The Covid-19 pandemic shifted and continues to shift the dynamics of the corporate world, particularly the way we host events. Once an afterthought, delivering your content via webinars and virtual events is now in the mainstream.
With this rise in popularity comes a big question – paid or free? Businesses and event planners alike are still competing to find the right balance without cutting corners on the attendee experience.
You’ll get a different answer to this question depending on whom you ask.
Yes, on average, virtual sessions cost less than their traditional in-person counterparts. But if that were the only consideration, we wouldn’t be having this debate.
Several factors at play, ranging from event promotion and selling sponsorships to driving attendance and managing audience expectations. Take a good hard look at your business: What are your goals, pain points and priorities? Are you looking to grow your revenue, or do you want to reach as many people as possible?
While we can’t decide for you or allocate your resources, we can make the process a little less trying. In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the benefits and disadvantages of monetizing your webinars and virtual events in 2022 while offering some possible alternatives.
What is a virtual event?
Have you attended webinars online, watched an on-demand workout class or joined a meeting using a video conferencing tool? If so, you’ve experienced a virtual event. A virtual event is where individuals experience the event and its content online rather than meeting in person. The global community is increasingly pivoting to virtual based on the eye test and the most recent data.
The sheer volume and variety of virtual events can be staggering. There are many different formats (including webinars, virtual conferences, hybrid events), and they can be broadcast live or viewed on-demand later.
Virtual events can also establish relationships with business prospects, collect their contact information, and further your reach. But if the opportunity is there, they can become a source of recurring revenue.
How does a business put on successful webinars & virtual events?
The best webinars and virtual events have one thing in common – strong engagement. In a poll, 67 percent of online events attendees agreed that it’s essential for presenters to be engaging and passionate about their topic.
However, maintaining engagement is something that most event organizers find challenging.
Why? Not enough interactivity. Even with the greatest, most exclusive content in the world, if you don’t get active discussions from your audience, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. The key to improving your engagement levels is to provide interactive features (such as polls or group chat) and diversify the types of webinar sessions and event types you hold; focusing on smaller sessions is highly recommended.
On top of that, many of us have been working online for more than two years now. Too much of anything can be overwhelming – 53 percent of attendees have reported experiencing ‘virtual fatigue.’
A great example of engagement done right is this debate-style virtual session from Snöball and Matchbox Virtual Media. By mixing humour and interactivity, the event sees people taking sides on a divisive topic and, in a way, creating their own experiences.
If you’re struggling to engage your virtual audiences or need help to craft your next webinar or large-scale virtual event, the experts at webinar.net have you covered.
The cost of a virtual event
Whether you charge or not for your event, hosting one costs money. The expenses can quickly add up, from software, booking presenters and video equipment to promoting the event.
Thankfully, there are ways to cover costs, such as charging an entry fee or securing sponsorships. The average attendee fee of a paid event in the latter half of 2020 was $443, with an average of 14 sponsors.
H2: Virtual event technology
As the name implies, virtual events rely on technology. Your audience needs to log in via their computers and mobile devices to attend. But there’s more to virtual event tech than just the video conferencing tool.
Like an in-person event, virtual events benefit from using an entire event technology platform that helps you promote, execute and manage your event. Below are the most important elements of event tech you need to have in your arsenal to execute a flawless virtual event:
- Event website – When you can’t make a physical connection with participants, using event feedback tools to determine the success of an event and qualify leads is a must.
- Registration – Registration is your first and most important tool for virtual events. A proper tool makes signing up easy and provides you with data to plan future events.
- Email – This is the best way to communicate with attendees at every stage of an event. The correct email marketing tool allows businesses to automatically deliver branded, and personalized emails and track data such as open rate and click-through metrics.
- Integrations – Integration tools enable you to keep your attendee data all in one place so that you can quickly act upon leads and analyze key insights such as event attendance and engagement.
Speaking of event tech, be on the lookout for these webinar software red flags that could ruin your big day.
To charge or not to charge?
Did you know that only 50% of registrants convert to virtual event attendees? Suffice to say, getting people to register and show up for virtual events can be quite challenging. Keep this in mind when your team is deciding to charge an entry fee – the fewer hurdles there are, the more attendees will show.
And then there’s the matter of engagement. Based on our experiences delivering conferences, we found that, on average, attendees were engaged for longer during paid live events over free ones (9 hours versus 3.5 hours).
When making your decision, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there an educational component to your content?
- What is the demand for your content?
- What’s your priority, revenue or engagement?
- What are your audience’s expectations? Is your material usually free or purchased?
- If this event were in-person, would it be free?
- How long is your event? (i.e., 1-day webinar versus a multi-day conference)
- How expensive is your virtual event delivery? (i.e., cost of your virtual platform, content production times)
- What is the scale of the event, and what type of attendee do you want?
The case for hosting a paid virtual event
There are a few reasons why it’s beneficial to charge your attendees.
An entry fee restricts who can attend, but the trade-off is stronger leads. Many paid virtual events can be quite expensive, so it’s safe to assume that those who register and attend want to be there. If we’re paying for something, we tend to value it more.
Providing a premium experience
When your event is free, you may be setting the wrong expectations for your audience. Charging implies that the content is challenging to find and positions you as a premium service.
Source of revenue
Depending on your business’s goals and objectives, a paid virtual event could be another excellent way to add to your revenue.
There are several avenues for this – you can charge by the event or even tack on a membership or subscription fee to gain access.
Why you should host a free digital event
Did you know that 80 percent of virtual event registrations are free? While there’s a time and place for paid events, free virtual sessions are the most common and the most attended.
Here are a few more benefits of a free virtual session.
Gathering more info
If the goal isn’t necessarily to generate revenue but to collect information on potential prospects, hosting a free virtual event is logical.
Making your event free will naturally attract more registrants; this allows you to build up your lead database, even if only some registrants attend. Moreover, your company can build a relationship with the target audience. You build trust by delaying monetization and providing quality content free of charge; this is valuable as you can charge them in the future for your products and services.
It’s not easy to convince people to make time to attend an event, virtual or otherwise. While it’s no guarantee, keeping the barrier of entry low makes it more likely. If attendees have to pay, they might second guess joining, especially if the fee is high.
Other avenues to monetization
Instead of charging attendees at the door, charging them during the event might be more fruitful. A freemium session is a perfect opportunity to expand your reach, tease your content and show your experience without giving everything away for free.
If your audience decides they want more, they can pay for exclusive content, events or engagement options. And if they pay to receive the content, you know you’re dealing with a quality lead.
Emerging virtual event trends in 2022
Virtual events continue to evolve, and this year is no different. There are many exciting developments in the pipeline that could impact the whole paid versus free debate.
Moving to the metaverse
Some of the biggest companies are experimenting with having a metaverse – a persistent virtual environment where people can connect, play and work. While it is still a niche, it is making its way into the events industry. Over time, virtual events may include this VR component, creating a more premium experience.
AI and machine learning
As artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to develop, they will become a bigger component of virtual events. Already quite common these days in data collection and reporting procedures, they have the potential to provide more scope and deeper insights for event planners.
Audiences have an insatiable desire for content, and it continues to grow. People can view what they want when they want.
Which is particularly useful in the events industry if you have a global audience; people living in different time zone can download and enjoy an event they’d never be able to access otherwise. Expect pre-recorded content to play an even bigger role this year and going forward.
As we emerge on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions are lifted in 2022, businesses are transitioning from a strictly virtual to a hybrid event model. These sessions leverage the best aspects of the virtual and physical world, allowing attendees to attend in-person or continue to interact remotely, depending on their level of comfort.
This switch will raise a few questions, including:
- What are the best practices for hybrid experiences?
- How can businesses manage the audience’s expectations?
As more and more businesses begin to offer hybrid events, they will need to decide how to price their event accordingly without alienating in-person or remote attendees and losing out on potential leads. The last thing you want to do is make either group feel like they’re missing out.
More to come
When it comes to virtual events, there’s ultimately no one-size-fits-all strategy. Free webinars and events dominate the industry, but paid ones tend to be where the most innovation happens.
Both avenues are valid for a business; it all comes down to your specific goals and objectives. Your company needs to evaluate things during the event planning process to make the best possible decision for your next virtual event.
However, as we all shift towards a hybrid future, post-pandemic, the conversation about monetization will likely shift again. Event organizers and businesses will need to answer key questions while delivering good value.
If you need more help putting on your first virtual event or webinar, reach out to the experts at webinar.net today! We’ll walk you through a live demo or if you need a more hands-on approach, try out the virtual events platform using a free trial.
Make your next virtual event a success. When you switch to the best online webinar software platform on the planet, you’ll be engaging your audience like never before!