Foreword to Spring 2020 Issue

Using Virtual Events for Business Continuity

If your inbox is suddenly overflowing with invitations to professional development classes and industry webinars as a result of the pandemic, you’re not alone. Many industries and their related organizations are using digital tools to stay top of mind and ensure business continuity.

At a time when trades shows are on hold, these tools can be a great way to connect with your audience, maintain relationships, and bolster your pipeline.

However, for some organizations, pivoting to digital communications may not deliver the results they seek. Remember, webinars and online forums can either enhance or hurt your business depending upon how well they are executed.

At FoodChain ID, we have an established track record for virtual events and webinars that have given us a unique understanding of what works best.

Topics Need to be Timely and Relevant – Just recently, we hosted a COVID-19 webinar that garnered 1,200 registrants within the first two hours of our email invitation. By the end of the day, we closed the registration at 1,500 participants. The invitation clearly focused the topic in relation to the food industry and struck a chord because it was still breaking news, and everyone had concerns about how it would affect them both personally and professionally.

In order to develop relevant content during the pandemic, we assembled a COVID-19 task force for all of our service lines across the globe. We needed updates from each region on our various lines of business and how they were being impacted. This allowed us to focus our communications by product, region and country so they remained relevant in real time. For example, while our testing services were not affected, food safety certifications and inspections were delayed as the accreditation bodies decided to delay inspections in favor of conducting remote audits.

Use Multiple Channels – In addition to the webinar, our global task force recognized that different segments of our audience gravitated to different forms of communication. Thus, we created a website page dedicated to Covid-19. This section of our website highlighted the information our customers needed most, such as Covid-19 certification extensions and timelines by country as well as a digest that focused on supply chain disruptions.

Digital tools will never completely supplant the need for in-person events like trade shows. However, during times of crisis, they allow you to stay connected and engaged. While webinars are an excellent channel for maintaining relationships, your content should also flow across a variety of digital pathways such as e-newsletters, websites, landing pages, and your Linkedin company page to name just a few.

Qualified Experts – in terms of webinars, your presenters (speakers, authors, etc.) must be knowledgeable industry experts and recognized names. When doing a webinar, a panel of “in-house” experts won’t suffice and will likely be viewed as overly self-serving. ideally, your team should be balanced with a company expert, along with industry-recognized speakers that can lend a variety of perspectives. A strong moderator who can direct the conversation, so it meets audience expectations, stays focused, and gives each speaker equal time is also essential.

Shorter is Better – Take a cue from the Harvard Business Review, which notes that short, crisp and concise webinars with Q&A are better received. This is especially true right now with so many companies competing for attention. Also, the more you break up the presentation, the better. For instance, consider inserting a brief video or polling questions to keep the audience visually engaged. Polling questions can be used to set up the next point or topic and also serve as market research for follow up materials that will extend the dialog.

Q&A is vital – our last webinar was expanded by 20 minutes due to a vibrant Q&A session. Our moderator did a great job of polling and noted the most frequently asked questions in the comments section during the webinar so he could focus the Q&A on the issues that were most relevant to our online audience.

Establish a Track Record – Your customers and vendors will likely value your content, especially if you have a prior record of providing credible information that isn’t too self-serving. Sadly, too many companies seek to maintain awareness during or after a crisis, which creates clutter. Those that have an established reputation will likely attract a larger audience as they’re able to mine past participants.

It is likely that the Covid-19 crisis will force many companies in the food industry to evolve toward a more effective use of digital communications. After all, companies don’t necessarily change because they want to. it’s more likely they change because they have to. SARS, for example, is a case where change was driven, having accelerated the use of e-commerce in China. Companies were forced to use digital channels in new ways never before considered.

The crisis will also force major trade shows to not just reschedule, but to consider new virtual approaches. Consider IFT; the show typically draws a huge international audience to the United States. Adopting a virtual strategy is a big test for the organizers, but it may ultimately lead the show to adopt a hybrid strategy going forward.

This, in turn, will open the door to attracting “virtual” attendees from smaller companies who would not typically be able to leave due to lack of time, money or perhaps language barrier. Thus, it could have the added benefit of removing barriers to entry for some participants and opening the show up to a new audience.

So, while we won’t replace trade shows, we will all be forced to adapt and adopt new ways of communicating to maintain business continuity during this crisis.

When the dust settles, it will undoubtedly lead to numerous innovations that will drive our industry forward in ways that are bigger and better than ever before.

Mark Dabroski,
SVP Commercial Services at FoodChain ID

About the Author: Mark dabroski is the SvP Commercial Services at FoodChain id, a market-leading platform dedicated to providing the food industry technology-enabled food safety, quality, and sustainability

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