep in mind when considering doing an event both online and in-person at the same time.

If you missed my first article on alternatives to Zoom video conferencing, hi! I’m Tony, and I’m the Community Program Manager at Team SPI. Since 2007, I’ve been hosting gatherings in person and online, from running a coworking space to weekly mastermind groups to multi-hundred-person conferences over Zoom and other platforms. I’m always looking for the best possible tools to help people connect in meaningful ways.

I’m super focused on creating experiences that are accessible, inclusive, and meaningful. As we’ve all had to deal with the balancing act of in-person and online meetings of various kinds, I’ve been looking for ways to have the best of both worlds. We can keep a lot of what we learned from this time, so our meetings and events can be that much more rich and available to people going forward. And hybrid events—ones that offer an in-person as well as an online experience—allow your audience to join and engage with your event no matter where they are.

Let’s get to know what it looks like to host a hybrid gathering, and why you might (or might not) want to give one a try. Here’s what we’ll be covering in this post.

  • What events can be made hybrid?
  • Is hybrid worth the trouble?
  • Advantages of hybrid events
  • Disadvantages of hybrid events
  • Tips for organizing a great hybrid event
  • In summary

What Events Can Be Made Hybrid?

Hosting a gathering both in-person and online is more work.

Events & conferences

It’s hard to imagine big conference-level events taking place anywhere but in person, but online gatherings mean the ability to scale up to thousands of participants all around the world, without the need for renting out a venue and asking people to fly in. When people don’t have to book a flight and a hotel to attend, your event becomes a lot more accessible!

Team meetings

Some of your team wants to meet in person, while others (for various reasons) would prefer to meet from outside the office. While it’s always tricky to mix in-person and virtual participation in a meeting, careful planning can make it a possibility.

Social gatherings

We’re all dealing with enormous Zoom burnout, screen fatigue, and just generally being done with video happy hours—but there are still plenty of ways people can and do enjoy participating in social programming online. The trick is to design ways of engaging that actually meet people where they’re at, instead of just assuming everyone’s going to be on video.

Is Hybrid Worth the Trouble?

Hosting a gathering both in-person and online is more work, but doing so opens up access to a much wider portion of your audience.

Whether that’s worth the trouble will depend on your goals for the program, the needs of your audience, and your capacity for facilitating what are effectively two different programs simultaneously. Let’s break down some of the strengths and weaknesses of going hybrid, and get you what you need to get rolling!

Advantages of Hybrid Events

Going hybrid offers some powerful benefits:

More people can participate.

More forms of access mean more people can join. No matter what you do, someone isn’t going to be able to join one form of gathering, but they may be able to join for another. If you’re hoping to reach a wider array of people in your network, the more avenues the better.

People can join from anywhere.

Geography is a huge constraint when producing an event—no matter where you hold an in-person event, it’s likely going to be inconvenient for a good number of people. This is especially true for anyone with accessibility considerations or loved ones who have them, and doubly so during a pandemic!

Related: How to Organize a Massive Event (Brick by Brick with Chad Collins)

Hybrid is more inclusive.

People deal with a variety of challenges you may never know about. Some people get anxious riding a subway or driving a car; some people are sensitive to bright light and sound, some people just get nervous around other people. Plus, life happens, and sometimes people aren’t feeling good about leaving the house and being among other people. Beyond this, people have all manner of physiological constraints that make meeting in person difficult.

All of this is to say: offering multiple forms of engagement is inherently inclusive.

Online offerings do come with their own accessibility tradeoffs (see my thread on that here), which are worth accounting for as well, but ultimately more people will find an option that works for them when they have more than one to choose from.

Multi-access opens up our imagination, giving us more than just two options for how we gather. While hybrid thinking leads to a fixed duality of synchronous programming (offering an in-person and virtual option for the same moment), multi-access reminds us that our experiences, learning, content, and gatherings can happen at different times, in different spaces, for different people, in different ways.

—Cantor Rosalie Will, Rabbi Esther L. Lederman, And Rabbi Leora Kaye, “Don’t Call it Hybrid: Multi-Access is the Future for Jewish Communities”

Disadvantages of Hybrid Events

Not everyone should immediately jump into hybrid events; in fact I would rather you assume you shouldn’t do it until and unless you’re sure you need to and you’re sure you can do it well. A few challenges to consider:

They’re more work.

You’re going from producing one program in one medium to two programs in two forms of media. They require different skillsets, additional staff, and more overhead. Doing either format (online or in-person) is challenging enough—doing both at once is an order of magnitude greater in difficulty.

They’re hard to do well.

In many cases, a given event is going to have a native format it was originally designed for. An in-person event that’s being adapted to go online, for example, will require extra attention to ensure virtual participants have a quality experience. It’s often hard to avoid the feeling that virtual participants are second-class citizens compared to the people meeting in person.

Remote participants can feel excluded.

People who are online are never going to be able to feel the same kind of connection people feel when they meet in person. Inevitably, people who meet in person will have more serendipitous encounters and side conversations, which enrich the experience for them in a way that virtual participants just can’t reproduce in the same way.
Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate these challenges and take advantage of the opportunities these new approaches afford. I’ve compiled some of my most important tips for you in the next section!

Tips for organizing a great hybrid event

Taking into account the above tradeoffs, let’s get to work planning a great hybrid event!

Get clear on your goals.

This disruption gives us a chance to step back and investigate why a given gathering is happening in the first place—don’t just scramble to re-create what you’ve been doing all along, just because you’ve always done it that way. Make sure you know why you’re doing it! Getting solid on this will be critical in informing how you approach designing your experiences.

Focus on making both of them great experiences on their own.

To the extent possible, online participants should feel like they are participating in an experience designed for them, and not just tuning into something that’s really supposed to be in real life.

That means both experiences should be designed with their respective audiences in mind. If additional programming or effort needs to be dedicated to the online event to make that more of a complete experience, do what you have to do.

Related: Tips and Tricks for Getting the Most Out of the Conferences You Attend

This gets much easier when you…

Designate a dedicated remote production team and ambassador.

Think of a sports broadcast—there’s a team of people at the venue producing the event for in-person ticketholders, but there’s also a whole other team of people who are working to create an enjoyable television broadcast.

Similarly, when you have separate people who are focused on the in-person and online experiences, each can focus on doing their job well.

You can then have someone on the online team play “ambassador,” representing the online participants in person on their behalf. This ambassador can ask questions or contribute perspectives from the online community, bringing their participation into the physical realm and helping those folks feel represented.

For public-facing broadcasts and events, the person in this role might also be monitoring social media chatter as well.

Consider time zones.

Extending your offering online means accounting for where people will be viewing it. If you’re in the eastern time zone in the USA and want people from the west coast to join, you probably don’t want to do an event before 12:00pm ET (9:00am PT). Similarly, if you want people from Europe to join, earlier tends to be better.

If your event falls outside those time ranges, just make sure you’re clear in your communications so people can plan accordingly. Get in the habit of always appending times with their time zones, so people don’t get confused.

In other words, don’t tell people an online event starts at 12:00. Tell them it starts at 12:00pm ET. For bonus points, include a link to a handy time zone calculator! I love Every Time Zone for this.

Design for asynchronous participation while you’re at it!

Giving people the option to join in person or online substantially widens the potential audience for your event. If you want to widen the scope much further, consider adding one final layer of engagement—asynchronous online participation.

While it’s clearly not the same kind of participation you get from a synchronous experience, people who are unable to attend an event they really want to attend can in fact still feel very much like they have been a part of the event if you give them quality ways to engage with the content and conversation before and after the event takes place.

Are there question prompts you can offer to asynchronous participants before the event happens, so they can be invited to contribute their questions or responses? Can those responses then be read aloud during the event, so you can record how people react? Can you then post the recordings along with followup posts after the fact, so the asynchronous participant can keep the conversation going from there?

All of this, fortunately, is useful in extending the impact and meaning of a program for the synchronous participants as well, encouraging continued engagement long after the event has ended.

Focus on quality over quantity.

People aren’t necessarily starving for more time in front of their screens, so if you do one event really well, people will be more likely to make time for it. If you try to do too much all at once, you spread your own resources thin and risk overwhelming your audience with options—leading them to skip everything.

When you’re really able to focus your energy on one great experience, however, you can figure out exactly what works best—and then, when you’re ready, you can roll that out to expanded programming from there.

In Summary

Identify your business goals, talk to your people, design both experiences separately, and iterate!

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Influencer Marketing 101: The What, Why, and How Not To Go Wrong (with Examples)

Influencer Marketing 101: The What, Why, and How Not To Go Wrong (with Examples)

Editor’s note: This guest post by N.G. Gordon of Dear Mishu’s Dad is on a topic we don’t talk about much here at SPI Media: influencer marketing. But if you’re in the physical product space especially, influencer marketing can be a key component of your marketing toolkit. N.G. provides some handy advice for getting started finding and working with influencers—to which we’ll add, make sure that whenever possible, you’re building relationships with the SMIs you want to work with and prioritizing your audience’s trust in you. Long-term relationships over short-term wins, always. Enjoy the article!

Now that marketing through social media influencers is maturing, it’s time to take a wiser, more experienced look at it. But first:

What Is Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing is a form of guerrilla marketing! And when we talk about marketing via social media influencers (SMI), we mean someone who:

  1. Owns a social media account (minimum 50 followers) on platforms such as on TikTok, Instagram, Linkedin and YouTube, and—very importantly—
  2. Uses it for amazing relationship building with their followers AND/OR content creation.

As I’ve said before, our social media accounts are our brand business cards now. It’s obvious to the post-business-card generation that when one talks about “influencers” they mean social media influencers. And so, marketing via endorsements from bloggers, famous authors, whitepaper composers, or podcasters isn’t really considered to be influential nowadays unless they’re using social media to get their message across.

At the same time, the public and the media tend to hate what they think the word “influencer” stands for. So if you’d like, use other names to refer to them: creators, testimonial advertisers, online cheerleaders, advocates, social media impactors, etc. But whatever you call them, it is generally agreed that there are four types of SMIs, determined by their follower counts: 

  1. Celebs/Mega-Influencers (those with over one million followers
  2. Macro-Influencers (between 100,000 and one million followers) 
  3. Micro-Influencers (10,00 to 100,000) 
  4. Nano-Influencers (5,000 to 10,000)

Only Mega-Influencers are usually famous. That means that all others—and there are millions and millions of them—are unknown to the general public but are very well-known to the communities they’ve built through their social accounts. And, as a result, they can move mountains through those communities.

Why Would You Use Influencer Marketing?

You work hard designing, innovating, and creating. Whether it’s a new product, your new design services, a new menu, a new app, or a new Amazon product, it takes time and sweat to give birth to that baby. But when you are done, and the product is ready to be released to the world, alas, crickets… It’s hard to break through—and most people know how to bypass ads via ad-blocking software or emotional blockers! Unless you can find someone who already has the eyes, ears, and trust of your potential audience to recommend your creation. 

And that is where hiring an SMI can be a great shortcut to speed your marketing efforts. If done right, you can get exposure, and so much more, including:

  1. Feedback. You can save/earn a lot of money and avoid unnecessary work when your audience tells you whether or not they’re interested in your new idea for a business/product. This kind of feedback can be accessed through SMIs and their communities, because if you pick the right ones, they will become your target audience.

Here’s a real-world example from my DearMishu, where she found an issue with package closure of a sample she received, reported it to the brand, and saved them a lot of money before they launched to a mass market:

  1. Access to new communities. By creatively working with influencers, brands can reach communities they never would have considered targeting. I always like to give the example of a new tennis racquet entering the market that happens to come in orange. Imagine that the brand worked with an SMI who leads a community of people who love anything orange!
Orange tennis racket and orange lover SMI—what a match!
  1. Recognition. SMI’s are recognized as experts, and they transfer that to you. An SMI can bring you what we marketers know as “positive bias.” As a result, your brand will be “stamped” into their followers’ subconscious, and when they need to make a buying decision, they will remember the SMI’s recommendation.
  2. Virality. If the SMI you work with is skilled, your message will become viral through their communities.
  3. Great, reusable content. You need to have content—photos, videos, audio, etc. Even if you already have someone (yourself?) creating the content, after some time it can become repetitive and less creative than when you started your business. Most SMIs are very talented at story-telling, and you can use that to your advantage. 
  4. Great consultant. SMIs “live” in your marketplace. They know exactly what your audience members want and feel, how they’ll react, and so on. Ask them to share their experience and recommendations—they can be great consultants.
What SMIs can bring to the table…

How to Do Influencer Marketing

You’ll be able to access all those benefits of working with influencers, but only if you do it right…. The secret is to find someone on the social media channel of your choice who is:

  • Not a criminal or operating unethically (but know that most influencers are ethical!)
  • Has built a community that is relevant to what you do 
  • Dominates search results for your category on the platform
  • Their followers care about them, and care about what you do. An unengaged audience is a waste of your time and money.
  • And optional but good to have—someone who can create amazing content.

Search for these kinds of folks, and your success rate will be high.

How to Approach Influencers

Approaching an influencer doesn’t have to be complicated DM them and say something like:

“Hi Johnny, I would like to pay you for promoting my ____ product. Is that okay, and what would be your fee?”

Once you do that:

  1. Treat the SMI as a business partner. Know that they work hard, days and nights (like you), they have bills to pay, and this is how they pay them. They take their job seriously—and you should do the same. Therefore, just hire them using the same process you do with SEO experts, graphic designers, and software coders.
  2. Don’t ask them to bring you instant sales. What they do is marketing toward sales, not sales right from the first day. Let them help you get your message out first and build a social media presence, trust, etc., and then sales will come.
  3. Ask them to do at least two oro three campaigns/projects per year for you. Why? If someone has nothing to say about your brand 364 days a year and then suddenly starts singing your praises—would you trust them? 
  4. Sign a Brand-Influencer contract. (The one I use is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084SP1R7G.)
  5. Once the campaign is on, don’t forget to be there, actively engaging on the campaign posts and getting involved with the SMI’s followers. You want to show your commitment as a brand to the SMI and their followers. 

How Much Does Influencer Marketing Cost?

First, should you pay a SMI for their work? The answer is YES.

What would you do if someone asked you to work and didn’t want to pay you? Not so good, right? It’s the same with SMIs—they spend their working hours on you, they introduce what you do to a community it took them months if not years to build, they put their reputations on the line for you, etc. They are right to expect to make a living from their social media activities. Paying is the right way to go!

When calculating how much to pay an influencer, you can use one of five methods: 

  1. Pay the SMI 4% of their number of followers. For example, if Sarah has 30,000 followers, then pay her $1,200.
  2. Pay $120 per post for every 10,000 followers the SMI has (e.g., $360 for Sarah’s 30,000 followers).
  3. Pay by the hour, when the rate can be from $25 to $950/Hour, usually based on the SMI’s talent at story-telling, design, and marketing performance.
  4. Pay by project—as above, but an agreed amount per project. For example, a project may be defined as “Sarah creates 2 x 50-second YouTube videos recommending Brand X and posts them to her followers with 2 hashtags that Brand X provides. The work will be owned by Brand X. In return, Brand X will pay $900 upon contract signing and $1,400 after the posts go live on Sarah’s YouTube’s channel.”
  5. Pay by KPIs, such as number of tags, comments, or reshares. This is a mix of results-based payment forms, for example: “When KPI X is reached, you’ll get $__, and when KPI Y is reached, you’ll get $__.”

Each method has its pros and cons. Some of them are easier to calculate and work off already existing business models (project contracting or pay by the hour, for example). However, just like with paying other contractors, there are flaws and room for suspicion sometimes, as you don’t know your new partner well. For example, what if the number of hours Sarah reports looks inflated by the brand that ordered her work? There are also issues with the accuracy of numbers—it’s difficult to measure KPIs scientifically, and platforms don’t give access to all of their data.

The 17 KPIs to measure an SMI’s success

Also consider that many SMIs see themselves as real artists and creators. They may not have a huge number of followers, but they are still highly successful through their art and content creation and charge accordingly:

I charge based on my time & effort (& the time of year at some point). I leverage my fees on my metrics and my engagement rates based on the average in my bracket. I can also tell you there are a hell of a lot of others in my bracket who would laugh a brand into the river at $100 per 10k per post.


Examples of Successful Influencer Marketing

Mishu—a “pupfluencer”—recommends a new investment app to her followers.
Chef Dennis is an SMI who recommends good food for his audience to try.