Social distancing guidelines have forced events, conferences, and schools gatherings to convert to virtual, prompting the consideration about how these in-person gatherings will return to a “new normal” in a post-pandemic world. But, if we look closely at the virtual events space pre-pandemic, this large shift to remote may have been coming regardless, and the social distancing guidelines simply accelerated the transition.

Live Streaming Has Been on the Rise Since 2018

Since Facebook and Instagram launched live streaming, individuals and companies alike have taken to live webinars to engage with their audiences virtually. In 2018, a report from Nielson found that 42 percent of the U.S. population had streamed live videos, whereas in 2017, only 25 percent of the population had, signifying a rise in live stream usage. It paid off, too. According to Marketing Profs, Facebook users comment on average ten times more on live videos than they do on regular videos. Live content drives conversations and acts as a hybrid between pre-recorded content and live interactions.

Individuals are consuming more videos online than ever, too — and prefer that the video content they consume is live. Forrester noted that individuals watch live-streamed content for an average of 10-20 times longer than pre-recorded content. This creates a tremendous opportunity for events companies who were forced to cancel or reschedule their events this year to transition to virtual and still establish engagement. And, with the shift to virtual, more exposure is available, too. Whereas choosing a city for an event may have been difficult in the past because of traveling needs for hopeful attendees, location is no longer a factor when it comes to virtual events — creating a significantly larger audience potential, which can lead to an increase in sponsorship deals, too.

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How Events Are Going Virtual Now

In addition to live-streamed webinars and conversations on the major social networks, events are going virtual on other platforms, too. One app, Fiesta, quickly pivoted its business model due to the changing needs propelled by the pandemic. Fiesta was originally created to be a live events aggregation platform, but has shifted entirely to offer virtual events through video conferencing, making it the first app for virtual thematic parties, classes, meetups, and workouts.

Event organizers can create and share a link to their attendees within thirty seconds, and attendees can RSVP and join in when it’s time for a party or event to start. While on the app, the attendees can browse events by category and jump between these virtual events and parties. A user could attend a workout class, a friend’s bachelorette party, a cooking class, a hairstyle tutorial, and a celebrity DJ’s virtual set all in one evening.

Fiesta is not only making it easier for users to find engaging events and activity while at home, this app is also helping businesses reach potential new customers without the need for direct marketing. By hosting an event on Fiesta, entrepreneurs are exposing themselves to all of the users on the app without the need to out an invite to a Zoom session or create a Facebook event that then needs to be promoted in order to get people to attend the workshop or class. Once a session is over, the recorded video of the session can be shared on social media platforms as a piece of marketing material, similar to how TikTok videos can be saved and shared on other social media platforms.

Other apps for online conversations and gatherings have been used more than ever, too – such as the ever popular House Party, which grants a video call capability with up to eight people in a ‘room’ at a time. Facetime app Squad offers the same, but also allows screen share so teams or families can watch videos or play games together.

Other online events have ditched the live stream feature to be available for longer periods of time and accommodate multiple time zones, asking speakers and panelists to pre-record their talks via video, and to have attendees maneuver through the sessions and talks in a format akin to an online course. The shift to virtual events on the whole has been quicker than expected, simply because the appropriate technical infrastructure was in place. And, event attendees needed little explanation as to how to tune in to the now-virtual events. Simply put, they already had the practice from years of tuning into webinars and live streams.

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Fully Remote or Hybrid?

Because events are presently still fully remote, there’s questions as to what the future of events will look like, when social distancing guidelines ease. While it’s still too soon to tell for sure, John Capano, Impact XM’S senior vice president of client development, has a guess. Capano recently shared with USA Today that he believes there will be a hybrid between remote and in-person events, in which the main event will be hosted at an “HQ,” with a livestream available at satellite locations to decrease the density of people in one events space.

This hybrid is one way to increase the accessibility of events despite location and the need to travel. Time will tell if this model will prove to be sufficient, or if given the choice, people prefer the live interactive experience of an in-person event. Event Forte noted a number of reasons why in-person may be preferred, such as the science of body-language, the ability to deepen interpersonal relationships, and the lack of distractions that the average consumer is usually privy to at home.

Regardless of what’s coming, event organizers must be ready to adapt and have contingency plans for all possibilities. Because virtual events require a higher level of engagement to keep the attention of hundreds to thousands of satellite attendees, even the contemplation of how to go virtual can help an event’s overall level of quality. Today’s event space reflects a transition that has been coming for years, that was simply accelerated by present circumstances.