Home > Digital Marketing Trends, Technology, Virtual Events > Where are Virtual Events Headed?

Where are Virtual Events Headed?


The idea of “virtual events” has actually been with us almost as long as the web itself (well, OK, maybe not all the way back to ARPAnet, but you get the point).  Through the years, online chats, webcasts, webinars, videoconferencing, and podcasts have offered us with options to carry on seminars, meetings, and conversations online.

Today, comprehensive “virtual event” technology platforms support entire conferences, trade shows, private exhibitions, product launches, job fairs, corporate training, and just about any other type of event you would hold in person – conducted online using only a web browser.

These environments are often based on the model of a corporate campus, convention center or exhibit hall replete with booths and sales staffs, an auditorium for breakout sessions, and even a lounge where attendees can ‘chat’ with each other.  The providers of these environments have done a great job at combining several interactive and content delivery elements into one nice neat package. 

Among the largest and most successful virtual event technology platform providers to date include companies like 6Connex (who provided the sample virtual event image above), UnisFair, InXpo, and On24.  Several other large corporations and early adopters on the client side have also begun to develop their own custom in-house virtual event capabilities.

It’s not hard to understand the growing attraction to this technology.  There are a lot of business, social, and economic factors drawing marketers and clients to virtual events.  Just a few of these include:

  • Corporate budget & travel constraints
  • Large geographic distribution of event attendees
  • International events with multilingual content requirements
  • Extending the length of time to reinforce marketing messages
  • The “green” movement (reducing carbon footprint, paper use, etc.)
  • Ability to leverage existing digital content and assets
  • Demand for detailed event metrics to demonstrate ROI

So who are the key influencers that have shaped virtual events as we know them?  And, just as importantly, what impact will these influencers have on the continuing evolution of virtual events?   

My take is that early on, event marketers and their clients have had most of the influence on virtual event platform development.  Most technology platform providers initially set-up events in a “virtual trade show” format, with multiple companies displaying their products and services in booths that resided in exhibit hall environments.  Event marketers and their corporate event marketing clients quickly related to this model because of its familiarity.  They also understood its ability to extend the reach of live events, appeal to new audiences, and more clearly measure event ROO and ROI with detailed web metrics.  Since event marketers have been among the earliest and most prominent adopters of virtual event technology, their influence has spurred a continued refinement of virtual event types, formats, features, interface variety, and content management capabilities, while retaining (for the most part) a foundation of standalone events with a definitive “shelf life”.       

More recently, web and digital marketers, along with their corporate marketing clients, have begun to exert their influence in the virtual event space.  In the interest of creating customer “communities”, they have naturally gravitated to supportive technologies like social media, and are now becoming similarly attracted to virtual events.  Their impact is being seen in the push for integration of social media into virtual events, as well as the idea of more “persistent environments” with a much longer-term existence.  Virtual event technology providers have in turn responded by expanding their offerings to include these features in their platforms.    

Another emerging influence will soon be coming from virtual event attendees.  As they become more experienced and discriminating, they will also become more vocal with their feedback, and will have an increasingly larger impact on the future direction of virtual event evolution.  While the jury is still out on this group, my bet is that accessibility, responsiveness, usability, content, and overall quality of experience will be their hot buttons.

I think this combination of event-centric, community-centric, and user-centric forces shaping the direction of virtual events is healthy.  It will continue to drive technical innovation and ultimately deliver greater business value to the users of virtual events and environments.  What do you think? 

Will virtual events eventually fade off into the sunset, as just another passing fad?  Will they remain as standalone event web sites with a defined “shelf life”?  Will they become permanent virtual business environments?  Could they even become a replacement for the cookie-cutter corporate web sites that we see so often today?  Or, like most evolving technologies, will the best features of virtual events end up somewhere – and everywhere – in between?

– Jim S.

  1. September 23, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Hi Jim, As one of the pioneers in this stage of virtual events technology, we believe that we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on the potential of this technology. For an article in Virtual World News (http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2009/05/guest-post-what-does-the-future-hold-for-virtual-events.html), our CEO, Malcolm Lotzof, wrote: “While the Virtual Experience or Community is the end goal, the virtual event, as with any event, is the traffic driver, bringing people together at a specific time to engage and have a specific experience. This is the true future of virtual event and experience technology.”

    VirtualEdge also recently wrote an article (http://www.virtualedge.org/articles/index/view?id=1651552:Article:5433) that highlights some of these points, such as alternate reality gaming experience.

    In the end, feedback from customers (marketers/event planners), agencies and end-users like yourself are critical to developing that unique user interface. Just as importantly, our ability to provide a roadmap that takes advantage of the unique capabilities of our virtual event platform will take the industry to the next level.

    Cece Salomon-Lee

    • Jim Suchara
      September 23, 2009 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks for the insight, CeCe!

      You make a great point – while we strive for more persistent “communities”, we cannot forget that individual events are key traffic drivers. This is just one reason why I believe we’ll continue to see advancement in both virtual events and virtual year-round environments.

      One of the things I’ve found to be refreshing about the growing Virtual Events movement is that technology platform providers are truly “tuned in” to growing and improving their offerings. Your comments definitely reflect this commitment to advancing virtual events.

      – Jim S.

  2. September 23, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Excellent post, Jim. Thoughtful, as well. I agree with Cece who, as always, is on point. At 6Connex our approach is this: the community IS the event. Connecting the six degrees of separation at a nexus point is the origin of our name because we believe that with the onslaught of data and stimuli faced by consumers (BtoB and BotC) each day, a point of targeted content distribution combined with powerful social networking options delivers a human benefit; it’s not merely a software feature. See http://6connex.com/abstractpages/Case_Study_cisco_leadership.php for a specific example. Events like those you describe are game changers for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that they’re actually helpful.

    Looking forward,
    Scott Kellner

    • Jim Suchara
      September 23, 2009 at 3:09 pm

      Thanks, Scott

      Agreed – virtual events that can create real social interaction between companies and attendees, as well as among attendees, will be winners. At our agency I’ve heard it said so many times that attendees consider an event to be “successful” simply because they were able to make additional/valuable contacts with others out on the show floor. Providing social networking options is key to duplicating this success in the virtual world.

      Again, good to see a variety of approaches to improving virtual events.

      – Jim S.

      • September 24, 2009 at 9:06 am

        Exactly – – the social interaction is the value. While we don’t disagree that you can’t replicate a handshake virtually, the increased use of video chat will provide visual cues. And as you point out, the ability to make connections that can turn into business contacts is invaluable.

        By then combining this with social technologies that furhter enhance this conversation within and outside of the environment, that is truly a goal of virtual.


  3. September 23, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    While the other two commenters touched on an important point, I thought I’d make it explicit. We’re doing ourselves by calling it a “virtual event”. Using the term event suggests that it’s a one time activity rather than part of an on-going dialog. In addition, using the term virtual suggests that it’s an alternative for a physical event; it’s not a substitute but rather an amplification.

    As a performance management person, I also think about how to measure new ideas so we know how to improve them systematically. Last year, I shared some comments on measuring “virtual events”: http://alignment.wordpress.com/2008/07/22/measuring-virtual-events/

    • Jim Suchara
      September 24, 2009 at 5:23 pm

      Thanks, Jonathan

      I’ve heard other similar comments and concerns about the term “virtual event”. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be tough to change, since this term now seems to be universally used. The best we can do is continue to educate our clients about what they really are and the value they can provide. Also, having been part of an experiential marketing agency for 8+ years now, I agree that virtual events are not a substitute for physical events. As a matter of fact, one of the most popular implementation types we see is a “hybrid” where a physical event is amplified or augmented by a virtual one. Good observation about measuring new ideas also. You’ve definitely done your homework!

      – Jim S.

  4. miguelarias
    November 10, 2009 at 4:07 am

    Dear all,

    I completely agree with most of the comments and the post is really interesting.

    To add my 10 cents to the discussion, from our extensive experience in the virtual events industry in Europe and emerging countries, we believe that hybrid events are here to stay.

    More and more physical event organisers want to go beyond the space and time boundaries of traditional events, and complement the experience and interaction between attendees and exhibitors with virtual events.

    My bet on this trend?: Richer multimedia user experience, enhacend real time interaction (video) and multiplatform-multisolution contact data transfer.

    With an increasing contribution of the attendees in the creation of contents, product evaluation, online sales, contract negotiations, etc, happening live in the virtual event.

    Moreover, most probably, many virtual event vendors will start charging their corporate end-customers by success rate: number of leads, amount of achieved sales, etc.

    Miguel Arias


    • Jim Suchara
      November 10, 2009 at 12:32 pm

      Great comments, Miguel!

      I too am interested in seeing how vendors may charge for their services in the future. Will they shift to a results-based model as you suggest? My guess is yes, possibly, but time will tell. The virtual events platforms are certainly capable of capturing very detailed metrics that could support such a model.

      – Jim S.

  5. aditya452010
    February 13, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    All great ideas but I would also add another item to it: consider doing a virtual event/meeting. Virtual events and meetings are a great way to stay in front of customers, generate new leads and help close business already in the pipeline. These solutions are being deployed so rapidly by companies that the market is projected to exceed $18 billion by 2015. If you are interested in how you can use virtual environments attend the Virtual Edge Summit Feb. 22-23 (virtually or in-person if you are in/near Silicon Valley). There is no registration fee if you take a short survey.

    Virtual Edge Summit 2010 is the only event that focuses exclusively on providing education, training and solutions for planning and producing virtual events, meetings and communities. Over 2 days, 80 experts will share their experience with you, and be available for one-on-ones. The event also offers a rich program for featuring experts from Cisco, Stanford, IBM, Disney SAP, Oracle, Intel as well as top virtual technology and service providers like InXpo, ON24, 6Connex, Stream57, CGS VirtualEvents365, George P. Johnson, Unisfair and Digitell.

    When: February 22-23, 2010 8am until 6pm

    Where: At the Santa Clara Convention Center in California and virtually in browser based virtual environments offering 2D and 3D experiences.

    Register at http://www.VirtualEdgeSummit.com

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