It’s no secret that virtual events have officially emerged from obscurity and are becoming a new norm in the event industry. As tech personalization gets more sophisticated- and more affordable- remote participation is becoming more immersive. In an experiential culture, no one wants to miss out, but almost everyone’s too busy to attend all of the events they want to go to. Virtual events are a way to feel connected from the comfort of home (or work or transit).
A recent Marketing Profs survey reported that 80% of respondents prefer a livestream to a social media or even a blog post. (When the in-depth and interactive nature of my blog, that’s significant). Videography was one of the top promotional trends of 2019, and 2020 is taking it further with more live-streaming and complete virtual events.
So yeah, you get the picture. Virtual events were a thing in 2019, and they’re even more of a thing in 2020. But what specific trends should you be paying attention to? Here are the top five you absolutely need to know to thrive in this year’s experiential market.
1. ATTENDEE TRACKING IS BECOMING MORE STRATEGIC
With virtual events, it’s much easier to quantitatively measure event performance. It can be extremely challenging to capture data during live events because people are engaged in face-to-face contact and physically moving about. Yes, virtual events should include the same level of personalization, and give attendees the freedom to go back and forth between speakers and other content. But it’s easier to digitally incorporate polls and surveys into group chats and discussions. You can use your creativity to make them an immersive part of the content rather than an annoying, ad-like interruption.
No one likes to have their session interrupted by a seemingly random survey that asks them about their experience. Attendees will think, “Maybe if you let me experience it rather than asking me about it before it’s over, I’d have a much better time.” So instead, engage with your attendees. Include pools and surveys about the specific topics they’re interested in. For example, if you include polls in breakout sessions, you’re asking people about things they’re interested in- not just general information that feels commercial and contrived. And it’s a win-win, because as the personalization trend expands in 2020, the information you need is more specific than ever before.
Virtual events give you the ability to quantitatively measure event performance while it’s happening. When people engage with different content, they’re leaving a digital footprint. Knowing exactly what content your different attendees engaged informs the personalized content you follow up with. Follow-up has always been important to keep your attendees engaged, but now the content you send should be much more personalized. It should be based on the interests they expressed and the content they engaged with during your event.
Registration is also an opportunity to gather information about your attendees’ individual interests and preferences. The registration process should be brief and smooth, but ask for detailed information and include a few open-ended questions to learn more about your attendees.
Tracking demographic and psychographic profiles, interest level, and activity over time helps you develop niche audiences. Don’t just look at what content users engaged with; also track how long they stayed and whether they came back, as these are good indicators of event performance.
The key takeaway point is that today’s data-driven marketing strategies are based on measurable value, not generalization. And the only way to glean that kind of detailed, personalized information is to interact with attendees. Virtual events are a great way to connect more often and reach a much wider audience.
Live events and face-to-face connections are just as important as ever; the goal is not for them to fade into obscurity and the industry to be completely taken over by tech giants. Tech personalization doesn’t take the place of human interaction, which is what experiential marketing is fundamentally about. The goal should ideally be to combine person-to-person interaction with tech to create smooth, immersive experiences. This keeps virtual events from feeling too mainstreamed and less personal.
2. LIVE STREAMING IS BRINGING REMOTE PARTICIPATION TO LIFE
Let’s face it, most of us miss many events we want to attend because we don’t have the time or energy to physically be there. With augmented reality, there’s a new way to be part of experiences without physically going to events, which saves time and money. Live streaming makes live events accessible in a way that feels more immersive than remote. Smartphones have more capabilities than ever. Social media platforms have unique sharing features that allow users to interact with a remote audience during live events. Podcasts go live and take questions and answers.
With virtual events, you’re potentially reaching audiences that wouldn’t otherwise go to a public event. Remote participation was practically tailored to introverts, who like to have more control over the agenda at events. It also eliminates the need to travel for interested attendees who would not have wanted to or been able to spend the time and money on getting there.
3. GROUP TECH EXPERIENCES ARE BECOMING MORE POPULAR
Technology frequently takes the heat for creating a more remote, less connected society- and sure, it’s partly to blame. But virtual reality also creates opportunities to connect that wouldn’t otherwise be available in a fast-paced lifestyle. You can leverage this by facilitating group tech experiences in which people consume content together on their own time.
For example, you can offer a series of films related to your niche, and people can watch them together online. Use live 360-degree video that enables remote audiences to connect. If you’re trying to upsell a new product, create a contest in which people can participate remotely.
Perhaps the most essential element in any virtual event or group tech experience is the ability to share it. The only thing most millennials value more than quality experiences is sharing them! Make sure your virtual content is easily shareable and likable across social media platforms. Remember, thousands of influencers and artists have made their careers from posting and commenting on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and other content. Musicians have started million-dollar careers by posting videos and cultivating a following on YouTube and on social media.
Although the reasons behind it are different, people still want to see and be seen. They want to feel belonging in their world through connections with people who share their interests- but many times, they’re just too busy. A fast-paced lifestyle that relies heavily on technology can be exceedingly lonely. This has led to a connection crisis, and since technology is a big factor in the emphasis on productivity over quality of life, it often bears the brunt of the blame.
But you can make positive use of the technology at our fingertips by creating immersive, personalized experiences that remove the physical barrier to connection.
4. AI IS DRIVING ENGAGEMENT
People are catered to by technology in their daily lives. This means that they expect even more tech personalization from the events they attend- virtual and otherwise! It’s pretty safe to say that voice technology is becoming the new norm in daily life and at events. Gone are the days when voice assistants simply spat out directions and answers to “yes and no” questions. Now they make suggestions based on engagement. For example, if an attendee asks where a specific vendor is, the voice assistant might suggest a special breakout session or service provided by that vendor.
Furthermore, enabling voice assistants to read badges gives them the ability to be of maximum help. The current AI focus is less on answering questions and more on performing commands to make the attendee experience run smoothly and optimally.
5. MORE EVENT BUSINESSES ARE INVESTING IN EVENT TECH
It’s true. But how does that translate to event tech companies becoming more accessible, affordable, and user-friendly? The problem is cyclic in nature; event planning companies need affordable tech personalization, but much of it is too expensive. Yet if there are no large-scale investments, newer tech companies can’t grow to provide more affordable services.
Still, as the demand for personalization increases and the industry becomes more competitive, event planners spend more and more money on technology. Although the rate is not exactly ideal, tech companies are growing and merging. Reliance on huge corporations for all technology is a pervasive problem in this industry, and consolidation is imminent for many companies that can no longer stand alone. The problem with this is that large corporations can afford to charge what they want for technologies, especially coveted, emergent ones. As an event planner, the best way you can work against this trend is to purchase from startups and new or local entrepreneurs. The more the event industry collectively invests in small businesses, the more widely accessible technology can potentially be.
6. APP INTERPRETERS ARE GROWING REMOTE AUDIENCES
In the not-too-distant past, many event businesses opted out of virtual events to avoid money on remote translation services. Simply put, they’re not always affordable. 2019 was a big year for electronic translation services. These programs allow translators to be available through an app during virtual events. Needless to say, communication is one of the most important parts of user experience. If the content was hard for them to access or understand, it doesn’t matter how much they might have otherwise enjoyed it. As audiences become broader and more diverse, your technology should, too.
The benefits for you as an event planner are obvious. Apps don’t require hourly payment, which can become expensive quickly. There are also no travel costs for them, which eliminates even more expenses.
7. THERE ARE NOW DOUBLE THE AMOUNT OF MOBILE APPS THAT EXISTED IN 2017
Take a minute to let that sink in. The implications for marketers and event planners virtually endless, no pun intended. With so much going on on-screen even at live events, remote participation takes on more importance than ever. And apps have more functions than ever: They facilitate check-ins, assist, and interact with attendees throughout live and virtual events. They also allow businesses to track event performance throughout events, providing valuable feedback in real time.
Speaking of event apps, we’re soon to be launching what we expect to be the most immersive social media tool of 2020. Although event apps peaked in popularity over the last few years, they are not without universal flaws. Facebook events are so disorganized, the algorithm so convoluted, that users get lost in the chaos- and event planners need a special formula to leverage events with any success.
Meetup is great because it organizes face-to-face experiences, but unfortunately there are some pretty big issues with the app. For one thing, many Meetup Events become obscure before they happen, or go inactive altogether. Although meetups can naturally be shared on social media, the app doesn’t facilitate a way for attendees to talk to each other in the weeks or days before an event. Thus, interest can fade as questions go unanswered and excitement dissipates. And for event planners, there is no real way to target new users, and no way to track who actually showed up to a Meetup event.
But enough about what can go wrong. Aptly named Plans, our app suggests events based on the shared interests of you and your friends. We’re well aware of how challenging it is to find events you like on the crowded internet- never mind find the time, energy, and money to go to them. That’s why our unique app takes the work out of making plans so you’re free to have fun. The Plans news feed populates based on content you and your friends genuinely find interesting. This way, your experience is much more personal- you don’t have to simply choose a broad category and sink or swim as you try to navigate thousands of events. When you sign up for an event, Plans will make it easy to chat with other attendees in the weeks leading up to it.
Plans isn’t just about finding new places to go in your city, but making friends and sharing experiences. It will also be easier than ever to share live photos and videos to Plans and your other social media. Our focus is not on the quantity but the quality and value experiences- just like yours. We’re looking forward to sharing its launch date soon, so stay with us for more Plans updates and all things event planning!