Better late than never? Zoom enters the virtual event platform field

Lobby of a Zoom Events summit. Photo: Zoom Events demo.

Mere days after Zoom became, for a brief-ish period, basically our only portal to the outside world in March 2020, the company was contending with a lawsuit over “zoombombing,” a practice in which hackers interrupt meetings with offensive visuals and/or messages. This week, the company finally agreed to settle the legal case — which centered around the privacy and security of users — to the tune of $85 million.

While Zoom is far from our “only portal” to the outside world these days — both because of the ever-growing field of virtual meeting platforms and the fact that most of us are, to varying degrees, back in the outside world — the company is still ubiquitous. It’s moving on from some of the shade thrown its way over the zoombombing-related suit, and it’s also moving on from its reputation as a platform primarily for webinars and video meetings.

While Zoom maintained its foothold during the pandemic, its limitations compared to virtual event platforms became more and more apparent as time went on. With the recent launch of Zoom Events, Zoom is trying to become, once again, the leader of the pack.

Gone are the days of waiting to email out a link until five minutes before the meeting starts to prevent a zoombomber. Zoom Events offers a full suite of tools designed to securely register attendees, enhance communication and combine multiple sessions into a single summit or conference.

In a market with hundreds of event platforms and no clear leader, is Zoom Events poised to dominate the competition? Some seem to think so, but from our vantage point, the platform has a very long way to go. It lacks many of the advanced features that long-standing virtual event platforms offer, including customized matchmaking, networking tables, gamification, sponsor booths, streaming tools and visual customizations. Its toolkit simply doesn’t compare. Doesn’t sound great, right? Well, we’re guessing that despite the greatly pared down offerings, the sheer brand recognition and affordability of Zoom Events will make it a major competitor in the virtual events world.

How is Zoom Events different from Zoom?

Zoom Events offers two major additions to Zoom’s regular services: A beefed up event registration system and a virtual lobby for launching individual sessions at a conference. The former goes heavy on the security front (that’s what an $85 mill settlement will do) — these new events don’t use a single generic link for all attendees the way Zoom meetings and webinars do. Instead, every person who registers for a ticket is emailed a unique ticket link. Only the registered Zoom account can access the event from their personal ticket link. Events can have multiple ticket types — paid or free — and organizers can restrict the number of tickets available for each type. This system was originally piloted in OnZoom, their not-so-subtle challenge to Airbnb’s Online Experiences, which launched ticketing in late 2020. Now, certain ticket types can be exclusive to whitelisted Zoom accounts, users within an organization or specific email domains.

Organizers looking to host a summit — defined by Zoom as sessions running consecutively on a single day — or a conference — multiple concurrent sessions over multiple days — can build out an event lobby. The lobby showcases speakers, displays individual sessions (webinars or meetings) and allows attendees to network in the chat. Networking through the lobby isn’t much of an upgrade from the chat inside of a meeting or webinar, but attendees can now tag emojis to posts and send a contact request to anyone with whom they’d like to strike up a 1-on-1 conversation.

Who is Zoom Events for?

Zoom Events is for organizers focusing on the video content and not on a custom virtual environment or sophisticated networking features. Event series currently running as Zoom webinars are strong candidates for the switch to Zoom Events. And, anyone who avoided Zoom for its issues with link security now have the assurance of ticket links to keep paid private events actually private. Organizers of summits and conferences that didn’t want to deal with the messiness of individual Zoom links for each session also now have the ability to organize everything under one link in a virtual lobby.

However, those aiming to create high-caliber experiences with custom event environments, or host elaborate sponsorships or networking set-ups, won’t have their needs met. Zoom Events is, by comparison, one of the simplest event platforms on the market.

That simplicity could turn out to be Zoom Events’ advantage rather than its downfall. As hybrid events increasingly become the norm, some organizers are going to shift their efforts toward boosting the IRL experience while toning down the complexity of the digital one. Zoom Events fits the bill for that usage, providing an affordable, straightforward way to take any event hybrid.

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XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.