Ike Singh Kehal, CEO of an event platform for virtual and hybrid experiences, talks the future of events. All about the benefits of networking events online, and how to keep an audience engaged in a digital space.
Welcome back to another episode of the EventBuzz podcast presented by Purplepass. I'm your host, Savannah McIntosh and today's guest is a co founder and CEO of Social27, an event platform for virtual and hybrid conferences and experiences.
Ike Kehal started his marketing career at Microsoft, and has since gone on to co found and run four successful organizations eventually starting Social27. With over a decade of experience in the event management industry, I will be talking about virtual event planning, connecting businesses digitally, and the changes in the event space post to COVID.
Hi, Ike thanks for joining us today and coming on to the show. How has your morning been?
Hi Savannah, my morning's been great is about 9am in Seattle right now. And we are at that time of the year when normally it starts raining. But I can't complain. It's been a pretty good summer extended into October so not too bad.
Yeah, yes. Okay, Seattle is beautiful. I love Seattle. So let's get started and I want to kind of have you introduce yourself a little bit, but mostly tell us about Social27 and how the platform can be useful for the event industry.
Wonderful. So yeah, so again, I'm Ike Kehal CEO and co founder of Social27. We've been around for a few years, about 10 ish years or so. Personally, I used to work at Microsoft, along with the co founder. And we decided to graduate from corporate life and go and get into the real world and start our own company. And that's kind of how this whole thing started, Social27. We focus on delivering virtual and hybrid events for our customers.
Again, the goal is to really help them create and nurture communities, but then most importantly, also accelerate their sales cycles. Are there some special, you know, exposure experiences that we can create with our platform, which really helped to accelerate sales cycles for a lot of my customers.
So I'm assuming you guys have had a big jump in users the past few years with COVID am I right?
That is correct. And 2019 is kind of me went back to the drawing board on our side to kind of re architect what is the latest version of our platform, it was very much focused on hybrid. But as you mentioned, you're right in 2020, when we went to market in early 2020, within like three months, COVID hit and we were very glad to help a lot of our customers who were really needing a product of this kind. So obviously, 2020 was pretty much all virtual and most of the 2021 as well. But again, we're looking forward to using a lot of our hybrid features going forward.
Yeah, yeah. And looking through your site, you guys talk a lot about like sponsors, so I did want to talk a little bit about that, for especially for virtual events, it's virtual events, it's not a new thing. But it is new for a lot of like event users and putting on like virtual or hybrid versus in person. So people are still kind of figuring out how it works and like the best practices for it.
But when it comes to sponsors, do you think every virtual event should consider working with sponsors? And then what are ways that they can incorporate the sponsors? You know, into their event online?
Yes, very good question. So that so I'll tell you the way I think about events and just selling the philosophy of how we think about events of Social27, it's, there is again, people come to events to listen to the best in their ecosystem, you know, the speakers, that's, that's more or less to kind of spark people's minds.
The real that's not the real fire the fire is when we came back knowledge and the then discuss it with our peers who will be referred to as networking in most cases, right? So listen to the speakers, get sparked, create, you know, that warm fire with others who are in your community that work with them, share best practices, and so forth. But once we have shared those best practices, and we have a really kind of developed a better understanding of the topic area, the next most natural step is to then look for solutions and services, which can help us actually take action on that. And that's where the sponsors that you know, the exhibitors and the you know, solution, providers come into the picture. So for us, I think it's not an either or the content, the networking and the showcase of solution services. I think it all has to be well orchestrated, because it is a natural progression. And it, you know, has to have that connection with each of these three areas to really make a valuable experience for the attendees. So absolutely. I think that there should be sponsors and exhibitors and solution experts available, you know, for any event, right, so that would be the answer to your question. Yeah.
And so how does your guys's platform kind of support like leveraging sponsors or how does that
Okay, so I think the first thing for us, again, is to give the attendee the ability to really create an experience which matches to their interests. Right? So the way I think about most events in the past and even now is that the, the kind of like the event is in the center, and the attendees revolve around it, you know, kind of like, sheep from one room to the other. I'm sorry for that analogy. But it's kind of like that. I mean, I've been to so many events, and that's how I felt sometimes.
But how we are thinking about events is the fact that events have to keep the attendee in the middle, and the event has to revolve around the attendee, what does that mean, is to understand the attendee a little bit more, give them the opportunity to go beyond just the registration, which is thermographic demographic data, but then also understand their intent and their interests as to why did they come to this particular event? And at that stage, then give them the recommendations more which sessions they should attend, which people they should connect with, and which solutions or services they should check out? So again, I don't decouple any of these three things, because that is why an attendee is there.
I think four assists the same way as we watched Spotify, sorry, we listen to music on Spotify, and or watch Netflix, the system has so many choices. But the point is that we do want access to a lot of choices, but we want the system to help us find the best ones. So it's the same exact philosophy with which we have created our recommendation engines. with yes, I want to go and see 100 people in the expo hall, but tell me which 10 are most relevant.
And that kind of creates that best match. And you feel that you know, you have value for the time you're spending with them.
Gotcha, that makes sense. And so I feel like one of the biggest challenges with virtual events is the engagement aspect of it. And people are looking at screens all day. And I've always thought about this, because especially now since most people are working remote, but people don't want at least I don't want to spend another hour or so you know, from work, and then going to this virtual event. I'm just wondering if you have any tips or suggestions for event planners on keeping their audience engaged, where it's not just like another, you know, video meeting?
Agree, I think you've nailed it right in the last few words you said, it's not another video meeting. Because you're right, that's what we don't want something you were just mentioning right now we're looking at screens all day. And you know, there is words like zoom fatigue, and so forth, you know, which have, you know, been been talked about in the last few months.
But I have you ever heard the name, Instagram fatigue, or TikTok fatigue, or Netflix fatigue, it's called Netflix binge! The point is, yeah, it's all about the content, you know, so I think what we really need to do as people who put events together is to really understand that we cannot just copy paste what happens in the real world, and just put it online. You know, it has to be very much in tune with how people consume content online. So you find people for hours and hours and hours, and they don't even realize how many hours they spend scrolling through a feed, you know, on Instagram with video and no TikTok, right. So the point is, give them bite sized content, get them interested, if they like what they see, they will go and look at the long form, right?
So we have to really understand that the best example of that is Ted Talks. Those are like 15 to 16 minute talks, and they're very focused, you can always go and you know, watch a bunch of other videos about that particular speaker, but that talk is very focused on what it does. And those are more successful online, you know, media, you know, like talks. So the point is take cues from what has been working online, and don't just try to copy what has been doing happening in the offline world, right?
So I'm not even saying that the offline or in person, one hour sessions work anymore. I don't think so. But the bottom line is, at least for online, I think there's a few different things. It's called a trailer to the movie, you have to have lots of these trailers to the movie kind of stuff going on. People can scroll through content, recommendations, scroll through people recommendations, we have something called Hello World, which is part of the platform for Social27. It's a quick 32nd TikTok style video that you make of yourself, or to introduce yourself to the world. It's like a video handshake. So people can kind of scroll through all the short videos that kind of find the people they really like. And that kind of gets the engagement going and just kind of humanizes the experience. Right?
So I think, again, comes down to let's learn from Instagram, TikToks, then talks and figured out you know, and not just trying to replicate what we've been always been doing. So that'll change a little bit of a learn from the best practices out there.
Yeah, and I definitely agree. I just haven't put it in that perspective. Like yes, there's Zoom fatigue, but then there's also Instagram and Netflix fatigue, but we don't really think of it as fatigue, because we're like, this is great stuff, we can keep going all day, and we don't realize it. But that is the tricky part. To me when it comes to marketing, as we are going on our attention spans are becoming very, very short, because of social media.
Because of everything we have at our fingertips online, we want to see more and more, and we just, we can't focus that long, unfortunately. But that's a really good point of when it comes to engagement. Like it needs to be quick to the point focused, and then move on. Like, what's the next thing versus, you know, like another lecture style meeting, which is what we don't want to have.
So I totally agree. And I know I think I saw the Hello, what was it called? Yeah, I saw that when I was I was also looking into like, what you guys how you guys support, like networking events? Because that's like the same question like, when like, it's just, it's so weird to me to go from, like networking events that were in person, because it just seems like that should be in person versus now we're doing everything online and networking online. So I mean, besides, that's a good idea, the video introductions, but do you have any other suggestions for when it comes to events that are specifically for networking online?
Yeah wonderful, so I totally understand where you're coming from on this one. Now, think about networking in the, you know, live in a live scenario where you're in person. Even when you, for example, walk into a networking, you know, hey, there's gonna be a networking meeting at 5pm, you walk in there, there's even if there's like 100 people. Let's forget 100, 150 people, you don't know where to start, like, who is supposed to talk to mostly an hour, two hours, and then you end up talking five people out of them. Three are just not the right match, but you're like, I don't want to be rude and walk away. So I'll keep talking to them.
Right? So the point is, that, I think isn't the best use of that. So I am, I'm a very big advocate of being able to filter things online. And then when you meet person in person, you better know who you are meeting with, and have the best, you know, ROI on your on your time. So I think of what we have, right now what we have in, in beta, some of our customers, we're testing something called Speed Networking. So this is basically kind of speed dating, but online where, you know, you kind of choose your areas of interest, and then the system recommends like eight or 10 people, and you click these three minute, you know, meetings, slash dates with them. And you're able to then see who of them, you know, might be a good match for you to take the conversation further.
I always think about the pre, during and after of every event, I'm really looking forward to hybrid events coming back where we can actually make that happen. We're in the pre event phase, that is the time when you are really kind of filtering through. And you know, a so called curating your experience. And you're finding the right people so that when you go in person to be event, you've already had like maybe a couple of video calls with that person before and or done some demos and so forth. So that when you meet them in person, you're really like rolling up your sleeves and getting something done versus hey, what do you guys do? That should be all before the event? We have no time for that, then we meet somebody in person. So the goal is to a bunch of that before the event, the tools and the technology should help you do that, when you're in person, you're actually having a really meaningful discussion and really like kind of like moving the needle forward.
So that I think is the way that we think about, you know, how networking can be done best.
I agree. I mean, I think it's a way more efficient way to do it. It's just getting out of the, like re-learning it because before everything was more in person, and but now we are transitioning to online to these virtual events and having access to everything virtually, which I think is great. Because there's so many things that people wouldn't have been able to do because of you know, life getting in the way flexibility, all this stuff.
So I think it's great. And when so when it comes to virtual events, hybrid events, do you think once COVID is I mean, under control, or gone? Or, you know, a few years down the road? Do you think virtual events are going to be just as hot if not more? Do you think that's the way of the future with the events now?
I think based upon, again we built customers, all sorts of customers all across the world, and what I've been hearing from a lot of my customers is that they feel that in the future, or in even in the near future and into the you know, distant future, or at least the next four or five years, what they feel is that events will be hybrid. And some of them will be virtual only.
But having an event that is only in person, but zero, online presence might, they don't see that. Because the point is once you've given access to people, Google content, you can just take it away. And I think everybody has already realized that the number of people the scale of the people that they could connect with by having a virtual option is immense.
So I always give the analogy of sports events or sports events are the best hybrid examples for ever and ever, we all enjoy that. There's about 5% of the audience that is in person and 95% of the audience or more actually is online. And it is a great way of actually delivering content. But again, goes back to great quality content. If we have great quality content, believe me, you know, 1000s of people that come online and 1000s of people also come in person, right? So the point is, but there's also that whole before the event that happens, right? That excitement, you're the knowledge that you have of the people who want to play, and so forth. And it's part of, you know, this, this, this experience.
So the goal is, you know, the in person has to emulate a lot of those things that you see, for example, in sports, great content, a lot of pre event excitement, the community kind of coming together around, you know, certain themes, and so forth, and then have the ability for the online like millions of people and sports, watch it online from all over the world.
So I think they'll, those are some of these things we have to learn from. So I don't think it's ever going to be in person only with zero virtual involved, I think it's going to be mostly hybrid going forward. And then there'll be some events which are virtual only because I mean, they're just in that structure, maybe that lead up to the main event, and so forth.
So that is at least from what I've been hearing from all sorts of companies that we work with, we work with, I mean. Organizations like Microsoft, Salesforce, the United Nations, and then small Industry Association. So that's kind of what most people are feeling. Yeah.
I mean, I totally agree with you once, like you have these options and opportunities and flexibility. I mean, we're definitely not going to be going back to it especially like with the workforce now. Just looking at that everyone's working remote, no one. Now people know are like, I can work remote, like I'm not going back into an office I don't need to be in. So um, yeah, I totally agree with you. And I think it's, it's virtual events, hybrid events are here to stay, and definitely a good thing so that everyone can be part of it. And it's not just a small group, and we're having a bigger potential to reach more.
Absolutely Savannah, I mean, even think about I mean, I remember even, you know, working in different corporations, and there was always a usual suspects who would always go to these events, right? There's certain team always goes and represents the company at these events. But there are so many other people in that office in the same company who want access to that knowledge to that content. But it's always those few who always go to the point is I think, yes, there will be people who will be representing the organizations in these events have been there the in person component, but having a pre event where there is more, you know, some of the 100 level content already online, and the ability to network with each other.
So I think people, I don't know, if they want all that knowledge to just suddenly vanish, right. So I think it's going to be us to really figure out and adapt to creating content that actually works in the digital realm. And understand that I always take the example of captivated. So there's, we have a captive audience, when it's an in person event, you're pretty much captive, it'll be up there, it flew in, they drove in, they have a hotel, and they will be with us for three, four days. They kind of like ours. You know, so that's a captive audience.
The online audience needs a captivating experience in order to get their mind share, right, because there are 1000s of other options, they will not drive and they're not flying, they're not sitting there for four days. So the point is, it just pushes us as event, you know, professionals who really focus on giving the real value to the people. Events in the past have been this walled garden, hey, give me $2,000. And just trust me, I'll give you great content. I think that is not gonna fly anymore. People like show me we're gonna give me I'm not gonna give you $2,000 just for, you know, whatever, you know.
So I think the whole concept of, for example, when you you know, do stuff online, you watch a little bit of it, if you like the value, you pay more, I think that's what the future of events is going to be as well. It's gonna be a lot of micro payments, where you can get into experience, watch some things, if you like it, you pay more, you get more of it, and or access to exclusive stuff. And then you also get, you know, a pass to come or the in person event for those special workshops and so forth. Right?
So I think that is so stock emulating and more value upfront, because people will have so many more choices now with the amount of events that will happen and be the virtual giving the ability for people to do multiple events throughout their versus at one or two flagship events during the year. Right? So it says there'll be more content available, more events happening, and there'll be competition among all of us to make sure that our content is absolutely worth it. And the experience is absolutely worth it for people to give us their time and money. And so forth.
Yeah, I like to use I like how you put that structure of doing micro experiences. I really like that's brilliant. You know, pay for a little bit. And then if you want more, you keep going, you keep going, and then maybe you attend that in person conference and what not. But I like that. And I think that would work great. Because then if they don't want to go, they don't want to go, but they got a little bit of what they needed.
And yeah, also, the competition as I just yeah, that's the hardest part. Because there's so much content online, everywhere you look. So it's really like captivating your audience is going to it takes a lot of research, a lot of understanding your demographics, and who you're trying to target, where they're at what they like, it's a lot, if you think about it, but um...
And I think there's an opportunity for events, which are the biggest line item in the marketing budget, and I've considered more of a cost who become more of a revenue center, because I think what most event professionals have been gold on so far is butts in seats. How many people did you get to my event, and then it's like, well, you know, 5% of them actually would ever fill out an eval survey. And we kind of figured out based on that oh, they were pretty satisfied. So and then let's move on to the next event.
Right, but that, and then the events have literally been just email list generators, not real value, just an email list. And then you are take that email list, give it to marketing, and then marketing creates value out of that email list and gives it to sales.
So the event industry has been the biggest, you know, line item in terms of cost, but doesn't have very clear ROI. You know, and so I think, in the new era, when everything is measurable, and people want to measure things, and so forth, I think it is time for events to really start taking a bigger chunk of responsibility in terms of not just being an email list generator, but actually showcasing real influence on revenue and growth and or community building, whatever those goals are beyond just butts in seats.
That question will come up from the CFO of the company very soon, if it has not already been talked about. So the point is, I think, having events in the near future and or currently right now, where you start thinking about actually adding value beyond just I got X number of 1000 people to the event, it's I think, giving them more experiences, which are more tailored to their individual needs. And that will involve sales and marketing, along with the event teams inside the event, and create real value inside the event.
And I consider events now to be more like perpetual experiences, even though the word event technically supposed to be a starts and ends. But I think an event could be the launch of an experience. And that kind of like gets people there. And then you know, it doesn't need to just go away. Traditionally, it has been going away, because it's a physical venue. And we don't have it until next year. So the point is now you start in a physical venue, but then you continue that community building online with the online tools until next quarter, and you do a hybrid like a smaller one.
And then you go again back next year for the big one, right? So it has to be this continuous engagement ongoing with the people because they all completely forget about you like a year ago. I mean, there's so much information thrown at them over the next 12 months, they have no idea what they're talking about last year with you. Right? So I think that that ongoing engagement with your customer with your community is what is that is going to evolve. And I think sales and marketing and the events teams, we working a lot closely together. And hopefully, events will not just be looked at the big money suck. But we looked at real value generation where everybody kind of comes together.
Yeah, exactly. And I agree. And yeah, events are events are extremely valuable, extremely valuable, if done, right. If you know, if you've captured the right audience, and if you can keep that engagement going until the next event and whatnot. But yeah, I agree with everything you're saying. And, yeah, I'm excited to see how we keep moving forward, how events keep going, how virtual events keep moving forward, and hopefully hybrid once we get back to more in person experiences.
Well Savannah I just wanted to thank you for giving me the opportunity to you know, have this conversation with you. Yeah, I will just maybe want to leave it just saying that. You know what I understand it was a very tough year for a lot of people across the events industry, the last year and a half. It's been tough. But I think in some ways, I think again, being in advance forever and ever, I think there's a certain personality that is attracted to this very fast paced, high pressure environment. And I think we all of us, were just going, going, going, going going like very fast. This kind of gave us unfortunately, the circumstances but gave us all some time to just sit down and think about what is the next thing and the best thing to do.
I've seen so much thought Leadership come from all different parts of the event industry over the last year and a half in terms of sharing their experience and sharing thoughts and sharing as to how they will evolve. When we started doing virtual events with some of our customers in like, middle of 2020, most of the event professionals were part of it had no idea how to do virtual, but those same exact people within six months to become experts in virtual, because it's I mean, it's it's inside our DNA, like this is what we have done forever and ever.
We understand the core of it, you know, so I'm so glad that a lot of people have, you know, kind of added this now as a natural extension of themselves, you know, and are very comfortable. And hopefully you have good opportunities from a job perspective and so forth going forward as well. So yes, there was a big, I would say a big, eventful situation that happened, unfortunately, for many people as well.
But I think will emerge out of that, hopefully will be a great tomorrow. So we're just looking forward to that. Yeah.
Yeah. And people that have gone virtual or hybrid sent that have never done it before, since COVID, the first time, they are not, talking to them, talking to people that we've worked with, they are so afraid in the beginning, but now that they have it nailed down and they're like, wow, I'm reaching so much more people. And they're not going back. It's just interesting to see. Because in the beginning, they were either against it because they were more traditional, or they're just scared. And now they're just like, yeah, this is great.
COVID it's been weird, because obviously, it's been a really tough time, a hard time, a lot of grief. But then at the same time, there's been so many, so much good that surprisingly has come out of it because we've had that time to think process and and be like, you know what, hey, this, this works better.
Yeah they evolve with the times. You know, certainly I think, you know, again, hoping that you know, everybody's safe overall, you know, and the way the hybrid events of coming back, I've you know, seen a few things happen in the last few months. And people are conscious about safety and so forth. And yeah, I think, you know, people have figured out, you know, how to live in this new reality and, you know, thrive and not just survive, right. So that's, that's great.
Yeah, exactly. Well, thank you so much for talking to me again.
Thank you so much, Savannah. It was a pleasure. Thank you.
Yeah, you too.