Cisco Live is typically a mammoth affair that attracts tens of thousands of attendees who consume 1,000 sessions over a five-day period. In the COVID-19 era, however, the conference had to be completely revamped to accommodate the new normal. In just 10 weeks’ time, Cisco developed a two-day virtual event program that was designed to educate and inspire its customers with a whole new set of tactics.
But a day before the show was slated to kick off, the team decided to postpone it by two weeks in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and Blackout Tuesday. Taking the adjustment in stride, and leveraging an agile strategy that allowed for quick decision-making, the brand ultimately produced a virtual Cisco Live that earned a nationally trending spot on Twitter, 19 million minutes of viewed content and 2.1 million social media views—all delivered while the Cisco team was sheltering in place.
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The reimagined Cisco Live (June 16-17) offered attendees more than 40 bite-sized sessions, with content broken down into four distinct channels. For each channel, the brand assigned two live hosts, who offered perspective on the sessions and kept the momentum going. The Possibilities Channel featured stories of inspiration and optimism from a variety of thought leaders, along with music performances, special guest appearances and surprise and delight moments. The Innovation Channel explored IT solutions and strategies essential to modern business, while the IT Heroes Channel offered the event’s most technical content via breakouts, demos and expert-led sessions. And the IT Leadership Channel offered insights about the intersection of business and technology.
“It was a really fluid situation based on what was happening in the world with COVID and the racial unrest,” says Kathy Doyle, director-global Cisco Live conferences. “So we needed to be constantly mindful and sensitive about what our customers and partners were dealing with, which was a lot of uncertainty. We wanted to make sure that whatever programming we were doing, whatever messaging, we really had the right tone for the time.”
Although the in-person Cisco Live attracts attendees from the Americas, the virtual event drew in people from across the globe. To accommodate all attendees, Cisco offered global replays of session content throughout the two-day affair. The content didn’t end with the event, however. The day after the conference wrapped, Cisco released an additional 200 sessions on-demand, with plans to deliver 700 sessions by September.
In addition to the sessions and a mix of pre-recorded and live keynotes, an array of social media initiatives was also incorporated into the mix. Leaderboards kept track of which attendees were posting the most about the event, while designated social media filters gave them a chance to digitally don a Cisco Live hat (the Cisco hat is a big deal at the physical conference). There was also a TikTok dance contest, and yes, attendees really did submit their best moves. Meanwhile, a dedicated #CiscoLive Social Lounge gave attendees a chance to socialize via Twitter and Instagram.
“There was a lot taking place on social media and it was just buzzing the whole time,” says Doyle. “We created contests and real-time social engagement activities, which made it feel like an interactive in-person event.”
There were other engagement strategies, too. Like live performances; Q&As with academics, authors and explorers; Zumba and yoga classes, virtual volunteer activities; trivia games; and session polling and surveys. As a reward for participating in some of these activities, attendees could earn prizes including phone sanitizer, virtual assistants like the Google Home, Apple TVs, #CiscoLive bobbleheads and Explorer Passes to Cisco Live 2021.
All told, the virtual event was a resounding success. During the two-day conference, Cisco racked up three million views on sessions, with attendees assigning the content a score of 4.5 out of 5—something the brand didn’t expect to yield from a digital experience.
“We learned that a digital event requires a well-thought-out strategy and planning cycle, so don’t underestimate the time it will take to plan and execute a successful digital event,” Doyle says. “You will need to re-align your team structure with new work streams, tap into new skills, and use more cross-functional and agile work processes. Since you’re relying on technology it’s more critical than ever to do extensive testing and have robust contingency and communication plans in place.” Agencies: The XD Agency; Impact Point Marketing; George P. Johnson.