5 Mins

How can virtual events compete in the attention economy

Article banner - interaction at a virtual event against large social media (TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube)
Article banner - interaction at a virtual event against large social media (TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube)

As we discussed in our previous article about Social+, the fight for consumer attention is fierce in the age of TikTok and ML-powered recommendations. So fierce that, despite the benefits virtual events have to offer, they are still missing out. In this article, we explore why virtual events aren’t achieving their full potential and outline how event specialists can more easily attract and retain their ideal audiences.

The battle for attention  

The pandemic saw the rise of virtual events, and for good reason. There was no other option! Being stuck at home and desperate for human connection, people put up with clunky platforms and average user experience. Sponsors also moved to virtual events, partly because their event budgets had already been approved and they didn’t have much choice.

Fast forward almost three years, and, despite the high numbers of attendees and sponsors, there are still a lot of challenges associated with virtual events. Attendees who want to connect with others (and c.70% claim they do!) are struggling to find relevant people while scrolling through endless directories. Sponsors who have paid a lot of money (speaking from experience!) are placed on a web page with dozens of other sponsors. The result? Almost zero traffic. Would they come back for the next one? Probably not!

And the actual event content? Even when it’s good - and a lot of it is - why would you, as an attendee sit for hours in front of your computer to watch a session that you can see on demand and at your convenience later on, with the option to speed it up and skip forward, if you don’t get the value of interacting with other attendees and speakers about the content?

When the CEO of one of the world’s biggest event platforms acknowledges that virtual events aren’t living up to their potential, it’s a sign something has to change. And when industry leaders say audience engagement is the biggest challenge when it comes to virtual events, followed by interaction, it’s clear virtual events are losing in the battle for attention. Low attendance and even lower engagement then negatively impact sponsor satisfaction and revenues. So it’s no surprise that event planners and attendees are excited about the return of in-person events!

The value of virtual

But let’s pause for a moment. The challenges of virtual events don’t wipe out their many advantages over face-to-face events. Virtual events have a huge place in a post-pandemic world, thanks to some incredible benefits, such as:

  1. Reach: People from all over the globe can attend from the comfort of their own homes or offices, as can top-notch speakers.

  2. Accessibility: Virtual events are more accessible and easier to navigate than real-life events. Superlinked’s team recently returned back from Web Summit 2022 in Lisbon. We spent hours in all sorts of queues - for entrance, cloakroom, food, and achieved record step counts, as the conference halls were spread over a distance of 1.5km. Fine for us, but not everyone can cover those kinds of distances.

  3. Sustainability: Consider the environmental impact of 70,000 attendees travelling to and from Web Summit, often on planes – and that’s just for one event! Virtual events are significantly more sustainable.

  4. Data: Virtual events have the power to generate vast amounts of valuable data about attendees and sponsors - their interests and their behaviour at the event. That’s much harder to achieve for real-life events.

Event attendee experience from pre event until post event

Every user interaction with the platform before, during and after the event generates valuable data

So virtual events can deliver immense value to organisers and attendees (and the planet), but this potential often goes unfulfilled. For example, those hugely useful troves of data provided by virtual events? Organisers aren’t taking advantage of them. Yet that data can enable event platforms to provide a highly personalised and relevant experience to keep users engaged and interested, and event organisers an opportunity to better understand their audience and ensure that the next event will be even better.  

To quote events experts in the 2022 Event Technology Insight Report:

"Supporting exhibitors and sponsors in a virtual format has been a challenge. Virtual exhibit books were a decent fallback, but we know that they don’t deliver enough value in most cases, especially if in-person is an option."

"There’s a lot of emerging tech that excites me, but I think I’d be even more excited if we could find better ways to use some of the tech we already have. If Netflix can recommend shows based on what I’ve watched before, why can’t my virtual congress platform recommend sessions based on what I picked last year?"

Imagine an event platform that understands you the way TikTok does

What if event platforms could understand each attendee to a similar depth as TikTok? And what if they could then provide as a minimum, relevant networking recommendations, a recommended agenda, content relevant to the person’s interests, and the opportunities to engage in public conversations with other attendees and speakers right there on the platform - instead of having to leave and go to Twitter or LinkedIn? By not doing so, event platforms, and, as a result, event organisers, are losing out in the attention economy and leaving far too much money on the table…

Attention ROI increases with personalization maturity.

Event organisers are leaving money on the table by providing a non-personalised experience

This is where Superlinked can help. Because we’re leveraging cutting-edge technologies to provide personalisation-engine-as-a-service, making event platforms and virtual events more engaging and relevant.

Here’s how it works: 

  • Superlinked ingests user registration information, enriching it with third-party data if needed, and helps platforms personalise the experience from the very first user interaction.

  • Once users start interacting with the event platform, we also collect information about user’s interaction with the event platfom, such as sending a connection request, attending a session or clicking on a piece of content, and update the user models in near real-time.

  • By the time the user goes to the next session or searches for the next attendee to connect with, they will already see updated recommendations based on their interests and behaviour!

The takeaway

Virtual events offer enormous potential for attendees and organisers. But, to compete in the attention economy, they need to learn from TikTok’s success and become much more relevant to users’ stated and implied interests. With Superlinked's Machine Learning-powered user modelling infrastructure on their side, event platforms and event organisers can drive business results by delivering personalised content, agendas and networking recommendations, before, during and after the event. Learn how to make your event irresistibly relevant here.

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From upcoming events to industry insights to useful online resources, each month we’ll share everything you need to help make your community irresistibly relevant!