After the cancellation of nearly every in-person gathering last March, few industries launched into panic mode like the event-planning space.
But for Penn Quarter-based Event Farm, a marketing and event engagement software firm, the turn to virtual events perfectly coincided with the launch of its Echo platform, in partnership with California-based VirBELA. Launched last March, the Echo offers the chance for companies to have a semblance of in-person events by using avatar software. But it’s not the only way that the company has attempted to perfect the virtual event experience over the past year, and founder Ryan Costello said the company has more in store as it prepares for the return of the IRL conferences and meetups (can you even imagine?).
“We’re trying to find ways to create an event that gives you a lot of access to things and and also tracks your behavior so we can better understand who you are and better do business with you going forward,” Costello said.
In the Echo, attendees can walk around virtual venues as an avatar, and converse with others using the software’s built-in audio. It coincides with Event Farm’s other virtual event offerings, which manage guest registration and target audience engagement through polls and text messages that let users know about event logistics and attractions like keynote speakers.
The company’s latest tool is an integration with Zoom that aims to address the problem of the lack of connection in events held using the popular videoconferencing platform. The collaboration brings many of the company’s same polling and engagement options to Zoom, a platform that’s attractive to many since it is so familiar.
“The challenge with Zoom is that while it can be a relaxed engagement, it tends to feel like you’re just watching a speaker as an audience member, almost like you’re watching television,” Costello said.
After registering, attendees get a marketable invitation that includes a streamlined design featuring company logos and agenda. Event Farm then tracks who shows up to the event and offers that data to the host company, avoiding the embarrassing thank-you email for an event that you didn’t attend.
But even with the launch of the avatar and Zoom integration software, Costello said there are still a few issues in virtual events that Event Farm is looking to solve. While the Echo can replicate an in-person event pretty well, it requires an app download and is less accessible than Zoom. And few have figured out how to hold a massive conference-style event in an easy-to-use, connected way, especially given the necessary computers and software to hold an event to scale.
“I don’t see anybody really having this figured out in the short-term without specific hardware,” Costello said. “If you told me that you could send everybody on the planet an Xbox to come to your party, then maybe… we can do something. But, like, that’s not realistic, right? So this is a huge challenge.”
With in-person events and meetups potentially right around the corner, Event Farm also recently released a guide to COVID-safe gatherings. Costello said that it includes recommendations on administering health readings at the door, crowd staggering and an attendee code of conduct that the company built into its event software.
“Event technology companies, they’re really all focused on how to make virtual solutions and we are, too. Obviously, we talk about that. But I think there’s a big opportunity to talk about whether we want it, whether we’re ready or not,” Costello said. “Events are happening, and are they going to be safe? And do event organizers have tools to protect them [and] protect their staff?”
But given the $1 billion that Costello estimates was invested in the event technology industry last year, he doesn’t expect the virtual fervor to go away, even with more and more people getting vaccinated every day. Although event technology is not usually a heavily-funded industry, virtual and hybrid events can continue to be appealing from a cost-savings perspective, on both a personal and company level, thus making them more accessible.
“There is a cost savings here that can be realized…I don’t have to pay food and drink and travel and hotels.” Costello said. “All that money can go into either savings or technology or other stuff so you can actually keep an event quote…you can actually execute them at dramatic cost savings.”-30-