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6 Reasons Virtual Events Are Getting So Popular

I just spent the day today at the Future of Social Media Conference in London. It was an event put on by a leading trade show group here in the UK responsible for what most consider the largest Internet trade show in the UK, Internet World which is held annually. The conference was a packed session, with nearly 300 marketers in the room (easily doubling the organizers original estimates for attendance) and all the attendees where busy figuring out what role social media should and could take in their marketing strategy. One of the interesting questions asked during the day was whether virtual events may start to overtake real life events like this one due to financial pressures. My response was that I think they currently compliment each other and will continue to do so, yet it does raise the point of the current popularity of virtual events.

In fact, I am being featured as one among many video interviews at a very good social media focused virtual event for small businesses called SolutionStars Video Conference which is put on by Network Solutions and hosted by my friend Shashi Bellamkonda (affectionately known as "shashib" by his growing rank of Twitter followers). The event will have a great roster of speakers (see the end of this post for a full list) and I highly recommend you tune in for part of all of it tomorrow if you can. The bigger trend this event fits into, however, is the rise of virtual events as a viable method for learning. I believe there are six big factors driving this current popularity:

  1. Recession economy and budgets. Yes, I said the "R" word. If you were lucky enough to work for a company that actually had a conference budget, chances are you are seeing that budget reduced or disappear. This is the most obvious reason for the rise of virtual events … they are cheaper.
  2. Filling the void. I do not, however, believe that this budgetary pressure will lead people to not attend events. They will just get more selective about the ones that they do attend. So for arguments sake, let’s say there is a marketer who usually attends 3 conferences a year. Next year this same marketer may only be able to attend one, but can virtually attend another 3-4 throughout the year. More and more we will see virtual events filling the void and making training, learning and networking possible on more occasions than currently possible.
  3. Bring together a fantasy team. When done right, virtual events also allow you to bring together a group of speakers that would be very hard to bring together at the same time for a physical event. As a result, the caliber of speakers across the virtual event can often be higher because it is easier to get a commitment from experienced speakers with very busy travel schedules.
  4. Allow for multitasking. Sometimes the toughest thing about an in person conference or event is not getting the budget to go, but finding the time to be out of the office for an extended amount of time. With virtual events, you can go on mute on a conference call and multitask from your desk. Getting work done while attending a virtual event is a pretty powerful benefit.
  5. Small business friendly. At many large events that I attend, it sometimes seems that small businesses are the ones that are left out because it is only the bigger companies that can afford to send people to conferences. I strongly believe the smartest small business people are the ones who ARE investing to go to the right in person events, but virtual events can often work better for small businesses simply because of the tradeoff in time and budget commitment, as well as the fact that they can be less intimidating.
  6. Built in archive. As an entire event is hosted online, all the content and conversations the event generates are also online. When the time comes to create an online achive of the event, it is usually a very simple prospect because the bulk of the content and conversations are already online and it is simply a matter of aggregating it together.

List of participants in the Solution Stars Video Conference:

15 thoughts on “6 Reasons Virtual Events Are Getting So Popular”

  1. Good stuff as always, Rohit. I think another trend that will see growth in 2009, also in response to the “R”-word are the more informal or ‘un’conferences. I’ve gone to many more events this year than in the past, and most were free or very little cost. They drew a younger, and more approachable crowd, but still had the ‘star power’ you’d want at an event.

  2. Hi Rohit,

    It is always good to meet you and Blog World Expo is another example of how we meet more often outside DC than in DC. Thank you for participating and helping us spread the word about the Solutions Star Video conference tomorrow Oct 29th. We are excited with the help we received from experts like yourself to talk about how Small Business can use new media and tools. The commitment as Network Solutions Social Media Swami is to earn Karma points for Network Solutions by enabling a conversation between the experts and small business.( probably from the chapter in Karmic marketing from your book Personality Not Included :))


    Shashi Bellamkonda

    Social Media Swami | Network Solutions

  3. I do see more virtual events happening, but they still seem much more long tail – they’re largely events that would be impractical to do otherwise, and they’re made possible thanks to advances in videoconferencing, online content production, social media, and other technologies.

    There will be some lag time before we can tell if larger in-person events happen less frequently, especially due to the economy. I know you go to a ton of things, and this stretch from mid-Sept through mid-Nov is dizzying for me event-wise. June was similarly jam-packed, even just in NYC around media and technology.

    I’m torn. On one hand, there is a glut. On the other hand, I meet great people and learn a few things just about everywhere I’ve gone and love to have too many opportunities than too few.

  4. Virtual events/telepresence/telecommuting/virtual worlds are also a boon for environmental + ecologically-friendly reasons — that relates to economic downturn and high gas (incl. jet fuel) price. But it’s also more effective resource usage when it’s carbon neutral.

  5. I love that you brought this topic up. I do believe that nothing beats meeting someone new in person. Frankly I hate the online chat rooms that come with the video conferences and even people in the radio industry often have horrible sound equipment, ironic yes? I have expanded my network in more ways then one by going to events, volunteering for professional affiliations, and sharing my opinion online. I love that I can attend TEchCrunch50, Mima, AdFed, or SMBMSP without ever leaving my computer (for most events), but reality somethings are not on those cameras. The real conversations and the real people. So my opinion stands where they are definately a hand in hand thing. Plus if you go to events and have a cocktail its all in good fun, but to drink in front of your computer at home watching an event –well enough of that and you would be considered an alcholic sir.


  6. Hi Rohit. First of all thanks for taking part in the Future of Social Media conference this week. I really enjoyed your contributions.

    I felt the question about virtual events vs real life events was a nicely loaded question to ask at a conference of this nature. And as I said at the time I agree with you in that it’s not about one winning over the other it’s about both having their own value.

    For me, you’ll never replace looking someone in the eye and shaking their hand. And you have to be face-to-face to do that… But then I would say that as I organise face-to-face events!!

  7. Rohit, great reasons and I agree with all of them. I think these apply excellently if you’re at an event to learn, hear a lecture or opinions, etc. But if you’re really there to network – it’s hard to beat face-to-face.
    Perhaps this unsatisfied need together with the financial pressures of the day will lead to some more creative thinking to help virtual events bridge that last gap.

  8. Hi Rohit, I agree that virtual events won’t replace real/physical events. What’s key about a virtual event is augmenting the content, connections and conversations that you create at an in-person event. In some cases, the virtual event acts a supplemental way to promote or “extend” the content for an in-person event.

    With regard to networking, while some “virtual events” may not have as much networking integrated into them, I think the “larger” type of virtual event – such as a virtual tradeshow or Second Life environment – does. If you think of the virtual show as a way to make connections, like blogging and Twitter, then there is inherent value.

    Our relationships are further solidified when you’re able to bridge that “virtual” relationship/friendship with one that takes place in the real world through face-to-face events.

  9. Cece brings up a very good point with the comment “virtual events won’t replace real / physical events.” Here at InXpo we host many external events to help supplement existing physical events. However, our ability to provide true collaboration and social networking has brought us many Corporate accounts that are now hosting Internal along with External virtual events. These events are helping them with their travel budget costs while allowing them to continue to host Executive or sales (Direct or Indirect) related meetings without the need of leaving the office. We recently hosted a virtual event for a large corporation that allowed Sr. Executives the ability to preview and review content up to two weeks before a combined physical/virtual event which allowed for a huge increase in knowledge on the subject matter at hand which allowed them to shorten the length of the meeting. Don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you have any questions!

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  11. While I like going out to live events to get to know the people a little better face to face, I really enjoy sitting down and connecting with a group of people over an online event as well. It’s pretty cool to think this is how we *can* interact, even if we can’t fly across the country or down the coast.

    And one day, I’ll go to a conference where we are all attending and get to meet them face to face. 🙂

  12. While I like going out to live events to get to know the people a little better face to face, I really enjoy sitting down and connecting with a group of people over an online event as well. It’s pretty cool to think this is how we *can* interact, even if we can’t fly across the country or down the coast.

    And one day, I’ll go to a conference where we are all attending and get to meet them face to face. 🙂

  13. Good points, Rohit. I’d also add to your comment about the built-in archive. Since the event is online, exhibitors benefit from a wealth of “engagement data” that is not readily available (or as easily recorded / tracked) in a face-to-face event. The savvy exhibitors are the ones who best leverage this data.

  14. Rohit

    I really believe that your reason number 4 is going to be the main reason that virtual events become the standard of conducting business and meetings. Sure, face-to-face events are important but the truth is the whole relationship building component to these meetings is really over hyped. I work in the virtual world every day with people I have never met and we get more done in a weeks worth of time now, then I could ever have done prior to using virtual technology. I used to spend 70% of my week traveling to accomplish about three or four presentations a week. Five months ago my company, Digitell, Inc.,launched several 3-D virtual business products, so most of our business presentations are now done in the virtual space and I can conduct 3-4 presentations in one day. The time, money and as you point out in reason number 4, the loss of the ability to continue to work while attending these presentations, will be the driving force to why professionals will accept the virtual over the face-to-face. This is going to be the reality of the future. As an example, most of the world has accepted a lesser quality music experience by listening to MP3 files as a trade off for the convenience of carrying around thousands of songs. The same will eventually happen as the convenience and savings of attending a virtual event far outweigh the cost and time away of attending face-to-face events. Combine this with your reason number 3, which brings together a better faculty, and the virtual event becomes a pretty good deal.


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