With hybrid and virtual events making themselves indispensable and evolving fast, the key points of differentiation for organisers will shift into the data management arena, writes Michael Jones.
Following the industry-wide havoc wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual events have become vital to the industry’s survival. Yet, with the signs of a vaccine-driven fightback against the pandemic, the return of ‘normal’ in-person events is nearing, albeit that return is unlikely to be to the old normal.
Sjoerd Weikamp, publisher of Eventbranch.nl, believes we need to use the digital for hybrid moments during live events and, says: “If we don’t apply these tools but simply go back to the old normal, it would be a waste of a crisis”.
This logic sparked the industry’s whirlwind romance with hybrid events, events that combine an in-person experience and a virtual experience. Mark Rackley, partner, and chief strategy officer at PAIT Group, a digital transformation consultancy, suggests the benefits of such an approach are three-fold. Firstly, hybrid is more accessible. Secondly, as it is streamed live, virtual attendees at a hybrid meeting are forced to be more interactive than during a pure virtual event. Finally, hybrid events can be more cost effective than solely in-person events.
Significantly, AV provider MB4 productions suggests these benefits are supported by increased audience reach through hybrid meetings, as well as the ability to solve space limitations.
The approach is certainly evolving exponentially: UK headquartered Live Group says it has seen a 200% increase in clients wanting a longer-term strategic partner in the virtual and hybrid space.
However, a survey by Identity, a UK-based global production agency, found that 4/5 people remained keen to return to live, in-person events, which illustrates the in-person element of an event remains critical to success.
One development associated with this new status quo is the enormous amounts of analytics available from each virtual event. This means organisers need a data management strategy to analyse whether their event is successful, cost effective, and, in contrast, which areas of the event may have wasted resources. This process of effective data management allows organisers to create feedback loops to streamline the format and execution of their virtual and hybrid events.
The proof of the power of data continues with Eventforce’s study showing 74% of organisers now use data to define their event’s success, and 73% of organisers believe the collection of data is vital for their future event success.
Significantly, data is not only important in defining the attendee experience, but also how event organisers can attract sponsors for their events. Eventsforce also suggests that two-thirds of organisers use data to create more detailed post-event reports, the kind that sponsors are demanding.
Toby Lewis, CEO of Live Group, says: “The advancement of technology has given event organisers unsurpassed insight into the preferences and behaviours of their audiences. This has helped to drive smarter decision-making and determine event ROI. Our digital capabilities can immediately gather data on which content is maintaining the most sustained engagement, or which topics are gaining the most traffic across different demographics and geographies. Organisers can then prioritise this type of content in upcoming hybrid events, driving a cycle of continuous improvement.”
Lewis adds: “Tech advancement also allows organisers to interact with their audiences in real time and use this data insight to inform the content of their events as they unfold. Additionally, by combining online and offline data collected across the lifespan of a hybrid event, event organisers can get a complete picture of the delegate journey. In doing so, they can capture and calculate the value of sales leads using contact-sharing and engagement scores, and automatically track how their attendees navigated through each session. This maximises the engagement potential of their hybrid event in the immediate moment.”
However, while the utility of a data management strategy appears to be understood, it does not mean creating this strategy is a simple matter. Firstly, running virtual events is making data management a lot more complicated according to 50% of event organisers responding to Eventsforce’s survey. Also, 34% of event organisers feel they do not have the time or resources to do anything useful with all the data they collect, the survey found. This underlines how creating an effective data management policy is not only difficult but becoming more complex with the increased involvement of virtual.
Paradoxically, while data management appears to be getting more difficult to effectively coordinate, its importance is increasing. Eventsforce’s study shows that 82% of event organisers feel a good data management strategy is going to become even more important for them in the future.
Lewis argues: “Leveraging data is a key component to business growth across all industries. Organisations must listen to their audiences, particularly as we emerge from a pandemic that has fundamentally changed social behaviour.”
“Data insights from events and marketing activity are crucial for ensuring that businesses can plan future content that is both compelling and relevant to their audiences. Digital analytics are key informers to the creation of marcomms strategies that build upon the expressed interests of their intended consumers, and thus are more impactful than traditional campaigns. If organisations successfully collect data that is tailored to support the objectives of their business, they will have a head-start in enhancing their brand through meaningful engagement. Any businesses that don’t gather such insights risk being left behind,” he concludes.
There is certainly no sign that this trend will reverse. While the appetite for live, in-person events remains large, Live Group suggests that their event briefs have moved from 65% regarding in-person live events, to fewer than 5%. This increased focus on the virtual aspects has been accompanied by tech goliaths, such as Microsoft, a company valued at over US$1tr, entering the events market with concepts such as Microsoft Mesh, a communication and collaboration virtual platform. With LinkedIn, Cisco and PE houses investing into the virtual events sphere, it is difficult to see any reversal of the trend.
On the positive side for event organisers, indications are that they have become receptive to this trend with Eventsforce showing that 73% of planners are taking steps to improve their data strategy. Within this, 46% are investing more time into data analysis to remain as competitive as possible.
Mayank Agarwal, CTO at event platform Hubilo, tells CMW: “It’s absolutely critical that event organisers have a data management strategy that maximises the data that organisers get from every event.”
Agarwal adds: “The most important consideration for an effective data management strategy is to understand what you want to measure. Too many event organisers measure vanity metrics like the number of logins and registrations, but this doesn’t tell you how good an event is. For us, we believe that engagement is the best measure for the attendee experience – knowing which sessions were most attended and provide metrics on the number of total unique views, video replays, total unique replays, how many users liked each session, and how many made notes per session.”
Additionally, some government funded schemes have developed to aid companies in their tech-focused transition. In the UK, the Treasury announced a ‘Help to Grow’ initiative, which offered £520m of funding to SMEs intended to assist them in improving their digital technologies and training associated with it. Following the pandemic, Singapore’s ministry of finance announced grants equivalent to £258.92m to support businesses in their digital transformations. Qualification for these measures includes the SMEs Go Digital programme, which aims to assist SMEs in the adoption of new technology.
While some actors within the events industry have been embracing this tectonic shift, it is not universally prioritised, and those organisers stuck in stasis will face a real existential threat to their future.
Finally, if organisers are convinced they need to move fast to introduce slick, modern data management systems, then there is another question looming. Who owns that data? This is a big question in its own right and another hot topic the industry must address.