Here is what Box learned about virtual events in 2020 and what it means for their 2021 event strategy.
In 2020 Box transitioned their annual global user conference into a virtual event that hosted over 20,000 customers to showcase products, vision, and partners. Box’s largest event of the year, BoxWorks, is traditionally a paid event that gathers 2,000 to 3,000 attendees for three days at Moscone convention center in San Francisco.
When the Box team decided to go virtual, they wanted to replicate, as much as possible, the types of content and engagements that make their in-person events so popular. This included a general session with 50+ keynotes, classes and courses for the Box certification program, VIP-only executive briefings, an analyst event, and a CIO event.
The primary goal with BoxWorks Digital was to bring awareness and education of Box products to as many people worldwide as possible and build demand generation. Registration to the live event was free and open to anyone. Live attendees could get their questions answered in real-time by Box experts. BoxWorks Digital registration remains open post-event with recorded session content now available to anyone on-demand.
BoxWorks Digital event lead
Ashesh Satvedi stepped up to co-lead BoxWorks Digital when the need to pivot to digital arose in Spring 2020. Unlike many planners faced with an event pivot, Ashesh has focused on virtual events since 2013 and has managed Box’s global digital events program since 2015. With expertise in developing and managing a successful program of smaller digital events, Ashesh was a natural fit to help lead the BoxWorks pivot.
Making the decision to pivot
Box’s decision to turn BoxWorks20 into a virtual event was not difficult given the circumstances. The work from home environment of spring 2020 was driving record attendee numbers at Box’s smaller online events. There was plenty of time to redirect plans from in-person to digital before the September event date. The biggest focus was on how the virtual events team could expand their scope and scale to deliver this massive global conference.
“With our years of experience, the smaller digital events we were doing had great ROI and engagement so we knew we could do that piece,” according to Ashesh. “There were also processes and tools in place where we could quickly train our field teams to pivot.”
BoxWorks typically has huge expenses associated with venue, rentals, food and beverage. One of the benefits of virtual was the number of costs that just went away. The Box team found their virtual event budget allowed for a significantly larger number of attendees. They were also able to offer BoxWorks free for the first time.
Ashesh warns however, “there is a misconception that virtual events should always cost less than in-person for the same attendee count. This is not always going to hold true. As we expanded the scope of what we wanted to do virtually, our costs increased. The virtual platform is the new venue, and of course many of the same cost buckets still exist. The biggest cost for BoxWorks Digital was the event platform which did charge based on the number of attendees.”
Event team and support
An accurate assessment of virtual event costs takes into account the event team’s time and other resources used in addition to dollars spent. Box found that relying on internal Box staffers to execute all the day-to-day planning tasks was an unexpected challenge. The small virtual events team provided expertise, but Box’s regular in-person events team and other staff all had to be trained which took a lot of the team’s time.
The events team divided tasks into workstream buckets and outsourced the planning for each workstream to regular Box staff. In the end there were 100+ Boxers involved in planning and executing the event in addition to doing their regular jobs. While this was successful, it required a lot more staff time than expected.
Next year Ashesh would choose to rely more on outside events agency experts to manage things like registration and training speakers so internal staff can focus on developing the Box story, supporting messaging, and content.
Platform and event tech
Box already had 6connex, a scalable all-inclusive platform, in use for smaller events, so it was the natural choice to try out for BoxWorks Digital. To take their high-profile event to the next level, the Box brand team designed a custom look and feel that would showcase the Box brand and give the event a one-of-a-kind feel.
Ashesh says this was an important part of differentiating their event because “Once you’ve attended a few of these virtual events, you start to see that everyone is using the same underlying platforms. The platform templates start to look the same, so custom graphics are key to keeping the attendee experience fresh and unique.”
Ashesh also points out one of the most important things he’s learned about event platforms. “Designing an overly elaborate platform experience gets in the way of content.” He cautions planners who are new to virtual events to keep their content center stage.
Content and agenda
One of the biggest investments Box made was in high-quality content production. With attendees going to so many virtual events, content has become an escalating competition where each new event is challenged to improve the production quality and deliver unique experiences.
Day-of-event BoxWorks offered a mix of live and on-demand sessions for attendees to choose their preferred experience. Keynotes were all pre-recorded. The team wanted to minimize risk of an internet connection dropping during keynote presentations. Some speakers recorded at corporate offices with strict precautions and social distancing practices in place. Others recorded at home using a Logitech webcam the events team sent out.
Box wanted the authenticity and interaction of having some live content. Box CEO hosted Magic Johnson for a live fireside chat. The events team experienced first-hand the stress live speakers can cause. Mid-conversation Magic’s internet connection went down. The team had to scramble to put up alternate content and send out a platform notification asking attendees to stay tuned. In the background they worked with Magic to reboot his internet and restore his connection. The conversation eventually resumed and most attendees stayed on the platform to watch.
Ashesh says “the importance of maintaining a calm and focused mindset in a moment like this cannot be overstated. Experience definitely comes into play as inexperienced event staff tend to freeze up. It took less than five minutes to restart the session, but it felt like much longer in the moment.”
Attendee activities and gamification
“Entertainers and celebrity speakers like Magic Johnson are huge in virtual events” Ashesh observes. Attendees need those breaks to reset between weightier sessions.
Gamification was also popular with BoxWorks attendees. There was a leaderboard and attendees could exchange points for swag. This encouraged people to get more involved and drove participation across all aspects of the event including the exhibit hall.
BoxWorks Digital offered robust sponsorship packages at slightly reduced prices from in-person BoxWorks events of the past. Packages sold quickly netting over twenty-five paid sponsors. Sponsors got a custom exhibit booth build featuring their branding. Each sponsor could upload their own content and meet with attendees who came to their booth.
Sponsors got great leads and ROI on the digital sponsorships was high. For 2021 Box may consider raising prices. They will also look at expanding sponsorships to include other parts of the event such as broadcast messages and session sponsors.
Ashesh says “There is so much we learned for our future events!” If he had to list the most important things he would share with other event planners they would include:
- Have a clear scope of your event. If you are not clear with what you are and are not doing, you will be changing things every couple of weeks and your life will be miserable.
- Do your research to make sure you pick the right vendors. Pick vendors that are invested in your success and will be there for you with excellent customer support when you need it.
- Create a detailed timeline. Every single action needs a date and owner.
- Get buy-in from your executive team first. Their support removed obstacles and made everything we accomplished achievable.
- What can go wrong will! Have a backup plan for everything.