Salesforce has hailed its rejigged online-only World Tour event as a success which collected over a million social media impressions, in one of the early tests of the impact of coronavirus on the industry.

But research suggests event attendance is a huge driver of business for hosts and exhibitors and it is unclear if companies can recreate that dynamic through online events. 

80,000 people watched the livestream of Salesforce’s Sydney event on Wednesday, according to the company, which switched to online delivery this year rather than its conference format because of fears for attendees’ safety as coronavirus spreads around the world.

In addition to the livestream videos, Salesforce says it recorded 1.2 million “video views” across social channels on the day.

“We have been overwhelmed with the support and excitement shown for Salesforce World Tour Sydney Reimagined,” Renata Bertram, head of marketing, Salesforce ANZ said in a statement today.

“To have so many of our customers, employees and partners join us online has surpassed even our high expectations.”

A Salesforce spokesperson did not respond to questions about attendance expectations prior to the switch to online this year, which occurred just two weeks before the event, but said last year’s in-person attendance was around 10,000.

Coronavirus caution

Elsewhere, fellow technology companies are taking the same cautious approach. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Adobe, OpenText, SAS and Red Hat have all switched major global events to online-only delivery this year, refunding tickets for the planned physical event.

Tradeshows are a “critical” element of the marketing mix for technology and service providers (TSPs), according to Gartner, with its research showing those companies spend 15 per cent of marketing budgets on events, by far the biggest marketing program category.

Source: 2018 Gartner TSP Marketing Benchmark survey
Source: 2018 Gartner TSP Marketing Benchmark survey

“Events such as tradeshows and hosted (first-party) events afford TSPs the ability to engage with buyers firsthand and potentially accelerate opportunities,” Gartner analysts wrote in January. 

“Gartner research with technology buyers highlights that interacting with their peers and external influencers is a critical piece of the buying cycle, and events allow for that direct information exchange.”

Gartner is now advising companies to prepare contingency plans for cancelled events, including online delivery for hosts, and for exhibitors to shift event budgets to digital channels.

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