Cool New Marketing Technologies: Caught and Served

Do people really stay online all day for a virtual event?

asleep at the computer

Good question! Unfortunately, the answer is no, but they stick around for a lot longer than you would think.  Perhaps we should rephrase to, “How long do people stay online at a virtual event?”  Much better.   Recent data coming from events run by Unisfair show that users will stick around for between two and three hours at a time.  I’ve seen this first hand with the events we’ve run, too.  That said, there are a lot of variables baked into that generic number.

I sought to dig a little deeper into this question of how long virtual event attendees stay online and started searching furiously to find any data available.  Most of the data at this point is anecdotal and extremely varied.  When asked this question now my response is, “how long do you want them to stay online?”  Most people don’t really know how to respond to that and it reveals that they’re not really concerned with the actual data point, but more with the justification for cramming content into the event.  Herein lies the problem of context.  When your event is well planned and highly engaging you can expect people to stick around for the whole thing.  But do you really need them to?

When you’re transitioning from a face to face event structure to a virtual event structure, do you really need to replicate the amount of content in the face to face experience?  Think on it for a second because it will really make you dig for the actual goals of the event – your goals as the host organization.  The answer may be, “yes, we have 20 hours of content that every attendee must have access to because it is all critical information.”  How much of that information is really timely as opposed to “they just need access to it at some point?”

My point here is this: decide what level of engagement is required of your attendees for both you and them to consider it worthwhile.  We can’t expect people to sit at their desks and be engaged all day, so what should we ask of them?  What time of day is most appropriate?  What activities should they participate in during their block of reserved time to make it truly valuable to THEM as an attendee?  What do you need from them to make it worthwhile to you as the organizer?

Those weren’t rhetorical.  I really want to know… hit up the comments below and let’s hear it!

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4 Responses to “Do people really stay online all day for a virtual event?”

  1. Dennis Shiao says:

    Hi Steve – good points. For me, it’s totally reasonable to measure and report on “average attendee session time”, but as you suggest, the true value goes beyond the meaning of just that one statistic. It’s really about “quality vs. quantity”.

    For a lead generation virtual trade show, a 6-hour session with moderate amounts of activity may not be as meaningful as a 30-minute session in which the attendee visited 3 booths, chatted with 3 exhibitors and requested 3 price quotes. So as with a lot of stats, there’s often a layer of detail (and meaning) beyond the top line number.

    Dennis Shiao
    InXpo Product Marketing | Blogger at “It’s All Virtual”

    • Dennis – exactly. The perception of a quality visit needs to be defined up front. At a face2face event, a quality visit is measured by the fact that you registered for a particular number of days, so that’s the expected measurement. Online there is so much more to measure that it really warrants some pause to stop to think about what level of engagement is successful given the goals of the event. And simply showing up just doesn’t cut it.

  2. James Parker says:

    Steve, I would agree with Dennis, that the quality of an experience is far greater than the quantity. Therefore, when designing an online event, one should consider the end users experience and design it to fit into their schedule and allow for them to be able to conduct daily business while gaining access to your event. Scheduling educational sessions for 8 hours just doesn’t work.
    What concerns me is that we need to “WOW” the attendee with the engaging experience, at least for association based events, so that they are looking forward to the next event. We need to provide the user with a level of sophistication that enhances their experience and sets the stage for future events. Too many event organizers are looking for the easiest platform for their users and this may not be the right approach. Seeking the most engaging platform and allowing the users to have room to grow within that platform is crucial for the longevity of online activity. Boring them and not providing them with the feeling of “being at the event” does not lend itself to long term success. The online gaming industry certainly sheds light on the future of online business activity.

    • James, I agree with the “WOW” factor issue you present – on one side the traditional event marketers try to emulate the face to face event experience online, which never really works. The “WOW” online will come from web-centric features that provide value through functionality, not visual appeal. Understanding which features are most important to your audience is the hard part. Thanks for the comment, too!