4. Virtual event hosting platforms
h. VII Events
What is a virtual event platform?
2019 seems like a simpler time. Back before social distancing was a thing and remote working was still seen as a perk, virtual event platforms bridged the gap between video conferencing and in-person events (back then, known simply as “events”).
They offered an all-in-one alternative allowing attendee acquisition, expanded reach, high-profile speakers (minus the travel costs), and more. They were often the realm of larger corporations, intimidating for everyone other than the most seasoned event marketers, and very much a nice to have.
Then, everything started burning and the world flipped upside down. Yay, 2020.
How has COVID-19 changed the event landscape?
Now, the expectation is firmly on a virtual-first approach as standard. With the number of businesses considering a virtual event in 2020 doubling from the previous year, the takeaway is clear: if you’re not embracing a virtual or hybrid event model – good luck filling those seats.
Not only did COVID-19 force the entire events industry to improvise and adapt, it simultaneously raised the bar for success. Suddenly, every meeting was online and event organisers found themselves fighting the dreaded ‘Zoom fatigue’ as their biggest challenge for engaging event attendees (probably the first time ever that technology barriers weren’t the biggest concern - though they came in a close second).
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Aside from giving introverts of the world something to cheer about, this shift has brought about pivotal industry change, and the opportunities for companies and attendees are better than ever. Going beyond attending professional events in PJs, that is.
What does this mean for event marketers, today?
Event marketers are now expected to add a whole new branch of tech to their repertoire, with the considerable reach, cost savings, and other benefits of virtual events proving more valuable than ever. It’s expanded the opportunity for event marketers both from an acquisition and speciality perspective, allowing for more crossover with traditional digital and social media marketing - local is no longer a prerequisite for hiring, for one thing.
Success benchmarks have shifted, too, with 49% of event marketers noting audience engagement as the biggest contributing factor to a successful event (source: Markletic).
For event marketers in 2022, the pressure is on to find the best tool to facilitate seamless and engaging virtual events, without sacrificing the benefits of in-person events. In this post, we’ll take a look at of the best virtual event platforms for 2022.
Hopin boasts “immersive virtual, hybrid, and in-person event experiences for your audience, no matter where they are.” They aim to help overcome the engagement barrier in virtual and hybrid events,with more interactivity options than you can poke a well-sharpened pencil at. Expect everything from expo booths and breakout rooms, to 1on1 networking and more.
"The Hopin networking feature is like an addictive, safe, fun chat roulette." — Women Who Code
They’re also going hard on strategic acquisitions, in an attempt to become the do-everything platform of event marketers’ dreams. Fair warning: if you’re selling a lot of tickets, this one’s better if you’ve got a little (or a lot) of budget to spend.
Price range: basic free plan, paid plans from $99 monthly. Custom pricing for events with over 1200 registrations per year.
Features we love:
• Offers 5 different ‘rooms’ for every event, all with their own interactivity options - great for replicating the feel of an in-person event online
• Easily customise branding of an event (theme, font, colours)
• Sponsor-friendly - allows branded feeds and sessions (overlays, logos, and tickers)
• Allows analytics tracking at all levels, to monitor what attendees are talking about, what they’re spending time on, registration numbers and more
• Navigation and login can be difficult for non-technical users (particularly when issuing links to backstage areas for presenters, as they have to login like attendees). Guided events and passwordless logins via magic links help with this.
• No pre-recorded uploads, customers must provide their own hosted video (eg vimeo)
• You can’t be in two places at the same time on Hopin’s system, so some people have reported difficulties with finding their way back after clicking out of a session, and presenters have had difficulty knowing when it’s their time to present. Hopin's "My Agenda" helps you keep track of event segments you want to attend with notifications when each session or meeting is about to begin.
• No lead qualification within the platform as yet (should change soon, since their acquisition of Attendify)
• Attendee registrations are limited to the capacity licence. If you do go over, you're charged at the overage rate determined by your plan post-event.
Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest drawcards for Zoom is that after 18 months of remote meetings, pretty much everyone a) has an account, and b) knows how to use it. Zoom Events goes one step further by building upon already killer conferencing and webinar functionality, to allow hosting for single and multi-session events, and attendee networking.
While the platform itself is well-used and robust, the events product is new (previously they only had Zoom Webinars) - so you may see some initial teething problems, as with any newer product. Also, the lack of sponsor networking or booths may be a dealbreaker for some events where dedicated sponsor involvement is a must.
Price range: starting from $99 per month for 500 attendees, up to $3240 for 5000 attendees. Custom pricing for larger events and more licenses.
Features we love:
• Multiple roles allow for custom event controls
• Reliable, even at scale
• Customisable registration and ticketing
• Networking happens via chat in a dedicated lobby area
• No sponsor networking or booths
• Integrations (streaming live to Facebook, etc) can be temperamental - practice and test first
• Event attendees are limited to the capacity licence purchased
• Not as many options for interactivity in larger events
Built for hybrid and virtual events, Hubilo pride themselves on delivering ‘white glove’ service to their customer base, for smooth, hassle-free operation of large scale events. Mid-event panic? Your support rep is on-hand to help.
With some big-name brands like Coca-Cola, WordPress, and AWS in their customer list, they’re no stranger to enterprise level event management, and event attendees love the ease of use and mobile access options.
Price range: from $99 per month for up to 50 registrants, custom pricing for Pro and Enterprise plans.
Features we love:
• Fantastic options for sponsors, including self-managed virtual booths, and direct communication with attendees
• Engagement via the lounges, contests, leaderboards and matchmaking functions
• Excellent white label branding options, including vanity URLs, branded mobile app, themes, and sponsored ads
• 24/7 dedicated support, very responsive and helpful
• Easily report on event ROI with detailed, robust reporting capabilities
• Polls and quizzes can be ignored by attendees - many companies would like the option of making these mandatory
• You need a hands-on host to moderate and monitor online activity
• Reports of some issues with firewalls and email filters, and streaming lags
• They’re shipping quickly and making constant improvements to the platform - so occasionally the updates can interfere with operations (both a pro and a con, really)
Born during the pandemic, Balloon is a self-serve event management platform allowing organisers to create expo booths, tiered sponsorship and exhibitor packages, and multiple ticket types (including hidden tickets). Easy to use with a simple interface, they’ve been dubbed the “Shopify for events”, because they allow as much or as little customisation as you’d like. We love their agility and responsiveness to customer requests.
Best for small-medium sized events and lower budgets due to their low commitment plans, flexible tiers, and easy to manage ‘per attendee’ overage fees. To access event recordings, you’ll need to be on a paid plan.
Price range: free plans available for up to 25 attendees, paid plans from $100-1000 monthly
Features we love:
• Tiered ‘base + attendee’ pricing structure - first event of the month is free under a certain attendee level
• Get events set up in minutes
• Event engagement is easy to manage and access
• Analytics are available for all membership tiers
• White label branding and external ticket sales only available on Enterprise plan
• Being quite new, the integration possibilities aren’t as developed as other platforms and there are a few teething issues (as expected)
• Attendee registration and login can be quite confusing if your demographic isn’t tech-savvy
ON24 are the OGs of the events world, having been around since 1998. Their user base is largely enterprise, and customers love their webinar functionality and flexibility.
The best part about using a platform that’s been around longer than most of Gen Z? They’re free from a lot of the teething problems that accompany early stage startups. This makes them a great choice for larger events where there’s a lot at stake - you don’t want a small technical issue throwing your entire event off. On the flip side, they don’t ship big updates to the platform as often as a newer, more agile company. So don’t hold your breath if you’re waiting for a certain feature - it may take some time.
Price range: this is built for enterprise use, so expect to spend upwards of $10,000.
Features we love:
• Their webinar types are popular with their customers: on-demand (like Netflix), simulive (pre-recorded but streamed as though live), and live
• Excellent post-event analytics
• Highly customisable features and offers many products and integrations
• Less branding customisation than other platforms (menu format, colours, no font upload)
• Support is tiered and can be confusing - expect to pay more for hands-on support options
• Because there are so many features, the onboarding/configuration process and learning curve for event organisers can be more steep than other platforms
With all the tech on their side, Swapcard’s claim to fame draws on the buzzword of the moment — AI — proudly touting their platform as the only AI-powered “end to end event and community platform for virtual & hybrid events”. But do they live up to the hype?
It certainly looks promising, with Swapcard being the platform of choice for some big names in the biz world (Mongo, Informa, Dubai World Trade Centre). Ticketing is handled via integration, and people love how intuitive the platform is — noting how little they needed to use the help centre to get everything up and running.
Price range: Small events from $120 per month, larger events from $590, with free and custom community plans available.
Features we love:
- Low learning curve - Swapcard is described as being intuitive and easy to train team members on the tech stack
- Showing all the signs of being a “one stop shop” for event marketers
- Users would love to see more native integrations (like ticketing) and customisation options, particularly where design is concerned
- Support will cost extra - but for high stakes events, this’ll likely be worth the extra cost
- Logins are handled via “magic links” at the moment, and a few users have mentioned how much easier it would be to have SSO capability
Marketing themselves as an “event-success platform”, Grip offer an enviable tech stack allowing them to support in-person, virtual, hybrid and hosted buyer events. Offering intelligent features like AI-powered matchmaking and a huge list of integrations, their website boasts case studies from successful events to highlight their growing features list (backed by the data to go along with it). Winning ‘Best Event Networking Technology’ at the Best Event Tech awards in 2021, Grip have quietly carved out a space for themselves as a leading virtual events platform.
Interestingly, if you spend a few minutes on their website, you’ll see how they emphasise attendee networking as part of their event experience, offering a range of options from unstructured/spontaneous (speed networking and roundtables) to highly structured (multi person meetings and Hosted Buyer Meetings). With 70% of businesses surveyed (Bizzabo; 2019) using engagement as a success measure for their events, this can only mean an increased focus on this in the future, with one user describing them as “like Tinder for business networking”.
Price range: This one’s built for enterprise users with frequent event needs, so it’s better suited to larger budgets — there’s no free option at this stage.
Features we love:
- AI powered matchmaking is on the rise, and the numbers stack up — with Grip reporting over 5.5 million connections made based on professional goals and interests
- Their emphasis on networking means attendee engagement is a priority for the platform
- Users are full of praise for their dedicated support, with one user describing it as “the best we have ever worked with”
- Although engagement is one of their top features, they’re missing gamification to make this happen more organically
- Some users would like more from reporting and analytics
- Their app can be buggy, with quite a few users reporting bugs with logging in and crashing
Offering a 360 degree 3D virtual and hybrid events platform, VII events claims a “fully customisable, interactive, immersive” experience. How do they do it? By creating a digital experience that aims to replicate the look and feel of walking around a real-life conference or trade show. Catering to events from 100 to 100,000 attendees, they’re introducing advanced gamification features like escape rooms and treasure hunts (we’ll admit, they’ve got our attention).
We can see this being huge for internal events and larger trade shows, but as the company and product is still very much in its infancy, some standard product features may still be on the beta/experimental side.
Price range: a basic license starts at $9800, with custom plans available for more complex requirements.
Features we love:
- Dedicated 24/7 support to help everything run smoothly
- The immersive 3D experience is new for pretty much everyone — creating a more engaging and memorable experience from the start, as it brings that real life game feeling to a virtual event
- Users love the attention to detail, with every aspect of the experience covered (even plants in the virtual venues), including 3D modelling of your company’s products
- They also offer accessibility options to ensure everyone can participate in their virtual event experiences
- Their packages are not for low-budget events, so if you’re operating on a shoestring, it won’t be for you
- As the company was founded in 2020, we’d expect there to be some teething problems as with any new platform, and you might not have as many options for analytics, reporting, and other integrations.
Used by big names like Uber, Facebook and Pfizer, Glisser claims “inspiring, high participation events of any size”, offering scalable event packages for events of over 100K attendees. They offer a comprehensive suite of features including games, polls and quizzes you can build directly into presentations, to keep engagement levels high, with a huge list of well-developed features on both the attendee and event marketer side. Their biggest problem? Standing out from the other large platforms with the same suite of features. People have options.
Because they’re trusted by big names you know information security is a top priority, with ISO 27001 certification meaning they’re well equipped to protect all data handled. This makes them a great choice for publicly traded companies, who can have strict legal and compliance requirements. It’s also easy to use, with users commenting on how easily members of their team from all departments can successfully set up an event. You can even try before you buy.
Price range: Free trial available, paid plans starting at around $1300 per month. Expect a custom quote for an enterprise plan — although most of their plans are now custom quoted to better suit your needs.
Features we love:
- Users love their support, with glowing reviews of their customer success team
- Reporting is robust, with useful analytics to help you better understand event performance (really useful for regular/recurring events)
- As with any platform there’s a learning curve, but Glisser comes highly recommended by most for its ease of use
- No requirement for user sign up or download, which eliminates a lot of on-the-day issues
- Pricing is on the higher end, so if you’re a smaller company they might not be suitable
- Some users complained about issues with presentations and editing slides once uploaded to the platform, and there’s a need to upload and sync slides well in advance of the event — so if you have last minute changes, you might struggle!
Aimed at making events stress-free for marketers, Goldcast’s claim to fame is their “binge-worthy” events, and their Netflix-style approach to virtual and hybrid events. With Goldcast, attendees can stream and download videos on demand, and event organisers can handle empty stages and programming pauses in style with advanced video production features (meaning no blank screens and plenty of options for additional brand exposure or engaging pre-created visuals).
“As immersive as your favourite Netflix show”
Trusted by names like Microsoft and Github, they’re going heavy on branding, with features like registration, automatic email reminders, and in-event engagement made fully customisable.
Price range: Annual plans start at $10,000 for webinars and $18,000 for virtual events, with extra pay-to-play features like ticketing and language translation available as add-ons.
Features we love:
- Granular data insights, with helpful data around engagement to help marketers and sales teams with targeting and segmentation
- Branding capabilities are more advanced than other platforms, with many more opportunities to create an end to end branded experience
- Another vote for top notch customer service — we’re seeing a rising trend in platforms prioritising support (which we love) over ‘do everything’ features
- Intuitive platform that prioritises the attendee experience, without making life more difficult on the logistics side
- Although they have advanced integrations with a lot of the bigger CRMS (like Marketo, Salesforce and Hubspot), you won’t get any of that with their lower priced plan, so expect to pay more
- They’re adding and updating features constantly — not a challenge as such, but you do need to stay on top of the functionality available and keep track of what’s changing to get the best use out of the product