• August 31, 2020
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Surveys Find Shift to Virtual Events a Modest Success

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One of the largest technology trade shows in the world, the Computer Electronics Show (CES), which takes place every year in Las Vegas in January, announced in late July that it will be going virtual in 2021.

And while this has become the standard operating procedure in light of COVID-19, a recent IDC survey found that when the pandemic created the need to move in-person events to virtual meetings and conferences, consumers were looking to replicate their in-person experiences in the virtual world. Most event organizers failed to deliver.

Some of the most common activities at live events are engaging in conversations, socializing, networking, and exchanging business cards. At virtual events, attendees want to pursue similar activities by posting to social media, interacting with other social media handles, and exchanging LinkedIn addresses.

IDC found that nearly half of all attendees at virtual events engage using social media, compared to just 16 percent at in-person events. But few event organizers actively facilitated this kind of attendee interaction, with less than half of the events offering live chat to ask questions of speakers or for audience interaction.

“Live events are an important source of information for attendees, and this is a function that organizers can handle very well with live streaming and content downloads,” says Wayne Kurtzman, a research director at IDC. “But an equally important reason to attend these events in person is the opportunity to meet and network with other people. Organizers still have some work to do here to deliver an experience that will be equally beneficial to a remote and distanced audience.”

The sudden shift to virtual events produced mixed results in terms of attendance, according to IDC. While slightly more than half of events lost audience in the transition, 46 percent gained attendees. Removing travel requirements and audience familiarity with video presentations worked together to keep event attendance largely intact.

Overall, about half of the attendees at these virtual events were neutral on their experience, more or less getting what they expected. But nearly a third indicated that they had a better experience than expected, with some stating they had a better experience than an in-person event.

Event organizers also largely saw virtual events as a success, based largely on attendance, but downloads, revenue, and audience engagement also scored well. Overall, nearly half found their virtual events less expensive to produce than in-person events.

When asked what could have been done better, event organizers and attendees both identified engagements during the event as one of the top areas for improvement, along with audio quality (organizers) and the need for closed captioning (attendees). Both groups also identified networking events as something that needs further attention.

“Looking ahead, virtual events are people’s new real-world events,” Kurtzman says. “To succeed, make sure attendees have easy ways to engage with each other, the organizers, and speakers. Use platforms that were meant for the purpose and prepare the platform, your social team, and support teams. Finally, make the impression a good one with video, lighting, and audio and usable, authentic content.”

An unrelated study from Future Market Insights predicts that the demand for virtual event platforms will surge exponentially.

The analyst firm expects the most growth among platforms that enable attendees to connect and schedule appointments with sponsors, presenters, and exhibitors. Additionally, collection of registration data helps virtual event organizers gain actionable insights.

In the coming years, virtual event platforms are expected to collect copious amounts of attendee data that will be used later for identifying the prominent consumer sentiment.

“Virtual event platforms and services are proving to be astute solutions that enable end users to host events and interested attendees to stay connected. A high demand for these solutions is being observed in countries highly affected by COVID-19, as key players are offering price relief for end users whose events got affected due to the stringent lockdowns,” Future Market Insights concludes in its report. 

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