“Please sir, no more”

Yesterday I saw a tweet that made me grin:

I’ve been working virtually, at least in part, since 2006.

I’m well used to webinars, virtual events, virtual happy hours, virtual younameits and digital whatchamacallits, both as a participant as well as an organizer, for clients as well as my own business and educational efforts.

Yet the Zoomification of the world as we know it exhausts even me.

My social calendar, which I have to manage pretty closely in order to keep up with school, school, and… oh, yes, school 😉 is hopping with virtual happy hours and get-togethers!

Zoomifying the world

This Economist article is a very interesting read, by the way. It notes that Zoom has zoomed [sic] from serving approximately 10m customers a day at the beginning of the year, to 200m a day right now, and that’s not just for business:

Responding to covid-19 has seen many people and companies realise that it had more to offer them than they had realised. Zoom, an online videoconferencing service, was serving 10m customers a day at the beginning of the year, most of them in business meetings. Now it is providing 200m people a day not just with meetings, but with Tai Chi classes and “quarantinis”. 

It is actually lovely to see how people and businesses have taken to virtual connectivity rather quickly, even though the reason for this massive adoption is not a pleasant one.

“However, comma…”

The problem, however, is that the minute you remove the “IRL” or physical dimension from an equation of interaction, you free up what would otherwise have been more focused attention to wander, indulge in an inner monologue and, potentially, drop off altogether.

None of what I’m saying is “new,” btw. It’s what marketers have been struggling with since Biz and Ev clicked their heels three times and said, “There’s no place like Twitter.”

The problem now – or root cause, if you will – is that the inability of pretty much everyone on the planet to broadcast at least semi-professionally on a consistent basis has been exposed.

And businesses are starting to realize that simply setting up a livestream and giving executives (most of whom who probably haven’t been media trained) the mic isn’t going to cut it.

Yet when we are all going to have to live, and work, and live, in a virtual world for the foreseeable future, not doing this is also not an option.

What to do?!

While I didn’t intend for it to be an inadvertent lesson in “how to do a virtual event,” a Facebook Live Q&A I hosted a couple of weeks ago was, apparently, just that.

I manage a few different Facebook groups, one of which is a completely free + no catch Social PR community: The Social PR Posse.

And as my work energy has started to come back after the life-changing events of the last few years, I felt one of the ways in which I could give back was to leverage my network to actively provide free learnings, trainings, and discussions.

So my former client/friend Dinean Robinson valiantly volunteered to be the “test case” for a  live Facebook Q&A on how to navigate nonprofit communications during COVID-19.

It went over really well.

Virtual event best practices

I was stunned and flattered when my colleague and friend Ann-Sofie Krol thought enough of how we’d structured the event to share, on LinkedIn, some of what we’d done as virtual event best practices.

She wrote (highlights below, I highly encourage you to read her entire post):

🌟 Topic – Make it relevant. There is steep competition on certain topics so as with any event, have a clear vision and objective of what you want to cover, make it easy to follow and stay tuned in.

🌟 Engagement – Ask for questions and comments and make it is easy for the viewers to engage and don’t forget to answer, during the session and afterwards. Done right this is where relationships are built, both with the audience as well as between people in the audience.

🌟 Have fun – See it as putting on a show. Even though the topic might be serious we still need energy in the session. So prep and boost both the producing team and enjoy the moment.

I think Ann-Sofie is right on.

#1 Topic

This might seem like a no-brainer. TBH, at any other point in history, it might have been.

But right now, you are literally competing not just with other IRL event producers, but the Facebook algorithm, Google spiders, and your grandmother’s neighbor who has just discovered hashtags.

Less is more. Always, but especially now.

Be very VERY specific about WHAT you are going to deliver to your audience and then STICK TO IT.

(Yes, this is so important that I used ALLCAPS as well as an indent.)

#2 Engagement

I think businesses sometimes forget – and this is not a new problem – that they are in business to serve – wait for it – customers.

Shock and awe!

So if you’re not going to keep those customers, or prospects, engaged, by showing that you’re listening to them, do you think they will be knocking on your door once COVID-19 is under control?

Ima gonna go out on a limb and say… no.

#3 Have fun

This is a tough one, as I think it can be both under- and over-stated at the same time.

Part of the reason anyone shows up for anything is the entertainment value. Though I don’t want to, I give you “Tiger King” (I’m not even linking to it because IMHO it is just so heinous.)

Your audience might sit through a super-boring presentation once. Maybe twice.

But if your competitor is delivering essentially the same quality of content, but is doing so in a much more entertaining way, where do you think they’ll be during Round 3?

So while you should in no way compromise on the quality of your content, make sure that the way the content is delivered is interesting, and entertaining, enough, to keep those eyeballs on you.

None of this is, as they are so fond of saying about PR, “rocket science.”

But it does take some artistry to deliver value in what is, for many businesses, a relatively alien environment… at least for now.

event header for Facebook Live with Janet FoutsEvent Notice: Navigating Grief During COVID-19

I told you how I’ve started doing Facebook Lives in my group as a way to give back.

Today, I’ll be talking to Janet Fouts on how to navigate grief.

Because whatever else we’re going through, that is the one human emotion we’re all going through. Simultaneously.

1:30 pm ET, but you do have to be a member of my Social PR Posse to see it live (or archived).

I hope to see you there!

If you implement any of these tips, will you let me know how it turns out? 

And, oh: if you’re a PR/MarComm pro looking for an exceptional value-add community, I would love for you to check out my Social PR Posse on Facebook. Like I said before: it’s completely free, no catch, but you do have to sign up (best way for me to manage spammers, etc.).

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps purpose-driven brands bring big ideas to life. She teaches at The Johns Hopkins University, has gone back to school herself with the Harvard Business Analytics Program, and is creator/lead instructor at The Social PR Virtuoso® online training hub , where ambitious PR pros learn how to unleash their inner Social PR superheroes. Owned by Lola the Basset Hound, she's mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke