Virtual event fatigue: 62% have joined online events this year… and they want less of it, not more

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With physical and social distancing, new working environments, and much uncertainty, the world is rapidly transforming into a ‘new normal’. The interactivity between design, content, and audience engagement is evolving, especially after months where remote experiences dominated how brands, businesses, and people connected. The screen became both a window to the world and our stage for workplace video calls, Zoom social events, online-only live concerts, and virtual summits.

Before the pandemic, the apparent desire for more interactions across digital platforms led to emerging technologies from major brands. For example, Facebook launched Watch Together to let users view videos remotely in Messenger with friends. The consumer craving to make digital content more interactive with peers led to a plethora of joint video consumption app features with streaming platforms like Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Twitch introducing their new offerings in 2020.

In response to the Coronavirus threat, forward-thinking brands implemented strict health rules to manage infection rates and minimise the risk at events. Many companies moved their events to digital forums while others outrightly cancelling or postponed their events. For instance, Salesforce reimagined its event ‘Dreamforce’ in response to the rapidly changing situation, going from 15,000 in-person attendees to 80K viewers of the virtual conference. Adobe MAX, the software company’s annual creativity conference held online for free. Some of Africa’s most prominent fashion show and entrepreneurs had to adapt by going virtual and streaming to a global audience.

In other cases, event planners came up with ‘hybrid’ meetings – part live and part virtual. But it didn’t take long for many events to be made wholly virtual. For event coordinators and brand managers, last-minute changes and crises such as speaker cancellations, long registration lines, lousy internet connection, and other sudden challenges are not strange but in comparison to the pandemic, it has proven far easier to manage.

The Question

While audiences remain motivated by the need for connection, an influx of virtual events and more time on video for regular work duties, more and more people have come down with mild to severe cases of Virtual Event Fatigue. The novelty of virtual experiences wore off pretty quickly as screen fatigue coupled with stay-at-home orders and a crippling virus challenged audiences to remain engaged. Sitting through several presentations with chatbox questions, technical difficulties, and the unavoidable “I think you’re still on mute, [insert name here]” has people hesitant for more screen time.

A recent study revealed that attendees are engaged for only 53% of virtual sessions while engagement and networking are still the top challenges that virtual event organisers face. While Nigeria currently battles a new wave of the Coronavirus, brands and businesses that depend on virtual experiences have a significant opportunity to keep audiences engaged.

We asked our national focus group about their experiences with virtual events and whether they preferred them to physical events.

What The Streets Are Saying

“Experience – that’s what consumers are looking for. It doesn’t matter if it’s a networking, brand, or educational event,” says one of our culture experts in the social sector. “As an event organiser, can you give them something to talk about when they are with friends? Do you have new information they can share with their colleagues? Can you provide them with an experience they will never forget? Many organisers have made the mistake of relegating this new opportunity into a Zoom link and a bunch of PowerPoint presentations. People will get bored and move on relatively quickly.”

“Brands cannot ignore the appeal of physical events that quickly. People need the chance to interact and have exciting conversations over drinks or dinner,” said another expert. “You cannot create that feeling over the Zoom app, but you can become innovative in driving interaction. Just within a short time, Clubhouse is grabbing millions of users every week because of a built-in social environment and dialogues. If we can’t replicate the appeal, we have to invest in improving online audience participation, even at virtual events.”

The world is witnessing massive content innovation, and many more people are spending more time online that ever before. How can brands use such rising online presence to address virtual event fatigue?

“Brand cannot be disconnected from their events. It has to be an extension of how it resonates with its core audience and should be customised to the brand personality,” said a community manager and culture expert. “If you examine the transition of Verzuz, what we initially saw as just live battles have transformed to become the celebration of music and black culture. You enjoy the music, the conversations, comments, and reactions, liquor, jewellery. From every product brand involved, it’s also a collection of branded experiences that they all offer – Ciroc, Apple Music, Verzuz, Spotify. This makes the event feel more considered, refined and ensures it is compelling for everyone.”

Insights on What The Streets Are Saying are drawn from data collected through in-depth interviews and surveys with our 500-member consumer panel spread across the country, including 100 culture insiders, who are all leading thinkers and doers across media and marketing.

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