Should you pivot to digital? Lessons from 20 global brand events

We surveyed 20 global brand events on the pivot to digital, here is what we learned – so far.

This is part 1 of a 3-part series on how the pivot to digital is going for brands. In this first part, we try to establish if the pivot to digital worked (or not). Or, in other words, answer the question: to pivot or not?

In part 2, we will look at what the winners and losers did to succeed (or fail). And in part 3, we look at what we have learned from helping our own clients over the past weeks.

So, should you pivot to digital?
  • Yes – overall brands that pivoted saw better results.
  • The best brands were head and shoulders above the rest.
  • If you canceled or delayed, then the brand impact was negative.
What we did:

The aim was to see if there was any difference between brands that did or did not pivot. 

So we identified 20 global brand events that either pivoted to digital (x11) or delayed/canceled (x9) their external events between March 1 and April 21 in 2020. Then we compared net changes in social media followers, in this case, Twitter, from 2019 and 2020, for the same dates.

In other words, we looked at events that pivoted and those that did not and checked if they had more followers for 2020 digital than in 2019 for the in-person version.

Why social media followers? We needed a measure of “success”, and it is well documented that the number of social media followers is indicative of business success. In fact, a social media follower is 77% more likely to buy from that brand than another brand1

Sprout Social Index 2019
What did we learn:

It paid to pivot to digital – brands that pivoted overall did better than 2019 in-person

Overall brands that pivoted saw a better impact, a median of 10% net new followers. If you pivoted, you were much more likely to get better results than canceling or delaying, and indeed had a chance at seeing net positive follower gains.

Furthermore, brands that pivoted successfully (i.e. the “winners”) did far better in 2020 than they managed with their in-person events in 2019.

The winners and losers of pivot to virtual

No pivot to digital = negative impact – brands who did not pivot automatically experienced a negative result

100% of brands that did not pivot suffered. If the brand canceled or delayed their event from the original dates, they suffered a negative decline in net Twitter followers in 2020 vs. 2019. 

In other words, not pivoting meant a decline in followers during the same period in 2020 vs. 2019. They simply lost some market momentum.

Getting the pivot to digital wrong cost brands (i.e. the “Losers”)

45% of brands that made the pivot negatively impacted their brands. That is they saw a net negative impact to their Twitter following. 

Meaning if you got the pivot to digital wrong, there was fewer followers in 2020 vs. 2019. They basically saw a net reduction in market momentum.

The bottom 3 results from the “Losers” (net new followers):

1. -587% net new followers
2. -46% net new followers
-31% net new followers

The best performing brands were head and shoulders above everyone else (i.e. the “Winners”)

If you decided to pivot, and you did it well, then you eclipsed your in-person 2019 performance.  Of the three high performing pivot brands, the average impact was a 205% net new Twitter following. 

The top 3 results from the “Winners” (net new followers):

1. 399% net new followers
2. 156% net new followers
3. 60% net new followers

That is it for part 1. Our aim was to determine if making the pivot to digital makes sense. And certainly, if you pivot well, it seems to make a lot of sense.

In part 2, we will look at exactly how the “winners” won and the “losers” lost. And then in part 3, we outline some key lessons learned from helping clients with their pivots so far.


Want to be a pivot winner? Speak to our expert team, or chat with us on web. 

Ready to get started, read how with SpotMe.


1 – The Sprout Social Index, Edition XV: Empower & Elevate, 2019



Why did you use net followers and not actual followers? We used net followers to reduce any bias from brands with a larger absolute following (so net followers evens the playing field). And we choose Twitter because these were external events and audiences, and we want to track business impact, and so Twitter is the social media platform most akin to traditional PR coverage, and hence brand awareness.

Why did you not use brand revenue instead of social media followers? We would not have been able to use revenue in place of social media followers for several reasons, 1) because not all brands were public; 2) revenue would not have been available anyway for March and April 2020; and 3) because revenue is very unlikely to have been attributed to events in any public records.

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