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2011 Predictions For Virtual Events

October 30, 2010

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.”

Conclusion

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!

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Virtual Event Evolution

June 28, 2010

In a prior blog posting, I promoted a wiki that I created that allows us to collaborate on the evolution of virtual event platforms.  The wiki received some very thoughtful contributions.

Miguel Arias (IMASTE) added several insights via the wiki. In the paragraph “Make it easier to experience” he writes:

Along with a simplification of interfaces and the use of usability and navigation conventions, many customers and users seem to be demanding more immersive environments. While presenting a brand and hosting an interactive experience in a convention centre, it seems an interesting field to add some real-time rendered environments using engines like papervision3D or Unity3D. This said, it is unlikely that avatar based real time rendered environments will make it a a mainstream audience. Mainly considering plugin or applets downloads, system performance and learning curve barriers.

In the paragraph “Make it easier to experience” he writes:

The most relevant virtual event platforms will introduce or already have Facebook connect and twitter connect, and they will need to move to even wider standards like OpenID. On the other hand, deskopt or mobile widgets to control your stand usage, statistics and reporting will be a must. Lastly, the platforms will have extense APIs to manage their integration with various social networks, corporate databases, physical event managing software, etc.

Miguel then added a new paragraph:

Make the platform more adaptable for different customer needs and different usage

There are so many different kind of virtual events: trade shows, conferences, job fairs, corporate events, webinars, congresses… that vendors should decide in which market niche they are going to play. We will see generic platforms and other vendors delivering a tailored solution for one or many of the previous choices. It will become more and more complex to provide physical event managers with the features they need to handle their hybrid events at the same time as the platform is able to cope with the extensive data handling of the virtual job fair, or the networking tools of a professional tradeshow.

Steve Gogolak  (Cramer) also added several insights via the wiki. In the paragraph “Make it easier to access” he writes:

For public events, ease of registration is a must. Using open methods for registering and/or connecting social networks have three-fold benefits:

  1. Registration is faster because basic information can be provided by services like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Shorter registration forms increase completion, period.
  2. Intelligence gathered by the platform about the user’s existing social graph can enhance the experience within the event by automatically creating connections with other attendees based on that user’s connection outside the platform. This will lead to more networking and awareness of actual people within the environment.
  3. Users opting into connections at the point of registration allows platforms to create publishable actions that can be spit out to twitter and facebook news feeds that can increase viral awareness of the event. Marketing automation at its best.

In the paragraph “Make the experience available on more devices” he writes:

One of the key areas where mobile can play a huge role is the “reminder” needs that come from tons of scheduled activities within virtual events. If attendees have the ability to build out a personalized agenda before the event and opt-in to either SMS reminders or download some kind of app that will push notifications at them throughout the day, it would be much easier to create a flexible agenda. Currently we’re cramming so much into the shortest amount of time because we’re afraid of losing people. If only we had better planning and reminding tools, driven by devices that never leave our pocket!

In the paragraph “Make the platform more adaptable for different customer needs and different usage” that Miguel created, Steve writes:

Take a hint from Apple’s “face time”. Video chat will, without a doubt, increase the effectiveness of networking. It is the one key element that can be introduced that will get critics to come around to the idea that networking in an online environment can be as effective as the cocktail hour of a physical event.

To view the fruits of our collaboration, you can read the wiki page here:

http://allvirtual.pbworks.com/How-Vendors-Should-Evolve-Their-Virtual-Event-Platforms

By default, you’ll be taken to the “VIEW” tab – to contribute, click on the “EDIT” tab. We’d love to hear (read) your thoughts!

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Virtual Events In Europe: Best Practices, Learnings And Observations

April 19, 2010

The following is a guest post from Miguel Arias of IMASTE.

In the past months we have delivered a virtual career fair in partnership with Monster.com in various European countries. After a number of successful events in France, United Kingdom, Ireland and Italy (and with the imminent launch of the German version and preparations underway for the Polish and Czech versions), it is time to evaluate the project.

With a reach of over 400,000 unique attendees and more than 200 participating exhibitors to date, the Monster European virtual job fairs have become a very relevant case study about the way virtual events and tradeshows are being hold in Europe.

There are a few issues that I would like to point out:

Market differences within Europe

The fact that each of those markets has a different language is a known fact, which demands a certain level of customisation capabilities in the virtual event platform. This affects not only the code language but also all the 3D environments, interfaces size, fonts, etc.

And some of the countries have many official languages; therefore virtual event platforms need to have “real time” Multilanguage capabilities.

But, there are some other subtle differences that may have a big impact for virtual event production and development. For instance, legal differences lead to changes in the résumé data model and in different levels of integration with the partner´s databases.

Different customer expectations

The penetration and market awareness of virtual events is different in the UK, France and Italy. This leads to relevant gaps in terms of pricing, willingness to pay or expected features for the potential customers in each of those countries. Live interaction seems to be more relevant in UK or France, while an immersive user experience ranks higher in the Italian market.

We have also observed that French companies are keener to virtual stand customisations than British companies. It is difficult to generalise, but there seem to be some trends there.

Different marketing approach

In line with the last idea, the effectiveness of some marketing tools is quite diverse. The use of social media to promote the event has proven more successful in our French events than in other countries, while the effect of SEO/SEM strategies have worked better in UK. There is a need of knowing which are the best specific web traffic drivers of each country, to ensure high quality attendees in each event.

Vendor – client relationship

Since virtual events are “live” events, there is a need of a common trust between the event producer and the virtual event vendor. In order to build this relationship, factors like distance, time zone sharing and face-to-face trainings, meetings and follow up are very relevant.

We hired native country managers in Imaste for the French and British market, and will be doing the same with the Italian and German market in the following weeks.

To summarise, I would say that, the Monster Virtual Career fairs, in spite of being delivered for the same company and being the same type of event, implied an important percentage of adaptation and flexibility in each country. And the personal relations that go with a good level of service, involve a cultural understanding of country related particularities.

I believe that Europe can’t be considered a homogeneous market as the US is. American vendors should take this into account when entering the continental Europe market.

About Miguel Arias

Miguel Arias founded IMASTE in 2003 in hopes of building a bridge between companies and university graduates via live career fairs. Over the years, IMASTE has evolved to become one of the major agents in the virtual trade shows and events market, with successful projects in various European and South American countries

IMASTE is a Spanish company, European leading provider of virtual events, 3D online environments and online trade-shows, which connect, inform and engage visitors and exhibitors. IMASTE´s customized solutions reduce travel costs and are environmentally friendly, while our customers are able to generate leads, networking, increase online sales chances and communicate projects or services globally.

IMASTE has delivered more than 100 successful virtual events for global clients across the globe. You may find more info in http://www.imaste-ips.com

Miguel holds a MEng in Civil Engineering from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and a Professional MBA from the Instituto de Empresa Business School.

Related links:

http://www.monster-edays.fr/2010/printemps/

http://www.monstervirtualjobfair.com/DEMO/

http://www.fieralavoromonster.it/

http://blog.imaste-ips.com

http://www.imaste-ips.com


Video: Virtual Events With IMASTE

December 11, 2009

Miguel Arias (@mike_arias), Co-Founder and Director-Partner of IMASTE, visited Silicon Valley (Northern California) this week.  IMASTE, the leading virtual events provider in Europe, was 1 of 10 Spanish technology companies selected to visit Silicon Valley to meet with the likes of Google, Yahoo and venture capitalists.

In 2009, IMASTE produced a number of virtual career fairs, including a large scale job fair for Monster Worldwide.  In addition to virtual career fairs, IMASTE produced virtual tradeshows, including hybrid (physical + virtual) events.  IMASTE serviced clients in Europe and Brazil, including a virtual event in Croatian, for a client based in Croatia.

Looking ahead to 2010, Arias sees strong growth in the European market, as awareness of virtual events is growing – in addition, Arias believes hybrid events will be a large growth area in Europe.

View this video for more details about IMASTE – the video includes a brief demo of the Monster virtual career fair that IMASTE powered.


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