Networking in the time of COVID

Networking in the time of COVID

In the affiliate industry, a face-to-face conversation and a handshake are core to building confidence and trust with partners. Lee-Ann Johnstone looks at how affiliates can make the most of virtual events and restricted physical interactions

Published 12th August 2020

It seems all everyone has spoken about for the past few months is Covid-19. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of done talking about it.

While the situation has remained somewhat bleak, the impact on our industry and affiliate businesses has been discussed at length these past few months. Opinions are widespread in terms of how to manage and change strategies during this time and virtual events have been running aplenty.

I’ve watched how affiliates and events companies have pivoted their offerings to make the best out of this situation, but I find myself asking what my new normal is going to look like. I think as an industry, we pretty much nailed the ‘short term’ pivot head on. Working remotely was not a big shift for us to accommodate and changing focus to other revenue streams seemed to have gone quite well for some.

But now what? What will the new normal for us really be?

Attending events is a big part of programme promotion and new business. Several companies have pivoted their physical conferences to host virtual ones, keeping people connected and learning during this uncertain time. In the affiliate industry a face-to-face conversation and a handshake are some of the core things you need to do to build confidence and trust with partners.

We still operate on an old-school principle that requires a physical element to be present in the way we do new business. Therefore, events are usually a key driver of new business for affiliates and affiliate programme managers.

Longer term, I’m wondering how the extended effect of Covid-19 will impact affiliate marketing if networking remains restrictive. I’m thinking about what we’ll need to adapt where events and conferences are concerned in the months to come.

Here are three points to consider:

1. Time is a resource we all have in shorter supply

Right now, time has become a very precious commodity for me. I’m not spending any time or money on things that don’t drive immediate revenue or lead generation for my (or my clients’) business.

There are two main reasons for this:

  • If, like me, you’re still in lockdown you are likely home schooling your children while working. Essentially this means you have half the time you would have had to focus on doing new business and servicing clients let alone attending events.
  • Secondly, you may have had to furlough some of your staff or shelve some of the growth projects you were going to launch this year in a bid to batten down the hatches during this uncertain and quieter time.

Both of these things are also going to impact the ‘back to normal’ period. Events and conferences will understandably be taking a back seat in terms of our marketing priorities and everyone will be considering where to spend their time and resourcing to gain the best results.

2. Health and safety remains my top priority

Conference organisers are going to have to navigate the problem of social distancing at bigger events. How safe is it for my staff or clients to engage in unnecessary travel? Countries are moving at different rates to exit the severe lockdown restrictions that we’ve seen here in Europe. This will impact what kind of events can take place in the coming months and what the footfall and traffic numbers are at each. It’s a big task to ensure that an event can safely support a two-metre social distance between delegates and if that is in place, will the event still yield the desired results?

Conferences play a big part in new business and networking development for affiliate programmes and if we can’t safely attend these in a physical format how do we adapt to making the most of virtual ones?

I think we will see a lot of new events develop unique ways to engage better online and I will certainly make the time to participate in more virtual events to continue to build networking interaction. I launched a Digital Marketing Mixer in collaboration with igaming media businesses as an online event for affiliates and digital marketers to attend monthly. The idea was to help support continued new business development in a short space of time (two hours). So far it’s been pretty well received as an alternative to attending more expensive paid-for events.

3. Budgets are tight

Everyone is reviewing their budgets and where to focus their delivery, short and longer-term. Events are likely going to be a bit smaller due to the social distancing guidelines, but is that such a bad thing?

Conferences are generally quite expensive to attend and the ROI from this outlay is never immediate but recouped over time for both brand exposure and new business engagement. I’ve attended and presented at a lot of the virtual events that have been run over the past few months and the biggest thing I have found is that these lacked personal interaction during the conference content delivery.

Often you lose the sense of personalisation you get at a large conference with 1000+ people (both physically and virtually). It’s really hard to connect on a human level and it’s easy to keep hidden behind your screen. You can’t ‘lurk’ at a physical event and therefore it’s easier to make contact and get a deal done there.

I think we will see a differential on pricing for bigger conferences vs smaller ones. Programmes will look at what their objective is to attend each event and conference organisers will need to be clear on the value-add they are offering.

Bigger events will be used for programme launches, brand building and industry insight.

Smaller conferences may be best for personalised networking, new business and coaching or trends analysis.

The other thing to consider is that these economical and health impacts are likely to impact your marketing budget. Thus consideration will be placed on where and how to spend travel budgets, not just the delegate ticket or marketing sponsorship at each type of event, and what the best possible outcome at each will be.

If you think nothing is going to change and everything will return to normal, you’re wrong. I ran a poll a couple of weeks back on my LinkedIn channel to see how people are looking at the road ahead and was quite shocked to see the result:

From this, it appears most people think things are generally going to go back to the way they were.

No chance. We are headed for a recession.

Things are most definitely going to change but, in a recession, we generally see a lot of new innovations too. I don’t want this article to focus on the doom and gloom but I do want you to sit up, take notice and get yourself prepared for what’s coming.

 

SO, WHAT IS THE NEW ‘BUSINESS NORMAL’ GOING TO BE?

The short answer is: nobody really knows till we get there.

We are going to have to innovate and take what is the ‘new normal’ for now in our stride. We also need to understand that communication has never been as important as it is now, so if you didn’t attend many events or networking briefings before, it’s time to change tactics.

Finding new ways to interact and engage with your partners, customers and clients is critical. We also need to be more sensitive to the fact that there could be pain points that weren’t pain points before the pandemic started and provide new solutions and services to address these challenges. It’s all about responding to the current climate and helping one another adapt. I think when you do this you have a better chance of getting success and adding real value.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

I’m focusing on planning and adapting for the year ahead. I’m actively listening to what my customers want and need. I’m certainly attending more virtual events where it makes financial and resource sense to do so.

I want more opportunities to do new business, to keep building my contacts, to keep helping those who need and want my expertise in any way I can.

We’ll all be waiting patiently to see what happens next.

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