We take a cursory look at the new emerging trends. What are the benefits and challenges
Although the shift to virtual hosting for events was noticeable even before the emergence of COVID 19, however in recent months, virtual events have been experiencing an unprecedented boom. From the latest annual virtual cloud security summit to business building webinars, it seems the future of events is set solely in the digital world. According to Ruben Castano, CEO of 6Connex, virtual events have increased by 1000 percent since the COVID 19 pandemic began.
In Nigeria, our research finds that over 95 percent of organisations and institutions that organised any virtual event in 2020 were doing so for the first time. The country's Federal Executive Council held a virtual meeting for the first time. West African Leaders under the banner of ECOWAS held their first virtual conference this year. University of Osun State announced that they were the first tertiary institution in Nigeria to hold a virtual matriculation ceremony. Babcock university followed up with her first virtual graduation ceremony. Most professional bodies bold enough to hold their annual conferences did so virtually including Experiential Marketing Association of Nigeria (EXMAN). The list is almost endless- product unveiling, awards, musical shows, celebrity weddings, birthdays, political conventions etc.
However, while recent events seem to have the capacity to accelerated growth in the experiential marketing industry from a new direction, one will still need to ask: Are virtual events the new future of event planning and marketing?
What does this bring to the table?
FOR THE ORGANISERS
Easier access to high-quality speakers regardless of where they live or where your event is taking place
Now that events are taking place online, it’s easier than ever before to get top-notch speakers from around the world. Previously, they used to have to travel (sometimes across continents) just to spend 30-60 minutes on stage. Now presentations can be made from any office on the globe- Talk about convenience.
Virtual events give greater audience reach and event Impact
One of the largest event planning decisions is choosing a suitable place, time and date that fits both the event organisers and its intended audience. In many cases, there is the issue of the location or time being inconvenient for people who wish to be apart of the event – an issue that virtual events seem to solve. According to the Meeting Design Institute, choosing a virtual event reduces audience concerns about the suitability, location, and date by over 50 percent. Your choice of online video or meeting hosting software can also enable greater personalization, and allows you to choose the most important content you wish to impart to your audience – all crucial when determining audience reach and impact.
Quality attendance easier and it is more cost-effective, and sustainable
Most physical events require renting an event venue, paying for drinks and food and, in some cases, subsidising speakers. Other cost can include hiring amenities and support staff, rental fee for conference rooms, parking amenities and event security. With virtual events, the above costs are eliminated or very minimal. Also the reduced need for travels or a lot of intra-city movements make virtual events super sustainable and eco-friendly. Besides the above, an excited event organiser recently said, "despite only promoting our event a week before it was set to take place, we were able to gather over 200 random attendees across 4 different continents. This is a huge step-change compared to most physical events we have organised in the past. Even with a month's promotion, getting 200 guests seated on time could be a near miracle except it is a "ready-made" audience or mainly for entertainment purposes".
FOR THE ATTENDEES
Less time consuming and significantly cheaper
Now that attendees no longer need to travel to events, or be in traffic, there is way more time to focus on the important stuff: building and scaling your business then you can join the programme exactly when it is starting.
More flexibility in terms of what content you choose to consumeI
In a physical event, it’s tough to duck out of a session once you’ve committed to it. With virtual events, you can afford to be much pickier around what content you choose to engage with. Don’t like the talk current presentation, no problem, just sign out and rejoin later during the next presentation.
Easier access to thought leaders than ever before
With more events taking place online, access to unique content is being democratised as opposed to being shared within limited attendee circles. A young professional said recently, "Due to the above, I’m a huge fan of virtual events. During our event a couple of weeks ago, we even managed to recreate some of the fun, spontaneous networking opportunities you tend to have in physical events via a real-time chat function during each session , followed by a chat roulette style networking function. Within a 15 minute window, I was able to chat with a founder based in Texas, another based in Bangalore and one in Berlin.
CHALLENGES VIRTUAL EVENTS FACE
While virtual event planners don’t have to worry about travel or venue suitability, there is still a formidable risk of your event lacking interactivity with your audience. A Northstar Meetings Group survey showed that demand for virtual events will rapidly increase in the future. Yet, many event planners and businesses worry about how they can maintain the level of interaction online. . The human element of connecting with others, having in-depth discussions, forging partnerships and meeting potential customers is still largely confined to the offline world. For those that rely on events to generate leads and do sales, physical events are still a much more efficient medium. Probably this group would lead the campaign for a return to the status quo or at least many of these events will come back in some form as we emerge from lockdown. However, as virtual event technology continues to advance, it should be a matter of time before tools are created for event hosts to capture and retain the attention and response of their participants from the start.
Another key concern to experiential and event planners is how to make virtual event more engaging. It is disturbing to most organiser that almost all attendees of most virtual events act as observers. Approximately 49 percent of marketers say that audience engagement is a key factor in determining the success of a virtual event. To boost the engagement of your virtual audience, many organisers try to make use of event technology tools and strategies before, during and after the event. For instance, 81.9 percent of marketers utilize event polling in a bid to increase interaction. Include interactive elements in your event like Q&A sessions, quiz etc to get the audience talking.
Cost and limitations in options.
Especially in a developing economy like Nigeria, the cost-effectiveness of virtual vents could be a challenge. One good example is the Zoom Webinar platform. The basic subscription costs $40 plus a $14.99 charge for being a Premium user. This is limited to up to 100 participants and one host per month. Other platforms like GoToWebinar can cost as much as $499 for up to 3,000 participants. There are also likely to be hidden costs attached to staging a virtual event, such as heavy use of data by attendees, credit card processing fees and merchandise branding costs. Also, to create great engagement and interest in your virtual event, creating a buzz beforehand is vital. Branding, publicity and marketing activities will, however, come with some cost as well. These and more could be a tough choice for some organisers and even participants..
In summary, we have seen that in-person events are undeniably valuable. While virtual events may be unable to fully replace that value, they are an increasingly viable option for businesses to supplement their existing events. By hosting a virtual event, organizations are able to save the costs of venue rentals, lodging, food, tickets, logistics, travels etc. At the same time, online events lessen the environmental impact of in-person events and ensure that attendees can participate regardless of their physical, geographical, or financial circumstances. Based on the substantial shift to virtual technology and the clear benefits online events are providing, it seems clear that virtual events are not only here to stay – they are set to become the mainstream route of event hosting. Whether businesses choose to hold a purely digital event or use virtual events as part of a hybrid event strategy, the future is clearly digital-virtual events aren’t going anywhere soon.
Ntia Usukuma, Femi Fagite