The year of hybrid events

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The Internet is having a massive impact on every business model in every industry, and nowhere is this more evident than in the events arena.

In fact, the principles of “the customer (attendee in our world) is always right” and “content is king” are taking on an entirely new meaning because of the power and boundless opportunities of the Web. As a direct result of rapid advancements in virtual event technology and creative branding, the hybrid model is gaining steam, and attendees can now choose how they want to experience an event's content.

Marketers are no longer faced with an either/or (virtual or physical) choice regarding events. Rather, marketers are now aggressively exploring the potential of hybrid events and have the ability to combine the best of both worlds to provide a truly unforgettable experience. This is taking their marketing and lead-generation programs to the next level.

By blending the physical and virtual experiences, marketers are able to combine the extended life and reach of content from a virtual event with the face-to-face networking of a physical event and thereby gain the benefits of both environments. This leads both to long-term learning and to long-term relationships, which last well after the event is officially over.

Today, there are primarily three different ways that hybrid events are used:

  • First, holding a virtual event just prior to a physical event allows attendees to get an overview of what's available at the show. In this case, all employees from the department can attend the virtual event and discuss what part of the physical event they would like to attend. The benefit is greater participation upfront, resulting in a more valuable experience from the physical event.
  • The second strategy is to hold the virtual event just after the physical event to extend its life and related content. Millions of dollars are spent putting physical events together and, when they end, that content is gone. Virtual events allow the content to live on indefinitely.
  • The third primary model is conducting the virtual event and the physical event at the same time. This is an ideal scenario, as it allows for the best of both worlds—including face-to-face interaction between participants in the physical environment combined with the extended reach and life of content in the virtual space. Particular attention needs to be paid to how to meld the two events using the best attributes of each to provide an integrated and rewarding experience for attendees.

For example, Cisco Systems held a virtual event for its annual customer conference, Cisco Live Networkers. After a keynote presentation at Cisco Live last year, the virtual event manager gave the presenter survey results and a list of questions the audience felt were not answered. The presenter was surprised and inquired about how the information was available so quickly. The virtual event manager explained the information came from the 4,500 people online. As a result, the virtual event team was able to set up a live follow-up Q&A session that allowed the speaker to answer the open questions later that day.

Overall, the hybrid event reached 14,000 attendees, of whom 35% of the in-person and 55% of the virtual attendance were first-time attendees. In a post-event survey of these individuals, 34% of virtual attendees said they were interested in attending future physical events.

This is a quick example of immediate benefits organizations are realizing by conducting hybrid events. There is no question that physical events are here to stay; however, within two years most successful physical events will have a strong virtual component, resulting in hybrid events becoming the norm rather than the exception.

In fact, attendance data confirm that virtual events increase traffic to physical events and vice versa. If integrated and marketed properly, each promotes the other. Virtual events give individuals who can't go to a specific physical event the opportunity to cost-effectively experience it, with a strong possibility they will visit in the future.

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