Downloading content and viewing webcasts most common virtual event activities

In-person events and conferences afford attendees an escape from the office to network, catch up with old colleagues and keep up on industry trends. But it can be difficult—and often expensive—for some professionals to take time out of their busy schedule.

Virtual events, which can include online gatherings like trade shows, conferences, webinars and seminars, provide professionals access to industry news, research and other industry professionals and suppliers—all from the comfort of the office.

Marketers are investing in virtual events. Econsultancy and business analytics company SAS found 52% of companies worldwide will increase virtual event budgets in 2011. An additional study by virtual events firm Unisfair showed 60% of respondents reported similar intentions.

But marketers looking to justify their virtual event spend by measuring performance with traditional event metrics are overlooking the heavy emphasis virtual event attendees place on collecting content and information—and not necessarily business contacts.

MarketingProfs and virtual events provider ON24 found that although the majority (71%) of virtual event attendees visited a virtual booth—a cornerstone of traditional event networking—only 20% exchanged contact information with an exhibitor. Even fewer (17%) exchanged contact information with other attendees, and less than half (45%) used a networking tool like private chat to communicate with others.

Actions Done in a Virtual Event Environment According to Virtual Event Attendees in North America, March 2011 (% of respondents)

In contrast, 77% downloaded materials like white papers and resource guides, 74% watched a live webcast, and 55% watched an on-demand webcast.

Quality content matters to virtual event attendees: MarketingProfs and ON24 found 61% of attendees had never paid for a virtual event, but they would pay to attend a virtual event if the content was compelling enough. Content-related criteria like agenda and content tracks were most important to those willing to pay for attendance. Networking opportunities were the least important.

Factors that Affect Willingness to Pay for Virtual Events According to Virtual Event Attendees in North America, March 2011 (% of respondents)

Marketers who look to align their content offerings closely with the conference agenda and keynote sessions are likely to generate a greater number of content registrations and downloads.

These content-generated leads might require additional nurture and need a longer sales cycle than in-person event prospects who have already engaged with someone at the conference or show and expressed interest by stopping by the exhibit. Marketers must take care to consider these two factors when measuring their virtual event performance.

SOURCE eMarketer