I've been preparing to moderate a panel on virtual technology for the Green Meeting Industry Council's annual conference at the end of this month, so I've been thinking a lot about virtual events. Watching a couple of conferences online over the last couple of weeks (MeetDifferent and Legal Tech NY) got me thinking about a very basic question: What is a virtual event?
At first glance, the answer is obvious. There are any number of virtual event providers we can look to. Companies like Unisfair and ON24 give us the platforms that house the events we've come to know as virtual events. They give us modern day chat rooms and online exhibit halls in an attempt to replicate the experience of a live conference or tradeshow.
But as more and more individuals begin building their own online communities through blogs, Twitter, and other tools, we're also seeing the creation of informal virtual events. Attendees are tweeting, blogging, and engaging each other and non-attendees in a new way. They're meeting fellow attendees before the conference, spreading the word and talking amongst themselves during the conference, and continuing to share information long after the conference ends. Things they only had time to Twitter during the conference become blog posts. Those blog posts are shared and commented on and act as catalysts for new posts.
This raises challenges for organizers (from what I've seen, people are far more willing to tweet or blog discontent than to voice it in the conference room), but it also opens up a lot of opportunities.
And don't think it's not coming your way. I work in an industry known for its late adopters, but we have an ever-growing group of exceptionally savvy lawyers leading the charge. The recent Legal Tech conference I mentioned above was all over Twitter and has inspired countless blog posts and videos. It's not the norm yet, but I did meet up with a fellow Twitterer at a recent in-house family law conference we did (he sent out a tweet that he was at the conference so I tweeted back that he should stop by my office if he had a moment). It's coming.
What do you think? Are these informal, events-focused online communities that are cropping up around live events becoming "virtual events" in their own right?