James Lee, founder and MD of built environment trade show organisers Step Connect2, tells EN about its new Netflix-style streaming and networking platform
When Step Connect2 was forced to stop hosting in-person events in 2020, founder and MD James Lee, like most trade show organisers, looked at ways of keeping its audience engaged online.
“After hosting a few digital festivals, we realised the exhibition element just didn’t work,” says Lee. “What did work for us in our community – the education sector – was the learning side.
“That got me thinking, when we come out of this pandemic, what can we do to continue to bring our communities together, 365? What element does the live event play and how can you service that community throughout the year?”
Step Connect2 is hosting five live events this year with around 200 podcasts and webinars from conference content at the shows. The challenge for Lee’s team was to find a way of breaking down this wealth of content and create a “user journey”.
That was where the Learning Hub was born, after the trade show organisers partnered with TXF-owned virtual events and education platform Kujenga.
Says Lee, “We’ve been given a whole host of videos by our sponsors, exhibitors and supporters in short, medium and long format. But if you don’t get the platform right for how people can consume and watch, it doesn’t matter how great the content is, people just won’t engage in a timely fashion.”
Lee stresses the importance of creating a great attendee experience: “You can either forget the last two years and go back to where you were pre-pandemic, or you can learn from the journey that we’ve been on and build it into your business model going forward.”
He says Step Connect2 is offering its clients ‘365 packages’, which consist of pre-show activity such as webinars, podcasts and articles; the live event itself; and the ‘reconnect’ – the uploading of the session onto the Hub’s member zone.
“What our exhibitors are liking is that we can offer them a stand, but we can also build a content partner package, for them to create videos, podcasts and articles for their audience.”
Lee says they wanted the platform to be as close as possible to consumer streaming habits. In the
same way that consumers browse for romantic comedies and thrillers on Netflix, users can filter content through categories such as ‘zero carbon’ and ‘inclusive learning’ on the Learning Hub.
He says the aim is for the Hub to have more than 3,000 subscribers in its first year. To avoid taking away the importance of attending in-person events, the Learning Hub only allows attendees and speakers to access recordings for the first month. After 30 days, the recording is made available to the wider community for 12 months. The team has also built in a subscription model in case they want to pivot to this format in the future.
Lee says his team made a strategic decision to not go down the hybrid route and instead record sessions at the show, edit them and then upload them onto the Hub where they can be consumed as podcasts.
“What doesn’t translate for us nowadays is live webinars because you’re forcing people to sit in front of a computer at 11 in the morning.
“What I like about our platform is rather than using Vimeo or YouTube, the content actually sits on the server. It’s got that end-to-end experience.
“The key thing for us was not building for now, but for one or two years down the line.”