2020 changed the game for community events.
In the span of less than a year, community managers pivoted their in-person event programs, perfected the art of virtual engagement, and went to enough Zoom birthday parties to last a lifetime.
Yet despite challenges, it’s clear that virtual events will continue to play a role in the new normal — whatever that looks like.
We surveyed more than 500 community builders for the 2021 Community Industry Report. While it’s no surprise that community managers are hosting more virtual events, what did surprise us is the value unlocked by virtual events.
The Value of Virtual Events
Despite challenges like the virtual engagement gap and Zoom fatigue, half of community professionals said the shift to virtual events had a positive impact on their community. Virtual events have many benefits. For one, they are less costly than in-person events. They’re also more accessible and geographically limitless.
“The adaptation of virtual activities came fast to our community. On one hand, it cannot replace the in-person experience for entrepreneurs. But it opened the door for many others to join without having to spend time traveling, and meet more people worldwide. We can work together from more than one city or country and connect both groups together.” -CMX Survey Respondent
In fact, community professionals still plan to offer virtual events even when in-person events come back safely. The majority plan to offer the same number of virtual events, or more.
If this year showed us the potential of virtual events, it was also the year that virtual platforms exploded. And the future of virtual events isn’t limited to just Zoom calls. Many companies are already experimenting with hybrid events (events that use both in-person and virtual components), 3D virtual events, new apps like Clubhouse, and more.
There are more options than ever before — and more platforms to choose from. We’ll help you sort through the noise to identify a virtual event platform that works for your team. Let’s dive in!
Choosing a Virtual Event Platform
Virtual event platforms are being used in creative new ways for events ranging from intimate discussion groups to multi-day conferences. These now include both community events and internal events (such as social events for your HQ team).
Like selecting a community platform, choosing a platform for your virtual events should start by nailing your strategy and what you hope to accomplish through virtual events. Before choosing a virtual event platform, consider the following:
- How large will your events be?
- How will participants interact during your events?
- What is your budget?
- What objectives will these events serve?
- How will you determine the ROI of your virtual events? What data do you need?
- How important is data protection and privacy?
Once you know the answers to these questions, you’re ready to begin looking at your options!
Not sure what value your community events will serve? Check out the SPACES Model to learn more about the different objectives community can serve.
The Most Popular Virtual Event Platforms
There’s no “right” platform for virtual events. The right platform for your community depends on your members, goals, objectives, and organization.
Our data confirms this: 32% of respondents selected “other,” with more than 50 different write-ins.
Below, we’ll walk through the 8 most popular options in our survey. Skip to the end if you’d like to see a longer list of virtual event platforms for more inspiration!
Editor’s note: CMX is owned by Bevy, and Bevy was one of several partners that helped distribute this survey. All data and insights in this post are based on research collected from the CMX community.
Not surprisingly, Zoom is the #1 platform that community managers are using to host virtual events. It’s a solid default option — though it’s not without its drawbacks.
Best for: Zoom’s low price point and smooth features make it an attractive low-budget option, with 100 participants per meeting included in its free tie. Zoom Meetings includes tools that make discussions interactive like breakout rooms, polling, and hand-raising, and users generally report a solid experience overall. Zoom Webinar lets you host up to 100 participants, with the option to add up to 10,000 view-only participants. Additional features include Q&A, customizable branding, and interactive whiteboards.
Watch outs: Zoom can accommodate a range of use cases thanks to its range of features and plan options, but additional features will rack up the price. Customizable branding, higher event capacity, and other personalization options are only available at higher tiers. Event management features like ticketing aren’t built-in, so you’ll need to handle those separately.
Pricing: Zoom’s pricing starts free and has tiers based on features and number of participants.
Bevy is a community event platform that’s built to run events at scale and drive community engagement. It’s what CMX uses to host CMX Summit and CMX Connect — with great results. The platform supports in-person, virtual, and hybrid community events.
Best for: Bevy is built for community teams, so event and community management features like chapter management, ticketing, and event emails are seamless. Bevy can accommodate virtual conferences, small virtual gatherings, in-person events, and more. Bevy supports custom branding, and users own their own data. The platform also makes it easy to empower brand advocates to host their own events.
Watch outs: While Bevy can support one-off events, the platform is geared towards ongoing connection.
Pricing: Contact Bevy for pricing.
“Although we feel the physical distance between us, it’s beautiful to witness how someone in Morocco can be in the same event as someone in Brazil or New Zealand. Since Bevy rallied together to create the virtual event type and support, our user groups have organized 150+ events with 3,500+ RSVPs.” –Sofía Rodríguez Mata, Community Manager at Salesforce
Google’s Meet and Chat products are a solid option for both team and personal communications.
Best for: Google Meet has a simple user interface and can be set up quickly and easily. It’s embedded in GSuite for easy access and organization. Meet can be used on desktop or on a phone, and features interactive tools like hand-raise, Q&A, and polls. The platform also has built-in closed captioning and Google’s security features.
Watch outs: A Google account is needed to create a Google meeting. Free accounts are limited to up to 100 participants and 60 minutes.
Pricing: Google Hangouts Meet starts free and offers pricing tiers based on meeting length, number of meetings & participants, and interactive features like polling and breakout rooms.
Hopin is an event platform that can be used for any size or type of virtual event, from workshops to conferences.
Best for: Hopin has great interactive features for an engaging community experience, including 1:1 networking, breakout sessions, polling, and more. It’s easy to set up and launch events, and you can even set up multiple stages — the platform supports events of any size. Events are also discoverable on Hopin Explore, Hopin’s event marketplace.
Watch outs: Although it supports events of any size, Hopin’s platform is more geared toward larger events. The platform does not offer white labeling.
Pricing: Hopin’s pricing starts at $99/month. The next tier is $799/month, and consultation-based after that.
“Hopin’s networking experience helped to foster a sense of community that felt tangible and as a result, made the rest of the content that much more engaging and impactful.” -Event Marketing Manager at Gong.io
Meetup allows you to create groups and organize events for your groups. Many community managers are building community through either Meetup or Meetup Pro, which are geared towards community engagement.
Best for: Meetup has great communication tools, including customizable email lists and a Mailchimp integration to keep your community engaged between events. Meetup events are also discoverable through its existing database. Meetup supports custom branding for your website, and includes advanced analytics to help track your members and events.
Watch outs: Attendees must join Meetup to register, and attendee tracking and reporting is limited.
Pricing: While Meetup is free, a subscription offers organizers more options. If you’re interested in Meetup Pro, there’s a free 30-day trial.
“With over 115 Unreal Engine Meetup groups, Meetup Pro has enabled us to reach our amazing global community of developers, while empowering them to support and encourage one another. This camaraderie has inspired others to request their own Meetups, rapidly growing our developer community” –Amanda Bott, Community Manager at Epic Games
Microsoft Teams is a workspace for team communication and collaboration. Microsoft Teams is a common option for webinar and collaboration software since many organizations already use Microsoft. This software can also be used to build an internal community within your organization.
Best for: Microsoft Teams has a clear interface and is user-friendly. The platform is loaded with features including screen sharing capabilities, a hand-raise tool, and more. Video chat with up to 300 users, or present live to 10,000. Teams’ strength is in collaboration: You can share or coauthor files in real time, and keep notes and your calendar together on the platform. Teams is included with all Microsoft accounts, making this an attractive option for some workplaces.
Watch outs: You’ll need a Microsoft account to set up a Teams meeting. Pricing can quickly stack up in larger organizations.
Pricing: While there is a free version available, paid plans with more features start at $5 per month per user.
ON24 is known for its webinar platform that can be used to stream live audio and video presentations to an anonymous audience.
Best for: With almost 25 years of experience, ON24 is a leading webinar provider. Users can set up a professional-looking webinar quickly and seamlessly, and pre-recorded content can be broadcasted on multiple stages on ON24’s platform. The platform supports up to 2500 attendees.
Watch outs: ON24 is harder to customize beyond webinars — there’s no option for sponsor booths or breakout rooms.
Pricing: Contact ON24 for pricing. The platform offers a 30-day free trial.
Bizzabo is an event management platform for virtual, in-person, and hybrid events. The platform is geared towards analyzing event data to help surface insights about events.
Best for: Bizzabo has strong analytics capabilities including an event dashboard and trends analytics. Users can also track KPIs and goals directly through Bizzabo’s dashboard. It’s easy to sync Bizzabo on the web and on mobile devices.
Watch outs: The Bizzabo platform is full of features, making it a great option for large events, but one that may be overwhelming for smaller teams or smaller events.
Pricing: Contact Bizzabo for pricing information.
More Virtual Event Platforms to Explore
Here are some more platforms that are popular among community industry professionals.
- Discord: Discord is a platform where users can create and join private servers and communicate via voice chat or text channels. Although its original use was among gamers, it has grown to support many different types of communities.
- Icebreaker: On Icebreaker, you can host engaging virtual events using guided conversation games.
- Crowdcast: Crowdcast is a live-streaming platform that features live chat, polls, Q&A, and more tools to captivate your audience.
- Influitive: Influitive is an advocacy and engagement platform. Customers, employees, and partners are invited to complete challenges for points and badges to be redeemed as perks.
- Remo: Remo is a conferencing platform that allows face-to-face interaction, polls, voting, Q&A, and whiteboarding for teams.
- Splash: Splash is a platform made for virtual, in-person, and hybrid events. It offers analytics and marketing tools to optimize your events.
- StreamYard: StreamYard is a livestreaming platform that allows you to broadcast through a browser to social networks.
- WebEx: WebEx is a popular platform used for web conferencing and video meetings.
- Facebook: Facebook’s virtual options include Facebook Live and its new Messenger Rooms chat for small groups.
- InEvent: InEvent is an event management platform for enterprises. It offers web forms, email marketing, real-time analytics, and more.
- Whova: Whova is an event management solution made for conferences, trade shows, business meetings, community gatherings, and more.
- HeySummit: HeySummit is a platform for virtual summits. HeySummit can be used to deliver both pre-recorded or live video content.
- Intrado: Intrado offers a variety of digital media communications products. Its video platform for virtual events contains reporting, audience engagement tools like polling, and other features.
- Run The World: Run the World is an online event platform that emphasizes attendee engagement, connection, and conversation.
- YouTube: YouTube lets community builders connect with their audience through live-streaming content. There’s even a community function on YouTube where creators can post images, engage with polls, and more on their pages.
- Intrado: Intrado offers an out0of-the-box option as well as support for large-scale events including conferences or trade shows.
We hope your platform search is successful. Every organization’s events program is different, and it’s important to find the best fit for your specific business needs.
>>Go deeper with the 2021 Community Industry Report! Download your free copy today. <<