By Paul Babb, Global Head of Community and Customer Experience
Long after we’ve forgotten about the masks, social distancing, and quarantine, 2020 will live on in infamy as the year that changed everything – from how we do business to how we interact with our colleagues, friends, and family. With the promise of widespread vaccination on the horizon, there are glimmers of hope for a return to “normal” – whatever that will ultimately look like. To be sure, 2020 has left plenty of lessons learned in its wake, but perhaps the most important is the challenge associated with replicating a sense of community in a virtual environment.
If you know Maxon (or me, for that matter), you know one of our key strengths is our community. For more than two decades we have actively and passionately cultivated and facilitated the Maxon artistic community. In addition to our actually enjoying hanging with creative people and interacting with the artistic community, it’s an effective way to stay on top of industry trends and better understand customer needs. Maintaining that connection in 2020 was a challenge.
Lucky for us, we had already established an “online trade show presence” having streamed our artist presentations from physical trade shows for over 10 years. So, pivoting to our 3D & Motion Design Show was a natural way of keeping that connection to our established community (and hopefully reaching some new customers, too). The sense we got from the chat activity was that people were really starved for that feeling of community and real human interaction (emphasis on human). One additional thing we did was to employ a team of five staff and artists to respond to and engage with people on the chat (as a bonus, it helped keep the trolls out).
Unfortunately, quarantine fatigue is real, and with that comes computer screen and online event fatigue. We’re all inundated with invites, webinars, presentations, and countless other tactics to keep us virtually engaged. It’s safe to say, 10 months in, everyone is fully saturated in terms of virtual connectedness and community; it’s become harder and harder to engage with the community in a meaningful way. It will continue to be a huge challenge for us in 2021.
Yes, Maxon will kick off virtual events for 2021 on our 3D & Motion Design Show platform in March. But while these events stay virtual, we will be looking for innovative ways to keep people involved – that is and will continue to be the mission. If and when we’re able to safely attend in-person events, like we did before the pandemic, we will host these virtual events from the show floor for those who choose to stay home.
Even if the vaccine rollout is a success, I doubt we will see any significant in-person industry events until September 2021 (maybe IBC or NAB in Vegas, which moved to October). We might even see some smaller shows crop back up. But even then, we can’t expect that the public will be immediately eager to jump onto a plane and pile into an indoor event with thousands of attendees. I am sure there are many who are craving it – there’s no substitute for in-person interaction and experiences – I know I am.
Of course, we will all meet in person in the usual spaces eventually. That said, I don’t expect to see a sudden halt to all virtual events. They have always been and will certainly continue to be a key tool in maintaining community engagement for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, we will have to be clever about the experiences and content we provide to our communities – providing something of value as opposed to simply adding to the fire hose of virtual connectitude. Maxon has always been a community-first company and will remain so, whatever 2021 may bring.