Meetings

Study Dispels Myths About Virtual Events

By / Nov 21, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

A study that looked at “hybrid” events—those with both virtual and in-person components—sheds some light on how virtual events appeal to attendees.

For associations concerned that offering people a way to attend events virtually may hurt their in-person attendance, a new study provides some reassurance.

A survey by Digitell, Inc., looked at why professionals attended virtual events and how their virtual participation affected their likelihood to participate in person. The results of the survey—which included more than 100 respondents who had recently attended a virtual event—dispel some common myths, Digitell says. Chief among them is that by offering a virtual version of a face-to-face event, an association will lose face-to-face attendees.

“The biggest myth in offering a virtual extension of your physical meeting is that it will cannibalize your attendance,” said Steve Parker, Digitell’s vice president. “This survey showed that 83 percent of the virtual attendees had no intention of attending the physical event, demonstrating that the virtual audience is a completely different market and a new market for associations to tap into.”

Virtual events actually drive participants to attend physical events, the study found. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they were inspired to attend the physical event after attending the virtual event, and 68 percent said they had attended or will attend the face-to-face event after participating in the virtual one. Twenty-five percent said they definitely would not have considered attending the in-person event before participating in the virtual version.

Ninety-four percent of virtual attendees said they were likely to attend another virtual event. This positive response means the industry has reached “the point where the virtual experience is positive enough that it is a viable option for anyone running a conference or meeting,” the study points out.

“Another myth is that virtual events are for those that came in the past and couldn’t come this year,” Parker said. A large part of the virtual audience is “made up of attendees who have never come to your event and therefore represent a great marketing opportunity for new attendees and new members.” Eighty-three percent of the virtual-event participants said they had no prior intent to attend the face-to-face event, and 43 percent said they had never attended the face-to-face event before.

Virtual events often provide continuing education credit, but the study found that they are not a primary reason people attend virtual events. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they received continuing education credit for participating, but 51 percent said the credit was not their motive for participating.

“I hope these results demonstrate that virtual events are not something to be afraid of but something that should be embraced, as they represent a great opportunity for associations to reach new markets of people, expand their international efforts, drive new revenue, and drive meeting attendance,” Parker said.

Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. More »

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