WTF are NFTs and how do they apply to events?

Charlotte Flach Charlotte Flach Editor, C&IT
WTF are NFTs and how do they apply to events?

NFTs are big news in the digital world at the moment, but what are they and how do they relate to events?

The hype around NFTs is growing. As the status and value of NFTs rockets, the event industry is starting to pay attention. 

Conversations about how event professionals can start incorporating them to build engagement are cropping up in online spaces. From ticketing solutions to swag bags, should event planners be taking a closer look at how to make NFTs work for their events?

WTF are they?

NFT stands for ‘non-fungible token’ and refers to a digital asset. Fungibility is the ability of one asset to be directly traded, swapped, or compared to another. On the other hand, a non-fungible asset cannot be directly compared to another non-fungible asset. 

Elliot Hill, Director of Communications at Verasity, explains how a real world example of this is a piece of art. “Superficially, a painting from an amateur painter is the same type of asset as a Picasso painting—a piece of art. But there are clearly unique features, such as the artist and style, that make the two non-comparable in any meaningful sense.”

The other defining feature of an NFT is that, because it is completely unique, it can only be owned by one person. “NFTs can also be used to represent a host of other assets which can be considered non-fungible, such as deeds to digital or physical property, music and video licensing, or unique in-game items for the digital gaming economy,” says Hill.

Are they just a fad?

Event tech is now inseparable from the idea of events themselves. But planners need to be careful not to incorporate them purely to look cutting edge or on-trend. Many delegates are still getting to grips with the multitude of digital and hybrid platforms, so this could end up being another layer of confusing tech.

The thing that makes them attractive are their multiple applications. “NFTs have broadly applicable uses, and they aren’t limited simply to digital collectibles or items,” says Hill. “We could also introduce programmability into NFT-based tickets, for example, resale rights or limitations to prevent ticket scalping or reselling.”

But in the events world where many advanced ticketing platforms already exist, and the idea of reselling or forging a ticket doesn’t really apply, what other uses do NFTs offer?

There are opportunities to use NFTs to build community or increase engagement however. One of these is around networking, which so far has been an impossible nut to crack in the digital space.

“In the events space we could definitely explore the issue of unique NFTs that provide access or special bonuses during an event,” says Hill. “These could be easily programmed through smart contracts to accommodate VIP tickets or different types of event entry.”

7 ways to use NFTs at events...

Exclusive experiences: The appeal of NFTs is conferring status on the owner. Tying them to an exclusive experience, such as access to an invite-only area with key influencers or lunch with a keynote speaker, can offer delegates a sense of industry recognition, promote engagement in an employee, or make a valued keepsake which will keep the event in the person’s mind after it has ended. 

Verifying credentials: Members of professional organisations might want to authenticate their credentials, especially if the event purpose is client or employee education. Attendees can display digital badges on their profiles, which is also helpful for facilitating networking or creating a sense of community in hybrid and virtual spaces. More exclusive events could use this as a motivator for sign-up by requiring these digital badges for registration.

Employee incentives: Many employees would have received recognition and celebration through invites to exclusive social events and activities pre-pandemic. NFTs could be used to gift exclusive access to a community in a metaverse space or offer “face-time” in a hybrid or fully digital event for top-performing employees.

Swag bag gifts: An NFT swag bag can offer tokens that are redeemable for physical objects like drinks or for digital assets, especially if the value is set to increase over time. The NFTs would likely need to have some form of name-recognition value however, as a swag bag with NFTs based on sponsor logos won’t necessarily surge in value after the event ends.

Tickets: Event organisers could use NFTs to allow ticket holders to transfer their pass to someone else in advance of the event, which might be useful if the original delegate can’t make it anymore but the company still wants to send a representative. Another suggested use is being able to update attendees about changes to event information as it happens, which is especially important in pandemic conditions.

Gamification: One sphere in which NFTs are set to become the norm is in the gaming world, offering a sense of competition to win an exclusive and unique asset. NFT-based tickets for exclusive experiences can be integrated into gamification at hybrid events, also adding opportunities for connection and engagement between the two audiences. 

Virtual land ownership: This could be in the form of virtual desk space in an office shared with top professionals, a community of specialists, or an elite group of vendors or sellers. The most useful application of this in the events world would seem to be in the exhibition space, where exhibitors could pay sponsorship or higher fees to occupy premium virtual space.

What are the downsides?

Although there are some potentially useful applications of NFTs to events, there are quite a few considerations that don’t work in their favour.

Firstly, they are not a very sustainable option. There is a significant carbon cost when NFTs are produced or ‘mined’, taking away from event net or zero carbon goals. The cost of mining them can fluctuate wildly, meaning that there is potential to save some money, but it’s a risk that can turn out to be expensive. 

There’s also currently a potential to lose out on valuable attendee data if they are used for ticketing, rather than using an event platform which tracks these analytics. 

Finally, there’s a  security issue if the NFT is resold, for example one which gives access to an exclusive experience. In an era of concerns about digital safety, an NFT-encoded invitation could spell less security, not more.

Ultimately, an NFTs' value is in scarcity and uniqueness - if event planners can harness these concepts successfully, they might just be on to the next big thing.