I peeked into Education Week's Online Summit last week and was very impressed. Halfway through they already had almost 1,000 live attendees and 550 comments! It took place on a platform called Brazen, that's usually associated more with virtual career fairs. But it works very well for their summits which are centered around text-based chats with editorial staff—and experts in the K-12 world—and entering various "reporter" or "sponsor" rooms.
"Brazen has been with us since the beginning of our online summits," Matthew Cibellis, director of programming for live and virtual events for Education Week, wrote to me today. "That's because we were already using them for our online job fairs. The price tag back then was too high, and we didn't have sufficient job fair sponsorship to merit keeping them. But my production director asked me to meet with them to discuss how versatile it could be for more content-driven meet-ups. Brazen only convinced me when I started vamping about what I'd like to create. They were nodding their heads and offering to come back to the table with solutions.
"With that negotiation settled, we learned what didn't work in real time and what features we had to disable for the platform to work better. As the interactive experience is nearly completely text-based—we do show videos and livestreams which we embed in the event navigation—it didn't seem that it would provide educators the cross-chatter interactivity that Brazen ensured me of. However, they were right. Professionals began cross-communicating within discussions, hearing something meaningful from another attendee and then replying to the attendee in real time."
With Online Summit producer, Emma Prilliaman, Cibellis hopes to bring in new features soon—ones that he's told Brazen they are seeking—and Brazen has already updated the platform in part with feedback provided last year.
Of course, it's no mystery why virtual event platforms are top of mind now. In the webinar we held last Thursday—you can listen to it or download the transcript here—the three panelists mentioned some of the most popular platforms.
"We've used vFairs," said Brian Cuthbert of Diversified Communications. "The single-most important thing [for a virtual event] is realistic expectations about what the sponsor and attendee can expect. You are not reimagining the show. How many leads can I expect? How will the learning be? Are you implementing video? Are there trainers or is there an audio webinar?"
Rich Luna of Meeting Professionals International named Facebook Live, YouTube Live. Discord StreamKit, Vimeo and IBM Live Streaming. "There are a number of really good platforms out there." Alicia Evanko-Lewis of Northstar Travel Group has been pulling together an appointment event for sellers and buyers that they will use Zoom for. Other platforms that she named include Brandlive, eZ-XPO, Bravura Technologies and 6connect.
In an article on virtual platforms last week, Jennifer Cannon of Marketing Land wrote about the rush to these platforms taking place now. Mark Bornstein, VP of marketing at digital experience platform ON24, verified the uptick in business.
"In some cases, we see companies moving seminars and turning them into interactive multimedia webinars, which is great," said Bornstein. "In some cases, there are larger trade shows and conferences, which we're moving to more Netflix-style content or engagement hubs." Bornstein highlighted two events that were repurposed from live events to digital-only, and both proved very successful.
Cannon then listed these tips for virtual-event seekers:
Start with the platforms you already have. Cibellis didn't even know what Brazen was capable of doing until he met with them. In fact, they might not even have known what they were capable of until he told them what he needed—great lesson.
Leverage the communication tools you have. Skype, Slack, even Google Hangouts Meet gives you the option to live-stream and record meetings.
Think video. "What matters most is translating your scheduled live event content into a digital presentation," Cannon writes. "And while live event platforms offer so much in terms of registration, Q&A, networking, virtual booths and more, if the main goal is to engage your audience and customers with your scheduled content, tools are within reach... Wistia's Soapbox tool is another interesting option for recording presentation-style videos. Whatever you use to capture video, you can use a number of platforms to build collections akin to an event agenda (Ahem, YouTube)."
Experience matters (to a point). Yes, that was Stephen Colbert uploading videos from his bathtub last week. NPR's "Live From Here" variety show is now a collection of home-based performances on Instagram tied together by a #livefromhome hashtag. "Content and authority is king, but experience is certainly changed right now. Don't overthink it."
Remember the landscape. There is no shortage of tools out there and, in the current atmosphere, they are ramping up each day.