The events industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a large proportion of events cancelled or postponed until later this year. After the initial shock that all event organisers experienced through cancelling their events, stopping all marketing activities, cancelling venue and logistic contracts, deciding how to inform the audience the right way, here comes the question: What is next?
Events will continue to happen, but in a different way. That is why we decided to dive deeper and explore the different platform options for hosting virtual events.
Virtual Events – Is this trendy or not?
First things first, we can take a look at the trends in Google Search for virtual events over time.
As we can see from the graph below, the almost vertical increase in the curve in March 2020 is a clear indication that virtual events will be one of the new trends in the event industry and for events in general.
We can also check the search volume and find out how busy virtual event auctions are in Google. The graph below shows us that the search volume for ‘virtual events platforms’ and ‘virtual events software’ ramped up in March 2020.
If we check how competitive these keywords are, we can see in the table below that to be in the top Google position for virtual events platforms and virtual event software, you need to bid above £20. These figures show that these keywords are very competitive and expensive.
Finally, when we perform a simple search on Google for ‘virtual events platform’, we can see below that all four top slots are occupied by advertisers, showing that virtual events are very trendy at this time!
The value of virtual events
While virtual events may seem like they would be less engaging, they can bring huge value to your brand. The best virtual event platform to use depends on your requirements. Here are a few of pros of virtual events:
- Bring together a wider audience – Travel costs that could have prevented attendees from being able to attend a live event are no longer an issue. This will also reduce your overall cost per lead, as people will be more likely to register and attend online compared to attending physically.
- Cutting off event production costs – You’re not budgeting for a venue, large events staff, and other in-person expenses.
- Easier to measure – When everyone is joining online, you are more easily able to track who is watching. All that attendee data might make securing the best sponsors for your online event that little bit easier.
- You are lowering drastically your event carbon footprint – Just think about all of the travel, logistics, venue air conditioning and you will know how beneficial taking your event online will be. At the end of the day your event will be greener than before.
Hosting small events
This will include 1-2-1 meetings, conference calls (both internal company meetings, or client conference calls), webinars and learning sessions. In general we might think of this as an event with up to 250 participants.
At the moment there are many virtual events platforms in the market. Here we have considered five of the most popular solutions; Zoom Meetings, Google Meet, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting and Skype.
Available for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android, Zoom Meetings has lots of bases covered. There are free and paid-for tiers to choose from, but even in the free version you can hold either one-on-one meetings or group meetings involving up to 100 people – however for meetings with three or more participants, there is a 40-minute time limit. The Pro plan starts at $14.99 per month per host, which is useful for small teams, allowing meeting durations of up to 24 hours, reporting and it includes cloud recording capabilities.
Zoom provides high-definition video and audio. The platform has the ability to support large gatherings, with up to 1,000 participants and 49 videos on one screen. Big-screen monitors are probably best for such large gatherings. Meetings on Zoom can be recorded and saved locally or to the cloud, along with transcripts from the call that include searchable text for you to use afterwards.
Participants have the ability to share their screen, enabling presentations or demos to be run during the meeting for all participants to view. There is the opportunity to share files using a team chat feature with a searchable history and a ten year archive.
With an enormous number of people social distancing as the world tries to curb the spread of COVID-19, Zoom has become a key tool for working from home and a top choice for all kinds of virtual meetings.
- Generous free account
- Competitively priced paid plans
- Stellar performance
- Rich features for hosts and participants
- Easy to use
- No toll-free dial-in numbers for the US or the UK
- Some security problems known as ‘zoombombing’
As part of the G Suite office productivity platform, Google Hangouts Meet aims to offer a first-class conferencing service.
Google Meet can cater for large numbers of participants at one time, developed specifically for business needs. This platform reduces the need to wait by using smart participation and a speedy interface. As Google Meet is fully integrated with G Suite, this ensures you can join meetings directly from Calendar invites, as well as it being easy to use data from other applications.
There is no need to download software, Meet can be used through a web app experience, making it easier to work with external clients. By sharing a link, external participants can easily join the call too. For participants that might be on the go, they can join through a dedicated dial-in number, which also ensures that the line quality is maintained so there are no drop-outs. For mobile, there are dedicated apps available for both iOS and Android users.
A big advantage of Google Hangout Meets is that there are not huge monthly costs that are often charged by providers, making it easily accessible for broad range of businesses of all sizes.
After the Coronavirus outbreak, Google rolled out free access to Google Meets for all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally with features including:
- Larger meetings, for up to 250 participants per call
- Live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain
- The ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive
All of these features make Google Meets very competitive compared to other solutions on the market.
- G Suite integration
- Accessible and simple
- Mobile friendly
- Easy to use
- Competitive pricing
- It’s not accessible for some countries where Google services are unavailable
Blue Jeans provides interoperable cloud-based video conferencing service and there are three pricing tiers.
BlueJeans does not have a free tier but it does offer a 30-day free trial. The ‘Standard Plan’ tier costs $9.99 per month per user when paid annually. Users can have up to 50 attendees connect from any computer, iOS or Android device and all meetings include dial-in numbers.
When paid annually, the ‘Pro’ plan is $13.99 per month per host and this includes all features that the lower tier had to offer plus 25 hours of cloud meeting recordings, command center dashboard and up to 75 participants, as well as Slack and Microsoft Teams integration.
There is also a webinar package starting from $499 per webinar, including features such as 500 view-only attendees and up to 100 interactive video presenters as well as attendee engagement features like Chat, Raise Hand, Q&A, & Live Polling.
- Dolby Voice support
- No download requirement
- 30-day free trial
- Real-time metrics
- Custom branding
- Numerous features exclusive to the most expensive plan
GoToMeetings provides audio and video conferencing, as well as a screen sharing feature.
GoToMeetings is highly mobile friendly – a feature that sets the platform apart. Conferences can be set up and started directly from your mobile, which would be difficult on a number of other platforms. This platform provides one-tap invites to join meetings in addition to chats.
The most basic payment tier (Professional) costs $14 per month, or $12 per month if paid annually. The Professional plan offers almost all standard features and has a generous limit of 150 participants for meetings.
If an increase in participants is required, the Business plan is available for $19 per month (or $16 when paid annually) and has a limit of 250 participants. The Business plan includes features such as unlimited Cloud recording, meeting lock, note taking, drawing tools and mouse sharing, alongside all video meeting features included in the basic Professional plan.
The next tier up from the Business plan is the Enterprise plan, which can accommodate up to 3,000 participants. For the Enterprise plan prices may vary depending on requirements so similarly to most platforms, contact their sales department for more information. The key additional features included in the Enterprise and not in the Business plan are a customer success manager as well as on-boarding and training.
- Mobile friendly
- VoIP upgrade
- MeetingLock security measure
- High participant bandwidth
- Not as user-friendly as rival platforms
Skype is a video chat tool that was acquired by Microsoft in 2011. Skype is often considered a means of keeping in touch with friends and family, but the cross-platform app does support group video calls accommodating for up to 50 participants. The software can be used in a browser too, so there is no need for all users to download the app and this means that participants can be invited and join the chat by just using their email address. Skype also has a screen sharing feature, with an option to automatically blur backgrounds to ensure participants can more easily focus on who they are communicating with. Other key features include the ability to subtitle live conversations and record chats.
Skype for Business is a paid-for upgrade but is used for meetings that have up to 250 participants. The upgrade is a low monthly fee per user and allows for Office integration and provides stronger security options.
- Cross-platform support
- Can be used in web browser
- Live subtitles
- 50-participant limit for the free plan
Hosting big events
Big events might include virtual conferences, virtual summits, virtual exhibitions, virtual fairs and virtual trade shows. Such events require different tech solutions based on the number of attendees, as well as more enhanced features. For those hosting such events, it might be worth considering one of the following six platforms: INXPO, vFairs, 6Connex, WorkCast and Hopin. All of these solutions fall within the virtual events software business category.
INXPO is an virtual enterprise webcast platform that has a broad offering including providing the ability to host webcasts or online events, live news desk coverage and produce web-based enterprise video communications. The platform can be used for marketing, corporate communications, sales enablement and training to deliver engaging video experiences. INXPO offers two experience packages depending on your requirements: Essentials and Expert.
The Essentials experience package provides a series or live, simulive, or on demand presentations organised by tracks or categories.
The Expert experience package allows the user to emulate a physical conference with event spaces, sponsorship opportunities, scheduled sessions and engagement tools.
INXPO’s solution can accommodate over 200,000 visitors, with key features including marked sponsorship spaces, event spaces, announcement messaging, presentation tracks, surveys, robust analytics and reporting to name a few.
The vFairs virtual event platform provides the opportunity to conduct online events, careers/job fairs, trade shows, expos and meet-ups. The platform provides a virtual experience for exhibitors and visitors, in addition to offering audio/video chats, scalability and several customisable options.
Key features of the vFairs platform include marking OnDemand webcasting, presentation streaming, presentation tools, private and real-time chats, screen sharing, two-way audio and video, video conferencing, record and playback ability, and mobile access.
The 6Connex software and services provider is a virtual events platform for enterprise online events. 6Connex provides a solution for marketing, sales, recruitment, training and communications. The platform allows you to host virtual trade shows, virtual job fairs, virtual summit, virtual benefits fairs in addition to providing the opportunity to create an E-learning program for your company. The key features of the platform include event and attendee management, pre-made templates, presentation tools, mobile access and file sharing.
WorkCast is a platform for virtual events and conferences, with services that range from helping to deliver online presentations and events, including webinars and webcasting, to virtual and physical events.
They have delivered enterprise-level virtual conferences, open days, trade shows and careers fairs, accommodating for up to 50,000 attendees. WorkCast software is cloud-based, so requires no downloads or plugins, and allows the user to host an online event anywhere, on any device. The platform caters for large multi-session events, that might require several presentations, brand experiences and discussion rooms for the audience to engage with.
WorkCast also offers interactive features including live chat, webinars, Q&A which ensure that exhibitors can extend their reach and access to user behaviour data through virtual trade shows, without compromising on attendee experience.
Hopin is a virtual conference platform that aims to replicate the experience of a physical event, providing the opportunity for attendees to learn, interact and network. The platform has hosted over 1000 events, 800 of which have been hosted in the last six weeks, according to CEO, Bourfarhat. Users can choose modules to create online event experiences including event staging, event meetings, booths and registration to name a few. The users are able to schedule event activities throughout the day and attendees can watch live-streamed content, whilst engaging with other attendees through live chat.
Key features include ‘sessions’ that allows users join gatherings with others, raise their hand and ask questions, and ‘networking’ that provide the opportunity for organisers to put groups together depending on who they would like to network with. When presentations are happening on the stage, up to 100,000 people can tune in.
Hopin software works across Chrome and Firefox on Android, Mac, Linux, and Windows as well as Safari on macOS and iOS.
There are a variety of solutions to take your event virtual. Choosing the best virtual event platform for you will take some research and depend on your requirements. To find the right solution for your event, firstly consider the event type – webinar, meetings, small conferences, virtual trade show, virtual fair and the number of attendees you expect. You also need to think about where your core audience comes from geographically, as some services are not allowed or are restricted in some countries. If you expect less than 250 attendees, you have a range of paid solutions as well as some free options too. For enterprise solutions, you also have a huge variety of choices so you need to think about the features you require as well as the price you are happy to pay to make your event virtual.
“How To Market Your Virtual Events”
Join Us – Thursday 16th April
4pm BST / 11am EDT / 7pm GST
What to expect? A 360 of virtual events. What platform to use, pros & cons of virtual events, revenue generation and marketing to drive attendees.
7th April 2020