Life online is all about consuming content, sharing information, and connecting with others. As marketing professionals, we leverage those needs to build community around our brands. And no other marketing tool does that as well as a virtual conference. If you are thinking of adding virtual conferencing to your marketing mix, then this guide is the right place to start.
- What is a virtual conference?
- Advantages and disadvantages of virtual conferences
- How does a virtual conference work?
- How to host a virtual conference?
- Top 5 virtual conference platforms
- Kaltura virtual conference solution
What Is a Virtual Conference?
A conference is a gathering of people around a shared topic. A virtual conference is the online version of this traditionally in-person event. The main difference is the venue. And for virtual conferences, the venue is a web page. Beyond the difference in venue, virtual conferences don’t differ that much from the physical experience.
Event hosts still need to plan and promote their virtual conference. Visitors still need to purchase a virtual ticket (though many virtual events are free, nowadays) to attend the event’s presentations, workshops, panel discussions, live Q&As, and entertainment acts. Many events also offer the opportunity to network and connect with sponsors and brand representatives.
Just like in-person conferences, virtual conferences aim to generate leads, build brand awareness, and connect with the target audience. But it turns out that virtual conferences have a few extra cards on the table, compared to physical events. Virtual conferences can leverage the power of digital technology to engage attendees and create a hyper-personalized experience for them. The digital nature of virtual conferences also facilitates granular and exact analytics, which is a true blessing for marketers who traditionally had a hard time calculating the exact ROI and effectiveness of physical events. But more on that in the next section.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Conferences?
Let’s dig deeper into the advantages and disadvantages of virtual conferences. Not so much to make a case against physical conferences, but rather to understand how to make the most of your event and which issues you might potentially face. In the end, we believe the future lies in hybrid events (physical events with a virtual component) which will combine the best of both worlds.
Advantages of virtual conferences
- Virtual conferences are convenient
For everyone. The event takes place online, so attendees and speakers can tune in from wherever they are. Traffic, travel, and accommodation are no longer obstacles. It’s easier to schedule top speakers. Not only because they can join from anywhere, but also thanks to the option to prerecord sessions. Because friction to join a virtual conference is lower, it’s also easier to attract larger audiences.
- Virtual conferences attract and accommodate larger audiences
One advantage of hosting a conference online is that you are no longer limited by the size or location of your venue. Provided you host your event on a platform that is built for scale (like Kaltura Virtual Events), the maximum number of attendees is practically limitless. Take for instance Belgian music festival Tomorrowland. Their 2020 virtual edition drew more than 1 million participants from all over the world. Many large events “follow the sun”, meaning their events are streamed around the clock to service a global audience.
- Virtual conferences enable hyper-personalized experiences
Online platforms are all about personalized experiences. From social media to Netflix, online platforms keep track of users’ choices and preferences to generate a content feed tailored to their taste. The high-end virtual conference platforms leverage the same approach to provide attendees with the content and experience that will serve them best, from content suggestions to personal agendas, targeted reach for sponsors, and customizable layouts.
- Virtual conferences are highly measurable and trackable
Everything is recorded and quantified in virtual conferences: number of views, attendees vs. registrations, attendee preferences, engagement, watch time, etc. Marketers get a precise picture of the performance and effectiveness of the event and strategic information to follow up on leads.
- Virtual conferences are cost-effective
Setting up a physical event is a costly endeavor. You need to rent and dress up a venue, set up stages, order catering, hire security and event staff, book flights and accommodation for speakers, and so much more. All these costs are unnecessary for virtual conferences. Your cost is mostly limited to your virtual conference platform, your speakers and entertainment, and your promotion.
Disadvantages of virtual conferences
- Virtual conferences can lack engagement
Virtual conferences take place on a screen. The attendee all too easily becomes a passive spectator. This was a known criticism in the industry, but software providers took note of it and improved their virtual conference platform with all kinds of engagement tools, such as gamification, polls, quizzes, live chat, reactions, and interactive viewing paths. Make sure to use these tools and always think of creative ways to keep your audience at the edge of their seats.
- Virtual conferences are not as tangible
Experience should be front and center of your virtual conference. The experience of your brand, your products, or your partners’ products and services. Successful physical conferences often appeal to the senses. Visitors can interact with products and see, hear, smell, and touch samples or exhibition items. We’ve seen organizers overcome this issue by sending swag bags and samples to the attendees’ homes, ahead of the event.
- Virtual conferences have a higher attendee churn
As easy as it is for people to sign up for a virtual conference, it’s even easier to not show up at all, in the end. According to Markletic [January 2021], the no-show rate for virtual events is 35%. Keep that in mind when you open registrations for and start promoting your event. It’s only an assumption, but we feel this isn’t so much due to the format of virtual conferences. Rather, we believe attendees might feel less invested with a free event. Free events bring in larger crowds, but also cause a higher churn rate.
- Virtual conferences depend on internet connection
Not just a good connection. Virtual conferences depend on technology. And technology can be plagued by tech issues, on the attendee’s end or, worse, on the organizer’s end. Make sure you use a reliable platform that strives to deliver a smooth viewing experience on any device and with any connection and plan contingencies in your event’s playbook.
- Virtual conferences lack human warmth
We are in the end social creatures and seeing the digital reflection of a person on your screen will never replace having that person physically stand in front of you. Seeing a number of attendees in the corner of your screen will never replace the thrill of standing in a crowd of like-minded people. But with a bit of creativity, conference organizers can bring more human warmth to the virtual format. Take the 2020 NBA season, where spectators could actually see the webcam feeds of other fans projected on boards in the sidelines and enjoy the feeling of a sports event crowd. Think of ways you can elicit emotions in your audience, with heartfelt talks and videos. Create a feeling of community with yoga sessions or more intimate breakout rooms. Your attendees will love it!
How Does a Virtual Conference Work?
In many ways, virtual conferences work similarly to physical events. Only virtual. The event organizer develops a playbook for the event, outlining the KPIs, topics, and agenda. They reach out to speakers and hopefully they will catch a few strong names that will resonate with their audience.
Instead of a physical event venue, the organizer will shop for a virtual conference platform, like Kaltura Virtual Events. This platform will provide the digital infrastructure, usually including the event’s home page, video hosting, encoding and streaming technology, chat capabilities, sponsor tools, analytics, attendee personalization features, and gamification features.
This virtual conference platform will also process registrations, with registration links and forms. These will be the main tools in the virtual conference organizer’s promotion campaigns. The organizer will set up an event landing page on their website, launch email blasts, and leverage their social channels to create a buzz and entice their audience to register and attend.
People sign up (sometimes involving payment) and receive a link, which can be considered the virtual version of an admission ticket. On the day of the event, the organizer will usually remind the registered attendees about the imminent start of the event, with a mail containing a direct link to the event.
Some events can consist of a single linear stream of content, but virtual conferences are usually more complex, with multitrack content and networking options, spanning multiple days. Upon joining, the attendee arrives in the virtual lobby where they can find the conference’s agenda and all other activities and extras. The attendees can build their own itinerary to make the conference work best for them.
The good news is that most organizers will grant their attendees access to the content on-demand after the event is over, even live streams. This way, the attendee doesn’t have to miss anything and can even revisit keynotes or workshops they found interesting.
On the organizer’s end, the work doesn’t finish with the conference. This is the time for them to follow up with attendees and sponsors and convert leads or share performance stats.
How do I Host a Virtual Conference?
We lifted the veil on how to set up a virtual conference in the previous section. But let’s go a little deeper into this important matter and help set you up for success.
- Create your virtual conference playbook
Develop your ideas for your virtual conference. What are your objectives and KPIs? How will you promote the event? What will be the theme? How will you brand the event? What will the conference look like (length, amount of content, other features, …)? What’s your marketing strategy/promotional campaign? What type of speakers will fit your event? Etc.
Make sure to develop the individual tasks for everyone on your team, as well as the team milestones. Set up weekly follow-up meetings with your team to keep everyone aligned with the tasks at hand and the overall progress until the event launch.
- Find the right virtual conference platform to host your event
This is a crucial one. Your virtual conference platform will be the digital infrastructure for your entire project. Make sure its technology supports all your ideas and plans for the conference. Revisit your playbook and check if the technological limitations of your platform could impact it in any way. Though we stand 100% behind our platform, Kaltura Virtual Events, we’ll review the 5 best virtual conference platforms in the next section.
- Develop your content
Develop your content AND finalize your speaker lineup. They usually go together. Make sure they are on par with your target audience’s needs and expectations and fit your general topic and brand. Diversify your content so you have a nice blend of keynote speakers, workshops, audiovisual-based material, breakout rooms, acts, etc. Constantly ask yourself how you can make your content more engaging or interactive. Your audience will love you for it.
- Promote your virtual conference
Stellar content alone won’t ensure a successful virtual conference. You need to let your target audience know about it and induce some FOMO in their hearts and minds. Your marketing team is most probably familiar with the strategies: landing pages, press releases, email blasts, posts and paid campaigns on social media, guest posts, influencer marketing, et cetera.
- Launch your virtual conference
It’s D-day. You want to be as prepared as you can be, with dry-runs, equipment tests, contingency plans, … the whole nine yards to make sure everything runs smoothly and that, if something indeed goes south (and things certainly will), your audience will never notice.
- Follow up with attendees, sponsors, … and your marketing team!
If all went well, you should be left with a wealth of data after your event. This is where you hit the final home run. Follow up on leads, send thank you emails to speakers and attendees with an invitation to watch on-demand content of the event, send performance reports to sponsors, review the conference content and analytics with your marketing team to evaluate the performance and draw conclusions for your future virtual conferences.
Top 5 Virtual Conference Platforms
If you are reading this, we gather you are looking into setting up your first virtual conference or maybe improve on the formula of your past events. The quality of your events is in part dependent on the quality of the virtual conference software you’re using. Choosing the right platform is a big step towards creating a successful event. Here are the 5 best virtual conference platforms, according to us:
Kaltura’s virtual conference solution, simply called Virtual Events is all about creating unique and engaging experiences for your brand and your community. Virtual Events is built for flexibility, reliability, and scale, empowering you to create the best event for your brand.
Kaltura Virtual Events gives you the full range of video technology on a platform that is 100% customizable to create any virtual event you can dream up. This flexibility extends to your attendees, to whom you can deliver hyper-personalized experiences that will increase your lead conversions.
Kaltura Virtual Events is packed with features to enrich your content, create an engaging experience for your audience, build an effective and win-win relationship with your sponsors, and deliver data for lead generation and performance tracking of your virtual conference.
We’ll dive deeper into Kaltura’s virtual conference solution in the next section. If you want to check what else is on the market, we recommend you look into the following brands:
Bizzabo offers an end-to-end solution for live, virtual, and hybrid events for mostly enterprise-level B2B marketing events. They promise easy pivoting between virtual and in-person events, making it a great solution for hybrid conferences.
Bizzabo is intuitive to use and has a great selection of interactive features and registration tools. Their customer service also gets good reviews. According to online reviews, Bizzabo does lack in reporting and analytics capabilities, which is a shortcoming, considering the price tag.
Hopin’s platform is neatly organized into reception, stage, session, networking, and expo areas for attendees, simulating an in-person event. Its many networking features such as chats, virtual business card exchange, breakouts, and speed networking algorithm, make it especially interesting for events focused on connecting.
Hopin events are capped at 100,000 attendees and a maximum duration of 72 hours (including testing and rehearsals). There’s also a display limit of 20 participants in the session rooms. If your event won’t be impacted by these limitations, then Hopin might be a good choice for you.
ON24 is essentially a webinar platform but can also take on larger virtual events of up to 5,000 attendees. It has some great features going for it, including gamification, breakout sessions, reporting, and a great simulive feature that lets you live-stream a prerecorded event.
On the flipside, ON24 doesn’t offer much in the way of audience interaction, other than live chat and polls. Branding options are limited to adding a logo and brand colors. To customers switching from some of the other virtual conference platforms, the ON24 UI might feel a tad outdated.
Airmeet is a good solution for SMEs that are specifically looking for powerful sponsor and networking features. They offer a free plan up to 100 attendees but can be scaled to host up to 100,000 participants. Airmeet simulates in-person events, maximizing intuitive navigation and opportunities for interaction.
Airmeet is a fairly new platform and is still working on adding some essential features and lifting limitations. Airmeet gets great reviews, but its lack of maturity earns it fifth place on our list.
Kaltura’s Virtual Conference Solution
If you’re looking for a robust end-to-end solution to host engaging and personalized virtual conferences that fully supports your vision and your brand, then look no further.
Kaltura Virtual Events packs the full range of digital technology to support any type of virtual conference, at any scale. You can stream multi-day, multitrack, live, simulive, real-time, and pre-recorded (VOD) video content in high quality to any device and at any connection, to your audience anywhere in the world. Kaltura Virtual Events integrates very well with popular remote conferencing clients, marketing automation software, and analytics tools.
Kaltura Virtual Events is all about your brand, your community, and your experience. The white-label virtual conference platform is customizable at a granular level, enabling you to offer your community a hyper-personalized and unique experience that lives and breathes your brand. Giving each attendee what they are looking for, with personal agendas, content recommendations, viewer controls, and more, will help you convert them into leads.
People attend virtual conferences to connect with others. Kaltura Virtual Events keeps engagement and interaction front and center with extensive chat and collaboration features, polls and quizzes, reactions, interactive viewing paths, and gamification capabilities. Increase accessibility to your virtual conference with captions, automatic translations, and other enrichment options.
If you work with sponsors, Kaltura Virtual events has got you covered with branded sponsor booths, chat features, analytics, banner ads, deep links to sponsor pages, and more.
While attendees take home their (virtual) swag bags, marketing teams are taking home bags of data. Attendee behavior, Quality of Service, engagement, performance, etc. will help you properly gauge the success of your event and calculate ROI.
Finally, for those who like to concentrate 100% on their message and their audience, Kaltura offers white-glove production services, including planning, design, execution, and end-to-tend management of your live event.
Set your virtual conference up for success … with Kaltura!