Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Full disclosure: I am not a fisherman. I have only fished a few times in my life. What I am, though, is someone who studied English in college, so I've been known to love a good metaphor or simile here and there. As I've helped teams plan their Digital Events around the country, I've come to see our guests' experience through this imagery: use a net - not a line. What do I mean by that? Well, let's start by thinking about how those two options are different when it comes to fishing. Then, I'll connect the dots to show you how this applies to your Digital Event.
I've come to see guest experience through this imagery: use a net - not a line.
LINES VS NETS
So say you're going to go out fishing and you've got two options to choose from. Option number one: you can pick up your trusty old fishing pole. This is the more elegant, simple route. With a pole, it's easy to measure success - did the line come back empty or not? You're only focused on catching one fish at a time, so things are pretty straightforward.
Your second option is a bit more complicated, though: You could try using a net. Nets are a whole other animal - they're messy, unwieldy, and aren't quite as straightforward to use. When you think about it, though, at its base level a net is just a bunch of lines that have been woven together. Even though it's harder to use, this network of lines is far more capable of catching fish (unless you're just a real pro). Once you learn how to use the net properly, you can catch many fish at once.
CONNECTION TO DIGITAL EVENTS
Okay, so how does this relate to Digital Events? I think there are 3 dimensions of your guests' experience where this principle applies: invitation, registration, and participation. In each of those areas, you are going to be tempted to leave the net at home and stick with what you know: your simple, trusty fishing line. It might make a lot of sense to you to choose a clear-cut invitation strategy, provide one central location for registration, and broadcast your event on just one platform. Believe me: as someone who has a really tough time dealing with disorder in my life, I would typically make these decisions myself.
What we've seen over and over again as teams plan Digital Events is that the most effective events choose the messier 'net' option.
But what we've seen over and over again as teams plan Digital Events is that the most effective events choose the messier 'net' option. Let's look a little closer at the three dimensions of your event that I mentioned above and how this principle applies to each.
Line Strategy - Think about what is probably most comfortable for you: the Table Host Strategy for a fundraising dinner. Choosing to use a line for your Digital Event means that there's a very clear line of invitation. You personally send out a couple emails to your past partners and then you recruit staff and partners to 'host' a table of guests by inviting a few friends. This is defined - you can potentially know every single person who is invited to your event - but it's also limited. Using this strategy for a Digital Event means that the only way someone can learn about your event is by being connected to a host or reading an email.
Net Strategy - The net strategy takes everything from the line section and adds to it. Instead of just one clear-cut strategy to get the word out, there are many ways for people to hear about your event. These might include things like:
Mass Emails to Past Ministry Supporters (through registration system)
Emails to Personal Supporters of All Staff
Creating Social Media Accounts for Your Event
Invitations through Social Media
Personal Emails, Texts, Direct Messages, and Phone Calls to Invite
Sharing your event on social media
The net strategy is a lot messier and more confusing. You won't know who has heard about your event and who hasn't. Guests might hear about your event from 5 different avenues. The principle here, though, is to cast your tangled-up net as wide as possible to make sure that the least amount of 'fish' swim free. It may not be as simple as the 'line' option, but this mindset makes it possible for far more people to hear about your event.
Line Strategy - Again, this is probably the method you've used in the past for any in-person events (Development or otherwise) that your team has planned. With this mindset, you set up one main avenue for your guests to RSVP by - usually a website. If someone wants to come to your event, you just tell them,"Go to this website to register!" The only way anyone ever registers is if they're specifically sent there. If your option isn't the best or most convenient for them, they might not register at all. That said this has a lot of benefits, the greatest of which is that all of your registration data is in one place. You can look at one list and if Sally isn't on it, she's not registered.
Even though it's harder to manage, choosing a 'net' when it comes to registration has proven to be a key for success.
Net Strategy - Rather than just a single place to register and track who is registered, there should be many. Here are some of the most common ways that a guest might register using this strategy:
Through your registration website
Through a Facebook event
Through a Google Calendar event
Through an RSVP for a watch party
Confirming verbally or over text
I won't lie - of the three areas where you should choose the net mindset, this is by far the messiest. By giving your guests many avenues by which to register, it makes it a lot harder to know who all has actually RSVP'd. Some will find it easiest to RSVP on Facebook, but there's no chance they'll ever go to your registration site and enter their information. Others will gladly sign up through your registration site, but they don't use a digital calendar and will never reply. That's okay! What matters most isn't that it's simple and easy to understand but, rather, that you make it as simple as possible for people to RSVP (something that looks different for everyone).
If this is just too messy for you, we've actually created a document to help you keep track of all of this. It's a master spreadsheet where you put each person who has registered and how they've registered. Even though it's harder to manage, choosing a 'net' when it comes to registration has proven to be a key for success.
Line Strategy - Similar to the other two areas, the 'line' method mirrors what we do at in-person events. There's one single place where people can view your program at a specific time. If they can't watch on that platform or at that time, they'll need to try again next year. This is simpler for you because there's only one link to send out to people and you know exactly how the event went on the night of your broadcast.
Net Strategy - A big part of this is the fact that you'll broadcast your program on multiple platforms (most likely Youtube and Facebook). I've written a separate article on the blog, titled 2 Platforms for 2 Audiences about why that's a good idea, so I won't duplicate that information here. In addition to multiple platforms, though, you will also encourage people to view after the official event has ended. Those who weren't free during the program or never responded might still be interested in watching and partnering with your program, so you'll actually continue to 'invite' after the event has passed. The third difference that the net strategy brings is that partners can view from different settings (either privately at home or through a watch party) so they can participate in the way that will be most helpful for them.
Using the 'net' strategy when approaching participation gives your viewers far more options and removes barriers that the 'line' method fails to address.
You can see, now, that each of the 3 dimensions we've explored above lead to the same conclusion: you should use a net - not a line. Using a line might be simpler and is almost always easier, but you're stuck with the limitations of your medium. A fishing line can only reel in one fish at a time - you'll never get 1,000 'fish' to tune in (or should I say 'tuna in' #dadjoke) for your program with this method. Leaving your line at home and learning to fish with a net is the only way to make sure that the most people hear about, register for, and tune into your program.
As I've mentioned a few times, this is going to get pretty messy. There won't be a nice, clear answer when someone asks how to register or how to watch. But you can always give direction where it's needed - whether that's for your viewers or your staff. So be sure to use a net - not a line - and make sure you don't end up like this: