How a shift to virtual events can help startups drive CSR
Fully embedding a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy within a business is more important now than ever, and this applies to startups just as much as to any blue chip. One may be forgiven for thinking that startups have more urgent priorities: securing investment, gaining customers, hiring talent or simply turning a profit, for instance.
Yet CSR can play a huge role in driving all the above. For example, the Deloitte Insights 2020 Global Marketing Trends Report showed that purpose-driven companies have 40% higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors. The UK Small Business Consortium also reported that 88% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities to improve society.
Startups also arguably have a leg up on larger companies when it comes to enacting CSR across their organisation. Startups by definition are more of a cultural blank canvas than larger industry incumbents who have established cultures, processes and policies that can lead to inertia in the face of progress.
Instead, startups are often defined by innovation and forward thinking, and are much faster to adopt change and drive new ways of working. This means startups have an opportunity to lead across many aspects of CSR.
The inclusivity of virtual events
So, with sustainability a focus, companies should be thinking about how they can ensure their products, services and key messages are as inclusive as possible, in a way that is relevant for each and every person from the widest net. Events can be a perfect way to do this. The pandemic has precipitated a shift to virtual events or hybrid models that combine in person events with an online component (essentially, hosting a live event fully online).
A little appreciated fact is how much these can enable engagement with a much more diverse demographic. Let us remember that, for a startup, engaging with its audience is key. From brand awareness to driving revenue, connecting with the consumer or end user is essential to building a solid foundation and loyal following for the firm.
There are two key factors which make virtual and hybrid events more inclusive. One of these factors is practical, related to virtual events overcoming the geographical restrictions, domestic pressures and budgetary constraints of in-person events. Delegates living outside of key cities in their area find themselves at a distinct disadvantage to those living closer to popular venues.
As a result, they will attend fewer events, or have to spend more money, or travel further, for the privilege. And the cost of attending an event in-person rarely ends with the admission fee; travel, food and drink and accommodation all drive up what can be a prohibitive bill, which can put once-keen delegates off the experience.
Of course, international travel for events was largely grounded throughout 2020, but with vaccine programmes and airports around the globe tentatively cracking their doors, it won’t be long before companies are asked to foot a travel bill as long as the runway.
The second factor which make virtual and hybrid events more inclusive is linked to personal preferences and choice. When evaluating our own data collected across years of hosting live, virtual and hybrid events, we discovered that corporate in-person event attendees fell into three brackets of roughly equal size:
- those who relished networking and engaging with content and other people
- those who were more introverted, finding many aspects of live events uncomfortable and therefore rarely engaging
- and those who are indifferent and whose level of engagement is dependent on what occurs at the event.
For the group less inclined towards in-person events, virtual events are the perfect match. Events became much more attractive, and people were either more likely to attend, or did attend and enjoyed it. Given the range of personality types and almost endless variation in personal preferences, tastes and interests, virtual events can appeal to a wide spectrum of people in different ways that suits each individual. Though the journey might be different for each person, the same content and experiences can be enjoyed by all.
Further benefits of a tech-enabled hybrid approach
Virtual events not only increase inclusivity; they can also build new levels of flexibility into a business’s event. Digital platforms like Live Group’s peer hub can allow people to interact on their own terms and in their own time, before, during and after the event. This reduces social pressure, meaning engagement can be comfortable and beneficial to delegates as individuals.
Additionally, funnelling traffic to these platforms aids the gathering of back-end, insightful audience data such as key information relating to engagement and conversion rates, making it easier to tailor future events to different personality types. Further, digital platforms can also facilitate more sustainable and long-term engagement, with attendees able to network with other audience members and sponsors both pre- and post-event, rather than engagement rising and falling steeply with the core days of the event.
Startups can therefore consider how they run their events as part of their drives to incorporate CSR within their organisations. Embracing the hybrid event model accelerated by the pandemic can dramatically improve the diversity and inclusivity of outreach to a company’s stakeholders, increases the quality of engagement with them, and may just boost the bottom line, too.