There’s been one event-related industry that has boomed in the past year: the virtual events hosting platforms.
Not only has the number of start-ups offering hosting services increased considerably but there has also been a great deal of innovation in an attempt to make up for the absence of live events. Rather than offering something that resembled the already existing free content on other platforms, developers have gone above and beyond to build interactive and beautifully designed hosting platforms that allow virtual events to integrate the perks of live experiences. These platforms have redefined online events. All the hard work has paid off and it has been a lucrative year for the online events industry. A study conducted by Grand View Research shows that the industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 23.2% from 2020 to 2027. This means the value of virtual events will grow nearly ten-fold over the next decade from $78 billion to $774 billion.
In this article, I look at some of the platforms out there and sum up what makes them stand out from the crowd. While every event organizer will be focused on pricing and customer support to make it as easy and as cheap as possible for them to run the event, the design and features of each platform is equally important and can turn a good event into an amazing one. Unless you have the right platform where your speakers can get creative with the format of their talks, workshops, or webinars, you might be only a skip away from your event reminding everyone of the Monday morning team meeting on Zoom.
Speaking of which, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet remain valid options for virtual events, but if you’re looking to connect with audiences and create a memorable experience, you need to look further than these platforms. Their biggest advantage is that everyone knows them inside out by now and they’re easy to use. Their disadvantage is that everyone knows them inside out by now and might find them as boring as watching paint dry. An event stands a better chance of becoming an experience if it manages to brighten up the viewer’s day on the same old screen by bringing in something new to the way we interact online.
Moreover, online events are more complex than streaming a talk on Youtube or getting people to join a Zoom call. According to a study done by Grand View Research, the India & U.S.-based market research and consulting company, the most common type of digitally simulated events includes job fairs, trade shows, company conferences, sales meetings, and summits. This diversity is due to virtual platforms that encourage creativity and allow for different formats to be implemented easily. Let’s dive in.
The first one we’ll look at comes from Adobe. The software giant acquired Macromedia Breeze as long ago as 2006 and rebranded it Adobe Connect. As is to be expected, Adobe has developed this into an impressive platform.
It will come as no surprise that this platform prioritizes design, and offers a great level of control over the look of its virtual spaces. They can be personalized with your branding and they claim that “the scope of design is limited only by your imagination”. You feel like you can actually make the event stand out with your logo, color palette, and creatives. It’s not just a neutral virtual environment but can easily become your own.
In addition to this, when setting up an event you don’t simply set up one page. Instead, you can build an entire set of pages within Adobe Connect. The platform has templates for an Event Information page, a Speaker Information page, a Registration page, a Confirmation page, and a Login page. You can custom design each of these pages to create beautiful and complex landing pages. Not to mention it has a simple drag-and-drop interface that any newbie can easily navigate.
The platform also offers a wide range of interaction possibilities from whiteboards, chats, quizzes, to polls and games. No matter the content and format of the event, every host can find a preferred way of interacting with their audience.
The presentations, webinars, classrooms, or talks are recorded, and the links shared in the live presentation are saved so that they can easily be accessed even after the live event is over. This is great for audiences who gain long-term access to the content.
Lastly, Adobe Connect includes subtitles, audio tracks, and makes it easier for those with visual, auditory, or mobility disabilities to participate and engage.
Adobe Connect Meetings - starting at 50 USD/month
Adobe Connect Webinars - starting at 140 USD/month
Adobe Connect Learning - starting at 370 USD/month
Adobe Connect has a free trial and a free version for small meetings of up to 3 participants.
In terms of support, they offer all but one thing: 24/7 live rep support. It’s true that when you already have: e-mail and Help Desk, FAQs/Forum, knowledge base, phone and chat support you’re most likely going to be fine. However, if your event is scheduled to start in 10 minutes and you still have to figure out technical issues there is no such thing as too much support.
Starting as a platform dedicated to making fundraising easier and more interactive, Accelevents has made the shift to supporting various event formats within the past year.
Accelevents is still committed to making fundraising easy but has been busy evolving. You can set up your event as you like and include any of these options: fundraising (donation, auction, raffle, and fund), virtual expos, breakout sessions, networking, and main stage. Set up is pretty straightforward and if the process seems a bit lengthy, it’s only because this platform can do pretty much everything you need to deliver your event.
Much as with Adobe Connect, you can create an event website within the platform and add a cover image and your logo. It might not be the graphical designers’ first option, but it does offer plenty of freedom in this respect.
Probably the biggest advantage of Accelevents is the social media and email integration and analytics. This platform is a powerful marketing and analytics tool that makes it easy to reach audiences, monitor your event’s performance by assessing sales performance and ticket buyer data in real-time, and later, analyze the data gathered.
You can even sell tickets “at the door” and get those latecomers in as well.
3 USD/day/participant, but with a minimum of 500 USD per event.
There are two more options — single events and regular events — for which you have to contact support to get personalized offers based on your profile and expectations.
Unlike Adobe Connect, it doesn’t have a free version, but it does have a free trial in case you want to test it before signing up.
The good news here is that they offer every option Adobe Connect does, plus 24/7 live rep customer support. This comes on top of impressive training possibilities: everything from live online, webinars, documentation, videos to exclusive in-person training.
GoToWebinar is a veteran in the game. It’s been around since 2006 and it’s still a very reliable platform, great if you’re hosting an event as an individual speaker or coach.
GoToWebinar might not be the most modern or eye-catching of platforms, but it’s super easy to use. Once you’ve set up the registration page, you can send invitation emails, and GoToWebinar then handles confirmation and reminder emails.
Though events here have the same format and might lack the complexity other platforms offer, the audience can still interact through polls, surveys, and live Q&As. You can pull out reports with information like event analytics, attendee reports, and source tracking. All valuable insights which you can use to make your next event better. Even if you’re a one-man/woman show, good analytics are essential and one of the most powerful ways to get to know your audience.
One of the biggest advantages of GoToWebinar is its practice function. Speakers can get accustomed to the platform and check out how their talk looks on the screen.
Finally, webinars are recorded, and GoToWebinar has a customizable branded video hub so you can share your best events with others. Moreover, you can use these recordings to offer your webinar as an on-demand or recorded event. This means you will be able to reach audiences beyond your existing contacts.
In terms of design, GoToWebinar does a good job of keeping it simple, in fact maybe too simple. It doesn’t offer much creative freedom, but it’s perfect if you just want an easy landing page your attendees can sign up on. The interface may look a bit outdated to you, especially if you’ve used some of the other platforms that have a more modern interface.
Lite: $59 /organizer /month, billed annually
Standard: $129/organizer /month, billed annually
Pro: $249/organizer /month, billed annually
Enterprise: $499/organizer /month, billed annually
The ways to contact customer support are pretty standard: FAQs available on the website, chatbox, and a community where you can ask your questions, and if all else fails, you can contact support via the phone.
Launched in 1998, ON24 has been around for a while and has had time to perfect what they do.
ON24 is a digital experience platform, but to some, it might sound more like a sales and marketing platform than an online event platform. They focus on creating virtual events as part of a customer journey instead of for educational or entertainment purposes.
You can create different customized event pages within the platform, but as they say themselves, the best part is the data. The events are more a means to an end, and the data gathered about the customers that attend is translated into insights about customer behaviors which can then be fed into existing sales and CRM systems. While this is a great resource for companies, it might not be the most appealing feature to event organizers whose aim is to educate and entertain audiences and sell the event, rather than using the event to ultimately sell a product.
Price: It is aimed at Enterprises and Fortune 500 companies, which means their pricing is higher than the average market price. They use a subscription model, but the prices are not public and you need to contact their customer support to get a quote.
ON24 does offer a free trial if you want to give it a go before signing up for a subscription.
Their customer support is matched only by Accelevents, and includes 24/7 live rep as well as the usual email/help desk, FAQs/Forum, phone support, and live chat.
We won’t declare a winner because each of these platforms can be the best depending on your requirements and the aims of the event. The best way to decide is to make a list of what is most important to you and what you wish your event to be, before you sign up for a platform. If you’re representing a design or art festival, you might want a platform that allows you to create a strong visual identity, like Adobe Connect. If you’re flying solo and simply want to host a webinar for the first time on your own, then of these, GoToWebinar is the easiest way to do it. Accelevents is great if you want to integrate fundraising or auctions into your event and make it a memorable experience for the donors.
Needless to say, there are many more platforms out there and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options available. If you want to keep looking, hopefully, this will at least have given you some tools to use in your search for the perfect one.