New hybrid event formats promise a much more flexible and personalized experience when it comes to how and when attendees consume content. What might this look like as events continue to evolve?
Conversations about personalization within the attendee journey generally relate to features such as segmented communications, personalized schedules, and more qualified matchmaking.
However, hybrid events — which will likely become the norm in the near future — are poised to usher in a whole new level of personalization when it comes to how attendees consume content.
There is still much uncertainty around what hybrid events will look like and the best practices for engaging hybrid audiences, but it's already clear that they offer new personalization opportunities. Hybrid events already give attendees the option between in-person and virtual, but this is only the beginning. Newly-enhanced event apps are merging with event platforms to provide much of the same functionality in a mobile-friendly format, adding an unprecedented ability to experience the event on the go. This furnishes attendees with the ability to experience events how they want, when they want, and where they want.
But what impact will that have on the event design? The industry has yet to form a consensus about whether hybrid requires planners to design separate event experiences; will event planners now be expected to design content programs around three delivery formats?
The Next Phase of Personalization
With the spike in demand for virtual event solutions since the pandemic began, many virtual platforms have already enhanced content personalization options with on-demand content that attendees can engage with on their own time.
As many event apps are now essentially extensions of virtual event platforms, attendees can expect to find such features available on their mobile device or tablet as well. In fact, according to recent EventMB research on event app offerings, 87 percent of event apps currently offer on-demand video as a feature, and this will likely continue to increase in 2021.
This means that attendees will be able to access event content in a significantly more flexible way, and it applies to live content as well — EventMB found that an overwhelming majority of event apps (89 percent) now include video live streaming, while 60 percent allow for the live stream to be recorded via the app.
When it comes to networking features, 68 percent of event app providers offer mobile and desktop-friendly group messaging, allowing attendees to interact with each other from the device of their choosing.
The potential for apps to provide even more avenues for attendee engagement is clearly on tech providers' radars — with leading virtual event platforms such as Cvent promoting native event apps as a way of "engaging attendees on the go" — but it may also present some issues for the industry.
The Learning Curve of New Event Formats
Generally speaking, offering attendees more personalization options and allowing them to choose the event experience that brings them the best possible value is certainly a positive thing.
However, from the perspective of event planners, it may be daunting to consider the thought of additional modes of consumption — after all, the shift to virtual has overall been very reluctant, with planners needing to reskill and adapt to new demands, and there still isn't a clear consensus on exactly what planning a hybrid event entails.
That said, translating content from virtual platforms to mobile event apps is much less of a jump than going from in-person to virtual. Content that is produced for the virtual audience should already be optimized for digital consumption, and event apps are able to display that content in a mobile-friendly way.
Mobile engagement may also play an important role in future 365 engagement strategies — whether planners want this or not — given how much time people spend on their smartphones and how important mobile has become to marketing strategies.
An event app would presumably be made available to virtual and onsite attendees by default, but people who prefer to consume the event on the go via the mobile app may fall into a third attendee category. In some ways, the different formats for engagement people choose will depend on their priorities and levels of interest, and on-the-go would likely attract the least engaged group. For example, if the format encourages coming and going from the event and mainly viewing on-demand content, it may not make sense to lump them in with the virtual audience that's present and actively participating live.
As such, there may be something to be said for new business model concepts that account for the additional online reach and allow for capturing those with a more passive interest in the content, like additional ticket tiers, subscriptions to on-demand content, and more things to monetize in sponsorship.
The extent to which these factors will impact event strategies will of course be driven by attendee preferences, which will become more clear in the coming months.
The arrival of hybrid events will give attendees more options to customize their experience than ever before. For starters, they will be able to choose whether to attend in-person or stay remote, and event apps will take personalization to the next level by allowing them to access event content on the go from mobile devices.
Attendee preferences in terms of content consumption still largely remain to be seen, but the ability to view content and engage with event communities on event apps certainly represents another huge potential shift in the way we conceive of events moving forward.