For the virtual events industry, the premier face-to-face event of the year is Virtual Edge Summit, the “summit on virtual events, marketing & communities”. Virtual Edge 2010 concluded earlier this week – the face-to-face event floored in Santa Clara, CA, while several vendors provided virtual components, allowing remote (virtual) attendees to participate in the experience. The event saw record crowds from attendees, exhibitors and presenters.
From my observations at this year’s event, the following are a set of emerging trends in the industry.
Beyond Novelty Phase
Judging by the turn-out alone, the virtual event industry has officially “graduated” beyond the novelty phase. Awareness of virtual events has broadened – now, when I meet someone at a social gathering and describe what I do for a living, the blank stare of years past has become a “oh yes, I’ve attended one of those”.
The increase of awareness (and, perceived importance) could be seen in the amount of coverage that Virtual Edge 2010 received – an increase in the number of publications (on-site), bloggers (both on-site and virtually) and analysts (both on-site and virtually). Lastly, the volume of tweets (via hash tag: #ve10) was 5-10 times greater than last year – with more tweets per person and many more people tweeting.
With that being said, there are enormous untapped and unexplored markets, which will provide the industry much of its growth in 2010 and beyond.
More Players Emerge
I noticed a near doubling in the number of exhibitors this year, which means that new/emerging vendors significantly developed (or expanded) their virtual event capabilities – or, from a marketing standpoint, they determined it was the right time to get their products and services in front of this audience.
Last year, the exhibitors were fairly homogeneous – they provide apples-to-apples solutions and directly compete with one another. This year, the breadth of solutions offerings (from the exhibitors) has expanded – some exhibitors do not necessarily compete directly with one another.
In some cases, a client may use one vendor for a particular type of virtual event and a different vendor in another type of event. The result? More “burden” on the attendees (buyers) to understand the solutions offered and determine which solution best fits their needs. This affords some industry players (agencies, consultants) a great opportunity to help clients and prospects navigate the waters.
Early Adopters Become Industry Thought Leaders
Practitioners (especially some of the early adopters in our industry) are quickly becoming the thought leaders and “go to source” for ideas, expertise and wisdom. Many of these thought-leading practitioners were on stage this week – they were very generous with their sharing of experiences. And, more than ever, they know precisely what they want from their vendors (which is a great thing for those in the vendor space).
In the early days, the practitioner would ask the vendor, “show me what you have” or “show me what you can do’. Today, the tables have been turned. Practitioners (clients) are now telling the vendors, “let me tell you what I need” or “make this experiential vision come to life for me”. This is an important aspect of the industry’s evolution – vendors crafting innovation via direct input from practitioners (as opposed to creating “innovation in a vacuum”).
Interest in 3D immersiveness is picking up. In fact, at Virtual Edge this year, roughly 20% of the session content involved 3D / immersiveness and a formal “Business 3Di” track was created. The 3Di track featured practitioners, along with vendors such as Linden Lab, Teleplace, Altadyn, Digitell and web.alive (Avaya). Like last year, Digitell provided a simulcast of the event proceedings into their 3D immersive platform (VirtualU).
Those are the “pure play” immersive environments. In addition, virtual event platforms are coming on board as well. In my 2010 predictions on virtual events, I wrote, “(virtual event) platforms take first step towards immersiveness”. This prediction has come true.
It’s interesting, however – some vendors have a clear vision of what immersiveness enables for exhibitors and attendees of virtual events, while others appear to be adding immersiveness for the sake of adding it (i.e. lacking a clear and compelling use case). It’s in the best interest of virtual event vendors to explore and enable immersiveness via specific client use cases – this way, the capabilities are added to meet a client need – and, serve as a reference (to the rest of the industry) on the true value delivered via immersiveness.
Social Media Integration
2009 was a monumental year in the evolution of both social media and virtual events. In 2010, there continues to be a lot of talk about both topics – including discussion around how they integrate with one another. Social media (and related social networks) were central to the discussion in many workshops and breakout sessions.
And of course, social networking was flourishing in and around the event, with a high volume of tweets, a fair number of Facebook status updates and (I’m sure) lots of LinkedIn connections made. While I am not aware of any groundbreaking announcements from Virtual Edge on social media integration, I’d expect that platforms enable more and more social networking as 2010 unfolds. I expect to see the platforms themselves becomes more social (natively) and increase the depth of their integration with third party social networks. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are commonly mentioned – but expect to see industry-specific, niche networks and communities integrated as well.
Industry Ecosystem Begins to Take Shape
Virtual event platform vendors have established a number of strategic partnerships to extend account/client reach and grow/scale business opportunities. Most of those partners were present at Virtual Edge – and a number of partners had prominent speaking roles in the sessions. By this time next year, even more partners will enter the space and appear at the event.
Additionally, smaller businesses (and individuals as well) are seeking to leverage opportunities within virtual events to bring in new business – or sign on for consulting roles. The list includes video production companies, design agencies, digital signage providers, freelance producers/writers/story-tellers, streaming providers and emerging social network / community sites. As these “players” look to get a small piece of the industry pie, they serve to grow the overall ecosystem of this industry.
Finally, hands-on practitioners are finding a fluid and welcoming job market, despite the less inviting macro job environment. Virtual events are still new enough that production staff, developers and strategic consultants have highly specialized knowledge and skills – as such, they’re able to quickly transition from their existing (or past) role to a new vendor, service provider or practitioner (client side). Most of the vendors in the space are aggressively hiring, which means that savvy job seekers leveraged the conference to generate meaningful employment leads.
It’s an exciting time in our industry – I’m looking forward to seeing how things shape up for Virtual Edge 2011.