At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was forced to move online. Client meetings, conferences, fundraising events and fitness classes are just some of the gatherings that quickly got swept into the virtual realm, often through the use of platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Since then, the pandemic itself has changed, and physical events have made a substantial comeback. But that doesn’t mean organizations have forgotten the benefits of recent technological trends brought on by sudden social distancing. In fact, many now wonder if the popularity of virtual events will outlast the COVID-19 pandemic itself.
The benefits of virtual events
The pandemic forced companies, organizations, and groups of all kinds to broaden their use of online connections beyond what they were ever comfortable trying before. The scale and pervasive use of these new possibilities revealed benefits that had not yet been fully considered:
- Lower cost: Not having to budget for a venue, security, catering, or travel means virtual events often cost less than an in-person event.
- Easier access, higher attendance: Virtual events remove the financial and logistical barriers that prevent people from attending an in-person event. High-profile guest speakers or entertainers can also join a virtual event via video chat or submit a pre-recorded message.
- Scalability, improved return on investment: The “guest list” of a virtual event can be much larger than any in-person gathering could feasibly attempt. This bigger invitee pool likely means a higher participation number, and therefore higher ROI, with little extra work required.
- Attendee insights: It can be difficult to track how attendees spend their time at an in-person event and the content with which they are engaging. Registration information is often the sole data gathered. If an event is held virtually, organizers can collect polling, contextual, and behavioral data, including which seminars they watch and how long they watch. The insights can then be used in targeted marketing campaigns and to improve future events.
- Recordable, shareable content: Virtual events can be easily recorded, expanding their lifespan past their date and time. People who have to miss the event as it happens can instead review a recording at their own leisure. The recorded video can also be used in follow-up marketing content.
Virtual event drawbacks
It is impossible to replicate everything about an in-person experience when using virtual channels. Perhaps most notably, a remote attendee’s environment (i.e., noisy background, family life at home) can sometimes prevent them from giving their full attention. Also, keeping a remote audience engaged requires different skills and knowledge than keeping the attention of a crowd right in front of you.
Enter hybrid events
Even if the coronavirus were to completely disappear, the future of meetings and events appears to be a happy medium between only online and strictly in-person. Technology has overcome limitations considered insurmountable a year and a half ago, and hybrid events hold the promise of increased scale, reach and ROI.
What do hybrid events look like?
Hybrids are live events with virtual features allowing an audience to engage with presenters, no matter where individual participants are located. (Note: Engagement is the key component here. They must provide opportunities for both in-person and virtual audiences to participate and offer feedback.)
In the past, hybrid events were usually an in-person gathering streamed live to an online audience. The pandemic has increased this kind of event, but hybrids have also evolved over time to include some creative arrangements.
Hybrid trade shows, conventions, and similar gatherings may host the main event in one location but have satellite events in other spots. Other hybrid events may center around a “virtual event hub” for virtual attendees.
Networking, one of the key reasons people attend conferences and trade shows, may soon become the central activity of in-person events. Educational elements can be expected to take place more frequently online.
Apps can also take networking to the digital world through chat rooms and virtual lounges. The technology incorporates activities like virtual trivia competitions, karaoke, happy hours and team building.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, most virtual event planners looked to replicate in-person experiences as best they could. Research clearly suggests the inverse is now taking place:
- Four out of five people say they want the in-person events they attend to include “exciting technology capabilities,” with 50 percent of them even willing to pay more to have those integrations.
- Eighty percent of event organizers have been able to reach a wider audience through a virtual component of their events.
- Marketers saw an increase of four or five times as many registrations for virtual events as compared to pre-pandemic, in-person versions of the events.
As we’re welcomed back to more in-person fundraisers, conferences and trade shows, we’ll find out how vital their virtual aspects have become.
Planning an event? Let’s chat! Every successful event starts with a strategy. From pre-event branding and teases through post-event marketing automation, Baer Performance Marketing will amplify ROI through expert guidance and execution. Contact us today.