Photo: Outdoor moviegoers at Luna Cinema, 2020.
In recent months, the pandemic has made many people reimagine what it means to spend time together — and given many more a deeper appreciation for sharing experiences with others when possible. Events and entertainment that were once in-person have moved online, or been reconfigured at a distance, and our modes of communication have dramatically changed. For some events and entertainment industry professionals, the challenges presented by COVID-19 have meant finding new ways to do what they do best: create connection and build community.
We talked to three businesses around the world — from a UK-based outdoor cinema to an international membership club — about how they’re continuing to provide much-needed connection in a socially distanced world.
Supporting digital community
For online music platform Audiotree, making virtual connections for artists and fans has always been fundamental to its mission. During the pandemic, the digital-first company has doubled down on its community focus, encouraging online communication and interaction during its streaming concerts. Creative Director Austin Peters notes that “the amount of kindness we see in our chat rooms reminds us of a real concert — where fans of mutual love for the band they’re watching come together to crack jokes, type lyrics to the songs as the artist sings them, and foster a community surrounding the music.” While he says that virtual concerts performed to an empty room are not the ideal long term experience, “for now, it’s a seriously profound way for artists and fans to connect.”
The international membership club Soho House, which recently partnered with Squarespace as part of its ‘Back to Work’ series, is known for in-person networking and connection, and has supported member efforts to maintain a sense of community in the pandemic. Chief Creative Officer, Nabil Aliffi, explains that lockdown “brought to light what members value most about their membership, beyond our physical spaces. Members were not simply asking what Soho House could do for them during this crisis; in fact, many asked how they could be of help.” By leveraging its network of motivated members and encouraging collaboration and co-creation, Aliffi notes that Soho House has held “more than 200 digital events, which included masterclasses, tutorials, and fitness and wellbeing sessions.”
Creating engaging, accessible content
For many businesses, supporting their customer base has meant innovating new digital content. For Audiotree, expansion of their existing online offerings with new concert series like STAGED: Live Concerts From Home and Audiotree International has been key. Dedicated to highlighting artists who cannot tour through Audiotree’s performance venue in Chicago, Audiotree International enables artists to create content and release it through the platform’s network. Peters explains that, since it launched, Audiotree International has “been steadily putting out performances from bands in Russia, Africa, Europe, Canada, Southeast Asia, and more, to further their reach while touring is unavailable to them.”
Soho House has similarly focused on content creation throughout the pandemic. After relaunching its site, Soho House also digitized its in-house magazine, House Notes, and established a daily publishing cadence. As part of a new initiative called Open House, Soho House has also made much of its content, as well as its digital events, available to the public. In addition to providing inspiration, entertainment, and maintaining connection with its local and international audiences, Aliffi explains that this revamped content strategy has business benefits, too: “The stories that we tell, which feature our members, drive interest and traffic to our sites. It’s our way of speaking to prospective members.” Aliffi has found that creating digital spaces through both events and content is the backbone of membership support: “It’s ultimately Soho House in their pockets – where they go for inspiration, discover and keep abreast of what other members are up to, and find their tribe.”'
Reimagining in-person interactions
In the same way that businesses are pivoting their digital presences to support their customers and community, some have had the opportunity to adjust their in-person offerings. George Wood, founder and owner of Luna Cinema, an outdoor movie theater experience in the UK, quickly worked to find ways to facilitate screenings in the pandemic. Luna now offers movie-goers socially-distanced outdoor screenings and drive-ins, ensuring customers book a pitch in advance so they can simply show up and enjoy the show. While Wood has noticed shifts in customer behavior, like a tendency to book tickets closer to the event date, he also notes that the company has “had lots of comments from customers who have had their first night out in months be at a Luna screening, and they are so happy that we’ve been able to put our events on.” As Luna Cinema continues to provide opportunities for people to gather in the pandemic, Wood hopes to gain a new audience of outdoor moviegoers along the way.
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