Among the next big challenges for event marketers is fighting the urge to lean on retrospective pandemic content and messaging and to instead embrace fresh marketing themes and branding. For Facebook’s annual internal event, the GMS Summit, this year themed “Reconnect,” the goal was to inspire audiences with a higher energy, festival-like virtual platform that would capture the progress made since 2020 and what to look forward to in the upcoming year.
The bright, telegraphic virtual platform offered a music festival-style journey map to all the engagement channels attendees had access to. From the help “tent” to the “main stage” to the “activity field,” it offered the aesthetic of an in-person festival experience with elements like digital posters, maps, tickets, wristbands and designated virtual spaces for socializing.
“We wanted to focus equally on the attendee experience as we did on the content itself. We were thinking about how to reconnect people and create a shared experience and moment in time for everyone, and this idea of this festival wrapper came to be,” says Nicole Vendetti Patella, global events marketing manager at Facebook.
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Held Feb. 23-24, the GMS Summit: The Festival offered nine hours of content over 46 speakers from both inside and outside of the organization released over the two days. The team blocked off all attendees’ nine-to-five schedules in their local regions for the event and invited them to explore the map and choose their own adventure.
Much of the content was captured from afar, with a few high-profile clips recorded on-site. There was a mix of pre-recorded and live sessions, as well as an array of delivery styles and tones. Ancillary attendee experiences took place within Facebook-owned platforms like Workplace from Facebook, which included workshops and networking activities. Woven throughout were surprise and delight moments, like performances. The team also encouraged attendees to host virtual watch parties whether in Workplace rooms or messenger chats.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen how virtual gives us the opportunity to push boundaries in terms of accessibility,” says Vendetti Patella. “Some of the offerings that worked well for us this year were audio sessions that attendees could tune into on the go. We also had speakers where English was their second language, and we encouraged them to speak in their native language, adding subtitles. So there were a lot of opportunities for us to explore how we delivered the content.”
Among the many lessons learned from delivering dozens of virtual events throughout 2020 was distraction management, screen fatigue and developing a content program that’s relevant and relatable, she says. Facebook has found that the sweet spot in length for each session is 15 minutes, on average. The team added soundtracks, sound design, b-roll and other creative moments to spice up the viewing experience and production.
Another lesson: community building. Mixed into the experience was a social good campaign. Attendees were encouraged to participate in a physical activity, like walking, running or biking and the collective miles tallied went toward a donation for global nonprofits supporting pandemic relief.
“One of the biggest challenges for us was topping what we did last year with this event, which was challenging,” says Julie Hogan, global director-face-to-face marketing at Facebook. “We have produced hundreds of virtual events since our last big internal summit last year. We needed to apply all those learnings, the biggest of which was how do we create this sense of belonging that we know people crave and are looking for as they connect with each other and the content we’ve put together.”
Hogan describes the results as “extraordinary.” “Video views and average watch times were high and thousands of attendees ultimately participated as we mixed up formats, met people where they were at different times of day and incorporated these live moments of entertainment and inspiration.” Agency: Jack Morton Worldwide, San Francisco.