2011 Predictions For Virtual Events

As we head into the final 2 months of 2010, it’s time for another round of predictions.  First, let’s review my 2010 predictions:

  1. The 2010 Predictions for Virtual Events
  2. The Mid-Year Report Card on the 2010 predictions
  3. A posting on the Future of Virtual Events

I assigned myself a mid-year grade of B.  And now, I’m designating a final grade of B-.  I hope to improve in this year’s predictions.  To assist with my predictions, I invited a few experts from the community to chime in, so I’ll be including their predictions with my own.

Market Expansion

To date, “market expansion” has meant a growing number of “pure play” virtual event platform providers.  In the US, we started with a handful of major vendors and we’ve seen new entrants into the market in 2009 and 2010.  We also saw the emergence of platforms outside the US, notably in Europe – and in 2009, in Asia Pacific as well.

For a large Requests For Proposal (RFP) in 2009 and 2010, the virtual event platforms knew whom they were competing against (each other).  Starting in 2011, it gets cloudier (pun intended), as the blending of virtual, social and Enterprise 2.0 means that a wider set of vendors are vying for the same business that virtual platforms got in 2010.

Consider the following vendors, each of whom has offerings that (in part) look, feel and smell like virtual events or virtual business communities:

Jive Software, Yammer, Pathable, Facebook Groups, Socialtext, SharePoint (Microsoft) and Lotus (IBM).

Virtual event platforms can expect to sell against some of these players in 2011 and some platforms may go the partnership route, to build a combined offering as a competitive advantage.

Service Level Agreements (SLA)

The virtual events industry is at a point in its growth where Service Level Agreements (SLA) make a lot of sense.  With a growing number of vendors, SLA’s help separate the contenders from the pretenders – if you’re offering money back (or a credit) if an event fails, then only the strong will survive.

I predict that one vendor will lead the way and proactively hit the market with an SLA – forcing others to follow suit later in 2011.  Expect SLA’s around availability and simultaneous users.

Later in 2011 (or perhaps in 2012), SLA’s will be defined around “quality”, such as response time.  This development helps the market – the assurance provided behind an event allows the market to expand, attracting new customer growth that exceeds 2010’s figures.

Market Upheaval

Market expansion and SLA’s mean the strong get stronger. But lesser platforms have a challenging year ahead. According to Cece Salomon-Lee, Principal at PR Meets Marketing, “some players will be bought by larger organizations, merging to bring together complimentary strengths or even some disappearing from the industry all together. No matter how, we will begin to see some consolidation within the industry.”

Meanwhile, Miguel Arias of IMASTE believes that US platforms will look abroad for acquisitions.  To “gain presence, customers and market knowledge” in Europe, Latin America and Asia, Arias believes US platforms will look to partner or acquire in-country platforms in those same regions.

In my mind, there is an enormous, (largely) untapped market within the US, which means that US-based platforms will continue to focus domestically in 2011.  Global expansion will occur in 2012 or beyond.  In addition, due to the “strong get stronger” phenomenon, I predict that one of the prominent US-based platforms will cease operations in 2011 – or, be sold at a below-market price.

Technology A La Carte

Today, virtual event platforms are “monolithic” – you enter an event and all of the functionality provided by the platform sits within that event.  You can’t experience the platform’s features outside of an “event”.  In my futures column, I predicted that virtual events “move closer to the end user”.

Driven by market demand, platforms will “break out” pieces of their technology platform in a la carte fashion. Customers who do not need a five course meal may opt just for an appetizer and coffee.  This may surface in a number of ways, including:

Thin desktop clients, mobile apps, browser toolbars, virtual booths embedded in banner ads, group chat embedded on a web page, etc.

Hybrid Innovation & The Year of the Hybrid

In 2009, some INXPO colleagues and I predicted that 2010 would be The Year of the Hybrid.  This was partially true – in fact, Cisco received the 2010 Grand Ex Award for their hybrid approach to Cisco Live and Networkers. However, the mass adoption of hybrid events (that we predicted) did not ring true.  But that’s OK, it’s always better to be a year early than a year late.

Event and experience marketing agencies have adopted virtual in varying degrees – 2011 is the year where they demonstrate the most aggressive push to date.  You’ll see strong adoption from the “big brands” in 2011 and it will come by way of these channel partners to the virtual event platforms.  2011 will set the foundation for growth – with “hockey stick growth” coming in 2012.

Another major adopter in 2011 will be associations. They’ve done a number of virtual events to date – in 2011, you’ll see 200%+ growth.  Local chapter meetings will continue to occur at physical locations, while the annual, national chapter meeting of the association will move to a hybrid event, with the virtual component serving those members who were not able to make it to the physical gathering.

More generally, 2011 will see innovative technologies that blend the virtual/online world with the real world.  And these same technologies will be integrated into hybrid event experiences, blurring the lines between physical and virtual.  I’m referring to location based services (LBS), mobile, augmented reality and QR codes.  Expect to see a lot of hybrid events innovation, which benefits everyone.

Miscellaneous Predictions

From Miguel Arias, “After some virtual events vendors, marketers and event organisers have shown in 2010 with successful case studies what are the benefits of virtual events we will see much more events and movements in Europe and South America specially.  I expect a 250-300% growth of the total market size in those regions.”

From Cece Salomon-Lee, “I believe the players that will remain on the landscape will begin building out an ecosystem of services to plug-and-play on the platforms.”

From Miguel on vendor specialization, “With more vendors in the space and more clients asking for more tailored solutions we will probably see a leader in the corporate events environment, a leader in the generic trade show market, other for hybrid events, for virtual career fairs, etc.”


I’ll sum up this piece by using a number of nouns to describe what I expect to see in 2011: innovation, shake-out, growth, change, adaptation, expansion, excitement.  Check back here in 6-8 months for my mid-year report card!

5 Responses to 2011 Predictions For Virtual Events

  1. Great story Dennis and it will be interesting to see how the next few years play out. One thing I would add ok a couple of things, I would say that perpetual environments or 365 environments that use the virtual platforms (not just the community and collaboration platforms you mentioned above) will begin to finally take hold. Which brings me to pricing! Pricing will likely become more standardized and comparable and lower. In my opinion, this will all be good for the growth of the industry. Lower prices, though some vendors might not like it initially, are needed to drive adoption. Those associations you mentioned are going to come in force when the price is right. And the standardization of pricing is important as well. People need to be able to figure out what exactly these engagements are going to cost and without having to hire a consultant to help them figure it out.

    Ok, one last thing. Innovation on the part of the people who are using the technology is (for me) the biggest area of opportunity. The technology exists and keeps getting better but there are so few who are out there on the ‘edge’ as far as what they are doing with the technology. That’s one of the things that we try to showcase and seed at the Virtual Edge Summit.

    Always a great read thanks Dennis!

    • Dennis Shiao says:

      Michael – thanks for your comments. Regarding pricing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see pricing come down, especially as new (and perhaps aggressive) players enter the market.

      Better pricing is a “win” – and I also think SIMPLER pricing will benefit the industry. Looking forward to Virtual Edge Summit in January.

  2. Stuart Bowen says:

    HI Dennis – insightful as always. I don’t have much to add only to say that I agree with Michael on several issues including pricing and users/attendees.

    Pricing is going to come down if more SMB’s and Associations etc. are to use virtual events (using this as a catchall for all the variants). You mentions Associations as a group to watch out for but only the largest can be expected to pay the current going rate for an event.

    Perhaps connected to this, events will become more ‘consumarized’. There are a number of these events ranging from religion focused shows to camping events already taking place – the spotlight has been on large enterprise accounts but I can see this changing. I know of an event where over $300K of product was sold via the exhibitor booths. Not a bad return for the initial investment in the platform.

    I think everyone is in agreement that Hybrid Events are going to have to be more of the norm. But there are logistical, content and technical (one integrated registration platform?) issues that may still hold companies back in 2011.

    Finally – I think all the platforms are going to have to take a close look at what the user experience is. Too many offer the same functionality and too many are overwhelming to the attendee. They are going to have to be simplified. I believe that 2011 will see a new and exciting way to deliver content and a different way to engage the attendee. Who is going to deliver that – one of the larger companies or a new platform? Perhaps Michael can reveal that in Vegas? Great stuff Dennis.

    • Dennis Shiao says:

      Stuart – thanks. I agree with you on pricing, on consumerization (definitely already happening) and user experience.

      There have already been some events/experiences I’ve seen that “got it right” and we’ll see both refinement and simplicity in the UX going forward. You can count on that 😉

  3. […] my 2011 predictions for virtual events, I wrote about “Market Expansion”.  Guess what? Social business platforms do, in fact, […]

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