Going Live! Gathering remotely in the age of Covid

By
Daniel Conn
,
CRO @ ThoughtLeaders
June 3, 2020


People want to gather together. Since the beginning of 2020, one by one, opportunities for meeting have been cut off by the sweeping global coronavirus pandemic. Sports events, concerts, conferences, meetings, parties have all fallen by the wayside in recent months. 

Not to be outdone, people and organizations have risen to the challenge, innovating workarounds and remote options in the span of just a few short (and chaotic) months. This article looks at the incredible pace of change and innovation that has taken place, driven by our human need for connection and togetherness. 

In this article we’re going to be looking at references to different forms of remote digital gatherings including webinars, livestreams and the newly established category of online/ virtual events.

We can see interesting examples of the above and observe the incredible macro trends that have arisen. We are left asking  ourselves, how does this impact the future?


Webinar

Webinars are not new - we’ve all been emailed an invite link to “hear about the latest” such and such product. How has Corona impacted what was before a common form of digital gathering? 

Mentions of webinars have doubled since Corona kicked in. In Jan/Feb of 2020 the number of instances of webinars being promoted in content hovered around the 1000 monthly mentions across all formats. By April we can see this figure has climbed to over 2000 mentions.


To understand the phenomenon we need to break down the trend by format and category to understand what are the drivers of this change.

Podcast 

In Podcast the webinar promotion is centered around the Lifestyle category. Historically, Lifestyle is a broad category of content ranging from true crime to Bachelorette to parenting channels. So what’s really going on there?



If we look at the channel breakdown for the mentions of “webinar” in the lifestyle category we can see there is a strong representation from personal growth podcasts, both in physical and mental contexts. Habits 2 Goals, Girlskill, Mind Pump, The Sunny Show, Conscious Soul Growth and many more represent this group.


There is a clear push from creators with self improvement messaging to bring their podcast audiences into a dialogue with them. I find it interesting that the references to “life coach” in lifestyle podcasts follow a similar trajectory over the period.



There have been 583 podcast episodes in the Lifestyle category that have promoted webinars since Jan 1st. 50 of those episodes have been sponsored by brands like Zhou Nutrition and Betterhelp.

There is definitely an interesting angle here for a brand that aligns with self improvement to look at podcasters in the lifestyle space that are running webinars indicating a drive for close connection to their audiences and a potential to create a deep creator-brand partner relationship.

We think of webinars primarily as a B2B tool but with the proliferation of small, goal-orientated communities, brands can move past just podcast sponsorship and look to build a bond with that community. 

Newsletter

Webinar mentions in newsletters have grown inline with podcasts, close to doubling since COVID-19 took hold. This time, though, the growth is driven by the Marketing and Business categories.


Of the nearly 3000 newsletter sends that have featured webinar in some way since Jan 1 2020, 1024 of them have been sponsored.

This screenshot from the May 28th edition of Marketing Profs is a great visual anecdote for the proliferation of B2B webinar promotion in the recent period.



Highlighting the acceleration of sponsored webinars, let’s look at Digiday Daily, the daily newsletter of Digiday, a leading industry publication for Digital Media professionals.

In 2019 total, there were 72 individual newsletter sends that featured a promoted webinar. Through May 2020 year-to-date, there are 62 newsletter sends featuring a promoted webinar, suggesting 100% growth YOY if the rate continues.

B2B brands are definitely looking for ways to reallocate and replace the live in-person event expenditure they had allotted for 2020, and webinars are about as close as you can get to personal connection at scale.


YouTube

Webinars have been mentioned on YouTube for years but there has been a clear and dramatic increase during Corona.



There has not been a major expansion in the categories of content promoting webinars, rather simply a magnification of the same categories promoting more webinars, as we can see below.


There are some really interesting trends that come up in the YouTube webinar space. Astrology for example is a really prominent theme.


Throughout all of 2019 we find 13 channels that discuss Astrology alongside webinars with 297 videos among them, and in 2020 just through May alone, we see 17 channels with 268 total videos that cover Astrology and promote webinars in the same content.

Most brands choose to stay away from Astrology content based on the low number of videos that are sponsored, but it does hint at the fact that during COVID-19 people are increasingly looking for answers.

Of the 560 YouTubers to have promoted a webinar in 2020, 195 of them have discussed goals in the same piece of content.This is a trend certain industries and brands can absolutely take advantage of - especially the proliferation of webinars for the discussion of personal finance. Of the 560 YouTubers to have promoted a webinar in 2020,115 have discussed finance as part of their content.


Brands and creators should definitely be looking to partner here. Typically products in the space have a high LTV, and personal finance is an area which, given the uncertainty of the times, needs addressing. Brands can pay that little bit more on a CPM basis to do deep integrations and some quality original content beyond a standard integration and build long-term partnerships with these creators and their audiences.

Livestream

Livestreams have been a growing part of the Digital Media landscape in recent years but Covid has taken it into overdrive. There has been an over 50% increase in the number of creators running livestreams.


Games like Fortnite whoes success was built around the liveplay livestream concept have now moved into overdrive. The Fortnite-Travis Scott concert changed the game on what can be done with the format and we can see the results:


Livestreams are most prevalent in gaming and the number of streamers in gaming has increased in the past few months. Interestingly, the number of streaming videos has been reasonably consistent.


It’s in the Technology and General knowledge categories where discussions of livestream have really grown.



When we dive into the results, though, we see that actually the majority of the mentions in this space are YouTubers mentioning in the videos the livestreams they have attended. This hints at the cultural imprint of livestreaming that has taken hold.

If you are a consumer brand, particularly in the technology/gaming space, this is clear evidence that the investments you are making in livestreaming events are working and should absolutely continue. 

Online events

The concept of the online/virtual event really came of age during the pandemic. 50% of all-time mentions of online/virtual events occurred this year with a massive jump from February onwards.


The online or virtual event has come of age but there is still a lack of clarity about the usage of the term. Let’s look at some ways the terms have been used.


YouTube

All formats saw an increase but the biggest jump was YouTube. Also the biggest driver category was technology.


The growth of mentions of online events/ virtual events in technology content on YouTube comes in a few distinct forms. 

We can see Companies like Wix and AppSumo seeking to address online event production as a topic with educational content


Wix


AppSumo



Brands are hosting special online events as a means of customer engagement. It’s interesting the language chosen. These aren’t webinars but online events. The language choice imparts significance. An online event can be E3 (the leading global conference for video games) online or a glorified webinar there is not yet a clear linguistic distinction.





The use of virtual or online events in podcasts is interesting in recent months. In many cases it involves the promotion or discussion of what would have otherwise been an in-person speaking engagement.


Some examples include:




The examples go on and on. The Podcast format is being used in some cases to promote speaking engagements, as with example #1, a conversation with Naomi Klein. But often the podcast is also being used to host the conversation itself.  

Even with all this data and insight, we are just scratching the surface of this topic. As we all grapple with  getting a handle on the new reality, here are a few of my thoughts on what I will be looking out for in the coming months:

  1. People are getting used to the idea of remote digital gatherings: launching one now will be easier than ever before.
  2. They have the power to have a cultural imprint.
  3. Brands should be looking at creators who host live events (these are the ones that truly want a bond with their audience). 
  4. Creators should be looking at how they can go live if they haven’t already. 
  5. Is there a startup out there that can help brands run Fortnite/Travis Scott-type virtual extravaganzas?