This is the fourth chapter of my Community Manager Diary, and it’s all about the struggle of cancelling all of our offline conferences and meetup events, while swiftly adapting to a digital-only environment. If you haven’t read the previous chapters of this series, here is a link to the very first article.
The show must go on, even with COVID-19
One of the things that I usually do during the year is to scout for speakers, ideas, and trends from other conferences that are held all over the world, with a special focus on Europe. Back in February, few people complained about the reason for cancelling the MWC was, so people started to seek out conspiracy theories as if they were somehow more acceptable than the truth.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is more serious than most Western Governments were telling us, and swifter action should have been taken.
In our tech-events scenario, the first hit were the communities, since there are a lot of meetups during the week. Conferences experienced their share of the trouble not long after, and the process continues. Adapting to the new normal and finding alternative ways is the new mantra.
Dear Lockdown Diary
Sometimes, I feel like I’m acting in a slow-motion action movie scene. I can see the punch coming at me, but I can hardly move, even though I know it’s going to be a hard blow. At Codemotion, we saw that punch slowly coming at us, but initially – like most companies – we were unable to move. It was a shock.
When the punch landed, it hit us hard, as a significant part of our business was based on major offline events. We were already embarking on the digitalization process, but damn, COVID-19 made everything so much more complicated!
We soon became aware that whatever we did from then on would affect how we ran our business and would have consequences for its survival.
I usually have a calendar with all the best conferences (and the ones I like the most). It’s not uncommon – some people use a spreadsheet, while others create a simple web page for common use, with links to the relevant social media accounts.
At the beginning of the year, I attended one of the largest conferences in Europe. FOSDEM, in Brussels, gathers together around 6,000 Open-Source enthusiasts from all over the world. It is a free event, so no ticket or registration is required, and this year marked their 20th edition.
COVID-19 was still something that was happening far away from Europe, so everyone felt safe no social distancing, or people wearing face masks. Crowded buses (there’s only one that goes to the campus from the city centre) and the big Friday night gathering at Delirium Café are the rule of thumb. There were neither recommendations nor even any suggestions regarding social distance and clean hands.
Yet this all took place just a couple of weeks before the Mobile World Congress was cancelled, and a month and a half before a state of emergency were declared in Spain. Lately, there have been studies indicating that the virus entered Spain in mid-February (and my colleagues tell me it is believed to have entered Italy in January), so perhaps we were still safe in Brussels.
As we all know now, it wasn’t long before all the other conferences began to tumble like buildings brought down by a major earthquake. Codemotion‘s was no exception.
What is cancelling an event like?
Big conferences require a huge amount of effort to set up. Work starts at least six months before the opening date, and many people get involved at different levels. There’s a location to choose and make an agreement with, the right catering service to pick, team travel and accommodations to arrange… Then you have to find sponsors, local builders, and security personnel, not to mention the many hours spent locating and contacting the best speakers, creating marketing campaigns to promote the event, and the list goes on.
So, imagine what it’s like to see all of this effort wiped out in a matter of a few days. Putting aside the psychological and economic repercussions for Codemotion itself, we also had a hard time dealing with our sponsors, the venue managers, and the rest of the stakeholders.
Nonetheless, I think that some conference organizers took a harder blow than others. There are quite a few conferences run by enthusiasts and volunteers that cannot really count on large staff teams and structured workflows. In Spain alone, there are several very good conferences organized by local communities during their free time, without the expectation of any monetary benefits: T3chFest, JSDay, FrontFest, WTM, to name just a few, were highly affected
Codemotion is a professional conference organizer. We feel privileged to have the people and the resources to rethink ourselves quickly to fully fit into the digital environment. I feel lucky, perhaps selfishly, not to be in the shoes of the people who do this as a hobby.
It is probable that many things will be different even once the current emergency is fully over. Big events and conferences won’t be the same, nor will human interaction, for some time at least. It’s quite likely that many companies and people will prefer to stick to the new model of online conferences.
As a matter of fact, this also gives us a push towards transformation. New tools – and some crazy ideas – are bound to meet the new digital needs of the conference industry, as well as those of the smaller meetups, and we will learn to interact differently.
One thing is for sure: we need to find a way to deliver the same, or even better, quality to our audiences. Community managers have to continue working to improve not only their content, but also the way they provide this and any related new experiences.
We have crossed a threshold, and looking back is definitely not the way to move forward.
Stay safe. We shall meet again one way or another!
Check out Chapter 5 of Francisco’s diary at this link!