About Chris Sykes
Chris Sykes joined Swoogo in early 2019, just as COVID-19 shut down the live events industry and simultaneously created a new category for virtual events.
In his role as CEO, Chris has overseen the continued development of Swoogo’s virtual event platform, bringing together hundreds of thousands of attendees, partners, organizers, and sponsors through large scale virtual events for customers around the world.
Chris comes to Swoogo after founding and leading Eagle Rock Capital, a small private equity fund focused on the events industry. Chris holds an MBA from MIT and a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University.
“Creating opportunities for in-person and virtual audiences to interact is key.”
– Chris Sykes, CEO at Swoogo
Socialive: Tell us about your role at Swoogo.
Chris Sykes: I wear many hats, as I think most CEOs do. My role changed during COVID-19 to support Swoogo’s new overall mission; we’ve been focused on helping our customers navigate through what has been a crazy nine months (although it feels like 10 years).
SL: What is a key takeaway you learned from brands producing video content in 2020?
CS: I think we’ve learned that video is a dominant mode of communication. If you look at how people are consuming content, video is probably used even more than text right now. TikTok and all these different trends— like Fleets or Reels— have shown us people want to consume video. It’s the most effective and engaging way to communicate content, and that has translated to success for events throughout the pandemic.
SL: What do you consider the top video trend businesses should know about in 2021?
CS: We’ve seen an increase in production quality; I think people’s standards for what constitutes engaging content have definitely gone up.
At the beginning of virtual events, we were all just trying to figure it out. Now that we’re several months into it, people expect to see something beyond video, like the layered style with text and graphics. If you look at the kind of video people are consuming on social media, there’s overlays, two videos next to each other, etc, and it’s way more engaging.
I think the de facto standard now for virtual events is to at least have text and colors for your brand to really shine through in the video. If it’s just a simple feed of two people talking, I don’t think that really cuts it.
SL: What do you consider the top challenge for businesses looking to produce video content in 2021?
CS: One of the biggest challenges we’ve seen is maintaining brand standards and quality for virtual events, especially as it relates to the video itself.
Let’s say we’re doing a panel discussion with ten people, and my daughter is downloading a video on our WiFi and it affects our video quality. How do you control for that? The biggest challenge is standardization- finding some way of ensuring that when we all get together for a virtual event, the content is engaging, professional, reflects well on the brand, and attendees enjoy consuming the video.
SL: How can businesses minimize digital fatigue?
CS: I think digital fatigue has evolved during the pandemic. As much as video has widened our ability to connect with people, I think it’s actually creating smaller moments that keeps an audience engaged. At the most basic level, chat’s role has really been put in the spotlight, especially one-to-one attendee chat. If you and I were watching the same video and I noticed we had a similar background and I wanted to message you specifically, I think that makes the experience more engaging. It really fosters personal connection and gives attendees a reason to stay involved. Group chat, session chat – these are all things that we’ve worked hard to build on Swoogo.
Beyond chat, there are features like polling, gamification, and Q&A’s that can be really helpful. Any chance the presenters have to engage the audience has become a standard for virtual events. You can’t just have people talking at the audience anymore. It’s now that the audience needs to be a part of the experience and part of the video.
SL: How will virtual events impact B2B purchase decisions in 2021?
CS: I think video and virtual events have made this form of marketing much more accessible to B2B clients and companies that were not enterprise level.
Hosting, or even sponsoring an in-person event is so expensive. When you combine high quality video tools and deploy your content through a virtual event, you can put together something that is incredibly impressive and engaging without laying such a huge part of your marketing budget on the line.
You can also use and reuse that video content with prospects or other people in your community to drive marketing messages in the long-term, at a cost that is not a huge obstacle. All in all, it’s made the reach of in-person events attainable to companies that previously would not have been able to afford it.
SL: Do you think AI or other technologies could change the way that we do virtual events?
CS: Yeah, definitely. Netflix has gotten everyone accustomed to this idea of a recommendation engine. We’re seeing more of our customers choose to host on-demand video with us after an event has ended; they want to incorporate more of that personalization and customization that Netflix has made us accustomed to.
What we see happening over the next 12 months is that when you log into an event (and maybe I filled out some questions about myself), it generates smart recommendations. These recommendations are not only about the content I’m most likely to engage with, but also people I should meet based on similar backgrounds or needs. I would have the ability to click a button and connect with them on LinkedIn, message them, or start a one-to-one video.
Customization, which we’ve worked hard to enable in Swoogo, is an important part of what people expect from video and virtual events.
SL: Will video replace other forms of internal communication in 2021?
CS: Yeah, definitely. I think most companies have become virtual (not by choice) this year, but Swoogo has been virtual since it was founded in 2015. With that we’ve had to grapple with how to keep our people engaged, and there are certain things we do to inspire connection, active listening, and accountability, like having being on camera mandatory for most of our internal calls. We also have a weekly company huddle that takes place on video, and we’ve had to play with the format of it, but ultimately it’s proven to be an awesome way for employees to get to know each other even from afar. We found video to be really engaging.
There’s always going to be a place for Slack; If I have a quick question, nothing’s going to beat a one sentence Slack message. But for brainstorming and getting on the same page, I think there is no substitute for video.
SL: What’s next for Swoogo?
CS: Virtual events are definitely still our focus. We took the functionality that we had for webinars and added some more features and simplified those functions, and the sum of that has made for a really great virtual events platform.
What I see happening over the next six to nine months is a transition to hybrid events- events will be happening in person and virtually at the same time- with two distinct groups of attendees.
Creating opportunities for those two audiences to interact is key. If I’m watching an event from home, maybe I could use an app on my phone to chat with attendees who are attending in person. Hybrid is really the name of the game for us and our focus over the next four months.
We think video will also be a part of the in-person attendee experience. Let’s say there are two speakers in separate rooms and I want to catch both of them. I may be watching one live on stage A, and on my phone I’m watching the beginning or the first 10 minutes of this other speaker I want to listen to. If I like the first ten minutes, I leave one of the events and I walk to a different conference room in the hotel and I catch the end of the second speaker’s speech. We think that will be a standard for in-person events.
SL: Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
CS: I think we’re at the cusp of something really exciting, both with virtual events and video. I think we’ll look back 10 or 15 years from now and realize what Socialive and Swoogo are doing are the very first steps towards a revolution in communication that we probably can’t even understand at this point. I’m excited to see where it goes.