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Why online events aren’t, ahem, ‘on the line’ in the post-lockdown world

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Samuel Brent
Sam is a born and bred North Londoner. Growing up in Archway, attending primary school at Montem Juniors in Holloway, and secondary school at Acland Burghley in Tufnell Park. After success with his A-Levels at LA SWAP, he studied film at the London College of Printing (later the London College of Communication) in the Elephant and Castle and then Clerkenwell. This led to working with the Guardian in Farringdon, and a career in Journalism. After years of a miss-spent youth in Camden Town, Sam now lives in Belsize Park with his wife Marina and their two children, Esme and Primrose. Samuel enjoys Gardening and cycling, and is an avid Arsenal fan and works out of his office in Shoreditch.

In pre-COVID times, going to an event wasn’t literally just about, say, enjoying a music gig or undertaking training to optimise work skills. It was also about the social aspect, like chatting to fellow fans at a music gig or networking with potential corporate contacts at a seminar. 

So, your heart could have understandably sank when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and in-person events were postponed or cancelled in their droves. Many events that did go ahead in 2020 were live-streamed online — and there are good reasons for even events held today to follow suit.

What were you doing in early 2020?

In an article posted on the London School of Economics (LSE) blog, academic Gina Sipley recalls when, in January 2020, she spotted the opportunity to submit papers to the 2020 Association of Internet Researchers  (AoIR) Conference in Dublin but wondered whether she could actually afford to attend.

Sipley wrote in this article published in March 2021: “As a tenured community college professor in New York, I have limited access to institutional funds and I am responsible for funding my professional development largely through my own ingenuity.” 

She ultimately decided to attend AoIR — which, despite ultimately shifting online due to the COVID crisis, “proved to be one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended.” As the conference was spread out across a month rather than packed into less than a week as before, screen fatigue was kept at a minimum.

There remained a strong social element, too — as AoIR held “a virtual series of pubs that were open 24 hours a day for participants to meet and video chat”. Consequently, Sipley was able to juggle attendance at AoIR with meeting responsibilities at home, like emptying the dishwasher and looking after her son.

online events

Online events also constitute an eco-friendly avenue

Diana Raiselis, a German Chancellor Fellow who researches nightlife with Clubcommission Berlin, commented in words quoted by DW: “I recognise that a virtual format absolutely makes wider, and more climate-responsible participation possible.” 

Sipley similarly notes that costly air travel is not necessary for attending online conferences, adding: “There is a great irony that most academic disciplines are engaging in discussions of how to mitigate the global climate crisis, yet we continue to expect scholars to traverse the globe several times a year to stay relevant.”

If you are a business owner looking for ways to help rein in your company’s carbon footprint, you could invest in an array of digital tools — including, for example, an online webinar platform — with which you would be able to deliver various events remotely.

Your target audience could still hugely appreciate online events  

Research also suggests that many people have returned to in-person events somewhat reluctantly. In a survey highlighted by the Leeds-based Centre for Cultural Value, fewer than a third of respondents said they would be ‘happy to attend’ cultural events — even as COVID-19 vaccination rates were rising. So, your business should seriously consider leaving online events as part of its marketing mix even in the post-pandemic era.

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