Should community events remain virtual?
Katy Bennett, Communities Account Director
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the majority of us now have Zoom or Teams or Skype downloaded ready for a work meeting, virtual baby shower celebration, or weekly quiz. The pandemic and the series of lockdowns that followed allowed these platforms to be used more often, helping with the feelings of isolation that were understandably common during this unexpected and challenging time.
According to The Verge, at the start of the pandemic 32 million people were using Teams on a day-to-day basis. Quickly, this grew to 75 million. Now, numbers from April 2021 show that the recent figure for membership was 145 million users. Similarly, Zoom told The Verge that it had 300 million “participants” in 2020.
These numbers not only prove the popularity of these apps, but demonstrate the shift from face to face communication to virtual. Zoom, Teams and the like did an excellent job of keeping us connected when face-to-face events were out of the question. But now that there seems to be a gradual return to ‘normal’, do we delete these apps and forget about them forever?
Even though we were in our own homes and unable to meet others in person for a huge chunk of 2020, virtual community events gave us a chance to catch up with friends in the community, and keep hold of some sense of normality in the midst of major life changes. They gave us hope that we were not doing this alone, and that just about everyone else was feeling and thinking what we were.
It also allowed people who were not as active in the community before the pandemic to become more integrated. It enabled people to get to know neighbours and become more ingrained in their community, as online events were more widely accessible and could be viewed or joined at different times or whilst doing other tasks.
In the Communities Team, we are often asked whether we think there is still a need for virtual engagement events. Things are slowly shifting back to the pre-pandemic way of life, and in-person events are starting up in earnest, with festivals and concerts returning over the last few weeks in particular. However, when it comes to community engagement, while nothing can really replace the discussion that takes place when we are physically in the same room, it does not diminish the value of online activity. Even with increased in-person activity, the same things will still be true about online engagement: it is more accessible, easier to dip in and out of, and easier to follow on the go.
At Cratus, we have found success with a hybrid system, namely holding a mix of in-person and virtual events. We find this strikes a balance between giving us the chance to engage with and meet new people, whilst also taking advantage of the ease of virtual attendance. Ultimately, the more engagement channels we can make available for communities, the wider our reach can be.
If you’d like to find out how our Communities team could help you or your organisation, get in touch with Gemma Gallant.