Why Virtual Events are the New Media Platform of 2021

But with a record number of virtual environment builds in 2020, we can say unequivocally that the most successful organizations have let go of biases and not tried to reproduce their physical format virtually; they’ve created a new media platform instead.  We’re not saying we’ll never again sojourn to an attractive destination to network at vendor booths, sit in large ballrooms to hear presentations from industry thought leaders, and take in a ballgame or round of golf with colleagues and customers, but we wholeheartedly believe we are on the forefront of a new market for virtual events that is permanent.  And we’re not alone.  The virtual events market is currently valued at approximately $45 billion, and Grand View Research projects it could grow at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 23 percent.


Change Was Already Underway


The truth is event planners and marketers have long wanted to increase audience engagement beyond a two- or three-day event.  Even before the pandemic, hybrid events were gaining in popularity.  With remote work becoming more common, event planners were increasingly willing to explore what could be done virtually that would hold attendees’ attention, looking beyond traditional, passive webinar formats and focusing on engagement and user interaction through features like video one-on-ones, breakout rooms, round tables, and more.


Then the pandemic hit, serving as a flashpoint.  For event planners, it shifted the industry landscape, and for marketers, it left pockets of opportunity in budgets.  Finally!  Virtual events were going to be invited to sit at the cool kids’ table.  And technology vendors made sure they brought their A-game.  Wowed by state-of-the-art features and functionality, event organizers and marketers quickly discoveredwhat technology vendors knew all along: a virtual event platform is a gateway to long-term content engagement.  As 2020 unfolded and event planners and marketers became more familiar with the format, it was clear that beyond the pandemic, virtual events would be more than a standard tool in every event planner’s and marketer’s toolkit, they would be a media platform.




The Virtues of Virtual


Virtual events have gone from the bench to starting position due to myriad benefits that event planners and attendees alike celebrate:

  • Event planners save money by eliminating venue and food and beverage costs, allowing them to allocate more budget toward attracting high-profile speakers, workshop facilitators, and entertainment that make the event more appealing to their target markets.
  • It’s easier to attract attendees to a virtual event because they are less expensive.  Consider that prior to the pandemic, the average registration fee for some of the most popular tech conferences exceeded $4,000. Factor in flight, hotel, and transportation costs, not to mention the number of days out of the office, and the decision to attend an event can become impractical – so much so that at many organizations, there are limits on the number of conferences employees can attend in a year. 
  • In addition to eliminating travel, virtual events are less of a time commitment.  Multi-day events, for example, can be broken into a long-term series to better accommodate busy calendars and keep brands top of mind beyond a finite period.
  • Virtual event sessions lend themselves to interactivity, with features that include polls and live Q&As.  These participatory layers can have a significant impact on the user experience, and some companies are even allowing their attendees to create and share their own content to further amplify the event’s footprint and the overall event “vibe.”
  • Especially during a pandemic, but also post-pandemic, virtual events enable people worldwide to connect, network, and collaborate.
  • Virtual events allow companies to run analytics in real time. Sales can chase leads immediately, which can greatly improve return on investment.

A Virtual Event is not an Event


While the above benefits more than justify the ROI of a virtual event, it’s really their ability to shapeshift from an event to a media experience that gives them staying power.  Similar to a news site, a virtual event can offer myriad content formats and engagement opportunities, and it can be available year-round.  In fact, some companies are capitalizing on the evergreen nature of their virtual events, regularly promoting event content through social media and paid marketing channels, ensuring the event is optimized for SEO on an ongoing basis, and leveraging programs that keep attendees coming back, such as sponsoring online trivia contests and hosting a weekly speaker series.  And some companies have transformed their virtual events into a continuous revenue stream, using their virtual environments to sell products, promote third party advertising, direct attendees to sponsor websites, or feature fun branding opportunities through virtual room sponsors.




Get Audience Engagement and Brand Differentiation Right


The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly positioned the event space for a ground-breaking pivot – one that yields time, cost, and environmental benefits.  The rapid innovation of virtual event technology has seized this opportunity and transformed virtual events into a new, unique, and creative media platform to get audience engagement and brand differentiation right.


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