Vaibhav Jain, CEO and Founder of Hubilo, discusses the future of virtual events now that in-person events are returning.
It was close to 19 months ago when the global events industry turned upside down, with all in-person events banned as a result of lockdown and strict social distancing rules. With live events unable to happen and businesses forced to move to remote working models led to the emergence of the virtual events landscape. Fast forward to nearly the end of 2021, the success of global vaccination efforts has caused many countries to relax their restriction, open up, and slowly allow certain live events to go ahead. But does the eagerly-awaited come-back of in-person events threaten the future of virtual events, or can they live in symbiosis?
The pandemic is not yet over and the truth is that we have to learn to live with the virus with the danger of different variants emerging all the time, we’re certainly not out of the woods yet. Therefore, we cannot jump back all in and head first to normality. Because of the continuously uncertain global situation, it is unsurprising that businesses and event organisers are struggling to put together an effective, and most importantly, reliable event strategy for the year ahead. With virtual events, organisers can be more agile and plan on the fly, reacting better to the changing market situation and emerging consumer trends. Taking out the worries of last-minute cancellations or new safety measures, virtual events have become the safest route and a de-facto option for connecting global audiences and facilitating networking opportunities.
A wider audience outreach
Breaking down the geographical barriers, virtual events have the power to reach and connect exponentially bigger audiences. As a result of the pandemic, many people have realised how much they value a good work-life balance and how little time they want to spend on travelling to and from event venues. However, it isn’t just that we don’t want to commute anymore, some people can find it really difficult. From disability accessibility issues on public transport and employers not approving time off to unaffordable plane tickets and struggles with childcare arrangements. With virtual events democratising accessibility, attendees can join from the comfort of their homes without ever worrying about these issues. This gives businesses the chance to accommodate all attendees’ needs, lifestyles, and abilities, and expand their audiences to even the most remote corners of the world.
The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted many marketing and events budgets, more often than not shrinking them on some level. However, even with less money to spend, there is still a widespread expectation to drive more impact and greater ROI. Thus, organisations will continue to turn to virtual events which are more affordable to execute than in-person ones. Combining affordability with a greater attendee reach, companies can increase their organic ROI as well. When it comes to larger virtual events, businesses can attract more partners, sponsors, and exhibitors, driving profitability even further.
Benefiting from granular analytics
With the right virtual events platform, event organisers can gather highly valuable data from all touchpoints and use them to pinpoint what went well and not so well, informing necessary improvements for the next event or adjusting on the spot. With multiple real-time metrics and dimensions, organisers can measure attendee reactions and engagement in a way not currently possible with physical events. They can gain a better understanding of attendee interests and a detailed breakdown of exhibitor offerings, utilising artificial intelligence (AI) matchmaking algorithms to better pair attendees for maximum ROI and robust engagement. Such granular, actionable insights are invaluable and irreplaceable, hence, it is unlikely businesses will want to walk away from them.
Delivering engaging experiences
Every organiser wants their event to be an unforgettable experience for all the attendees. By picking the right virtual events platform, they can put the all too common meeting and webinar fatigue behind and replace it with highly engaging speaker sessions and networking opportunities. With the help of AI, event organisers can create relevant one-to-one chats and suggest the best exhibitions based on interests, making the whole event experience a lot more dynamic and relevant. Long gone are the days of ‘come and see who you can meet’ event invites unless companies want their events to quickly turn into a memory.
Entering a new era
So, with all the benefits of higher engagement, inclusion, and profitability in mind, it looks like virtual events are here to stay. However, as live events slowly return, many might wonder whether the future shapes to be hybrid then. The risk of catching Covid-19 is still very much real, hence some people might still be hesitant to attend in person in fear of safety. It is unlikely that four-day mega-events organised for up to 50,000 attendees will make a quick come-back. Certainly not if they’re based on the old-school model of 80% in-person, 20% virtual. Turning that model on its head with an 80% virtual audience and contingency plans in place is more likely to guarantee success. For those planning hybrid events in the next year, it is worth starting with smaller, regional micro-parties to test the waters. When activating hybrid events, companies should do it with a safety-first mindset to ensure all attendees feel protected and comfortable.