The value of virtual

The value of virtual

We would all love to believe that come the summer, our lives will go back to pre-COVID ways, with us heading straight back to live events, conferences, packed sports games and full arena shows. In reality, this past year has fundamentally and permanently changed the way events will run. Jake Ward, Business Development Manager at Groovy Gecko, web streaming and webcasting specialists, talks about the impact and value that virtual events can bring to brands, sponsors and audiences, and why brands will have more success with their physical events by using a hybrid model.

The pandemic forced businesses to engage their audiences, who have been confined to their homes for months on end, in new ways. As the pandemic lengthened, Groovy Gecko felt the pressure to help their clients stay front of mind and relevant in a rapidly changing world, and this is where our expertise in virtual events took centre stage.
It’s no secret that there has been much debate over the last year about the value of in-person events versus online as the world adjusted to online meetings, events and entertainment. This ‘new normal’ has not only demonstrated the huge opportunities that live streaming and virtual can create for brands, but also what happens to those who choose not to adapt.

Lots of the approaches being used are not entirely new. Groovy Gecko has been in the industry for over 20 years but there is no doubt the current conditions have accelerated the uptake of virtual experiences. Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen a marked increase in the perceived value of virtual, enabling traditional in-person events to succeed online. Even when travel restrictions and social distancing are no longer, intelligent brands will need to adopt a hybrid physical and online events model to deliver maximum impact.

There is no doubt that in-person events will always have their place, but now is the time, as lockdowns begin to ease, for organisations to consider hybrid models. The majority of event organisers we work with won’t be going back to solely physical events. Why? Because we’re solving many of the problems that come with both physical and virtual events and delivering cohesive and interactive events for both the real world and online audience.
Below are some of the key benefits that virtual provides to businesses and brands.

Breaking down barriers

By offering an online element to your event or conference, you are making it accessible for those with both distance and physical limitations. Most events have a geographically diverse audience even if only appealing to those in the UK, so it is likely they will need to travel further to attend physical events – creating a barrier to participation. By offering a virtual option to your conference, you’re also making the content accessible to anyone who may have health conditions, for whom a two-day physical conference is too exhausting.

Virtual content lends itself well to engaging with those who speak other languages. Multi-language and sign language interpretation is cheaper to do virtually with remote translators, making content accessible to a wider audience and creating a more inclusive environment. We’ve worked on events that have incorporated this and they’ve seen huge increasesm not only in attendance, but also in questions being asked in multiple languages. Powerful translation technology enables questions to be translated easily to the host language and back, enabling maximum participation.
Capacity limitations can be significantly mitigated with online or hybrid events, as there are fewer or no restrictions on how many people can attend. If a physical event is at full capacity, offering an online attendance element ensures more people can participate, benefitting sponsors, exhibitors and attendee networking opportunities alike. The fear from organisers that they will cannibalise their audience is generally unfounded – in our experience venues remain full while the online audience grows.

Expanding the conversation

Engaging audiences in the run up to events and giving them taster content is really impactful. For example, conferences can share a wide variety of content including case studies, talks, best practice videos and presentations before the event as on-demand content to prepare attendees for what’s to come and expand their knowledge.
On-demand sessions can make the attendee experience more flexible, allowing them to schedule content between live sessions. Choosing a virtual platform that offers personalised, self-selected agendas ensures attendees get the most relevant information and the best value possible.

With virtual, there’s greater flexibility as speakers or event VIPs who can’t attend in person or are unavailable for the event dates can host remote live sessions or pre-recorded presentations, making the quality of content and speakers higher.

Interactive elements

The last thing anyone wants right now is for events to feel like Zoom calls. We always prioritise making events feel like something that has been highly produced, featuring interactive tools to make them feel different from the day to day. These include things such as live polls, Q&As, personalised agendas, sessions that change on the fly based on audience feedback and even gamified elements like engagement scores with leaderboards.

Increasingly, gamification techniques are being used to reward attendees for getting involved in events, like creating a competitive environment to drive people to engage. We’re currently building a virtual conference for a client which gives people points for watching on-demand videos, taking part in polls and asking questions, with the top 25 most engaged audience members getting exclusive access to an after-show networking event with high-value speakers and VIP partners.

Greater ROI for sponsors

At a recent online conference, around 94% of the audience watched sponsor video content between sessions. Rather than being traditional ads, these short pieces of content comprised of thought leadership and case studies, ensuring they were of interest to the audience. This is a huge pull for sponsors wanting to get in front of their target audiences and demonstrates that having breaks during your virtual event doesn’t drive attendees away.

Adding tangible value to sponsors is key to hybrid events – defining ROI in real world events beyond attendees going to a sponsor’s stand has always been a challenge for events managers, but advertising and sponsorship space online is actually far further reaching than at physical events.

This is especially true when considering large conferences, where it might take 20 minutes to walk from one end of the venue to the next among hundreds of people – some attendees may never see a sponsor booth. Offering a striking online display that looks good, is interactive and has unique features like a live chat box or video appointment-booking system makes for an enjoyable experience for the attendee while adding value for sponsors.

Better statistics mould better events

It’s much easier to measure and analyse online events compared to traditional in-person events. We can see exactly how long people spent watching, what they clicked on, and what was most popular – all enormously valuable measurements for organisers. We can see which parts haven’t been as popular as others, meaning organisers can adapt in real-time, as well as improve the content for future events. At multi-day events, we’ve had success with feedback provided on days one and two, helping shape content on day three – this real-time adaptation enables organisers to really listen to their audiences and tailor future content to their needs.

Our experience has shown online feedback forms are completed by around 25% of attendees, whereas hand-written forms are completed by less than 10%. Instant online forms that pop up straight after an event provide an easy way for attendees to share their opinions and contribute to evolving the event.

With the above points in mind, we must emphasise that we’re not contemplating or even suggesting that all in-person events turn virtual.

People will always enjoy attending in-person events with a buzzing atmosphere and the opportunity to meet and network with people face-to-face, but by utilising the available technology to get the best of both worlds, businesses and brands can maximise engagement, making their hybrid events more impactful and far-reaching than ever before.

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