Notes from the (Virtual) Edge

BY Jeff Cobb

Screen shot of virtual version of Virtual Edge

A virtual view of Virtual Edge through the Unisfair platform

Last week I attended the Virtual Edge Summit, an event focused on virtual meetings, events, and education. It was co-located with PCMA’s annual meeting and drew good attendance – I’d highly recommend it to anyone focused on taking all or parts of your conferences or other educational events online. Here are a few quick takeaways that I think are important for associations:

  • The word “hybrid,” as in “hybrid meeting,” an event that blends online and offline components, has clearly reached buzzword status. Be prepared to hear it a lot in the coming year. Perhaps more importantly, be prepared to embrace it if you haven’t already.
  • Based on what all of the organizations and vendors who presented at the event have to say, the whole notion of virtual events “cannibalizing” the attendance at place-based events is a myth. Indeed, while hard data is still lacking, the opposite seems to be true – organizations that add a virtual component are actually experiencing higher attendance at their face-to-face events. This makes sense, as far as I am concerned: most organizations reach well under half of their membership with their events. Virtual options can greatly boost access and provide for exposure and engagement in places where the organization would normally not have it. It is inevitable that some of this converts into more face-to-face attendance.
  • The corporate virtual platform providers (Unisfair, InXpo, 6Connex, etc.) seem to really be turning an eye toward training and education (as opposed to marketing) events). A couple I have talked to have hired people from the association world to focus on educational conference business, and at least one vendor is touting LMS capabilities. Look for this focus to increase in 2011 – educational events, unlike many marketing events, have direct revenue attached to them, thus making a platform license a bit easier to sell.
  • Virtual exhibits are really a mixed bag at this point. Comments from vendors and companies/organizations that have implemented virtual events jibed with what we have found in our research – it’s going to take a while to get exhibitors full up to speed, figure out the models that work best, and demonstrate the return on investment that will keep exhibitors coming back. That will happen, it’s just not the short-term bonanza that some of the vendor hype has made it out to be in the past.
  • Finally, the early adopters are already starting to look beyond events and think of their virtual environment as places where they can provide continuous, perpetual value. I’d say both AMS and LMS providers need to keep an eye on how virtual events platforms evolve – they may become an increasingly important part of organizations’ overall infrastructure, much like a virtual extension of their offices and training centers.

I welcome any thoughts you have about these points – please comment and share.


P.S. – We have now released our report on virtual conferences in the association sector. Be sure to check it out!  >>

  1. Jeff,

    Thanks for your insights regarding the Summit. We look forward to making the 2012 event an even better one.

    Cece Salomon-Lee
    PR/Marketing Consultant
    Virtual Edge Summit

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