The Virtual Vantage

Virtual events can create new and lucrative opportunities for small business owners.

Trade shows provide a great opportunity for small business owners in any industry to find major clients and expand their business. Unfortunately trade shows can be very expensive, time consuming and demanding making them an often difficult marketing tactic for small businesses to use.

The idea of virtual events has been around for many years, but it took the economic downturn of this year to bring on an explosion of growth in the virtual trend. More and more companies are starting to incorporate virtual events into their marketing budget—small businesses among them.

Besides the economy driving the popularity of virtual events, there are several other factors as well, according to Michael Westcott, Managing Director of the Event Marketing Institute.

“One is that technology has been refined to where it is easy to use and execute for both attendees and hosts,” Westcott said. “There is obviously also a lot of interest around the environmental benefits. Another thing is there is a greater interest today in finding new revenue streams and new ways for people to connect and collaborate. People are becoming more comfortable with that as a medium.”

Westcott added that virtual events are definitely a viable option for small businesses in a number of ways. “The price points are becoming within the reach of smaller organizations and companies,” he said. “They can often host their own event for a reasonable sum. As I mentioned before, many are using them as revenue generators. In the publishing industry, many small publishers are finding that they can be a whole new source of revenue for sponsorships and advertisers.”

According to a survey by ON24, a San Francisco-based virtual events company; there are many aspects of virtual events that participants find particularly appealing including:

  • 75% appreciated that there is no travel required

  • 64% liked that they can attend the virtual sessions on their own time schedules

  • 58% found it useful to be able to “forward” virtual sessions to their colleagues that they thought would be on interest to them

More than one third of respondents cited the social networking benefits of virtual events, including the ability to see a list of all attendees in advance (35%); to contact other attendees online throughout the event (40%) and to get information on people (32%) and companies (34%) they meet electronically.

Another advantage to virtual events is that the quality of leads are higher and more cost-effective, according to Joerg Rathenberg, Marketing Executive at Unisfair, the leading provider of virtual events, virtual trade shows and online job fairs.

“In a virtual environment, everything is controlled,” he said. “From the moment a person signs on, every click is monitored. We can give you a report that will tell you things like how long they were signed on for, how many white papers they downloaded and which booths they visited. It generates sort of an electronic footprint so you don’t just get an empty lead.”

A typical virtual environment includes the main hall, which allows access to all the event locations and activities. Rathenberg said some of their customers use that as their home base and will give them pictures of their headquarters.

The exhibition hall hosts booths that you can organize into groups and each booth allows for live interaction with attendees. Another unique aspect is a virtual briefcase that participants can fill with presentations, information, and contacts and can be exported as a zip file at any time.

An area that is also very popular is the networking lounge that serves as a central meeting place among attendees. There, you can set up some predefined topics of chat and discussions.

Even though the economy will eventually improve and marketing budgets will again be plentiful, virtual events will see continued growth and it would be wise as a small business owner to take advantage of this amazing technology if you have the opportunity. —Lynn Celmer

Copyright © 2009 Event Marketing Institute. All Rights Reserved.

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