Virtual event explosion spawns data hotbed

With more event participants interacting from behind their screens, experts say now's time for the industry to get in on data learning. 

New digital footprints can reveal which booths, networking connections and speakers are valued by individual event attendees.
New digital footprints can reveal which booths, networking connections and speakers are valued by individual event attendees. Photo Credit: Getty Images/dowell

The future of events may involve robot speakers, or even attendees receiving handshakes through Haptic Gloves and Oculus headsets, participants at the recent IBTM Wired learnt. However, such projections seem a long way from the immediate reality of Covid-19.

In the here and now, data and “contextual intelligence” are the technological enablers that matter to the industry.

“With physical attendance, typically one data metric is used. Now, digital hybrid events are giving us richer data, and engagement can be computed,” said Karen Bolinger, Managing Director APAC, The Professional Convention Management Association.

Instead of doing surveys, which may not capture the most representative feedback, organisers can now know with greater certainty how much time people spend watching certain speakers, for example.

New data gleaned from virtual event interactions could help organisers measure the quality of events, attendee sentiments and engagement, Bolinger remarked.

The million dollar question today is perhaps whether onsite events will have the same relevance to attendees as they once did. Answers to this, once again, might well be in the data.

“[We wonder] if attendees still think it’s worth paying for tickets or getting on a plane to attend an event. Data can help us understand the community. This is what the new model is — how we interpret data and use it to guide conferences and events going forward,” Bolinger explained.

Beyond pointing the industry in the right direction, there are also opportunities for companies to personalise the event experience for attendees and benefit from targeted marketing.

FMCG and e-commerce companies have long been collecting massive amounts of data through personal devices. Now with a surge of event participants interacting from behind their screens, the MICE sector is facing a similar data hotbed and personalisation opportunities.

The recommended items section at the bottom of Amazon pages drives almost 30% of the revenue for the e-commerce giant, Ayesha Khanna, Co-Founder and CEO of ADDO AI, shared. This is the outcome of data learning based on "likes and dislikes on social media, sites they’ve visited and items they’ve purchased".

Khanna implored event companies to imagine how that would translate in their industry — the ability to trace attendees’ digital footprint to what booths they have visited, who they see as valuable networking connections, and other revealing interactions.

In turn, individual attendees can benefit from a more meaningful event experience. “People allow you to take parts of their digital existence and you can begin to give them a more personalised experience at an event. You can change exhibitions dynamically, indicate speakers, [glean information on] whether speakers are effective. This all is now possible with more attendees attending events through their device.”

“[Research and advisory firm] Gartner predicts that by 2022, our personal device would know more about our emotional state than our own family would. Everything you do is on that device. You send e-mails, speak around it, and [give apps permissions] to access your camera,” Khanna pointed out.

Of course, opportunities in data always present the personalisation-privacy paradox. By giving away information about themselves, users lose some privacy but also gain personalised experiences. The good news is the new generation of digital natives tend to embrace personalisation, and welcome the most relevant products and content recommendations.

Khanna said: “Generations are evolving. Marketeers are all talking about generation alpha. They may not be attending events now, but they will be. They are fundamentally different digital natives… [who] will come up in a very different world. Digital natives need things that are meant for them, and are used to their surroundings being personalised.”