Alumni Engagement: Moving From Virtual Events To Virtual Experiences

by Sarah Stuart Trainor in Partners   |    Last Edited: 26th May 2020

Technology is enabling virtual events, but how can you blend the physical with digital to really capture your community’s imagination?

To really make your mark and stand out from the crowd you’ll need to invest energy and creativity and hustle like the best of them.

We’ve seen plenty of examples of brand collaborations in immersive events in the past, particularly in the luxury and retail space. From La Maison Remy Martin’s iconic private members club in London and the Nyetimber Secret Garden at 1880 Singapore to the latest digital offering from Secret Cinema – Secret Sofa presented by Haagen-Daz. Your future events program will see a blend of self-contained experiences where personal space will be a pre-requisite, wrapped with an on-demand and live digital program.

The human need to feel connected to people, places, experiences, things and oneself remains, stronger than ever.

So, what’s the big idea?

Look at the private member’s club model. Private spaces with curated programming, who gather likeminded individuals to build elite communities with shared interests. Take influence from this and create an around the world series of pop up spaces, in your alumni hotspots. Taking over a private space for a couple of days and filling the time with a highly curated agenda for a very small handpicked audience. Your brand is centre stage and your collaborators deliver the content and experiences. From the latest star chef hosting an intimate dinner, or a brand like Tesla showcasing their latest tech innovations to performances by locally relevant artists.

You will need to embrace the opportunities to deliver shareable content and create memorable moments, which will link the audience to your brand. Box clever – tick off as many alumni engagement metrics as you can with each event. You have a network of experts at your fingertips within your alumni community; use them as content collaborators. Build real relationships with individuals. Bring tastemakers, industry leaders and the alumni together to share and exchange perspectives. Provide your community with access to exceptional guest speakers to assist them in navigating the new normal.

Or think back to the secret gigs that musicians turn up to all over the world. I’ll never forget calling around frantically to get our members access to the series of secret gigs Prince performed in London in 2014, during my time at Quintessentially. Highly secretive and incredibly desirable. Those lucky enough to get to see him are still reminiscing about those nights at the Electric Ballroom.

You can embrace the allure of the underground by creating a series of completely unexpected moments. Do for your alumni what you would normally reserve for your prized clients. From an audience with Mumford & Sons, to a fireside conversation with Stephen Fry, now is the time for blue sky thinking. Build the anticipation in the weeks leading up to the event and only reveal the details at the last minute. Bragging rights are always desirable and if you’re going to invest, you want your audience to talk about these moments for years to come.

By bringing in a blend of digital platforms, you can suddenly reach a much wider audience. Obvious I know, but historically we have focused on one type of event or the other, not a blend.

Creating a wow experience for a tiny group of people in a physical setting and allowing your wider community to be the spectators of this highly personalised show online – this is the sweet spot where digital platforms enable you to amplify your physical experience, whilst still observing the requirement for privacy and personal space. Think live streaming; podcasts with the main protagonists; interviews with your key alumni and live social media coverage. You can also blend the virtual with some physical enhancements – surprise digital attendees with an uber eats delivery to their door before the event, give them a list of props they need to create the experience theme from their living rooms. The post event content opportunities are also endless – white papers, post event feedback and an on-demand library of content, which lives on the alumni platform.

Why do any of this?

Be ‘cooler’. Be relevant. Surprise your audience. Deliver shareable, memorable content. Create an army of brand advocates.

If your alumni community really are important to you, then you need to take it up a gear to really make your mark in the new normal. Go big or go home.

Sarah Stuart Trainor, former Head of Alumni Engagement at Sommet Education (http://www.sommet-education.com/), writes on ideas for creating fewer, more impactful experiences for alumni communities and reembracing the brand collaboration. She is on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-stuart-trainor-b3a01314/).