VP of Marketing, 10+ Years of Sales & Marketing Experience, 12+ Years of Development Experience, 14+ Years of Project Management Expertise
March 27th, 2020
Numerous marketers and thousands of companies are dealing with exactly what I’m going through: scrambling with their team to triage an in-person event that, due to COVID-19 (or coronavirus) has been abruptly cancelled, rescheduled, or sitting in event purgatory awaiting the next steps.
You’re not alone.
Our team, as part of the development of our virtual event strategy, just went through the process of finding the best software to execute Digital Sales & Marketing Day, and I wanted to share some of the things I’ve found as well as five virtual event softwares that might be exactly what you need to thrive in this new remote workplace we’re in.
What is a virtual event software?
Virtual event software is a tool that allows you to create a long-form online event experience with live or recorded sessions and the ability to interact with other “attendees” virtually.
This is done with the goal of helping expand the reach of events and making remote events just as immersive and experiential as in-person alternatives.
(But obviously, without the need for comfy shoes.)
Why you may need virtual event software
There are plenty of reasons why you may be looking for virtual event software but a few likely scenarios are:
You had an in-person event that was cancelled and now needs to be virtual.
This is a very likely case right now, and you may be trying to find the best solution for your event size and attendee demographic.
If the event won’t be in-person, ever, it might be advantageous to look into a software with a full virtual lobby experience and more robust features.
This will let your attendees get as close to a real, in-person conference as possible without ever having to leave the comfort of their home office (which at this point might be their couch).
You have an in-person event that is rescheduled and you want to support your attendees until then.
This is where IMPACT landed in all of the craziness.
That’s exactly why we’re holding the first ever Digital Sales & Marketing Day on April 6. DSMD is a virtual event where you will learn proven tactics that will empower your company to drive new business and thrive in a digital-only, video-first environment.
(Use the code VIN for $39 tickets, normally $199). Yes, that was my shameless plug for the article ;)
The goal of a supplemental event, for us, is to make sure we’re still supporting our community. While having to pivot our entire event, we kept one thing in mind - the content and education our attendees were seeking.
Getting them even more excited for the in-person event when it finally happens in the fall was an added bonus.
You’re trying to expand your reach and create evangelists
Let’s face it: Companies are always vying for our attention.
A virtual event can be a great way to not only expand your audience reach and gain new eyes outside of your borders, but also to turn your fans into evangelists.
Whether you offer the event for free or for a cost, it can be a powerful tool for educating your audience - which can boost their trust in your brand and increase their likelihood of doing business with you (or staying your customer).
Virtual events also give you the opportunity to highlight close business relationships you’ve cultivated (and keep speaker costs down). Most folks are more than happy to get additional exposure via a live or pre-recorded session - it’s a win-win!
What to look for in a virtual event software
The type of virtual event software you need will depend on a handful of factors.
Are you looking to stream an in-person event or just host virtual sessions? How many attendees are you anticipating? Will sessions be live? Pre-recorded? A mix of both? Do you have budget constraints?
All of these are questions you may want to answer before you start your initial research phase. They were some of the questions I asked of myself and the team before venturing into the ether.
Each virtual event software has its own level of customization and feature sets, but some typical features you’ll find are:
Public and private chats
Sponsor areas and ads
Reporting on user engagement metrics
If you’re opting to use pre-recorded sessions, there’s usually even the ability to automate your virtual event to automatically unlock and play at given times.
This is a great option for coping with busy speaker schedules and even conflicts when having to reschedule an in-person event.
Another big question is if you’ll need support for the day-of activities. This usually entails making sure there are no technical issues, helping with last-minute registrations, even handling the actual management of session footage (in some cases).
Many companies will actually do the initial setup and day-of management for you for an additional fee. Sure it’s a little extra, but it might be the added support and stress-reducer you need right now.
All that in mind, here are five virtual event softwares to consider:
5 virtual event softwares to consider
Many of the websites for these softwares didn’t publicly give insight into pricing, or didn’t deeply dive into pricing, which was frustrating while going through my vetting process.
I’ve given you pricing direction per platform based on my experience without giving you hard numbers. Make sure to do your homework and confirm any information during your research.
Editor’s Note: Heads up -- IMPACT may receive compensation from the links in this article. This, however, in no way affects the tools featured. - Ramona Sukhraj, Head of Editorial Content
BigMarker is a video platform for webinars, summits. and virtual conferences.
Like many of the other softwares on this list, this is a web-based platform that doesn’t require any download to attend your event.
That means attendees can just visit the provided URL and start watching. This is a huge convenience factor for attendees.
From the host perspective, BigMarker offers both live streaming and pre-recorded functionality with the ability to schedule automated sessions for your event so you can take a more hands-off approach (if you’re opting for pre-recorded).
Performance wise, they tote a 4.8/5 rating over 134 reviews on Capterra, and a 4.8/5 rating over 102 reviews on G2.
Out of our four options, they also offer the widest range of pricing options with the full virtual event software requiring some information provided to sales.
All options being considered, including the day-of support option, BigMarker was on the lower side of the software pricing ranging from ~$400 to $40,000.
ON24 is a robust virtual event platform with a ton of features that “power live, always-on and personalized experiences that businesses need to create engagement, deliver data, find demand and drive revenue.”
It offers virtual events, live and recorded webinars, and boasts a huge variety of ways to engage your audience all while gathering deep-level engagement metrics to help you improve over time.
ON24 totes a 4.4/5 rating over 203 reviews on Capterra, and a 4.3/5 rating over 572 reviews on G2.
In terms of pricing, from my experience they were mid-high side of the pricing range between the platforms I looked into. For my needs it ranged from $45,000 to $60,000 for the year (unlimited events).
WorkCast began as a webinar focused platform - aiming to solve one problem: making webinars as easy to use and simple to scale as video.”
It currently offers webinars and virtual events including fully managed and monitored events. WorkCast is fully web-based, requiring no downloads and the team will actually set up the event for you. You provide them with the sessions, information, etc and let them take over.
The platform totes a 4.5/5 rating over 6 reviews on Capterra and 4.5/5 rating over 3 reviews on G2. WorkCast also has some great integrations, including HubSpot, Marketo and Eloqua.
The pricing I received for my needs was in the middle of the range ($25,000 - $35,000), and felt spot-on for what I would have received.
vFairs is a platform that, in full transparency, I didn’t actually research in my vetting process.
This is mostly because I knew it wasn’t the direction we wanted for our event, but it is well-liked.
The ability, like with INXPO, to create a digital avatar that you can navigate through a virtual event lobby is a great way to immerse attendees in your event experience.
VFairs is a great option for those looking to turn an in-person tradeshow, boat show, home improvement show or something similar into a fully immersive remote experience.
It totes a 4.8/5 rating over 108 reviews on Capterra.
So, what now?
There are hundreds of virtual event softwares out there; ones that only offer live streaming, or only on-demand recordings, platforms that are extremely niche and only work for a specific industry, and more that I probably don’t even know about.
It’s important to do your own research and find what fits perfectly for your needs.
As you’re vetting softwares, make sure you take time to do an in-depth demo and set up a trial portal if you’re opting for a more self-serve route, but more than anything, make sure to keep the attendee experience in mind. After all that’s who the event is for.
If you’re worried that your team isn’t set-up to succeed in this new virtual workplace we have, set up a 30-minute call with our team to talk through ways to prime your sales and marketing teams to thrive in this uncertain time.
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