Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The virtual event industry exploded during the pandemic.
Like grocery delivery and home exercise equipment, sudden global restrictions drove an unprecedented need for pushing formerly in-person gatherings into always-online arrangements. But as lockdowns unlocked, businesses gradually returned to boots-on-the-ground venues.
But is this really a trend whose purpose has been served?
Related: These Product Launches Tell Us Exactly How To Go About It
Virtual events will evolve and remain
I’ve been hosting and participating in virtual events of one kind or another since 2012 and the days of Google+ and Hangouts on Air!, yet, when I’m working with SaaS brands who are thinking about hosting an online extravaganza of their own, they’re looking at investing significant amounts of budget and manpower to pull them off. As a result, they’re justified in wondering about the future of the medium.
The thing is, even after all concerns over COVID have passed, attendees are still going to want virtual options. In fact, a survey from Kaltura found that 84% of attendees want this safety in case the event, their chosen travel means or any other issues come to the fore and require a change in plans.
“The pandemic taught us that certain types of education can happen much more cost-effectively using virtual technology,” concurs Phil Mershon, Director of Experience at Social Media Examiner. “So when the education is information-heavy, or very individualized, a virtual experience saves lots of time and money.”
Gone are the days when brands could deliver a boring, static webinar and expect to achieve positive results. The good news is virtual events offer brands all kinds of fun options, both in how they present themselves and what they’re presenting!
“You can give attendees an immersive experience that allows them to explore everything you have to offer,” adds Stephanie Liu, Live Video Strategist at Lights, Camera, Live. “Plus, virtual events can include interactive features like polls and surveys that let people engage with the content and learn more about your brand.”
Are hybrid events the compromise?
Many events where the organizers are currently building an in-person experience should be exploring and adding a virtual element. Particularly while there are still concerns stemming from the pandemic, on top of rising travel costs around the globe. It makes tremendous sense to cater to a wider audience, as well as have a built-in backup plan in the event there are local issues that require the closure of a venue and cancellation of in-person activities.
Thanks to the necessity of innovation these past two years, current event platforms are incredibly sophisticated and capable of replicating highly engaging, interactive, virtual experiences that augment, or even surpass, their in-person counterparts.
“I spoke at the Cvent Connect last week, which was also live-streamed, and witnessed the virtual audience being more engaged than the audience in the room,” reports Ekaterina Walter, Senior Director of Marketing at ZincFive. “Attendees who were physically present told me they’d be watching sessions they missed on-demand after the event and recommending those they enjoyed the most to their colleagues who were able to purchase a virtual-only pass.”
In fact, the rise in augmented reality is leading to immersive experiences that, initially, one might assume are exclusively for virtual events.
“Brands should invest in the hybrid future of events with both online and offline components,” argues personal branding expert, Goldie Chan. “We’ll see more interesting VR and AR applications to events as well but there are no solid replacements for brands to build their audience engagement quite like in-person communication and networking.”
There is indeed a case to be made for IRL gatherings to add a virtual component and for brands interested in creating engaging augmented events to add in-person components.
Related: Zoom Can Be Your Best Friend
A new value lies in virtual
Companies, today, that put together a solid virtual event plan and utilize a sophisticated platform are able to leverage online events for marketing, lead generation and customer discovery like never before.
“Brands are no longer beholden to IRL or virtual-only, but a fluid and hybrid evolution,” says Sarah Evans, CEO of Sevans PR. “It takes an entirely different strategy, execution and offering — but missing a virtual opportunity means missing out an entire piece of the marketing pie.”
A brand hosting a virtual meeting today can have a series of sessions on a variety of topics for patrons to choose from and note which attendees engaged with which sessions, speakers, sponsors and other aspects of the event. They can tag which materials were downloaded and push all of that data into a CRM that automatically flows contacts and leads to SDRs based on user behavior.
Ultimately, it’s clear that virtual events will continue to be a strong strategy for brands to employ.
Related: 3 Technology Advancements that Improve Virtual Events