Since the onset of COVID-19, the cancellation of many longstanding trade shows and industry events like Mobile World Congress, E3, and SXSW have dominated headlines—leaving many to question what the future of these traditionally in-person events will look like.
Industry trade associations, in particular, have faced unique financial pressure when adapting their events strategy, given that 27% of these organizations’ revenues come from meetings/trade shows, surpassed only by membership dues at 45%.
To help trade associations and similar event organizers adapt their events strategy, let’s explore the latest data on how trade association members feel about attending in-person events. We’ll also discuss three common challenges that industry organizations face when creating new virtual or hybrid event experiences.
How Trade Associations Have Adapted Their Event Strategies
Although it’s uncertain when in-person events will regain their momentum, 70% of respondents in a study from Innovatis Group, a leading association management, and engagement company, listed two top factors for when they will be comfortable with in-person events:
- A significant drop in COVID cases
- Widespread vaccinations
Restrictions like social distancing and smaller group sizes will play a smaller role, according to that survey.
Understandably, in light of these sentiments, the same report found 85% of organizations will increase their investment in virtual events over the next year to address the hesitation to join in-person events. Additionally, 72% of associations plan to create new forms of non-dues revenue, including educational opportunities available in a virtual or hybrid setting.
Three Hybrid or Online Industry Event Challenges and How to Address Them
As more industry trade organizations explore virtual event opportunities to regain lost revenues from their canceled or delayed in-person events—and provide new value for their members—many teams will face a common set of initial planning hurdles.
When planning your next virtual or hybrid industry event, ensure your team fully explores these areas:
Challenge 1: Creating value for members in a virtual setting
First and foremost, your team needs to understand how it will create value for your event attendees. What do they hope to gain from the experience, and how can you deliver sessions, content, and networking opportunities to meet these needs?
We recommend you survey your members ahead of your virtual or hybrid event to learn what they hope to gain from the experience. Seek to understand how comfortable your members are at the prospect of in-person gatherings, what challenges they face, and what resources they need to succeed.
As you learn what your attendees expect from your event, your team can better tailor its goals to assess whether your event was successful.
Challenge 2: Transitioning an in-person event to a virtual event
Even if you have a clear understanding of what your association members hope to gain from your event, all teams are challenged with transitioning an in-person event to a virtual setting.
Overcome this hurdle by designing your event to be entirely virtual, and then add a complementary in-person experience (if your pre-event survey suggests your community would like an in-person component) around it.
Planning online-first will help your team map the various connections (or disconnections) within your event experience. Ensure there is a seamless journey for your attendees, from when they first hear about your event, register, join your event, and later access its replays—all while keeping networking and cross-platform engagement opportunities front and center for everyone.
Challenge 3: Creating value for event exhibitors and sponsors in a virtual or hybrid setting
Keeping your event exhibitors and sponsors happy is vital to ensure long-term event success. If exhibitors or sponsors fail to see the value in partnering for your event, they will likely stop supporting your activities, limiting the potential value for your attendees.
Spotlight your exhibitors and sponsors throughout your event experience to maximize their ability to engage with your attendees. Use social media to highlight sponsored sessions, coordinate raffles and giveaways to generate excitement, and incentivize your attendees to visit the virtual exhibition hall or exhibitor showcase during your event.
As with your attendees, it’s critical to survey your event sponsors and exhibitors to understand what they hope to gain from the experience and ways you can best partner with them for the event.
Why Your Virtual Event Platform Matters
By addressing each of those three common challenges, your team can more effectively design an event that can replicate the value of your in-person experiences—potentially surpassing your pre-pandemic success.
But there is one final challenge that can make or break your virtual industry trade show experience: poorly designed event technology.
Many event platforms were built immediately following the pandemic, attempting to cash in on the rush to virtual platforms. Or, they are legacy tools designed purely for conference calls that event planners hastily adapted for large-scale events. The result? Overpriced tools that fail to meet your attendee needs—confusing user interfaces, garbled audio, and an inability for people to actually engage.
We’ve built Social hour with the features that your event attendees need, all in an incredibly easy-to-customize interface. Learn more about why Social hour is the ideal platform for hybrid or virtual industry trade association events.