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.”


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!

Four Ways To Make Virtual Conferences Better

June 9, 2009

Nick Morgan, on the Conversation Starter blog at Harvard Business Publishing, wrote a recent posting titled “Three Ways To Make Conferences Better“.  To summarize, Nick’s suggestions are:

  1. Tell a unique story
  2. Make attendees active participants, rather than onlookers
  3. Leverage the gathered group to give something back to the community in which the conference is held

Nick’s blog posting served as inspiration for me – I’d like to cover ways to make virtual conferences better.  Virtual conferences (along with virtual tradeshows, virtual job fairs, etc.) do allow attendees to participate – in fact, some of the more interesting “content” in a virtual conference is the free form text chat that occurs in areas like the Networking Lounge.

And by its nature, a virtual conference gives back to the community in the form of carbon emission avoidance, time savings, convenience and productivity gains.  As for telling a unique story – that’s something I have not seen virtual conferences achieve.  But at the same time, I don’t think physical conferences do a good job of  this, either.

Without further ado, here’s my list:

  1. Leverage a Requests For Proposal (RFP) Tool for attendees – in a b-to-b virtual conference, you often find that the exhibitors offer a common set of products and services (they’re direct competitors).  As an attendee, the virtual conference affords me with a convenient and efficient means for comparison shopping.  So if I’m in the market for blade servers, I might want to spend time visiting numerous booths, downloading product collateral and chatting with some booth reps.  Instead, what if I could fill out an online form (within the virtual conference) and tell prospective vendors what I’m looking for?  Perhaps I need 1U blade servers with redundant power supplies and are remotely manageable.  I fill out my RFP form, check off the exhibitors that I’d like to receive my request and click “Submit”.  I then receive responses within the virtual conference environment from exhibitors – and start to create my short list, based on those responses.  As one can imagine, such a tool could greatly benefit attendees and exhibitors.
  2. Play some games – making games available within the virtual conference creates a sense of fun, which increases attendee satisfaction – this, in turn, increases retention and session time (attendees remain in the environment longer).  And of course, you’re not hosting the game solely for the sake of fun – you’re forcing participants to perform desired activities (e.g. visit a booth, view a Webcast, etc.) in order to advance within the game.  Again, win-win scenario – attendees and exhibitors benefit.
  3. Incorporate social media – attendees at physical conferences generate lots of Twitter, Facebook, etc. updates  from their PDAs.  In a virtual conference, it’s all too easy to remain well-connected with your social networks.  That being said, don’t force attendees to leave the virtual environment – instead, provide interfaces for them to post a status update directly from the virtual conference platform!  They should be able to tweet directly from the virtual conference, update their Facebook wall, etc.  This provides a convenience to the attendee and generates no-cost “PR” of the virtual conference across social networks.
  4. Embark with an Aardvark – a new service that describes itself this way —  “just send Aardvark a message through IM, like you do when talking to a friend.  Aardvark figures out who might be able to answer, and asks on your behalf — Aardvark is the hub.”  While it might be interesting to consider an integration directly from the virtual conference to the Aardvark service, it’s the concept that most interests me.  And that is, tapping into the collective wisdom assembled at a virtual conference in order to help attendees answer questions.  After all, most b-to-b virtual conference audiences login to the event with a common set of business or technical challenges.
Source: Aardvark (vark.com)

Source: Aardvark (vark.com)

Related Links

  1. Blog posting: Three Ways To Make Conferences Better
  2. Blog posting: Virtual Events And The Power Of Social Media (authored by me on my company’s blog)
  3. Blog posting: Cisco has integrated Twitter into their Cisco Live Virtual event
  4. About Us page: Aardvark

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