To Fee or Free? Monetising Virtual Events

Post by 
Karen Ashwin
Published 
June 23, 2021

With a wider audience reach and fewer barriers to participation, virtual events are highly-scalable and cost less to stage than in-person events. But, let’s face it, they are not free to produce. 

Producing a quality and engaging virtual experience requires considerable investment in technology, marketing, time and resources, with event tech such as a virtual event platform topping the list. 33.7% of marketers say that the average cost per virtual event attendee is between USD500 and USD1000, while the cost per attendee for a large virtual conference is slightly higher at USD1000 to USD1500.

While 80% of virtual event registrations are free, brands, marketers and event planners are starting to explore ways of monetising their events and conferences to recoup losses from the live experiences that they have moved online. 

Should you charge a registration fee to attend your virtual event? How do you price tickets for online events? If your content has value, should it be given away? And if an event is free, is the perception of value lost?

The debate is on. 

No-fee virtual events work

Moving from a paid in-person event to a free virtual event was a scary shift to make but one that companies made out of necessity to stay visible and engage their audiences. In 2020, the number of organizations planning a virtual event doubled. The no-fee strategy worked because it helped attendance rates which jumped by between 15 and 30%. Everyone loves a freebie, and with time on their hands as they sheltered in place, attending a free online event was a no-brainer. The Salesforce World Tour Sydney which aimed for 15 000 attendees for the traditional in-person meeting had over 80 000 participants when it moved online. 

At least 50% of people who registered for virtual events in the last two quarters of 2020 actually attended, which is great considering the setting-in of virtual fatigue and competition from the reintroduction of small, in-person events and the rise of the hybrid model. 

Content draws, not free tickets

Quality, relevant and engaging content is the dangling carrot for enticing people to attend a virtual event, not free tickets. To drive attendance, you need to understand your audience and put content at the heart of their virtual experiences.     

It’s no longer enough to simply host a virtual event, make it free to attend and people will come. The novelty of attending them, even if they are free, is starting to wear off. Consumers are becoming more discerning about the online events they attend, only making time for those with content that is valuable to them. 

People are willing to pay for a quality experience and to engage with compelling content that either teaches them something, solves their problems or entertains them. 80% of people join virtual events for educational purposes, and the other main reason is networking.  

Paid events have plusses  

Charging a registration fee or offering limited free access to the event and encouraging attendees to purchase a full pass to view the entire event is the easiest way to monetise your virtual event and offset the costs of production. If you haven’t got an attendance cap, there is potential to significantly scale your revenue which you can plough into staging spectacular virtual experiences while reducing your reliance on sponsorships. 

Charging a registration fee also helps to create a perception of value and a sense of exclusivity. It tells people that what they will see is worth paying for, and it’s not readily available elsewhere. People are more likely to actually attend events for which they have registered if they have paid for a ticket. They are also more inclined to engage with the content because they have paid for it. So, while you might have potentially fewer registrations, they will have higher intent and more interest in what you have to offer. This is what you want if the goal of your virtual event is to engage with potential customers and generate pipeline. 

Your content has value and if you give it away, you run the risk of reducing its perceived value. Into the future, when the in-person events that everyone craves return, you could struggle to get your audiences to pay to engage with your content when you have made it available to them online for free.  

There are other ways to monetize virtual events

Sponsorships

You can use sponsorship to offset registration fees. For sponsors, the reason behind sponsoring any event, whether it’s live or online, is brand exposure. They want to be seen by your audience and the bigger it is the better it is for them.  This is where virtual events, with their vast scalability along with the considerable cohesive marketing opportunities, are worth their salt for sponsors. You can get creative about building sponsor visibility beyond standard sponsor packages through social media, mentions on your registration page and website, banner ads, online exhibit halls and even gamification with sponsor messages. With the consent of your attendees, you could consider selling lead captures to sponsors.

Sell

Your virtual event is also an excellent platform for selling your products and services through an online store or trade show. Consider integrating your existing online store into the presentations, allowing attendees to browse products without leaving your event.

Subscriptions

65.9% of event organizers make their virtual events available on-demand afterwards. On-demand content is an excellent way to reach a larger audience because it allows attendees in different locations and time zones to engage with your content on their own time. You could offer subscriptions to your content through portals that allow visitors to pay for access.

Look at what your competitors are doing

Before making a decision about whether to fee or stay free, look at what your competitors are doing. Check what other events are being held in your space, and see if or what other organizations are charging for those events. Pay attention to the agendas, the calibre of speakers and presenters, when the events are taking place, and the format they are following. Consider your industry as well as the demographics of your audience. 

Just remember that, consumers expect a well produced event when they attend in-person. This doesn’t change because your event is online. They still want a great user experience, quality production and content that is valuable to them. If you’re going to charge a fee, give your attendees an experience worth paying for. 

Ask an expert

With over 25 years of experience producing world-class, memorable events, The Event Production Company can help you to create a seamless and captivating experience that will rival the best in-person events. We also build the digital infrastructure, including bespoke event platforms, apps and websites. Book a free, 30-minute session with us.

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