Heidi Williams asks: ‘What kind of virtual event platform are you using? The purist, the pivoter or the production company?’
There has been an explosion in virtual event platforms, with hundreds of vendors to choose from, so narrowing it down to a shortlist is no easy task. It can help to understand the provenance of your provider because ‘where’ they’ve come from will influence their feature set, capabilities and specialities. In our experience, there are three types of virtual event providers – the ‘purists’ (who were always a virtual event platform), the ‘pivoters’ (who were originally something different – mostly mobile event app companies – that added streaming to their feature-set to pivot to virtual events), and the production peeps – who were (are) AV production companies at heart, and have the skills and expertise to create a platform for virtual events and, with all their real-life work on the back-burner, thrust their energies into doing so.
The purists were built, designed and created solely and specifically to act as a virtual event platform. The advantage of this is they haven’t had to fudge their functionality to suit a different purpose – it was created specifically for what it is now doing. That generally means it’s slick and user friendly and has features and functionality which allow for customisation. They’ve lived and breathed virtual events for longer than the other platforms, so they understand the challenges and opportunities and they’ve developed solutions to solve common virtual-world issues. For some (but not most), a disadvantage can be that they’re built on legacy tech which, in today’s fast-moving world, is already somewhat outdated and adding new features and functionality makes it clunky.
The pivoters were born from other event tech – mostly mobile apps. Event mobile apps were ubiquitous and included a ton of features useful for a virtual event – from online agendas and networking capabilities to Twitter integration and exhibitor listings. When Covid hit, it catalysed the transformation of mobile event apps into virtual event platforms – it makes sense – they had most of the functionality already, they just needed to add streaming capabilities. A benefit of virtual event platforms that were born out of mobile app providers is that they’ve really understood and capitalised on the user experience and generally have an excellent interface, good integrations, and lots of features and bells and whistles. Another benefit is they’re often set up to be self-service, modelling themselves on self-serve solutions like Eventbrite. So, for example, speakers can upload their own presentations. A disadvantage is that their self-service-ness can mean they’re following a template/lego-style model, which means they can lack customisation of branding areas and so on.
The production peeps
When Covid hit, AV production companies who were suddenly unable to fulfil their onsite work, pivoted to create a platform that would enable their clients to host events online. These guys have got the streaming/video/production values spot on, but often (but not always) lack the additional functionality of networking or exhibitor capabilities – or at least, the self-serve approach to these functions. They have enviable production expertise, but not always user experience expertise. The advantage of a production company is they can provide a superior solution for conference-based content, where it’s all about the speakers, the presentations and the panel debates. They excel at TV-style editing and create a really professional looking livestream. The disadvantage is that additional functionality like exhibitor and sponsor capabilities can be limited.
So, the purist, the pivoter and the production peeps went into a bar and…No, I don’t know any virtual event platform jokes, sorry. In all seriousness, which type you select will depend on what you need and what’s most important to you. All the platforms we’ve seen are ultimately pretty solid in delivering streamed content, so making your decision comes down to the core objectives of what you’re trying to achieve and which platform is best aligned to help you do so. Understanding their provenance, however, is definitely a good shortcut to making sense of their capabilities.
Heidi Williams is part of We are Event Masters a free facebook group for eventprofs by eventprofs. It shares tips, tactics and insights to help event marketers grow registration and sell out their events.