COVID 19 kill-joy

Much to the dismay of comic fans everywhere, confirmed cases of COVID-19 rising across the globe have forced many popular fan conventions such as the Emerald City Comic Con (or ECCC) to cancel or postpone their events in order to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Originally scheduled to take place on March 12th through the 15th at the Washington State Convention Center, ECCC is quite a large, annual fan-based event that’s been held every year since 2003. It drew nearly 100,000 attendees in 2019 and was scheduled with a full lineup of celebrity guests including Mark Ruffalo (Avengers: Endgame) and Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future).

ECCC isn’t the only victim of the COVID-19 virus, with several other well-known conventions being postponed or cancelled entirely, (such as the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco and the 2020 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas), many event planners are scrambling to find alternatives to in-person events, while keeping their fanbases excited and hopeful for the future of their highly anticipated, cherished events. 

What a convention like this means to fans

In addition to the opportunity to interact with cast members from each series, fans see these events as a chance to interact with other people who see the world through the same lens that they do. In other words, conventions are deeply tribal activities that solidify relationships, build a sense of community and allow members to have fun in the presence of like-minded people. You could imagine the heartache these fans are feeling.

Given the passion that fan (Star Trek, Anime, comic book, WOW) groups have for their subjects, it is somewhat surprising to me that they have not yet embraced virtual events in the same way that corporations have. A loss of this magnitude could have been avoided all-together with the help of going virtual.

Five reasons ECCC (and other conventions) should go virtual

Despite the fact that fan groups already have large and committed in-person event followings, there are several reasons that they could benefit from expanding their virtual offerings. By adding a virtual component to their conference offering, event organizers could expand their fan base, develop new revenue streams and drive deeper attendee engagement.

Because avoiding the spread of Corona virus is a logical reason to hold virtual events in lieu of in person-events, I decided to break down the top five reasons that fan-based conferences should go virtual:

  1. Strengthening the core community – In a community of thousands, the prospect of finding new friends can be somewhat overwhelming. Virtual events help to solve this problem in several ways. First, intelligent CRM can help to filter the community down into smaller sub-groups. For example, at a hybrid convention, memorabilia collectors would be able to find each other with a click of a button and to connect in person at the event. Second, most virtual event platforms (including Social27’s) integrate with Facebook and other social networks, making it easy for fans to connect and build friendships. Finally, game dynamics offer the potential for collaboration towards meeting certain goals – for example, users might be asked to work in groups of 5 to come up with ideas for a new Marvel movie.
  1. Expanding to new fans – No matter what the economic conditions, there will always be a hard-core group of fans who are willing and able to travel almost anywhere to celebrate their passion with each other. But, for the rest of us, the prospect of traveling to Las Vegas to participate in an in-person conference is somewhat intimidating. As an enthusiastic sci-fi fan myself, I know that I would be much more likely to join the community if I could do so from the comfort of my home office. The good news is that these new fans will become a pipeline of potential in-person event attendees.
  1. A new generation of revenue opportunities – Merchandizing has always been a cornerstone of the convention world and ECCC is no exception. While corporate products tend to have long sales cycles and require complicated explanations, consumer products (especially fan-based products) have no such limitations. Not only could fan-based virtual events generate revenue through high volume merchandizing, but they could also leverage virtual auctions to sell high-ticket items to their community members. In addition to merchandizing, virtual events offer new opportunities for exclusive virtual content sales, VIP experiences and celebrity chat sessions.
  1. New ways for fans and celebrities to interact – One of the main reasons that fans attend conferences is to have the opportunity to interact with the cast and crew from their favorite show. Unfortunately, in a community of thousands, not everyone gets to spend as much time interacting as they would like. Virtual events offer new, scalable ways for fans to interact with celebrities including chat sessions, video interviews, Q&A sessions and games. Once again, if done correctly, these activities should complement, not replace, interactions at the in-person event.
  1. Game dynamics and attendee engagement – I have been arguing that game dynamics are one of the most important trends facing the virtual events industry for a while now. This is true in the corporate space and it is even more important in the organizational/consumer space. In the case of ECCC, the opportunities for collaboration are almost limitless; quizzes, trivia competitions and idea generation all represent significant opportunities to drive additional revenue while increasing attendee interaction with the brand.

It’s an event Jim, but not as we know it…

Over the last few years, virtual and hybrid events have become increasingly accepted in the corporate space. Ironically, the greatest opportunity for the industry may lay outside of the doors of America’s largest corporations. One such opportunity is to expand hybrid events to consumer events, which I will be talking about in my next blog. By focusing on fan groups that already have a committed event following, we can expand the virtual events industry while taking our solutions to a new generation.

Host your own virtual event: 

Interested in hosting your own virtual event? Social27 has been enabling organizations across all industries and sizes to host their own engaging virtual events since 2010. 

The Social27 Virtual Events platform brings the best of content streaming, networking with rich profiles, virtual sponsor pavilions, lead generation, gamification with points and badges, AI chatbot support and deep analytics powered by machine learning.