Virtual events have been taking off during the coronavirus pandemic, bringing with them a mix of relief and trepidation. If there’s one silver lining, it’s that attendance rates for virtual events have been multiples higher than their live counterparts. Here's what you need to know to capitalize on the increased reach.
The vast majority of events in the first half of 2020 have either canceled, postponed, or pivoted to virtual. For those who have successfully organized an online event, it is important to recognize what was done well and continue to leverage virtual strategies moving forward.
One of the major benefits of virtual events is that they offer the possibility of a much larger audience — attendees aren't limited by logistical, financial, or health-related restrictions to travel — and this advantage is going to play a major part in the viability of events even after lockdowns.
When Salesforce's World Tour Sydney was forced to pivot to virtual, there were 15,000 people registered for the live event. The virtual alternative attracted 80,000 viewers on the Salesforce Live platform alone. Similarly, the number of attendees at this year's virtual Pulse Everywhere event exceeded that of last year's in-person event by more than four times.
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While not all virtual events will necessarily experience a higher attendance rate, there has been a clear pattern emerging from the many online events that have taken place so far this year indicating that virtual attracts a much larger audience than live equivalents.
So, how can planners use this information to their advantage and capitalize on the increased scale that virtual events seem to offer?
Factors That Affect Virtual Event Reach
The recent notable increase in virtual event attendees can be attributed to the fact that most of the world has been on lockdown. There hasn't been an option to attend live events even if many wanted to, and people stuck at home have been consuming more content on the internet than they were before the pandemic started. Sites like Netflix and YouTube have seen double-digit percentage increases in their usage since late February and ‘are you still watching’ memes abound.
This trend has extended to events taking place online, and it's likely that lingering travel restrictions and safety concerns will continue to affect live event attendance, at least for the time being. While there are still virtual skeptics, even small-scale events have been noticing a difference in attendance rates since switching to online formats:
FWIW (W1=whatever) our total attendance for https://t.co/DO0eh99lpg in Miami was 350, our virtual event this Saturday is expected to host 3000, so 🤷♂️
— nick eubanks (@nick_eubanks) May 14, 2020
In addition, while virtual events can and should be monetized, the cost is almost always cheaper than it would be to attend a live event, especially when travel, child care, and other associated costs are considered. This is a clear incentive for people to tune in when they otherwise may have skipped the event altogether. It will be interesting to see how attendance rates are affected by attempts to introduce or increase ticket prices, especially as the virtual events shift into online components of a larger hybrid event.
How to Take Advantage of Higher Attendance Rates
For planners seeing increased attendance at virtual events, it's important not to take it for granted and instead consider how this phenomenon can be leveraged moving forward.
Even once live events resume, they will be different. Virtual will no longer be considered an afterthought or a nice-to-have, but rather a fundamental aspect of in-person events.
Virtual events could represent a rare opportunity to examine your business model and experiment with adding new verticals to your traditional event revenue streams — especially those involving the delivery and monetization of online content and community management.
Scale and Event Revenue
In our recent Managing the Virtual Experience online event, we emphasized the possibility and importance of delivering engaging and valuable experiences even to virtual audiences. Doing so is a strong argument for pricing virtual event tickets with confidence, and considering the increased attendance and lower production cost of virtual events, increasing the ROI substantially.
This applies not only to ticket sales, but also to other ways of monetizing content such as sponsorship or promotional offers. A swell of active viewer exposure can be an enticing prospect for sponsors if you can show that users are engaged throughout the online event.
Increased Audiences and Notoriety Potential
The increased scale offered by online events also provides opportunities for planners to build thought leadership and establish expertise on the industry or topics they're covering. Invest in platforms that allow you to integrate your audience within and after the event to ensure that their participation and interactions with you and your content are active rather than passive.
Taking Advantage of a Temporary Boost
Similarly, eventprofs should also capitalize on the ability to partner with influencers or other industry leaders for a virtual event as there are no costs associated with travel or lodging, providing the same value for a lower overall investment. This could be especially valuable for smaller or newer events that might find it challenging to secure, pay for, and accommodate top-tier subject matter speakers and influencers at live events.
In addition, more attendees means more people to foster connections and long-term relationships with — planners should use this time to create or expand their online communities in order to keep people engaged and interested in potential future events.
Much of the industry was slow to adopt virtual, and many planners may still be uncomfortable with the format, but it's becoming increasingly evident that online and hybrid events will need to become mainstays in order for events to remain relevant and profitable for the foreseeable future.
With increased attendance rates, virtual events offer planners a larger audience to engage as well as a higher potential ROI, which should both be leveraged now and used to inform future event strategies.