The gold rush is on to move live events and conferences online. New companies that promise to make online events more satisfying than a crowded hotel are sprouting like weeds. But ask 10 event producers which platform they’re using for their online shift and you’ll get 10 different answers. Note: An event is not a Zoom meeting. It’s scheduled, marketed, requires registration, offers various types of content in various forms, and at a minimum requires data analysis post-event.
We talked about the hierarchy of event needs here last time. One week and multiple whopper headaches later, I have talked to events producers, watched a ton of demos, and read reviews and chats about the pluses and minuses of all these platforms. And I myself have been hosting events for the past 12 years, including The Digital Money Forum, Kids@Play, and The Digital Health Summit at CES. I need to figure this out myself. So here I present you with my personal Virtual Events awards. These are some companies to consider if you want to host an event in this stay-at-home era. The list of companies claiming to turn your event virtual is vast, but I found these to be the pick of the litter.
Hopin: The event gods were smiling on London based HopIn. It has had perfect timing. The company began in 2019 with a mission to create large-scale (up to 100,000 attendees) online events. In addition to enabling participants to watch key speakers and entertainment on the big screen, it includes ample tools for one-on-one meetings, chats, polls, exploration of interactive expo areas, and backstage events. There are featured places for sponsors, built-in registration and messaging to attendees. Right now the company offers a mouthwatering early access plan starting at $100 a month per organizer for 100 attendees. It also takes a fee on sales of tickets, and payments are accepted only through Stripe .
The scuttlebutt is that Hopin has been so inundated that it can barely return a request for information. One planner told me it’s best to know someone who knows someone. Other sources tell me the service looks fabulous, but that bright and shiny new things tend to break. Those event planners are in wait-and-see mode. My gut tells me that HopIn is to events what Zoom is to videoconferencing – a juggernaut. Dave Schools, one of the co-founders, has prepared a series of tutorials that makes hosting a big event actually seem manageable.
Brella keeps popping up on my radar as another super-scalable, super feature-filled event site that emphasizes the networking and meetup part of gathering together. The organizers of Consensus Distributed, a conference about digital money and cryptocurrency, , an its first free virtual event on Brella for 5 days in May, after making the COVID-fueled decision to cancel their live event. Past live events had about 9,000 guests, but this year’s virtual version included 22,000 from all over the world. During the ongoing sessions (typically 8 tracks happen simultaneously) attendees booked 4,800 meetings among themselves and sent 35,000 chat messages. That’s a lot of human interaction. Sponsors like the Digital Currency Group took advantage of the platform to operate virtual booths, but the sponsors were also able to segment the content they made available for visitors depending on whether they were most interested in topics like “investing” or “recruitment,” for example.
Run The World, cofounded by Xiaoyin Qu and Xuan Jiang, both ex-Facebook employees, has backing from VC heavyweight Andreessen Horowitz and a growing following in the Bay Area. Its spotlight is on interactivity and relationship-building. And it’s clearly the most mobile-centric of the bunch. The customer experience begins with the Run the World app. What’s its best Silicon Valley touch? You can use emojis like “confused” or “applause” while listening. A cocktail party feature matches your profile with another attendee and tosses you into what could be an awkward room. You can have an “ask me anything” session where the audience gets to upvote or downvote the questions.
Pricing is downright simple. Run The World takes 25% of any ticket sales and charges $400 for a single event of up to 100 users. The interface is simple and clean. Speakers get a mic and video. Attendees set up their own profiles. Seriously new, Run the World began operating in February. Perfect timing.
On24 has been around in different incarnations since 1998. Somewhere around 2003 it moved towards being a video-based publishing platform. Today, it’s the Ford of virtual events — big, feature-filled, and dependable, but definitely not the sexiest user interface. That brings challenges. It can take multiple rehearsals for speakers to feel comfortable enough not to be daunted.
Best for small to mid-sized groups, On24 can nicely integrate on-camera content with video clips and screen sharing, making it a great choice for product demos, sales events, and communications events. Polling and quizzes, integration with social media, good data insights… It’s an all-around crowd pleaser. It’s priced for companies who do multiple events a year so you pay a sizable up front fee but can then use it as much as you like. I spoke to several large companies, including my former partners at the Consumer Technology Association, which mounts the giant CES expo, who are very pleased with using On24 for internal meetings.
Communique is big on the visual effect. Hosted on AWS, Communique is meant to feel like a true “events space”. Attendees can be greeted in a virtual lobby or other custom environment. Signs direct you to various rooms like exhibit booths, meeting rooms, auditoriums, breakout sessions, webinars, networking rooms, press rooms. Real life is the model. There is excellent integration with outside media as well as social platforms. It also has excellent metrics and fun gamification features like ranking and giveaways. There are great metrics on who’s viewing what, where, and when, and that integrates well with CRM systems. Communique has won numerous industry awards and has an A-list roster of clients including Starbucks and SAP. And its parent company offers a broad selection of more traditional AV events tools.
Do you want to play around with all these types of features for free before plunking down a dime? India-based oDash powered by 10times has a free limited trial and is one of the least expensive event hosting sites. Plus it aggregates a listing of events as a marketing tool and will work with you to create a home page and an app as part of your plan. Based out of India, some reviews have questioned 10times understanding of privacy and suggested inflated traffic reports.
There are more challenges than simply picking the right online event platform. Manage, Market, Metrics — those are the operative words in an event manager’s life. Splash connects marketing and registration with a company’s customer information database so the sales force can follow up with attendees. Managers using the app can keep track of metrics, like how many attendee names have been added to the list of potential customers. AccelEvent and WebinarNinja also excel at the ticket sales part of the event process and even track ads placed on social media.
We keep hearing about new platforms in the works or just emerging. Many offline event production companies believe they already have many of the elements for a platform and are trying to cobble those together now. The companies and applications I’ve listed here are just the first of what is likely to become a robust new industry. We’ll keep watching where it goes next, and let you know. If you feel as though we’ve must anyhow, somehow I suspect you’ll get in touch.
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