Right now, we’re all clamoring to connect. And as we enter June, this notion holds especially true for the millions of high school graduating seniors who will miss the opportunity to physically walk down the aisle in cap and gown. But as this group of young adults looks ahead to their future – often uncertain of what’s to come – rather than being challenged by an obstacle, they embrace it. By turning a roadblock into a memorable opportunity (with the help of a few friends, near and far), they experience a single inspirational graduation.
Graduate Together, a hybrid experience with nationwide grassroots support, allowed the 3.7 million graduating seniors across America the opportunity to celebrate 12 years of academic hard work as one united generation. And perhaps more importantly, it delivered a bigger lesson to this resilient group of young adults: Push beyond boundaries. The same goes for brands.
Filled with moments of inspiration from students, parents, teachers, athletes, celebrities, musical guests, and former President Barack Obama, the hour-long televised event celebrated and honored the graduating class of 2020 – captivating and entertaining 7.35M viewers. And while it can’t replace the live pomp and circumstance that many students will unfortunately be deprived of this year, it did deliver, in an extraordinary and memorable way.
By the end of the show, guests likely forgot the experience was built mainly on green screens and in virtual environments. Because despite physical restraints, virtual and hybrid experiences can inspire, motivate, engage and immerse you just the same.
What makes Graduate Together a hybrid experience?
From our perspective, Graduate Together wasn’t just a broadcast event. The experience created opportunities for students to participate, both physically and virtually – engaging them pre, mid and post broadcast.
- Pre-broadcast: Students from across the country and the US territories were encouraged to create inspirational video messages and post them to social, using the #GraduateTogether hashtag. Many students even drove down to their school and filmed on location. And XQ, one of the main creators for Graduate Together, provided students, parents and teachers with a free virtual toolkit – which included tips on how to organize an interactive experience, to how to manage logistics – so they could create their own virtual graduation ceremonies.
- Mid-broadcast: During the broadcast, students heard messages of encouragement – reminding them to move forward and focus on the next steps of adulthood: preparing for college and post-high school life, and practicing their right to vote in the upcoming election. They could follow up on the Graduate Together website to register to vote and take part in the XQ Challenge – a series of creative challenges for students to participate in throughout the summer with the potential for mentorship opportunities.
- Post-broadcast: While the broadcast ended, the party (and the sense of community) went on! Students were encouraged to participate in a #GraduateTogether dance party over on TikTok, post-broadcast. They could also submit a selfie to the Graduate Together Digital Yearbook via Snapchat, which featured a special #GraduateTogether lens.
What can brands take away?
Experiences that inspire can be done in many formats. And while “connection” is most often affiliated with “in-person” – more and more virtual and hybrid experiences are proving otherwise.
To captivate and engage an audience virtually, a few important elements are at play: length and balance of content, and a mix of online and offline experiences/activities.
While the Graduate Together broadcast was one-hour long, it was made up of micro-segments. A variety of content formats, messages, and speakers created a dynamic mix of programming, sure to maintain viewers’ interest.
To maintain engagement, incorporate a blend of live, spoken information and pre-recorded content. This pre-recorded content can include animated videos, musical numbers, a talk show style broadcast, or personal social content (similar to the seniors, parents and teachers who recorded messages for the graduating class).
Mix up the experience. Incorporating both online and offline engagement allows participants to be part of the experience. Invite them by creating a sense of place and inclusion. Think hands-on activities, opportunities to submit conversations and dialogue, and ways to share a sense of community and affinity.
Inspirational and engaging experiences today, and going forward, will be judged on how well they mix both the physical and digital. They should deliver a strong message. Convey a call to action. Be an experience worth remembering and talking about.
This is what Experience Brands do. They act, not only speak. They deliver proof on their promises. Graduate Together proved to the world that it’s possible to build moments that matter, and make emotional, lasting connections. Proving that there are new ways to celebrate milestones and create memories. And despite roadblocks, you can prevail.