Virtual events provided a lifeline for many businesses and individuals in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic led to the shut down of physical events around the world.
But it’s not just a flash in the pan. Virtual events were already growing in popularity pre-pandemic, with the sector valued at almost $78 billion in 2019. It is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 23.2% from 2020 to 2027, strongly suggesting this is anything but a temporary phenomenon.
According to a recent study by LinkedIn, 45% of future B2B events will be completely virtual.
Its survey of 200 B2B event organisers in the UK and Ireland found that 72% of businesses will maintain virtual events in the long term and 77% are interested in organising hybrids. In fact, businesses’ future event mix will be 32% physical, 45% virtual and 23% hybrid.
Given £31bn a year was spent on UK B2B events pre-pandemic, this suggests the virtual events industry in the UK could be worth £14bn a year.
Budgets are expected to reflect this change immediately as investment in virtual events will be three-times more than physical ones in the next 12 months. The research also finds that a third of event budgets (29%) will be spent on virtual platforms in 2021.
When asked why they plan to continue organising virtual events, the top responses included that they’re pandemic-proof, cost effective and they give global access to content without travel. This is not surprising given UKI B2B event organisers described 2020 as “challenging” (63%), “a learning experience” (62%) and “frustrating” (40%).
The majority of event organisers (88%) arranged a virtual event, webinar or online talk last year. Data from Linkedin’s own platform shows that LinkedIn Live streams increased over 400% year-on-year and LinkedIn Live broadcaster increased nearly 500%. In fact, in December, 12,000 events were hosted a week with a combined half a million attendees. By pivoting this way, 81% of organisers say virtual events provided opportunities that would not have had otherwise.
One company that has truly embraced ‘virtual’ since the pandemic began is Welcome. Starting life as an app to connect restaurants and food wholesalers, it quickly pivoted early on in 2020 to become a virtual events platform, and went on to raise $12 million in Series A funding in November that year.
Co-founder and CEO Roberto Ortiz positions it as a high-end, white-labeled platform that emphasises quality and design first, to easily produce an experience that feels “like an Apple product launch”. Welcome surpassed seven figures in revenue three months after launch, according to a spokesperson, and clients have included Netflix, Oracle and Okta.
“We had to pivot — we either pivot or we die,” Ortiz said. “So we sat down and went back to the drawing board, and we turned a complete 180 to events.
“We saw that there was a big gap in the market, especially looking at high-end events, high-end experiences, and high-end production.”
As with other virtual event platforms, Welcome positions itself as a virtual venue, meaning it strives to replicate the spaces you would expect in a physical venue. There are breakout rooms, for example, and a “green room” where speakers can congregate before going on.
Welcome also allows users to mix live and prerecorded video and to create graphical overlays with additional information or include audience questions.
At Digital Marketing World Forum 2021 you can hear directly from Welcome co-founder Jerry Shen as he gives a talk titled ‘Key Elements to Create a Jaw-Dropping Event’. During his presentation at 2pm on June 2, he will discuss the key ingredients that make up a memorable virtual event that keep your attendees and speakers engaged and interacting with one another.
At 10.30am on June 3, his fellow co-founder, Roberto Ortiz, will take part in a discussion titled ‘Create Jaw-Dropping Virtual Events that Drive Results’.
This talk will unpack how the best brands in the world are leveraging virtual and hybrid events to deliver meaningful value, generate organic engagement, and wow every minute of the attendee experience.