Virtual Events and the Power of Anonymity
More information is always good… except when it isn’t
Digital events are deeply social experiences – they work best when attendees have every opportunity to share their interests, respond to content and interact with each other. Not only does such information sharing benefit end-users, but it also allows event organizers to better understand their audience, make adjustments to content and drive higher ROI through lead generation. This win-win situation has resulted in an industry-wide push to create events that capture as much information as possible since this benefits both attendees and event organizers.
However, as the digital events industry continues to grow and mature, there are several factors that should make event organizers pause to consider the level of information that they collect from attendees. First, as the digital events industry reaches critical mass, attendee expectations regarding privacy and data control are going to increase in importance. Second, there are several scenarios in which event organizers could achieve better attendee interaction by creating a sense of anonymity amongst users. If the key industry players are proactive, tomorrow’s digital events will capture the information needed for customization and ROI generation, while giving users the control and (where necessary) anonymity that they deserve.
Taking an attendee-centric view of privacy and data control
As the industry has expanded, many digital event companies have highlighted attendee profiling and analysis as key benefits to prospective event organizers. They argue that by providing deep profiling, both on an aggregate and individual attendee level, they can help their customers to increase pipeline velocity and generate leads. At the same time, very little attention has been given to the level to which attendees may or may not be comfortable with their information being collected. Specifically, while many attendees are comfortable with their explicit information (profile, name, etc) being shared, they would be uncomfortable with their usage information (chat sessions, comments, etc) being made available.
If other online services are an indication (and I believe they are), a time will come in the near future when attendees demand more control over the information that they provide and how it is stored and used. Rather than waiting to face a backlash from attendees, digital event providers should act now to develop and deploy the tools that are necessary to give users control over their information. In other words, for the sake of themselves and the industry, digital event providers should put as much focus on giving attendees control over their information as they do on providing event organizers with tools to sort and analyze relevant data.
Why anonymity is good… some of the time
Digital events are based in part on the implicit assumption that more data is better – when attendees profile themselves, participate in online conversations and extend their experiences into social media, everyone wins. However, there are several cases when anonymity may actually enhance the digital event experience for both attendees and event organizers. For example, if one of the goals of a particular digital event is to collect customer feedback regarding a new product line, giving attendees the ability to provide anonymous feedback may result in more accurate responses. Likewise, employees are often less likely to provide candid feedback to upper-management if they know that their manager and peers will see their comments. The point here is not that anonymity is always good; the point is that it may be good in certain situations. As a result, the decision regarding which data to collect should be a conscious one and event organizers should not simply default to the “more is better” perspective.
Profiling, trust, and the future of digital events
Digital events leverage attendee data to create customized experiences that delight attendees and event organizers alike. However, as the industry expands and our ability to capture, store and analyze attendee data improves, it is in everyone’s interest to give end-users the ability to control their own information. Doing so proactively will only serve to increase the level to which attendees are willing to participate in digital events and the amount of information that they are willing to provide.
Join the conversation. Agree with me? Good. Disagree? Even Better! Tell me why…
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