What Are Hybrid Events?
If you’re not living in a plastic bubble- well, actually even if you are- you’ve probably been hearing a lot about hybrid events. The term “hybrid” has an uncannily futuristic sound and may strike people as just another fleeting trend in an ever-changing industry. But alas, it’s not. For all intents and purposes, hybrid events have increased in popularity over the last several years- and they’ve played an integral role in the industry throughout the pandemic. But before we talk about why they’re here to stay, let’s review the meaning of the word hybrid.
Hybrid refers to a person, place, or thing that has two different types which perform the same function. Therefore, hybrid events can be experienced both in person and remotely; it has both live and virtual features. Here’s why they’ve become a thing.
Hybrid Events Cater to Attendees
We all know that personalization is one of the most vital components of experiential marketing. People want to feel as if events are tailored to their highly specific needs and desires. Hybrid events give attendees the option of attending in person or experiencing it remotely, from the comfort home or wherever they are. Thus, they have the potential to reach more people and increase attendance rates.
For example, a corporate professional development conference may be mandatory or optional. Let’s say you’re offering a course of a full day of sessions related to learning how to use a new event technology. People want to stay on the cutting edge of the industry as it reinvents itself to meet the needs of a post-COVID society. However, the pandemic is still persisting, and many people can’t or won’t leave their homes to attend a conference. Furthermore, travel is restricted, and in-person events have capacity limits due to social distancing policies. There’s only so much revenue and overall value to be gained from hosting an in-person corporate event right now.
However, let’s say that your event includes a product demo, and you really want to give attendees the option to interact with your new product directly. You feel you can do this safely via small breakout sessions that happen in different rooms. Depending on your audience, attitudes are very split about in-person events during the pandemic. It’s not uncommon to find people who still want to attend live events and people who don’t within the same demographics. At this time, one of the best things you can do is give your attendees the option to choose for themselves. By creating a hybrid experience, you give them the opportunity to attend the event in a way that feels comfortable for them.
Let’s use the product demo example. For this example’s sake, let’s suppose you are offering a product demo of a new event technology. AI software is becoming more popular and less expensive, and there are plenty of programs that allow consumers to interact directly with a product online. Your in-person attendees don’t have to be the only ones who get to give your product or technology a test drive. And with video and audio features, breakout sessions can be equally as interactive online as they are in person. With today’s technology, hybrid events bring live and virtual guests together for sessions as well. Live streams and video chats allow both remote and in-person attendees to communicate directly with each other.
But Will They Still Be Relevant in a Post-COVID Society?
You may be saying, “Well, that’s convenient during a pandemic, but will it hold water when we return to normal?” In a word, yes. Think about it. The event industry will resume, but its new normal will look different than the old one. Transitioning to mostly virtual events hasn’t been cheap; while losing revenue from cancelled events, companies still had to invest in new technology to create high-quality experiences online. Even some large companies have been operating on a deficit. Budgets have drastically changed, resulting in a shift in direction. Converting at least partially to virtual experiences is generally more cost effective for event profs.
Many event businesses have stopped hiring general managers and started using specialists to create virtual experiences. It’s not uncommon for companies to hire production specialists and event technologists instead of event managers. After all, the current focus is tech, and staying competitive in a post-COVID world means mastering it.
Virtual Experiences Have Become a Touchstone
There’s no doubt that tech is sustaining this industry. In isolation, companies have worked to improve live streaming and video conferencing, and they rely heavily on it. With this new emphasis on production quality, businesses have learned a lot from trial and error. People have become heavily reliant on technology that allows us to work from home. What’s more, we’ve collectively turned to the internet as a primary means of connecting to loved ones and the world.
Internet Usage is Steadily Increasing Across Age Demographics
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 32% of Americans said they have had a virtual social gathering or party- and that was back in April, when the lockdown was first in full swing. One-in-five Americans say they have live streamed a concert or play via the internet or an app. With gyms, fitness centers, and some public parks still shut down, 18% of Americans report that they’ve participated in an online fitness class from home. Let’s not forget that most college campuses and primary schools have shut down or at least partially transitioned to online classes.
Let’s look briefly at demographics. While we rightfully expect age to play a part in internet consumption, the current reality is that usage has increased for all ages. Yes, young adults are more likely to have participated in virtual gatherings- but not by a lot. About half of adults ages 18 to 29 report that they’ve had a virtual gathering because of COVID-19. Compare that to the 39% of adults ages 30 to 49, and you’ll see that the difference isn’t overwhelming.
In fact, social media usage by non-Millennial groups has increased significantly over the last decade. While the portion of Millennials who report using social media has remained about the same since 2012, social media usage has increased by 10 percent for Gen Xers, Boomers, and even Silents in that time.
Education level impacts internet usage significantly- we know this. While 48% of Americans with a bachelor’s or advanced degree say they’ve attended a virtual gathering due to COVID-19, just 30% of people with some college experience say the same. And just 19% of Americans with a high school education or less say they’ve attended a virtual gathering as a result of COVID-19.
The point of all this? Internet usage and proficiency is generally increasing. It would thus stand to reason that more attendees have an interest and ability to attend events with virtual features. Yet hybrid events don’t limit them to virtual-only experiences; they provide an option, which is something that is universally appreciated.
The Event Industry is Collectively Geeking Out
It’s true. The industry has collectively used this pandemic to expand its technological expertise. Virtual and hybrid experiences are more immersive and sophisticated than ever before- and we’ve found that they reach broader audiences.
Also, most people in society have been living in two worlds for a long time. In one of those worlds, we interact directly with family, friends, and co-workers in person. In the other, which consumes a large portion of our day, we communicate in a digital world via social media, email, and other digital means. Event professionals spend a significant amount of time in the digital space daily; they are in near-constant communication with venues, vendors, and clients, ect. According to Statista, in 2019 the average daily social media use of internet users worldwide was 144 minutes per day. The average daily social media usage of North Americans in 2020 is approximately two hours and six minutes.
But we all know people who use social media even more than that. And social media usage only accounts for some of the time people spend on the internet daily! What about emails and work-related interactions? The point is this: The need to integrate in-person and online experiences is not new. People have been trying to balance time spent in person and time spent in the digital space for a long time. As technology continues to advance, people are expected to spend even more time online. Hybrid events give busy, overworked people an option to experience events in a way that is comfortable, convenient, and cost effective for them. And if some attendees can’t make the event remotely or in person, they can stream it later at any time.
The Future is Hybrid
This is a strong statement, but our prediction doesn’t come without merit. As society reopens, budgets will be tighter, and events will be smaller and more targeted. But according to research done by Bizzabo, 90 percent of event marketers plan to invest in virtual events moving forward. Less than a quarter of marketers have invested in such events pre-pandemic! That’s big news.
But let’s not forget that the same research highlights the importance and resiliency of in-person events in society. According to Bizzabo, 95% of event marketers agree that in-person events will return. Virtual events are improving greatly, but at the end of the day, they’re no substitute for the connection we feel when interacting in person. That’s why so much data indicates that the future is largely hybrid- and we agree.