November 18, 2020
The main message of this post is that if you don’t yet have a virtual events strategy, get one now. No matter when the event industry recovers, virtual events are here to stay. And for those event planners who hoped they’d only have to organize one virtual event in 2020 and be back in-person for 2021, you may want to invest in a better virtual event platform.
COVID-19 has upended few sectors as completely as the events industry, but if you thought virtual events were just a temporary fix and you’re waiting out the pandemic, you’re mistaken. Here are five reasons why:
- Physical events are not returning soon, and certainly not to pre-coronavirus attendance levels: Experts believe in-person events won’t return until 2022, but even if they’re wrong and, buoyed by the latest vaccine progress from Pfizer and Moderna, some organizers do plan live events in 2021, business and domestic travel will recover at a slower rate. According to the latest forecast, travel spending won’t come close to pre-pandemic strength until 2024; and responsible event planners should not be risking attendees’ safety in a rush to get “back to normal.”
- People and businesses have changed: The pandemic has been perhaps the largest experiment in digital to date, proving that remote work and online events are possible on a large scale. This year millions of people learned what it’s like to work and network from home, and enjoyed a better work-life balance as a result. Reality is backing up pre-coronavirus studies that found remote workers are more productive; and companies are coming to terms with a different future of work, one that’s increasingly remote and virtual. It’s unwise to presume that once the pandemic is over or a vaccine becomes widely available, people or companies will attend and perceive events, business travel or commuting as they used to.
- Virtual events have a lot going for them: Many event planners hadn’t explored event tech beyond a mobile app until the pandemic let virtual out of the bag. Now that we’ve planned and attended virtual events, there are reasons for developing a long-term virtual strategy while preparing for the eventual return to in-person. For one, virtual events are more accessible and therefore more inclusive, amplifying total audience reach and diversity. Young professionals, attendees from developing countries, etc. can have the same access to content and networking, leveling the socioeconomic playing field. Virtual is better for the environment. Now that we have a greater understanding of the environmental impact, people will be less willing to go back to the kinds of unsustainable travel and commuting we did for work pre-pandemic. They’ll also be less willing to give up their new work-life balance and, increasingly comfortable with technology, more people will continue working from home. Virtual events are cheaper and more flexible: With lower overheads and reduced human capital, virtual events can be cheaper and allow for higher attendance numbers thanks to the larger capacity of virtual venues. Virtual has a key advantage in data collection: Virtual offers an unprecedented opportunity to analyze events, get to know your audience, and continually improve. (These are not the only advantages, just the ones that stand out for me.)
- “But virtual events aren’t as profitable:” The first wave of virtual events was underwhelming both in terms of engagement and profit. 40% of event professionals who ‘went digital’ this year weren’t able to make a profit, while 70% were unable to recoup more than 25% of their annual revenue. That doesn’t mean you can’t make money with virtual events. When approached with a digital-first mindset (as opposed to trying to just recreate an in-person event online), it’s possible to design a virtual event that’s as valuable as an in-person one and/or a complimentary digital experience that provides supplemental value to your event year-round.
- Anticipating future demand: The intrinsic value of events has increased as we’ve realized how much we long for and need events for learning and business development. Live events will come back, of course, but with the return of in-person so the expectation for accompanying/simultaneous virtual options now that there’s greater acceptance of the technology and a larger WFH workforce less inclined to travel (not to mention recovering businesses less inclined to pay for travel). The choice to either travel and participate in-person or join online and still feel like part of the same experience will be the demand post-pandemic, and thus hybrid is the future. This means you need a platform that can do both virtual and hybrid, that’ll work now and when you switch back to in-person. You need a platform that’s future-proof.