Virtual event platforms scramble to meet demand as coronavirus knocks out conferences: What to do

Extreme measures being put into place by local and federal governments banning mass gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19 are drastically impacting our industry. Marketing conferences scheduled to take place within the next several weeks are being canceled, postponed or going digital-only. The direct economic loss from canceled marketing conferences and business activities has surpassed $1 billion and continues to climb, according to data intelligence company PredictHQ.

As marketers, we can’t bring every aspect of our business — including our events — to a complete halt, which is why companies are flocking to virtual event platforms to deliver content to attendees. But with the surge of complex requests coming in, how are these martech companies managing the increased demand?

The waitlist for virtual events platform Hopin swelled from 10,000 in February to over 18,000 event organizers in a about three weeks, Founder and CEO Johnny Boufarhat told CNBC in an interview. To keep up with the demand, the company plans to double its 20 person workforce and focus on expanding the platform’s hosting capabilities and scalability. “We’re pushing out the product faster than we expected to,” said Boufarhat.

“We want to help people that are being affected by the coronavirus and their conferences,” Boufarhatsaid. He also noted that the company is fast-tracking their work with several event organizers “specifically to help with the coronavirus and help organizers run the events. Everyone else is on the waitlist.”

The platform can currently handle up to about 100,000 attendee-users and includes interactive features that allow the users to ask questions to presenters and network with other virtual attendees.

Mark Bornstein, VP of marketing at digital experience platform ON24, shared that the company’s phones have been ringing non-stop with calls from event marketers needing a quick and easy way to pull off their multi-tiered events. “In some cases, we see companies moving seminars and turning them into interactive multimedia webinars, which is great,” said Bornstein. “In some cases, there are larger trade shows and conferences, which we’re moving to more Netflix-style content or engagement hubs.”

Bornstein highlighted two events that were repurposed from live events to digital-only: Box reported 112% ROI in “first touch” opportunities from their event that was rescheduled as digital, and Thompson Reuters reported a 73% increase in global attendees by taking its event digital.

What to do if you need a platform — fast

Given the rush in demand, marketers on the hunt for a virtual events platform to quickly replace their live events may find they are stuck on a waiting list. But that doesn’t have to mean there are no immediate options.

Here are a few ideas:

Start with your webinar platform. Boufarhat said it above. Many of these firms are prioritizing their existing partners. So if you are using platforms like INXPO, On24, GoToMeeting or many others, they either have virtual events platforms or advanced features you are not using that could meet your needs.

Leverage the communication tools you have. Skype calls can be recorded. Slack groups are quick to set up. Even Google’s enterprise client Meet gives you the option to live-stream and record meetings. Depending on what other platforms are in your stack (for managing registration/leads, landing pages, DAM, etc.), you may find you have the tools and talent to pull it off.

Think video. What matters most is translating your scheduled live event content into a digital presentation. And while live event platforms offer so much in terms of registration, Q&A, networking, virtual booths and more, if the main goal is to engage your audience and customers with your scheduled content, tools are within reach. Of course, there are the native screen recording or camera options on just about every one of our laptops. Wistia’s Soapbox tool is another interesting option for recording presentation-style videos. Whatever you use to capture video, you can use a number of platforms to build collections akin to an event agenda (Ahem, YouTube).

Experience matters (to a point). Talk show hosts like Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert have left their studios and are uploading videos from their backyards. NPR’s “Live From Here” variety show (which replaced A Prarie Home Companion) is now a collection of home-based performances on Instagram tied together by a #livefromhome hashtag. Content and authority is king, but experience is certainly changed right now. Don’t overthink it.

Remember the landscape. There is no shortage of tools out there. So if you get stuck trying to find the right solution, remember there are many, many options.

See for yourself.

Of course, for those of you who find creative solutions to pulling off virtual events, please shoot me a note at . We’d love to see what you do and perhaps share your tips with the community.

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