Simon Smith-Wright, CEO and co-founder of PUSH LIVE on why physical and digital events require equal care and attention:
Necessity is the mother of all invention, and the last two years have showcased the immense potential of digital events. While physically we have been isolated, digitally we have never been so well connected. As a result, brands, rights holders and businesses have had their eyes opened to the potential to connect with vast global audiences, instantaneously and seamlessly.
As we near the end of the pandemic, the future of events has forever changed. However, still the lure and power of physical events is strong and so, now, if digital events are to truly stand side by side with their in-person equivalents, event holders must ensure they create digital and hybrid experiences that are of equal quality and value.
The digital experience
It’s worth remembering that even before the pandemic, audiences at physical events were always online. Social media was flooded with images and videos from concerts, festivals and shows as people shared their experiences with their friends, family and followers. A strong digital presence was a good indication of the success of a physical event.
As the prevalence of digital-only or hybrid events continues to grow, event holders must consider how best to host each style of event. After all, the majority of a brand’s audience will be online.
Importantly, a digital event should no longer be an attendee or participant passively watching behind a screen: it’s vital that event holders create digital journeys that replicate an in-person experience. A digital experience that enables audience members to focus on a chosen aspect of their event, interact with fellow attendees and share their selected highlights is crucial to enhancing engagement. Virtual platforms that allow for this and give the audience a degree of agency and autonomy will enable event holders to realise the full potential of virtual and hybrid events.
Additionally, online events will need to consider how they can mirror the social cachet that comes with attending physical events. The use of social media among attendees to display this kudos is, as discussed, commonplace for physical events, but we’re yet to see this done as effectively with virtual or hybrid events. However, with the use of Twitch event badges or digital assets such as NFTs or POAPs, the prospect of creating a digital asset that gives audience members that same ‘I was there’ moment and social cachet as your exclusive ticket to an event is on the horizon.
Digital audiences: challenges & opportunities
Digital audiences are just a click away which removes the hassle and geographical difficulties associated with physical events. However, while convincing a prospective audience member to attend an event virtually rather than in person might be an easier task, keeping them there certainly isn’t.
A renewed focus on the quality and type of content provided is vital. The transitory nature of digital audiences requires attention grabbing and engaging content in order to give them the same variety that they’re used to from a physical event. A digital event is also inherently less immersive and involved and so the content must work that much harder to connect to help the audience delve into the experience.
The very nature of the digital world also means the likelihood of congregating your entire audience in a singular space or platform online is highly unlikely. Adopting a strategy that focuses on omni-channel distribution is crucial to drive reach and ensure you engage with all key audiences.
However, when executed correctly with creativity and strategic thinking, digital events can go beyond their physical counterparts. The fact that audiences are just a click away isn't just a hindrance but can be used to the advantage of digital events. The lack of physical constraints and barriers for attendees enables them to have greater autonomy over their experience. Instead of having to factor in walking time across huge event venues to reach the next show, they can switch between shows completely seamlessly and at their own discretion. They are also able to easily pick and choose the moments they want to see, creating their own highlights reel of content to be consumed live in the moment. This bespoke and hyper-personalised experience is one that is only available in the digital sphere.
Customisation is key
Physical events provide audience members with endless opportunities to experience and share their own journey, and it’s vital that digital events provide this, too. Every person that attends an event online needs to feel part of the narrative and empowered to both have their own experience and then share that experience with others. This ability for attendees to own the moment creates a powerful effect, where they’re fully engaged with a piece of relevant and personalised content that they are then sharing with their network on social, thereby driving the reach of the content and even more importantly to relevant and interested audience. This can only be achieved with customisation.
New tools enable event holders to curate a digital audience and truly understand each segment that will attend the event. This does not simply mean understanding their demographics but understanding their behaviours and preferences, too. This in turn, will allow event holders to customise their content to suit each respective group. With the tools and technology now available, digital events can simultaneously broadcast different versions of the same show to target certain audiences and enhance engagement. Events and rights holders can now empower their audience with this customisation to provide an experience that matches and even exceeds the very best that physical events have to offer.
Digital and hybrid events have huge potential to provide audiences with a unique experience built around their own interests, preferences and community. And finally, new technologies now provide the tools to not only understand digital audiences but also to reach these different groups in the places they feel most comfortable and create immersive experiences that put the attendee in control.