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Virtual events: no money, limited engagement… but a bright future?

Virtual events: no money, limited engagement… but a bright future?

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Do they really work? Will they survive in a post-covid world? Will they eat up the physical event market? What value do they bring? Virtual events (although we are still unsure this is the correct way to call them…) show much promise but also much doubt. Yes, we too have kept a virtual event as a background noise while we were managing our emails… A survey by EventMB, taken in june 2020 with more than 1,000 professionals planning events, sheds some light on the potential and the benefits of virtual events and how they are integrating into the event portfolios… Some good news but two major limits: the difficulty to make them profitable, and to make them engaging.

This welcome survey by EventMB reaches the following conclusions:

Limited substitution of physical events so far. Only 32% of planners pivoted to a virtual event while 68% postponed or cancelled. The authors of the study interpret this saying “we can assume that 30% to 60% of the industry will evaluate a virtual pivot in the next few months” since we will probably see an evolution and improvement of event platforms as well as the experiences of other planners. Their scenario: “creating more structured experiences online as a complement to a smaller and local meeting strategy”.

No money… When asked what percentage of this year’s revenue planners expect to recoup by pivoting to virtual events, only 4% expect to recoup more than 75%. The bulk (71%) expect to recoup less than 25%. This makes virtual events a very unlikely candidate to save the events industry’s ecosystem (but then, never take this as a protection against the sacred law of Darwin: no one is here to save you, only relevance will).

Engagement as the biggest challenge. For 31.3%, engagement is the key challenge of this format, followed by a lack of technology (21.1%). There is little doubt technology will keep improving… but the engagement challenge remains to be seen. We have all seen during these months how hard it is to effectively engage people when they are in their home, in front of a computer, the very machine that can take them anywhere, anytime and therefore a formidable competitor for their sacred attention. The following challenges are the difficulty to get sponsorship (13.6%) and to get attendance (13.1%).

The benefits: reach and cost. The first benefit of virtual events is, unsurprisingly, the lower cost (for 28% of planners), followed by a possibly increased reach (27%). A distant third is the possibility to generate new sources of revenue. One item not quoted here but which probably could have a lot of relevance, is the possibility to get detailed data and intelligence about the participants.

The difficulty of generating engagement with current platforms. The biggest frustration (by far) of event professionals using virtual event tech is the inability of platforms to match live engagement (for 49.5% of planners). A little live chat and online polls during the session are not sufficient to make people engaged, technology will have to evolve. It is followed by the uncertainty about the long-term benefits of investing in them (23.9%) and the fact that much of it is untested (22.5%).

Here to stay. Despite these challenges, these online events will stay. 62.2% of professionals expect to “continue to employ a digital strategy to maintain their virtual audience (i.e. make your events hybrid) once they return to physical events”.

You can access this study and a benchmark of tech solutions here.

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