Half of future B2B events will be completely virtual and “pandemic-proof”, finds LinkedIn research

45% of future B2B events will be completely virtual, according to new research from LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network.

The study of 200 B2B event organisers in UKI finds 72% of businesses will maintain virtual events in the long term and 77% are interested in organising hybrids. In fact, businesses’ future event mix will be 32% physical, 45% virtual and 23% hybrid. Given £31bn a year was spent on UK B2B events pre-pandemic, this suggests the virtual events industry in the UK could be worth £14bn a year.

Budgets are expected to reflect this change immediately as investment in virtual events will be three-times more than physical ones in the next 12 months. The research also finds that a third of event budgets (29%) will be spent on virtual platforms in 2021.

When asked why they plan to continue organising virtual events, the top responses included that they’re pandemic-proof, cost effective and they give global access to content without travel. This is not surprising given UKI B2B event organisers described 2020 as “challenging” (63%), “a learning experience” (62%) and “frustrating” (40%).

The majority of event organisers (88%) arranged a virtual event, webinar or online talk last year. Data from Linkedin’s own platform shows that LinkedIn Live streams increased over 400% year-on-year and LinkedIn Live broadcaster increased nearly 500%. In fact, in December, 12,000 events were hosted a week with a combined half a million attendees. By pivoting this way, 81% of organisers say virtual events provided opportunities that would not have had otherwise.

One brand which successfully moved an event online is the Nudgestock behavioural science festival. When the Covid-19 pandemic ruled out hosting the festival in its traditional seaside setting, Ogilvy Consulting saw an opportunity to transform its reach and role. The festival became a marathon online video event, bringing together experts across time zones for 15 hours of free viewing. Streaming sessions on LinkedIn Live enabled Nudgestock to generate over 120,000 views and register over 35,000 sign-ups.

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy said: “We didn’t want to settle for a compromised version of the festival we would have had before Covid-19. We made a conscious decision to go huge on speakers, scale and geography and we’re ecstatic with the results. It shows the potential of LinkedIn Live for delivering quality business TV – it’s given us the equivalent audience of a San Siro stadium or a Melbourne Cricket Ground and it will change the way we conceive of Nudgestock going forward.”

However there have been challenges as 50% of event organisers have experienced budget cuts meaning 44% believe they are now running their events more cost effectively​. 71% believe virtual events offer a greater return on investment than physical events.

With cuts, event organisers are faced with a dilemma of where to invest. The data shows the proportion of their budget will go towards the following expenditures: virtual event platforms (29%); advertising using digital tactics (19%); advertising using traditional marketing tactics (11.5%); hiring speakers (11%) and professional expos or trade shows (11%).

83% of event organisers are planning to upskill to match their virtual event ambitions: 43% would like more technical knowledge and 41% want to add better networking and socialising capabilities.

Tom Pepper, Head of Marketing Solutions UK, Ireland & Israel, said: “The B2B events industry will not return the way we know it. Businesses are reflecting what their employees are demanding and that is less time travelling and spending time away from home. This means more virtual and hybrid events. And this research shows budgets are following suit.”

“The big question for event organisers is what does a successful hybrid event look like? As a new concept, there will be a period of trial and error as businesses find what works for them and participants.”

To help people who are looking to find new opportunities in events and upskill, LinkedIn has launched free LinkedIn Learning courses to develop in-demand skills by accessing nearly 1,000 hours of free learning courses from Microsoft and LinkedIn at opportunity.linkedin.com.