How Social Networks Facilitate Discovery and Engagement

May 24, 2012

Introduction

Successful social networks rely on a combination of user growth and “stickiness” – discovering users, discovering content, connecting with users, and engaging with users and content. As I study some of the most successful social networks, I find that they use a common set of techniques to create and maintain this stickiness. Let’s take them one by one.

Second Degree Activity

“Second degree activity” refers to actions that your friends take within a social network.

The Quora home feed (pictured above) is a great example. When I login to Quora, my home feed does not display topics I’m interested in. Rather, it takes the set of users that I’m following on Quora and lists the actions they’re taking (e.g. “following a question,” “voted up,” “commented,” etc.).

The concept: if I’m following someone, then I’m interested in what they think and do. If they’ve published a comment, then I may want to read it (“what they think”) and if they’ve voted up an answer, then I may want to check it out (“what they do”).

Other examples of second degree activity include:

  1. Twitter’s Activity tab, which can be found on Twitter.com by visiting Discover -> Activity. For folks you’re following, it lists actions that they’re taking: follows, favorites, addition to lists and more.
  2. LinkedIn’s Home feed, which lists new connections (made by your existing connections), status updates, profile updates and more.
  3. Facebook’s Newsfeed, which lists new friends (made your by your existing friends), Like’s (on friends of friends status updates) and more.

Featuring Popular Content

Pictured: The “Popular” tab in the mobile app Instagram.

Featuring popular content is an excellent stickiness tactic, as it provides proof to users that there’s great content to discover and consume. Popularity is democratic, in that it’s measured by the “votes” of the social network’s users (e.g. views, likes, comments, etc.).

That being said, “popularity begets more popularity,” which means that once content is marked popular, it tends to get more popular, at the (perhaps) disservice of similarly worthy content. You see this same phenomenon with “Most Popular” and “Most Emailed” lists on many online news sites.

Examples of featuring popular content include:

  1. Instagram’s “Popular” tab.
  2. Pinterest has a “Popular” tab that lists popular pins.
  3. Google+ has an “Explore” tab that reads “Explore What’s Hot on Google”.
  4. Facebook posts receiving a high degree of engagement get “pinned” to the top of your Newsfeed.

Recommendations

Pictured: “Who to follow” on Twitter.

Amazon was an innovator in algorithmic recommendations, with its “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” LinkedIn, for some time, has had a similar feature, “People You May Know,” which is listed prominently in the upper right corner of the LinkedIn home page.

In addition to recommending other users, social networks have begun to recommend content. The thought behind this, of course, is the more interesting content you find, the longer you’ll stay.

Examples of User Recommendations

  1. Twitter’s “Who to follow” tab.
  2. Twitter’s “Browse categories” tab, which provides curated lists of Twitter users within particular categories. Here’s the category list for Technology: https://twitter.com/#!/who_to_follow/interests/technology
  3. LinkedIn’s “People You May Know.”
  4. Google+ lists people “You Might Like” on its “Explore” page.

Examples of Content Recommendations

  1. Twitter’s Discover tab, which lists a series of “Stories.”
  2. Twitter’s Trending Topics – an innovative feature that is particularly unique to Twitter.
  3. LinkedIn TODAY, “The day’s top news, tailored for you.” – visible in the top area of your LinkedIn home page.
  4. Facebook’s “Recommended Pages.”

Email Notifications

It seems we’ve been writing off email for years. The rise of social media has brought into question whether email is still relevant. Well, it is. Despite claims to the contrary, we continue to be dependent upon our inbox.

In fact, I consider email to be “the glue” that connects (and returns you) to your assorted social networks. Email helps inform you of activities that occurred on a social network – and, it provides reminders for you to return.

Examples of email notifications:

  1. New followers or connections.
  2. A mention (of you) by other user(s).
  3. Getting tagged in an uploaded photo.
  4. A new comment or “like” to a post that you’ve liked.
  5. Follow-up comments to a comment you left – this is particularly useful on blogs, as well as discussions within LinkedIn Groups.
  6. Direct or private communications from a particular user.

Full-Mesh Communities

Pictured: The home feed on Nextdoor.

Nextdoor is a neighborhood-based social network that was recently profiled in The New York Times. There’s a Nextdoor community in my neighborhood (The Highlands in San Mateo), for which I’m a member. Nextdoor uses a “full-mesh model,” (my term) in which everyone “follows” everyone else by default. The newsfeed on your home page, in fact, displays posts from everyone.

There’s an absence of a follow/follower model altogether. If the size of a community is manageable (i.e. the number of members is at or below the Dunbar Number), then this full mesh model is ideal:

  1. It “removes friction” for establishing connections. I don’t have to worry about whom to follow, since the system’s done that for me.
  2. It “removes the risk” of my missing an important post because I’m not following the poster.
  3. It allows for “everyone to know everything,” and I think that’s completely fine in an online community based on your neighborhood.

I think the full mesh model is well suited to the online communities of small to medium sized businesses (i.e. for tools like Chatter, Yammer and Jive).

In a small business, I’d argue that similar to Nextdoor, everyone should know everything – and of course, private groups are always an option for things like compensation and employee reviews.

Conclusion

A quick recap of what we’ve discussed:

  1. The more (and better) social networks can recommend users and content, the stronger they’ll be.
  2. Second degree activity is an effective way to promote both users and content.
  3. Popularity and recommendations are additional avenues for discovering users and content.
  4. Email is the glue that ties your social networks together and keeps you coming back.
  5. Full mesh networks can be effective for particular use cases.

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Great Example of Audience Involvement

June 6, 2011

Introduction

Shortly after publishing my post on engagement models to build audience loyalty, I tuned in to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, with the Boston Bruins visiting the Vancouver Canucks. In my post, I outlined a “fully synchronous” engagement model, in which a webinar presenter provides a brief introduction, then invites the audience to speak.

The National Anthem

At Vancouver Canucks home games, the national anthem is performed by Mark Donnelly. He puts on a rousing performance in front of a highly engaged audience.

In fact, after singing the first verse, he stops singing, raises his microphone to the crowd and turns into a conductor, as the fans sing the next verse. Here’s a video of a recent performance – you can see Donnelly “pass the mic” at the 0:33 (33 seconds) mark.

Conclusion

Canucks fans are passionate about their national anthem – there are numerous videos on YouTube of fans singing the national anthem outside the arena before games. I wonder if the tradition of audience involvement in Vancouver increased fans’ intensity around the national anthem?

In either case – while this was a great example of fully synchronous engagement, we all know that audience loyalty (to the Canucks) has more to do with the product they put on the ice!


Engagement Models to Build Audience Loyalty

June 4, 2011

Introduction

Behind every great event is great content.  To generate great content, event professionals need to be publishers as much as planners.  And like any good publisher, you need content that connects with your audience.  We often use the word “attendees” to refer to event consumers – when building a content plan, however, think of them as your audience.

Don’t Broadcast Your Content, Crowdcast It!

All too often, event content is delivered via one-way broadcasts.  Even when the content is engaging, it misses out on engagement.  Involving your audience in the event content (i.e. allowing them to contribute to a session) creates a more rewarding experience and builds audience loyalty.

So be sure to avoid the broadcast – instrument “crowdcasting” instead. Crowdcasting creates a loyal audience, which becomes an annuity of sorts. It guarantees “future payout” in the form of attendance (at future events), referrals (to recruit colleagues) and activity (further participation).

Engagement Models

Let’s consider engagement models that you can apply to your next event.

Asynchronous / Non-Synchronous

I’m a loyal listener of podcasts from ESPN Radio. In some of the podcasts, the hosts answer emails submitted by the audience. Listeners who hear their question answered (on the podcast) are more likely to submit subsequent questions. They’re also more likely start tuning in every day, to see if their latest question gets answered.

How this could apply to virtual events: in the weeks leading up to your event, invite users to submit questions (to the presenters) and provide input to help guide the content of the presentations. Once users see that “they have a voice,” they’re more likely to tune in to your sessions at future events.

Pseudo-Synchronous

I commute to work in a car and often tune in to the radio.  I’ve noticed that more and more, radio hosts are engaging with listeners via social media. Hosts will post to the show’s Facebook page, then read users’ comments on the air. They’ll ask a question via Twitter and read tweets from listeners who responded.

I call this “pseudo-synchronous,” because the dialog unfolds slower than real-time and while the channel is open in both directions, it’s not directly connected. Instead of an instant messaging session, it’s like leaving comments on a blog posting.

How this could apply to virtual events: Webinar presenters make the audience a central component of the presentation. They allocate dedicated segments to review (and discuss) audience feedback and questions submitted via the webinar console and via social media channels. Like radio hosts, they ask questions of the audience and read selected answers.

Fully Synchronous

I’m a big fan of sports talk radio. While the program host can make or break a show, the best part of talk radio are the discussions brought on by the callers. For sports talk radio, I love to hear different fans’ perspectives (as crazy as some perspectives can be) and listen to the host provide his/her response.

Imagine a sports talk program, though, that took no questions from the audience. It wouldn’t work! But that’s how some presentations are structured.

How this could apply to virtual events: For selected sessions, the webinar model should be turned upside down. The “presenter” provides a 5 minute introduction on a topic, then turns into a radio talk show host. Webinar viewers are “passed the ball” (i.e. the presentation controls) and provide their perspective on an issue. As in talk radio, a “call screener” is used to review topics that interested users would like to discuss.

Conclusion

Your audience should be a central component of your “event content.” Allow the audience to have an active voice and it’s a win/win scenario. You win, and your audience wins. Crowdcast, don’t broadcast.

Let us know your thoughts – what are additional ways to engage your audience?


Why B2B Webinars Stink And How To Change Them

April 30, 2011

Pictured: Audience members in a typical B2B Webinar.

Introduction

We all attended lectures in college that seemed to go on for hours without end. The professor was dry and not engaging.  Today’s B2B webinars are similar to college lectures – they’re long, they’re often dry and they do not invite attendees to participate (aside from those 10 minutes of Q&A at the very end). In today’s world of social engagement, B2B webinars should be more Twitter chat than college lecture.

The Need for Change

Too many of today’s B2B webinars amount to a product pitch.  If you’re fortunate enough to have 10% of your audience be “late stage” leads (for your product offering), then a product pitch may be effective, if it delivers the information needed to make a final decision.

What about the other 90%, however?  They range from early stage to mid-stage, so they’re not ready for a product pitch. Instead, they probably have some questions that your presenter(s) could answer. So instead of lecturing to them, invite them to join you in a conversation.

How to Change: Engage Your Audience Ahead of Time

I don’t know why some webinar presenters guard their presentation like it contains the secret location of The Fountain of Youth. These days, transparency rules, so why not show your potential audience what you plan to talk about? You’ll gain valuable feedback to ensure that your message delivers on what your audience wants.

So post the preso on the web.  Allow anyone to comment on each slide.  Then, allow users who have registered for the webinar (perhaps you’ll need to assign them a login/password) the ability to edit your slide a la wiki (i.e. so that changes can be tracked and backed out). Now, you’re really onto something: a presentation tuned to what your audience wants. And, by engaging your audience beforehand, you increase the chances that they’ll attend the webinar.

How to Change: Conversations, Not Presentations

Your webinar viewers could be twiddling their thumbs or typing away on their keyboards (back to you). The choice is your’s, which would you prefer? Webinars should evolve to conversations, not presentations.  Similarly, the slide deck should evolve, too.  The new slide deck doesn’t include deep information about your products.  Instead, it lists “topics for discussion,” that cover issues relevant to your prospects. If you’ve engaged with your audience beforehand, then you already know what topics they’d like you to cover.

Of course, presenters should still have the opportunity to tell their story, but the story should enable the conversation and not define it. So tell a short story, have it seed the discussion and then invite your viewers to join the conversation.  Do this by embedding chat rooms, tweet streams and other relevant social networks directly into the webinar console. Your viewers will thank you – and, they’ll learn a lot from the other viewers, too.

The Benefits of Change

  1. Pre-webinar engagement can lead to higher registration and attendance numbers.
  2. Your viewers leave happier.
  3. You generate engaged prospects, not a generic list of leads.
  4. By engaging with your prospects, you’re able to better qualify them!
  5. By starting a conversation, you enable your sales team to continue that conversation.

Demand Generation Conference

I’ll be speaking at DemandCon in San Francisco on May 20, 2011, on the topic of demand generation and virtual events. In my session, I hope to avoid the same sins that I’ve outlined in this posting.


A Flight Attendant Call Button for Virtual Events

April 22, 2011

Introduction

On a recent flight, the passenger in front of me pressed the flight attendant call button as we neared cruising altitude.  As I heard the “ding” and saw the light turn on, a light bulb came on in my own head.  The pressing of the call button sends two signals:

  1. “I’m here”
  2. I need assistance (i.e. “Please engage with me”)

Let’s consider how a flight attendant call button can be added to virtual events.

Technical Support

To receive technical support in a virtual event, you need to go find help, usually in the form of a Help Desk.  On an airplane, it’s more efficient for the help to come to you – far simpler than having you get up, disturb the passengers in your row and walk down the aisle.  In a virtual event, you’re often busy viewing sessions, engaging with exhibitors or chatting with fellow attendees. Wouldn’t it be so much more convenient if the help would come to you?

Virtual events could include a “call button” that attendees could click.  Staffers providing technical support at the event would see the attendee added to a queue, along with an audio cue (the “ding”).  Attendees could be provided with the option of including a one-sentence description of their issue, prior to clicking the call button.  From here, support staff would connect directly with the requesting user, to assist them one-on-one.

Engage with Exhibitors

Similar to “technical support finding you,” attendees looking to engage with multiple exhibitors could opt in to invite exhibitors to connect with them.  An “exhibitor call button” could be clicked that would signal to all booth staffers that particular attendees could be contacted.

If an exhibitor engaged with a requesting attendee via private chat, the “call button” would be turned off, until that private chat concluded.  In many ways, this mechanism would be more efficient for attendees, compared to visiting assorted booths and engaging with the staffers in each one.  A more sophisticated call button could allow users to specify which type of exhibitors they’d like to engage with.

Engage with Attendees

Engagement with other attendees is typically done via group chat and private chat.  But how do you know whom you should have 1:1 chats with?  An attendee call button could let others know, “I’m here” and  “engage with me.”

The attendee call button could include a one-sentence description of the user’s interests.  All users who pressed the call button could be listed in a Lounge – and mousing over the users’ profile images could display their names, titles and one-sentence descriptions.  The attendee call button can spur more connections and networking than the typical Networking Lounge.

Conclusion

All too often in virtual events, we “venture out” to find people and information (e.g. exhibitors and attendees). Instead, a simple call button could turn the tables, allowing the people, at least, to come seek you out – and engage.

What do you think – would you use the call button feature  in a virtual event?  Leave a comment below.


How Your Virtual Event Can Benefit From Personalized Guides

March 2, 2011

Add Personalized Guides to Your Virtual Event

Introduction

In virtual events, there are staffers to “patrol” the event and assist attendees who have technical and logistical issues.  Beyond the logistical matters, however, how much do event planners invest towards the end-to-end attendee experience?

And, how often do staffers provide tips and guidance on the more strategic elements of an event: which sessions to attend, what content to download, which exhibitors to visit and which attendees to meet with? The answer: probably not enough.

An Idea, Sparked by Metaverse Mod Squad

I was struck by this missing element while reading a New York Times article, “A Patrol for the Web’s Playgrounds.” The article profiles Metaverse Mod Squad, a company that provides clients with moderators to “patrol” their web sites and virtual worlds.  Amy Pritchard (@AmyMMS), the company’s chief executive, had a great quote:

“We found if we greeted people, told them what they could do, gave them an event card and introduced them to other people, they had more fun.”

I think the same benefit can apply to B2B virtual events, where “fun” (in the sentence above) could be replaced with “getting more value out of the event”.

Benefit #1: Better Orientation of New Visitors

After logging in to a virtual event, attendees typically see a video greeting, either in an embedded video player, or via a host/hostess who was filmed against a “greenscreen” and overlaid on top of the environment.  The “New Greenscreen” are real, live “greeters”, who welcome visitors to the virtual event and chat with them, either via text or audio/video.

The “New Greenscreen” is like a host or hostess at a cocktail party.  They take your coat and point you to where the action is happening.  To support large audiences, the greeters can hold group sessions.  They can let the gathered audience know “what’s hot” (e.g. details on the session that is coming up next) and ask attendees what they’re looking to get out of the event.

As they learn more about the visitors, the greeters can suggest exhibitors to visit, sessions to attend and event content to download. Already, you’re providing attendees with a lot more usefulness than the typical video greeting, which is targeted to a broad audience and not an individual (who has unique needs and goals).

Benefit #2: Better Connect Attendees to One Another

A significant benefit of events (whether they’re physical or virtual) is the ability to network with like-minded (or perhaps different minded) attendees. In a virtual event, I may “seek and find” other attendees via social network integration, via group chat and perhaps via search.  But the connections are somewhat random and serendipitous.

The event’s personalized guides could serve as “business-oriented matchmakers”, pairing attendees with one another. I once attended a physical networking event and told the host that I work in the Marketing function at a start-up.  She immediately introduced me to a consultant who helps companies launch new  products – and, asked if my company was looking to hire, since there were executive recruiters in attendance.

Without the proactive host, my introduction to the consultant may never have happened. In a similar way, the personalized guides, upon understanding attendees’ business goals (and challenges), could pair them with exhibitors whose products or services address those challenges.

The guides could have a special designation on their profile (analogous to wearing a “Staff” shirt at a physical event), so that attendees know to accept their chat requests – and, so that they can be proactively contacted by other attendees.

Benefit #3: Get Help from the Concierge(s) at The Information Desk

Personalized guides would all have their “presence indicators” (i.e. whether they’re online) appear at The Information Desk. This area becomes the one-stop shop for both technical support and “concierge” services.  Need a recommendation between the two sessions airing simultaneously? Visit the Information Desk and get an informed opinion.

Looking for exhibitors who provide certain solutions?  Ask your friendly guide at The Information Desk.  Looking for that “kitchen design consultant” to map out the schedule and activities for your entire day?  No worries, the concierge at the desk who assemble a “user journey” for you.

Conclusion

Virtual events do not employ this sort of service today, but I think that attendees will find it valuable. Of course, doing this will result in additional cost for the event producer, but it may pay off in the long run, based on attendee satisfaction.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below – will this work?


Why I’m There On Pure Virtual Events

January 28, 2011

Introduction

Over on the INXPO blog, I wrote a posting on Why I’m There on Pure Virtual Events.  The posting was a counterpoint to an article written by Dave Lutz (@VelChain) of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.

Dave’s Points

Dave made the following points on “pure” virtual events:

  1. Attendees value the content not the commerce.
  2. They tend to attract an entry- or mid-level professional that lacks enough buying authority or influence to deliver ROI to exhibitors and sponsors.
  3. Networking feels limited if it occurs at all.
  4. It’s difficult to build trust that leads to purchase through a virtual booth.
  5. When education is offered for free and archived, it’s easy to find something more pressing to do. Archived views are less valuable than live ones.
  6. And finally, most webinars stink. I can count the good ones I’ve experienced on one hand.

Point, Counterpoint

I provided some counterpoints to the points.  Here’s a link to the full posting:

http://inxpo.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/why-im-there-on-pure-virtual-events/

I’d be interested in your thoughts – questions include:

  1. What your thoughts on hybrid events?
  2. What are your thoughts on pure virtual events?
  3. How can webinars be more engaging?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts – thanks!


Gamification Predictions for 2011

December 22, 2010

Introduction

At Mashable, Gabe Zichermann (@gzicherm) provided his 5 Predictions for Game Mechanics in 2011.  Gabe’s article inspired me to provide my own predictions.

A New Name in 2011

In the second half of 2010, the term “gamification” became bi-polar: you either loved it or hated it.  People on the “love” side see it as the future of engagement and marketing.  People on the “hate” side see it as a gimmick.

Gabe provides his thoughts in an article at Huffington Post.  While the term is effective in capturing the essence, it’s not perfect.  As a result, “gamification” will be used less and less in 2011.  In its place will be a set of new terms, based on its specific applications (e.g. game-based marketing, game-based social initiatives, etc.).

A Sub-Industry Develops


This is more an observation, rather than a prediction (since it’s already happening): an industry has developed around “gamification”.  When folks convene for a conference or summit, that’s my measuring stick to tell me that an industry is emerging.  In the virtual events space, that happened in 2009 with the Virtual Edge Summit (which, by the way, has its third annual conference, also in January 2011).

If you look at the sponsor and speaker lists for this event, you’ll see a number of start-ups who built their business around gamification.  In 2011, we’ll see some “bubble like” behavior (perhaps we’re already seeing it now), where entrepreneurs look to build the next great gamification companies.  In the second half of 2011, however, the bubble settles and the early winners emerge.

Related: Gamification gets its own conference (VentureBeat)

Game Mechanics for The Greater Good

Jane McGonigal of Palo Alto-based Institute for the Future once said, “Any time I consider a new project, I ask myself, is this pushing the state of gaming toward Nobel Prizes? If it’s not, then it’s not doing anything important enough to spend my time.” (source: Salon.com article from 2007).

In 2011, we’ll see game mechanics applied increasingly to the “greater good” – initiatives that can change the world.

Armchair Revolutionary is a great example – consider one of their slogans, “shape the future by playing a game”.  In 2011, lots of “revolutionaries” emerge to rally those who can, to provide help to those in need.

Game Mechanics Go Mainstream – But Consumers Don’t Know It

Game mechanics are going mainstream, but the typical user won’t know that they’re participating in them.  They simply know that they’re engaging in enjoyable activities (side note: there will be similar growth in Foursquare, Gowalla, etc., but users, of course, won’t know that they’re using “location based services”).

For example, Universal Studios announced successful sales of their “Despicable Me” DVD – their press release attributes some of the success to a “Minions Madness” promotion, “a points-based reward and social media program spotlighting the film’s beloved mischief-makers, the Minions.” This promotion was powered by Bunchball, a game mechanics start-up.

Bunchball (and related companies) has built a nice client list of broadcast networks, cable networks and film studios.  In 2011, additional media outlets come on board.  Game mechanics  go more and more mainstream, even though the typical mainstream user doesn’t know it.  Watch out in 2012, however, as consumer-based game mechanics suffer some fatigue (as consumers then see “much too much” of it).

Established Web Players Incorporate Game Mechanics

2011 sees established players incorporate game mechanics to increase engagement (e.g. “time on site”, clicks, e-commerce sales, etc.).

Google adopts game mechanics as a means for bridging their search business and social services (e.g. adding game mechanics to Google Me). Others who add game mechanics include Netflix, eBay and Groupon.  Of course, it’s natural to expect that more and more virtual event experiences will add game mechanics, too.

Conclusion

2010 has been an interesting year for gamification. 2011 will kick off with an industry event and where we go from there will be exciting to watch.  I’ll check back mid-year with a report card on these predictions. Here’s hoping I attain the “crystal ball badge”.


What Virtual Events Can Learn From Groupon, Quora and FarmVille

December 18, 2010

Introduction

Successful web sites provide a great opportunity: the chance to study what makes them successful and apply those learnings to your own websites or applications.  In 2010, three of the “most talked about” web sites were Groupon, Quora and FarmVille (though FarmVille is more a discrete app, rather than a web site).  Let’s consider how some of their concepts can be applied to virtual event experiences.

Groupon


Groupon is said to be in the local advertising space, but they’re really much more than that.  They’ve hit the mark with a group buying phenomenon (using bulk purchasing to drive down prices) combined with creative and entertaining email copy that keeps subscribers eager to receive the next day’s email.

Groupon, which serves local businesses, segments their offering by geography.  So I might subscribe via San Jose, CA and receive offers from merchants who are near me.  But the Groupon model could certainly apply to national or even global brands.

Group Viewing at Virtual Trade Shows

Now, let’s consider a common dynamic at virtual trade shows.  Exhibitors (sponsors) would like to get their message across to attendees, while attendees are resistant to hearing unsolicited product pitches.

How can you “arbitrate” this situation?  Consider Groupon, where the “daily deal” only registers when a certain number of users agree to purchase the item(s).  Here’s how it might work with sponsor presentations (webinars) at a virtual trade show:

  1. Five sponsors list their webinar title in the trade show Auditorium
  2. Each sponsor is “on alert”, ready to begin broadcasting their live presentation
  3. No presentation begins until it receives 50 (or more) viewers
  4. The presentation continues, only if it can continually sustain 35 simultaneous viewers – if it drops below 35 viewers for more than 5 minutes, the presentation closes

Benefits

  1. Puts portions of the presentation agenda in the hands of attendees
  2. Forces sponsors to present on relevant topics
  3. Forces sponsors to “deliver what they sold” with regard to the presentation
  4. Ups the overall quality of sponsor presentations, as sponsors need to both “sell” the topic and sustain the audience

Quora

Quora is “a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.”  Question and Answer (Q&A) services have been around for some time. Quora has picked up steam in 2010 due to the quality of the members participating (e.g. some of the leading thinkers on the web – and in Silicon Valley).

In virtual events, experts and leading thinkers in a particular industry have gathered online.  They can listen to featured experts (e.g. the presenters), but the event doesn’t fully extract and share the collective knowledge of those assembled. If done right, a Q&A service layered on top of a virtual event can be quite useful.

In fact, let’s consider a related Q&A service, Aardvark, which is now part of Google.  With Aardvark, “you email or instant-message your question to Aardvark, it figures out around half a dozen people you know who might have a good answer, then emails or IMs them for a response and sends what they say back to you.” (source: VentureBeat article).

A virtual event platform could implement a “Quora meets Aardvark” model, whereby questions are distributed to online attendees – and answers are fed back in semi-real-time.  Questions (and their answers) could be shared not only with the requester – but, all attendees, based on their selection of particular topics.

FarmVille

On the surface, FarmVille is about planting your virtual crops and tending to your virtual farm.  But below the surface, its “power” is in the psychological reward of achieving success in something you take pride in.  It’s the same dynamic that fuels entrepreneurs (who take pride in their businesses) and Twitter power users (who take pride in their following).

As virtual events shift from “point in time” live events to “365 day communities”, the challenge becomes how to sustain an ongoing and active community – who will visit the environment on days where absolutely nothing is scheduled.  It’s the same challenge Zynga had – how do you incent farmers to tend to their virtual farm each day?

Virtual Farm Meets Virtual Community

For virtual communities, there needs to be a parallel to that virtual farm – an abstraction that allows members to feel psychological reward when they’ve done something meaningful.  Ideas include:

  1. Elevated  member profiles. Turn the “vanilla” user profile of today into the parallel of the virtual farm
  2. “Pimp my space”. Exhibitors get to build booths – now, allow attendees the freedom to create their own spaces and receive ratings on them
  3. Leverage “status badges” on the profiles – but ensure that demand consistently outstrips supply
  4. “Rate the ratings” – allow members to rate the worthiness of a rating (a la Amazon.com, and “Was this review helpful to you?”) – top rated members receive elevated status in the community
  5. Prominent Leaderboards related to particular activities, games, etc. – these can be a tremendous draw, as users continually return to check on their position on the board

Conclusion

Groupon, Quora and FarmVille have taught us some valuable lessons.  The rising demand for virtual events tells us something as well.  Aardvark may have hit upon the right model – in which they combined social collaboration with a real-time (or semi-real-time) component.  Perhaps Grouopon and the like have something to “learn” from virtual as well.


Your 5 Step Guide to Virtual Trade Show Success

November 13, 2010

Over on the INXPO blog, I provided a 5-step guide to exhibiting at virtual trade shows.  The five steps are:

  1. Define your mission statement
  2. Assemble an all-star team
  3. Build and promote your presence
  4. Engage with prospects
  5. Qualify and follow up with prospects

If you’re exhibiting at a virtual trade show for the first time, follow these steps and you’ll be on the right track.  Here’s a link to the full posting:

Exhibiting at Virtual Trade Shows: Your Five Step Guide


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