SHIFT20: Building a virtual expo

How do you convert a three-day expo into an interactive online event? In partnership with Zapnito, the Institute of Food Technologists was able to do exactly that.

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Download the full IFT case study here.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of food science and technology. Its annual meeting and expo typically receives around 24,000 visitors across a three-day event, serving as the organization’s primary revenue driver.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to fully take effect on a global scale in March, IFT made the decision to turn the SHIFT20 expo into a virtual event. While they already had an online community in place, adapting such a large and interactive event to an online format in the space of a few months was a different prospect entirely.

Ultimately, however, they were successful in their aims. By partnering with Zapnito, IFT was able to set up an interactive and easily accessible virtual expo, attracting nearly 6000 attendees and providing hundreds of hours of content.

How the IFT succeeded with their virtual event:

  • 5763 attendees
  • 19,560 visits to site
  • 127,363 total page views
  • 1851 site visits after initial SHIFT20 dates

Putting plans into action

A key factor in the success of this event was considering the main values and goals from the outset. IFT took the step of setting up three separate committees focused on different aspects of the expo: expert content, exhibitors and socializing. 

Zapnito’s easy-to-use interface allowed IFT to provide every vendor at SHIFT20 with their own room on the network where they could share content and host meetings and discussions. Using the labels function to sort content by topic made navigating the expo simple. IFT held weekly Zoom meetings in the weeks leading up to the event in order to provide training that would help vendors make the most of the features available to them in their rooms.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of converting an in-person event into a virtual one was preserving a sense of interactivity and avoiding passive consumption. IFT came up with a variety of creative ideas for their event to solve this problem such as a virtual dance party and Q&A sessions. Vendors were advised to make their content as interactive as possible and those who did so received far better engagement from attendees.

Long-term success

Though the pandemic left IFT little choice but to organize a virtual event, this format also yielded certain benefits that could not have been provided in person. While previous events would have required live attendance in order to see the content on offer, holding SHIFT20 online meant that content could be kept available on-demand for months after the initial three-day event. IFT has seen continued web traffic across its range of SHIFT20 content ever since the conclusion of the expo in June, highlighting the viability of virtual events as more than just a response to the cancellation of face-to-face meetings.

With SHIFT20 proving to be a success, IFT is looking towards the future. They now plan to build a subscription discussion group based around the content from the event, with the goal of continuing the conversation and sharing more knowledge on the key takeaway points. IFT is also repackaging its event content by categorizing it into specialist areas, to be rolled out over the coming months.

Henry Burt

Marketing Executive, Zapnito