SOCAP – Behind the Curtain of the Big Tent

On Wednesday, December 2, we were thrilled to co-host “SOCAP – Behind the Curtain of the Big Tent” with Kate Byrne, President of SOCAP Global and Intentional Media, and Cari Hanson, President of SOCAP. SOCAP’s (Social Capital Markets) flagship conference is usually hosted every October, with about 5,000 attendees gathering in-person at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, California. 

2020 forced many in our industry to cancel or delay our events, and our entire community watched SOCAP’s incredible, almost unbelievable, pivot to an entirely online conference. The much-anticipated call dug into a critical analysis and key takeaways from SOCAP’s experience of rebuilding a huge, in-person conference into a virtual event in just six months. This new conference is referred to as SOCAP Virtual. 

The most surprising and inspiring takeaways that Kate and Cari shared: 

The critical importance of ecosystem partnerships.
Usually, the social impact community ‘partners’ by promoting each other’s convenings, but SOCAP has always wanted to pursue a more meaningful, intentional ecosystem. Long-time participants and other organizations have been submitting to the SOCAP Open and hosting events around, and in response to, SOCAP for years, but 2020 forced a new type of collaboration.
In looking at our ecosystem landscape, the SOCAP team realized that a lot of organizations wouldn’t be able to host events alone anymore and wanted to bring everyone into the Big Tent. 
SOCAP initiated ecosystem partnerships by inviting other organizations, companies, and thought leaders to design and host their own pre-event, live, and post-event content. This type of content helped boost SOCAP’s session count from 170 (2019) to 244. (Yes, this sounds like too much content, but the team is actively working on decreasing the number of competing sessions.) 
The ecosystem partnership model is a marvelous evolution for SOCAP, a systemic, community wide transformation that we’re excited to see again in 2021. 

Shockingly high sponsor engagement. All of us are nervous about financing and sponsorship around our convenings, and it was remarkable to hear how well SOCAP did with sponsors. 
While the individual number of sponsors dropped, the dollar amount increased.

How? The team upsold sponsors by expanding the types and length of engagement and assets. They focused on viable, evergreen content (like podcasts, video and downloads) that is highly creative and tailored to individual funders. 

Increased inclusivity and accessibility.
The virtual event gave audiences who normally couldn’t attend SOCAP access, financially and otherwise. 
The team saw much deeper inclusion, not just in the form of more participants from around the globe, but around community and representative voice.

Accessibility goes beyond the live event; free, post-event content hosted on YouTube and other platforms saw 10x engagement. This is massive engagement for free content, but there was a significant drop in engagement for paid content (read more in the last bullet.)

There is no one platform to rule them all.
It’s as we all fear and loathe: there is no single platform that can satisfy all of our needs. No matter how many we demo in search of the ultimate platform, plan on using multiple programs for your events. SOCAP utilized both Hopin and Bizzabo after realizing neither could host powerful agendas and high connectivity (among other features). Running multiple platforms was definitely a challenge, but neither Kate nor Cari anticipate a single platform will advance fast enough to become the one and only. 
With every platform comes a unique host of challenges! Plan on hiring as many tech staff as possible to help run the live event.
SOCAP chose English as their universal language after realizing that neither HopIn nor Bizzabo had translation technology. Here’s hoping we can find platforms that offer translation services to boost inclusivity in the future. 

Content is much less important than connection.
Free content is disrupting almost every industry as companies fight for visibility and relevancy during the recession and COVID. 
The appeal isn’t about how good the content or how prized the speaker anymore, it’s about connection. Our events will stay relevant based on the curated and organic connection opportunities we create for participants, so those connections need to be highly customized, creative, and memorable. 

The question on everyone’s mind: where does SOCAP and Intentional go from here? Especially with the promise of the COVID vaccine on the horizon? Like all of us, Kate and Cari are excited by the possibilities and hope that a vaccine will bring, but neither anticipate rushing back to in-person events. Our safest bet is to run 2021 virtually and utilize all we’ve learned this year to push platforms, and our industry as a whole, toward greater innovation, creativity, and inclusivity.