Is There Now A Real Future For Virtual Events

By now, many of us will have attended virtual events in place of the exhibitions, performances, seminars and meetups that were such an important part of working and leisure culture just a year ago.

For many organisers, these began as emergency, stop gap measures, helping to maintain their place in the events calendar, protect their revenues and serve as a way to continue providing vital access to advice and assistance which might otherwise disappear altogether.

While some virtual events have managed very effectively by delivering a focused Teams or Zoom-like format, others have been in a position to push the boundaries of digital event management to offer highly creative and engaging get togethers. Their impact has been fascinating, and according to the Event Marketing 2020: Benchmarks and Trends report, 85% of leaders and executives still view events as critical for their company’s success.

The knock-on effect has been massive growth in demand for online events and the platforms used to run them. Last November, for instance, UK-based Hopin, an online events platform with over 3.5 million users, raised $125 million in Series B funding on a valuation of over $2 billion. They are just one of many established and startup virtual event providers and platforms capitalising on demand is predicted to grow in value from $78 billion to $774 billion over the next decade.

But what’s next? As the prospect of a return to mass public events gatherings moves into the planning stages – there could be 8,000 fans in Wembley Stadium for the upcoming Carabao Cup Final in late April, for example – what’s the role for online events that may soon have to compete with being there in person?

Audiences Will Applaud Digital Innovation

One thing is certain: organisations that continue to offer virtual events – either as their only means of attendance or as a value-add to being there for real – will need to innovate. Teams/Zoom ‘fatigue’ is now a major issue for people who have attended dozens or even hundreds of virtual events in the past year, and organisers that don’t find ways to refresh their format face the very real prospect of audiences abandoning online experiences altogether.

Central to the process of creative renewal is understanding how virtual audiences behave, measuring their response to what’s offered on-screen and building real insight into how virtual content and delivery can be tuned to maximum effect.

The starting point is to optimise the role of analytics in the design and delivery of successful virtual experiences. Most event organisers are currently only scratching the surface in their understanding of audience engagement during video-based events, and currently have much better information about how users interact with websites.

For instance, instead of basing major decisions around the most basic feedback metrics such as how many stars attendees are awarding events they attend, what’s required is actionable analytics that helps organisers understand the effectiveness of everything from content and participation to the experience delivered by the technology platform and user interface – and not just in retrospect, but in real time.

The ability to judge audience interest and engagement while the event is taking place, such as the topics being discussed during interactive events, are just one example of how organisers can add huge value to the quality and relevance of information being presented to attendees. These capabilities are available today, they simply need wider implementation in order to help virtual events move to the next level.

Bringing together the disciplines of video production and data analytics holds the key to building a real future for virtual events. Organisations that approach their event strategy with the same level of strategic intelligence they apply to their websites will be the ones who deliver the ‘next generation’ experiences that will retain the interest of their audience – long after they can go back to being there in person.

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