In the past year, the virtual event software industry has undergone a massive transformation. Before 2020, almost nobody was talking about virtual events. If they were, they may have been referring to webinars, the more passive cousin of virtual events. Most businesses did not have a virtual event strategy in place—conferences, trade shows, and professional meetings were always in-person affairs, after all.
However, virtual events are now in their heyday, as businesses have had to adapt to travel restrictions, social distancing, and remote work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The shift happened quickly. According to data from Aventri, more than 70% of marketers didn’t have a virtual event strategy going into the pandemic. But by September 2020, a report from BrightTALK found that about a third of marketers said virtual events had become a core marketing strategy for their business.
What does this mean for the future of events? When in-person gatherings are given the green light again, will all these new strategies, budgets, and software licenses be tossed aside? How should companies invest their event budgets in 2021 and beyond?
The virtual event software industry is still growing
If like me, you’re subscribed to a range of marketing tech newsletters, you’ve no doubt received the same flood of webinars and blog posts asserting that virtual events are here to stay and offering tips on how to host a more engaging virtual event. The abundance of this content is a strong indication that it’s resonating with audiences—and therefore that virtual events aren’t going away anytime soon. But let’s see if G2’s data can back that up.
An update on the Virtual Event Platforms category on G2
In December, I shared that G2’s new category for Virtual Event Platforms had experienced massive growth in both products and reviews. In just six months, the category had quadrupled in size, from 15 products to 67. Users had left nearly 500 reviews for products in the category.
Another four months have passed, and as of April 7, 2021, there are 119 products in the Virtual Event Platforms category and 1,860 reviews. This marks more than a 2,777% increase in reviews for Virtual Event Platforms since March 2020.
This exponential growth is impossible to ignore. With 363 reviews left in the month of March alone, it’s clear that the demand for virtual event software is higher than ever.
While this data confirms that the use of virtual events is still increasing, it doesn’t tell us what users’ experiences are with their platform of choice. Organizations around the world had to pivot rapidly to replace in-person events with virtual ones, and many of the most popular products launched last year with very quick turnarounds. What pain points are users experiencing as they implement new virtual strategies, and what lessons can be learned from these early adopters?
Implementation and ROI of virtual event platforms
Earlier in this post, I mentioned a statistic that more than 70% of marketers didn’t have a virtual event strategy before the pandemic. But the show must go on—and businesses had very little time to research, select, and implement a brand new software solution to host their now-virtual events. Software vendors were likely aware of this need and built their products to be implemented quickly.
According to G2 review data, more than a third of companies using virtual event software were able to implement the platform in less than one month. Another 38% implemented their solution in one to three months. Thanks to this rapid implementation time, businesses could pivot their meetings, conferences, and events without rescheduling their entire event calendar.
In a review for vFairs, one user wrote:
“We had to pivot our most significant event of the year into a virtual platform due to COVID 19. Not only were we able to have our annual conference in this virtual format, but we were also able to host a virtual trade show inside of it which gave our users a new and exciting experience they've not received before.”
Another reviewer for PheedLoop noted:
“We worked with PheedLoop beginning in March 2020 when our previous provider was not as willing to jump into an entirely new reality. They were responsive to our needs and allowed us to pivot IMMEDIATELY to move a four day annual in person event to an online environment in a matter of days.”
As we look ahead to another year of virtual and hybrid experiences, marketers will need to prove that their new virtual event strategies are worth the investment. Budgeting for a virtual event is entirely different from budgeting an in-person conference or trade show. While there are fewer physical and logistical expenses to consider—no travel, hotels, catering, or shipping—virtual events require significant investments in technology and training. If these investments don’t impact the business’ bottom line, marketers will begin looking for alternatives.
G2 reviews tell us that nearly 60% of companies using virtual event software saw a return on investment (ROI) within six months. In contrast to this, 42% of companies using event management platforms saw ROI within six months. This is a positive indication that businesses are finding success with virtual events and will continue to invest in these platforms in the coming months and years.
The future is hybrid
If virtual events have been so successful for businesses, what does the future look like for event planners and organizers? As vaccines continue to be distributed and event venues reopen, organizations and attendees will gradually become more comfortable with the idea of in-person events. Soon after, businesses are likely to resume their regularly scheduled in-person event programming.
But this doesn’t mean virtual events will disappear. According to Global DMC Partners, 72% of event planners are moving to a virtual or hybrid format for events in 2021. One of the things that makes virtual events so powerful is their ability to connect businesses, prospects, and communities that would otherwise never have connected through an in-person event due to geographic and economic barriers. Going forward, it will be important for companies to remember these benefits and avoid excluding their audiences when planning a return to live events.
What, exactly, hybrid events will look like remains to be seen. However, we can be assured that today’s virtual event platforms will be at the forefront of this transformation. At G2, we’ll be keeping an eye on the market as it continues to evolve and updating our taxonomy to help businesses find the event platform they need for their events—be they in-person, virtual, or hybrid.