On24 adds social tools to virtual events

Virtual events platform provider On24 has rolled out a suite of social networking tools this week, including integration with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

“We have a standard Twitter widget that can be embedded in a virtual event,” said Denise Persson, On24’s chief marketing officer. “You can see the conversation going on by people in the event – or not in the event – and if you want to Twitter, you can log in through that widget and Twitter about the event.”

The widget can be customized to filter for a conference-specific Twitter hashtag, or by Twitter user account.

“Facebook and LinkedIn can work the same way,” she told Hypergrid Business.

In addition, event attendees can use these social networks to find out more information about the people they meet.

“I can see who else is at the event, and click on their LinkedIn profile to see how I’m connected to them,” Persson said.

Social webcasting. (Image courtesy On24.)

The company will also create custom widgets for event managers, and has opened up its interface so that customers can also build their own widgets and include them in the event.

On24 also offers group chats, private chats, and pre-scheduled chats, a bulletin board, and a tool that allows attendees to exchange virtual business cards.

On24 added the social networking tools because of customer demand, she said.

The San Francisco-based company, which has been in the Webcasting business for a decade, entered the virtual events business two and a half years ago, allowing customers to combine multiple Webcasts into a single event. The platform is used for virtual trade shows, conferences, training events, virtual resource centers, and other events, both internal and external.

MASSIVE SCALE

According to Mark Szelenyi, the company’s director of product marketing, On24 delivered over 25,000 events last year to “several million” attendees.

Mark Szelenyi

Of these, 300 were full-blown virtual conferences averaging 3,500 participants each and the rest were smaller, more focused Webcasts with an average of 350 participants.

On24 – like its closest competitors, InXpo and Unisfair — is not an immersive 3D platform like Second Life, but an interactive Website which combines video, slides, forums, chatrooms, documents, and other materials. These platforms don’t provide the sense of “being there” afforded by full 3D platforms, and don’t allow visitors to wander around a 3D convention center.

“Our events are usually based on the delivery of content to a larger audience,” Szelenyi said. “Oracle OpenWorld. MacWorld. Events like that. We’re a little less about casual collaboration and equal users sitting around the table sharing their desktops.”

The company regularly does events for 10,000 users, he said.

“And we can do much bigger than that,” he said. “We run in the browser, in 2D, and have an almost unlimited capability to deliver live events. And that scalability is increasing all the time.”

The On24 platform also allows event managers to track their attendees in great detail.

“You need robust pre-event functionality — tools to help invite participants, register them, capture information,” said Persson. “Second Life is about ad-hoc meetings, and doesn’t enable robust pre-event and post-event functionality.”

Last year, On24 had revenues in the “$40 million range,” she said. “We’re about four times the size of any other company in this space.”

SELLING VIRTUAL

Although the main benefit of a virtual environment is the cost savings – no airplane travel, no hotel rooms, no car rental expenses – virtual effects also offer a marketing opportunity to event organizers.

Denise Persson

Conferences held either partially or entirely online offer significant benefits to the real world environment, in terms of lower carbon emissions, paper waste – and less bottled water distributed to attendees.

On24 calculates the environmental savings for each event, Persson said. Virtual events that draw an international audience, for example, can have very high environmental benefits.

Companies can use these green benefits to promote the event to the public and to their employees, she said.

“If they were to talk about cost savings, it would be as powerful,” she added.

maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.