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Event leadership | 21 March 2022

Event Success Book Preview: How the Financial Times Used Virtual Events to Build Community

Bizzabo Blog Staff

Community building is essential for any event strategy, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed the game. Against all odds, the Financial Times discovered that a virtual event platform was the unlikely key to unlocking the community of its dreams.

Events have always been a great way to build community — the opportunities for knowledge sharing and networking mean people naturally come together and form connections to one other and your organization. 

The Financial Times (FT) understands this benefit more than most because subscriptions are the 134-year-old newspaper’s primary revenue driver. In fact, before the COVID-19 pandemic, FT hosted roughly 200 events with around 600 attendees at each.

Within weeks of the first lockdown in 2020, FT was among the first to pivot to a virtual conference. With just five days to plan the event, FT pulled off a one-hour webinar with 6,000 registrations — a 10-fold jump from its largest in-person event that proved just how crucial virtual community building is. 

The Benefits of Building Virtual Communities

Since those early days of distributed work, we’ve come a long way in facilitating the kinds of connections people seek when they register for an event. In-person and virtual communities don’t need or want the same things — and they don’t function equally — but virtual communities are all their own with unique advantages.

Build Communities Faster

After the success of its original webinar, FT followed up with a more extensive online event called The Global Boardroom, which took place over three days and involved 107 speakers from around the globe, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair and CEOs from around the globe. 

the global boardroom first edition

“If you were to put that kind of event together in the physical world, it would probably take you two years,” said Orson Francescone, Managing Director of FT Live events. “We did it in five weeks.” 

With 52,000 registrants, The Global Boardroom had more than twice the number of attendees it would achieve in an average year’s worth of events! Many of those registrants had never attended an FT Live event before, which meant that more than two years’ worth of customer journeys kicked off in an instant. 

Extend Event Life — and Bring Your Community With You

Building a community around your event is only valuable if you create a long-term strategy for nurturing and engaging the community. Many touchpoints keep attendees engaged, including customizable pre-event marketing and evergreen post-event content.

Because virtual events take place on an event engagement platform rather than in-person (or alongside for hybrid events), there is one central hub where registrants can go to learn more. A single place to connect with others and follow-up when the live aspect is complete. 

“We don’t want to lose hold of those new engaged global audiences,” said Francescone, “and the only way of doing that is maintaining a digital-first approach to our events, even when we return to physical events.”

Reduce Barriers to Entry 

A reduced barrier to entry was an early contender for the most significant benefit of the migration to virtual and hybrid. The more accessible and inclusive your event, the larger your audience can become. 

If your primary objective is eyeballs, as it was for the Financial Times, strategies like tiered pricing structures widen the net even further. The same goes for access to speakers you’d generally need to book months or years in advance — anything is possible now. 

“Digitization has allowed us to evangelize and prophesize the FT word across every corner of the globe, from Japan to Latin America,” said Francescone. “And we’re reaching audiences that we would have never reached before.”

The Importance of Integrations and Collaborations

A significant step toward turning a multi-day community into a year-round one is aligning your event strategy, business outcomes, and marketing team efforts. Before this significant shift, event platforms either didn’t have the tools to foster this kind of community building or didn’t have the critical mass needed to carry that community past the event’s lifespan. 

Book Event Success Quote
SourceFinancial Times

Everything has changed as event experience platforms create frameworks for better community building — and as we learn more about what opportunities our virtual and hybrid audiences need and want. For example, virtual audiences want to feel the following:

  • That they’re exploring a primary resource of industry knowledge.
  • That they’re among respected members of their professional community.
  • That they can engage with the platform and the people. 
  • That they have a shared emotional experience.

Choosing the right tools and strategies can help you build a strong foundation and achieve a critical mass for your online community. Once you have the community’s attention, remember to keep them engaged with experiences and high-value information. 

Learn How To Achieve Event Success Through Community Building

Learn from more industry leaders like Orson Francescone about turning your event into a community builder, driving outcomes through events, and more in our book, Event Success: Maximizing the Business Impact of In-Person, Virtual, and Hybrid Experiences

Bizzabo Event Success Book

Also? We’re donating all proceeds from pre-order sales to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to support its Ukraine relief efforts. Pre-order now, do good for the people of Ukraine, and learn to build better, stronger communities around your event.