The Cost of Convenience on Social Networks

October 11, 2012

Introduction

Technology can do great things. It can save you time and save you money. With social media, it can connect you (via the device in your pocket) to people around the world – people you otherwise would never have “met.” But is there a drawback or cost to the convenience that technology provides?

An Example: The GPS

Consider the GPS (Global Positioning System). When I purchased my first GPS unit in 2005, I thought it was the world’s finest invention. Whether I was driving near home or in a remote town, I could plug in a street address and this magical device would take me there, turn by turn.

When I moved to the West Coast a few years later, my handy GPS helped me get around my new surroundings, from the department store to the movie theater to my new favorite restaurants. But now that I’ve been out West for five years, I’m finding a “cost” for the GPS that goes beyond the retail cost.

The “cost” was a dependence on this technological marvel, which meant that I didn’t truly know my own surroundings. Instead, I’d have the radio on, take the turns that the GPS called out, but not pay attention to the route I was taking (and, as a side note, I’ve since switched from a GPS device to the excellent Waze app on my iPhone).

Now, if I’m driving locally to a place I’ve never been before, I’ll plug the destination address into Google Maps and review the route. Then, I’ll drive to my destination without any technological guidance. And I find that curbing my dependence on the GPS has helped me better learn the local roads and routes. And not to worry, Waze – you’ll still come along for the ride when I go out of town.

Now, let’s consider the cost of convenience on social networks.

Liking a Comment on Facebook.

In 2010, Facebook rolled out the “Like” button on Comments. At first, I found this a bit curious: you have a button to “Like” the original post and now, Facebook is allowing you to “Like” interactions beneath that post. As I started using it, however, I discovered its elegance: you (the poster) could acknowledge interesting or witty comments with the click of a mouse.

The person whose Comment you Liked would see your action and perhaps they’d become more inclined to comment on your subsequent posts. There have been occasions where I ponder how to respond to a comment I’ve received. If it was a witty comment, I feel the need to return the favor with something equally witty. I’ll occasionally get “stuck,” and not know what to say. So instead I simply click “Like” (on the comment) and I’m done.

So what’s the cost? More substantial and meaningful interactions between you and the commenter.

Twitter’s Retweet Button.

In 2009, Twitter rolled out the retweet button (and function). The retweet (or, “RT” for short) was a capability conceived by Twitter’s users. And prior to the retweet button (or, the equivalent function in Twitter clients), users had to manually compose retweet’s by copying the tweet content, then sticking a “RT @USER” in front of the tweet.

The retweet function made it super convenient. With two clicks of the mouse (the first to retweet, the second to confirm it), you just published a tweet, while promoting the original tweet content. Because the retweet preserves 100% of the original tweet, the cost of this convenience is an absence of commentary (from you).

When I want to add my own thoughts (e.g. “Great post” or “Excellent points”) on a retweet, I’ll manually compose it (with a copy/paste of the original tweet), then change the “RT” to “MT” (for “Modified Tweet”). This makes the process less convenient, but I find the additional commentary worth it (and I bet the original tweeter may as well).

Location-based Checkins.

Location-based check-ins began on services like Foursquare. Their purpose was to alert friends (on the service) of your location. Perhaps you’re at Happy Hour and you see that some friends just checked in from the watering hole down the street. So you go there to find them.

So that was the original point – and a fine point it was. Soon, services such as Foursquare enabled you to broadcast your check-in to your social media accounts. And our tweet stream started to get filled up with tweets, like those shown above.

So the cost of the check-in convenience is a proliferation of rather trivial tweets. If I’m following you on Foursquare, then yes, a check-in is meaningful. However, if I’m following you on Twitter (only), your location at this particular point in time isn’t meaningful.

Facebook Check-ins

Similarly, Facebook has a check-in feature that enables you to list your location, along with tagging Facebook friends that you happen to be with. For friends and family on Facebook, I am, in fact, more interested in where you happen to be.

But, the convenience of the check-in means that more significant and meaningful descriptions (of  your location) go by the wayside. For instance, compare these two Facebook posts:

And here’s the more convenient one:

“Climbing to the peak – at Mount Everest”

Photo Uploads.

Don’t get me wrong: photos are great and pictures are, in fact, worth 1,000 words (or more). Sometimes, however, the convenience of uploading 50 pictures (to an album on Facebook) gives you the “excuse” that the pictures can tell the story (on their own). If a picture is worth 1,000 words, couldn’t you at least tag each one with 140 characters?

Conclusion

On the social web, we’re able to make connections and have interactions with people from across the globe. For me, that makes old fashioned, face-to-face interactions all the more meaningful. Similarly, the ease with which we can post, share, re-post and re-share on social networks means that we miss out on more meaningful dialog and interactions. This “cost tradeoff” is something to keep in mind as social networks continue to grow and evolve.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

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A New Approach to Virtual Trade Show Booth Surveys

April 19, 2011

Introduction

Surveys should not be difficult to operate! Too often, however, they are. For virtual trade shows, booth surveys can complement the demographic data (collected during registration) with psychographic data to help you further qualify your virtual trade show leads.  In this post, I introduce a new approach to the virtual trade show booth survey.

Make it Fun

Surveys are no fun.  As a first step, don’t call your’s a “survey”.  If you sell B2B products, call it a “Readiness Assessment” instead. Then, make it fun. Introduce a host or hostess (audio voiceover) who talks to the end user after each step, cracking jokes along the way.

Develop humorous text or imagery, to encourage users to unmute their speakers.  After every few questions, pipe some humor into the process. For instance, insert a text bubble that reads, “4 out of 5 of virtual event attendees surveyed indicate that they … dislike surveys!”

Provide Instant Feedback

When you complete most surveys, the feedback you receive is, “Thank you for participating in our survey.”  The new approach to the booth survey leverages numerical weightings to each multiple-choice answer.  You design the survey questions (and the answers), so that the answers are summed up to a total “score.”

Next, capitalize on the current popularity of badges (a la Foursquare) and assign ranges of scores to custom-designed badges.  For instance, in our B2B Readiness Assessment, the badges could be:

  1. The Dunno Badge (“I don’t know if I’m ready or not”)
  2. The Boyfriend Badge (“I don’t know if I’m ready to commit”)
  3. The Trooper Badge (“I think I’m ready, let’s do it”)
  4. The Honeymoon Badge (“Let’s skip straight to the honeymoon”)

(Note: use of sarcasm for demonstration purposes – may not be appropriate for a B2B setting.)

Your Ticket to Lead Qualification

When you designed your survey questions to add up to a score, did it seem like lead scoring?  It should have!  Just as you’d calculate an “A lead” based on their activity in your virtual booth, you badges become a form of a lead score.  If you’re implementing lead scoring for your booth visitors, you can augment scores with badge information.

For instance, “A leads” who completed your survey and received the “Honeymoon Badge” are the cream of the crop.  They receive higher priority than other “A leads” who received the Trooper, Boyfriend or Dunno badges.

Be Prescriptive on Next Steps

Surveys provide little to no information on next steps.  Since your survey is labeled a “readiness assessment,” you ought to prescribe the next steps to the user.

Our new approach assigns a specific piece of content to each badge.  For instance, users with the Dunno Badge receive the “Widgets for Dummies” eBook, while Honeymoon Badge users receive the “Widget Implementation, Volume I” white paper.  By giving users a clear follow-up plan, you’re delivering tremendous value in exchange for filling out the survey.

Conclusion

The new approach to booth surveys can create a win/win/win scenario.  First, by making it enticing and fun, you generate more survey completions. Next, by mapping each survey responder to a badge, you provide instant lead qualification (which helps you).  And finally, by prescribing a follow-up plan for each badge, you provide value back to the user, while conveniently leading them down the sales cycle.


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”.


3 Virtual Worlds Technologies To Watch

September 26, 2010

On September 24th, FountainBlue held its annual virtual worlds conference.  This year’s event was hosted on Cisco’s campus in Milpitas, CA.

The event was attended by entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, investors and virtual worlds practitioners.  Several virtual worlds entrepreneurs spoke on the scheduled panel discussions and a few set up stations to demonstrate their technology.

I’d like to highlight 3 virtual worlds technologies that caught my attention.

RocketOn: A virtual world layer on top of the entire web

Presenting executive: Steve Hoffman, CEO

RocketOn takes my “Best in Show Award” for most innovative virtual worlds technology.  While Facebook and Twitter have propelled social networking to mainstream adoption, surfing the web is still a solitary experience.

While many web sites have added community features (e.g. membership, comments, Facebook social graph integration, etc.) – it’s still the case that when I browse my favorite content sites, I have no idea who else is reading the same page at the same time.

RocketOn seeks to change that.  Using a Flash layer placed on top of web pages via an i-frame, RocketOn users can create their own avatar and have them walk atop any web page.  They can then see other RocketOn users who may be visiting the same web page.

Perhaps you’re reading a movie review and happen to bump into a friend, who’s reading the same review.  You decide to visit a site that hosts a trailer for the movie, so you both navigate to the trailer site, watch it there and continue your chat.

A Foursquare for the entire web

One of the captivating features of Foursquare is the ability to see who else is at the same physical location as you.  RocketOn has built a similar feature for the entire web.  While the service is focused on a consumer audience initially, imagine how this technology could be used in a corporate setting.

Browsing your company’s intranet could become much more productive and engaging.  Now, water cooler conversations could occur online, as you bump into colleagues at the employee directory page (rather than the kitchen).

Additional Information

  1. The “About Us” page for RocketOn
  2. More details on the RocketOn platform
  3. Neat 2-minute video about the RocketOn service

Zenitum: Bringing virtual worlds into the real world

Presenting executive: Albert Kim, CEO

I admire technologies that flip conventional models upside down.  While we visit virtual worlds from the real world, Zenitum seeks to have virtual worlds elements visit us in the real world.  CEO Albert Kim receives the “Jetsettter Badge”, having attended the conference from Zenitum’s home base in Seoul, Korea.

When publicly released (later this year), Zenitum’s technology will be supported on iPhone, Android and Symbian.  Zenitum will provide their app and an SDK (software development kit) for free.  They are encouraging widespread adoption of their technology – consumers use their app and device manufacturers develop services using their SDK. Zenitum will monetize their service via advertising (“augmented advertising”, perhaps).

Our reality will forever be augmented

When you run the app, your smartphone scans your surroundings, attempting to recognize images.  If it finds a match, Zenitum overlays a 3D animated object on top (or around) the real world object.  For example, let’s say a comic book publisher is running a campaign and loads an image of a comic strip into the Zenitum platform.

The same image is on a billboard on a city street.  When I walk down that street with the app running (and my smartphone positioned properly), Zenitum detects the comic strip image.  It then inserts animated 3D objects (perhaps other characters from the comic strip) around the real world object.  As I move my phone left, right, up and down, the animated objects adjust their positions accordingly.

Possible use cases

Imagine the use of this technology at a museum – as you walk past a painting, its “virtual artist” could appear on your phone and speak to you about the inspiration behind the work.  At a trade show or conference, walking down an aisle could cause executives (virtually) to spring up and give you a brief pitch about their product.

Neat stuff – I hope we’re able to keep the distinction clear, though, on what’s real and what’s virtual!

Additional Information

  1. Zenitum’s “Company” page on their web site

Digitell: Bringing a global audience to your next meeting

Presenting executive: Jim Parker, President

Digitell uses the ActiveWorlds 3D platform to bring you hybrid meetings, virtual events, virtual communities and webcasts.  Jim Parker, Digitell’s President, notes that a common client of his service is associations, who want to extend the audience for their annual meetings.  Parker notes that the immersive experience of Digitell makes attendees “feel like they’re there” (at the physical event).

Parker’s clients who run these hybrid events often charge the same amount on virtual attendance as they do for the on-site event.  In this way, the common objection of cannibalization goes away, as the virtual component generates additional audience – and additional revenue for the meeting organizer.

Dispelling the notion that virtual worlds are for the younger generation, Parker notes that the average age of a Digitell user is 44 (wow!).  Users are so passionate about the experience that they often comment, “when’s the next event, I want to use my avatar!”.

Parker has created 3D replicas of museums, which allows students (across the globe) to visit and experience the museum’s works, without having to be “bused” to the physical building.  Imagine how easy it would be to have a virtual guide take students on a tour of the museum’s main works, any time of day, with students participating from all over the world.

Additional Information

  1. More info on Hybrid Meetings from Digitell

Conclusion

While the term “virtual worlds” has a negative connotation in the minds of many, it hasn’t stopped innovative entrepreneurs from developing new and exciting services.  It will be interesting to watch each of these technologies to review their adoption, growth and monetization.


The Name Of The “Game” Is Engagement

August 9, 2010

Future brand loyalist or virtual goods buyer?

Introduction

Social gaming start-ups are a hot commodity these days.  In the past 12 months, Playfish was acquired by Electronic Arts and Playdom (more recently) was acquired by Disney.  Zynga, which remains independent, has a valuation that’s reported to be as high as $5B.  I expect that CrowdStar, another independent gaming start-up, will be acquired before 2010 closes.

These gaming companies provide “free to play” games on the web and on smartphones.  They then sell virtual goods (within the games) so users can achieve an elevation in status (e.g. a sharper sword, more crop for the farm, designer sunglasses to replace your generic pair, etc.).

Sustainable Growth Can Be Challenging

These gaming start-ups have attractive attributes:

  1. Ability to generate hundreds of millions in revenue (in some cases, more)
  2. High growth rates in users, revenue
  3. High profit margins, since the “cost of goods” (for virtual goods) is virtually zero

While it’s hard to argue with the results that these start-ups are turning in, I wonder if we might be in a mini-gaming-bubble, in terms of current valuations and the potential of sustainable, long term growth.

Social games can be similar to the recording and film industries.  Success depends on the blockbuster hit.  Over time, it becomes more and more challenging to consistently produce the blockbusters, especially in the face of growing competition.  Today, Facebook serves as a great “record label” for the gaming companies.  It provides a marketing vehicle that you can’t find anywhere else – “distribution” to its 500+ MM “listeners” (users).

The gaming companies know, however, that they can’t put all their eggs in the Facebook basket – hence, the plans from Zynga to launch their own Zynga Live platform (as one example).  The gaming companies need their blockbuster hits to turn into self-standing brands (e.g. FarmVille), which then relies on a variety of distribution vehicles.

We know that consumers can be fickle, however.  Recall the progression of “hot social network”, from Friendster to MySpace to Twitter/Facebook.  Games will have a related challenge.  FarmVille is not going to be the #1 game forever, which means that Zynga is already figuring out the “next FarmVille”.

I believe there will be a short list of winners in a market that will be increasingly fierce.  In addition, I wonder if over the long term, the rate of virtual goods purchasing is sustainable – or whether it will continue to grow over the long term.

A New Game in Town?

One of the challenges of the virtual goods model is the funding source. Revenue growth is dependent on fickle consumers, who could love your game one day and move on to another game the next day.  And yes, I realize that part of good game design is to build in the hooks to create user loyalty.

That being said, what about services whose funding source comes from brands that want to reach consumers?  The bills in their “wallet” are of higher denominations than the $1′s and $5′s that consumers use to purchase virtual goods.  In addition, “brands are already brands”, which mean that they have a pre-existing following from consumers.

Foursquare

Consider Foursquare.  Some consider it a “location based service”.  I view Foursquare as an engagement platform that’s built on top of a location based system.  In fact, Foursquare has a loyalty program that generated successful outcomes for Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, Whole Foods and many others.

The Foursquare business model is both powerful and scalable: powerful in its use of technology (e.g. location based check-ins) and scalable in leveraging existing brands (e.g. Starbucks) for the consumer following and activity.

Location based technology is great, but the long term success of Foursquare is more about the engagement and loyalty programs it facilitates for brands, based on the applicable and available technology of the day.

Nitro Participation Engine from Bunchball

Keep your eye on the Nitro Participation Engine from Bunchball - a Silicon Valley start-up who counts NBC, Warner Brothers and Victoria’s Secret as clients.  The Nitro engine “drives participation using Gamification”, which means that any brand can easily add gaming elements to their web site(s) – and then leverage the Nitro engine to track user actions, points, status and leaderboard. In addition, brands can use Nitro to deploy and sell virtual goods.

What This Could Mean

I think we could be witnessing a transformation of the advertising industry.  If the 90′s and the 00′s were about banner ads and paid search, this coming decade could be about engagement and loyalty platforms.

Foursquare, Bunchball and others have much to gain – if they can tap into a small percentage of the $100+B spent on advertising annually, they’ll make their investors very happy.

These engagement platforms can move from brand impressions (90′s) to brand engagements – where the engagements are longer lasting and more valuable than a click on a paid search ad.  They’re more participatory and can result in immediate purchases (e.g. the latte that someone just purchased at Starbucks).  In addition and perhaps more importantly, they enhance loyalty between consumers and brands, which is great for the long term.

Of course, sustainable growth is a challenge with any technology. Engagement platforms will face their own challenges as they see adoption grow.  Consumers will only be able to participate in so many engagement or loyalty programs.  That being said, consumers are taking batting practice right now – the first inning has yet to start.  Enjoy the ballgame!

I’ve now managed to speak enough.  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts on this topic.

Related Links

  1. ClickZ article (by Christopher Heine) on brand engagement featuring Booyah, Loopt, Brightkite, Gowalla and Stickybits
  2. Foursquare’s Future Slowly Takes Shape“, by Om Malik of GigaOM
  3. Social-media games: Badges or badgering?“, by Caroline McCarthy of CNET

Event Planners “Check In” To Location Based Services

July 26, 2010

Introduction

Due to the rising popularity of Foursquare, Gowalla and related apps, location based services (LBS) is quite the buzzword both in consumer and technology circles.  Logically, the ability to “check in” at venues, connect with friends/associates and make new contacts has relevance to events and event planners.

Let’s highlight some of last week’s articles and blog postings on this topic.

Trade Show News Network

Michelle Bruno (@michellebruno) wrote an article in Trade Show News Network (@TSNN_com_US) titled “Checking Out ‘Checking In’ for Events“.  The article references Foursquare and Gowalla and then profiles a technology provider named Double Dutch.  According to its web site, Double Dutch provides “White label geolocation apps for your brand”.

Michelle references a key point regarding hybrid events, in which event planners support both physical and virtual venues.  Michelle writes, “If a virtual event is also taking place, live attendees can check in at the online and offline events for more recognition”.

Tracking and supporting check-ins across physical and virtual locations can build a more cohesive and compelling hybrid event.  In fact, it can serve to bridge the physical and virtual venues.

Virtual event platforms should look into this.  In fact, I blogged about location based services and virtual events previously.

Cisco Live

In Cisco’s Virtual Environments blog, Dannette Veale (@dveale) writes about virtual technologies that Cisco has incorporated into their Cisco Live (@CiscoLive) annual conference.  The 2010 Cisco Live event concluded recently – the physical component was hosted in Las Vegas, while a virtual component ran concurrently.

Disclosure: My employer (@INXPO) provided the virtual platform for Cisco Live

Dannette describes an innovative use  of Foursquare by Cisco Live’s event planners – a type of scavenger hunt, in which conference attendees received a clue (via social media channels) about a check-in location.  The first 75 attendees to check in at that location (and complete an additional task) would receive buttons, which could be used to redeem a daily prize at the Cisco Store.

The contest generated 802 checkins and allowed conference attendees to network and make connections with one another.

SCVNGR (Mashable)

SCVNGR, “a game about doing challenges at places”, this week announced the social check-in.  Two or more users can bump phones (or, wave them at each other in close proximity) and check in at the same time and place.  There are many ways event planners can leverage this technology.

In a trade show, attendees could be encouraged to perform social check-ins with each other – or, with exhibitors.  In a user conference, the social check-in could be used as a back-drop to a game that encouraged attendees to network with one another.  In a corporate setting, social check-ins could be used to encourage team building.

Conclusion

The concepts of “check ins”, location awareness and location tracking have natural uses for events.  While they’re a great fit for physical events, think about tie-ins between physical and virtual for your hybrid event.  And, think about ways in which “location tracking” (in a virtual event) can create connections, engagement and interaction.

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How Virtual Events Can Adopt Location Based Services

January 28, 2010

These days, it seems the social web is like real estate – it’s all about location, location, location.  Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt are gaining popularity as location based, mobile social services.  Yelp has rolled out Yelp Check-ins, which mirror a popular activity on the aforementioned services.  Twitter added location awareness to its API in 2009.  Facebook, some speculate, may enter the fray with their own location based services.

So how would it be possible to enable Location Based Services in a virtual event?  Well, consider that location tracking is inherent to the virtual event platform – in other words, it has a built-in GPS for all users!  I wrote previously about gaming in virtual events – that gaming can generate  retention, engagement, enjoyment and loyalty.  Location Based Services, in the form of competition and gaming, can achieve all of these benefits.  Let’s take a look at how.

Source: flickr (User: dvxfilmerdoug)

It Starts With The Buddy List

Users first need to build their social graph.  This can be accomplished with a virtual event platform’s “buddy list” feature – all users in your buddy list would receive status notifications from the location system.  The notifications would be sent to users within the virtual event (if you’re logged in).  Once you log out, you can opt to receive status notifications via email.  This way, even if you’re no longer in the event, you can receive updates (via email) on what your buddies are up to.

Build A Reward System

Next, a reward system serves as an incentive for users to participate.  The concept is similar to the becoming “mayor” of a location on Foursquare.  In a virtual event, perhaps you allow privileged users (who have achieved a certain status) to obtain a badge – whereby the badge can superimposed on their avatar image – or, listed on their profile page.  In addition to the badge system, a master leaderboard (and perhaps segmented leaderboards) should be utilized, allowing users to track their performance relative to other users.

The Virtual Trade Show

First, the notion of a social graph in a virtual trade show may be an upfront challenge.  At most trade shows, you may know a handful of colleagues or associates who are also attending – but for the most part, everyone else is a stranger (to start).  Thus, a system may need to be in place first to encourage users to add other users to their buddy list.

Assuming you can achieve decent-sized buddy lists, then the “check-in” becomes quite relevant in a virtual trade show.  Each visit that I make to an event area can be tracked (by the platform) as a check-in – allowing my buddies to know what areas I visited – and, where I am right now.  Secondly, I might leave a review or comment about a particular area – perhaps I enjoyed the content in an exhibitor’s booth – or, I didn’t find a Webcast to be all that useful.  When my buddies enter those same areas, they can then view the comments I left them from my prior check-ins.  Thus, when a buddy enters the same exhibitor booth, she knows that I visited earlier and enjoyed the content there.

Exhibitors could then sponsor areas of the event (besides their own booth) – the Lounge, Auditorium, Resource Center, etc.  Then, attendees can vie to become the “mayor” of a given area.  At the end of the live event, perhaps the mayor of the Lounge receives a prize that’s awarded by the Lounge’s sponsor – and to receive the prize, agrees to have a short conversation with that sponsor.  Already, you can begin to see how this location “app” can generate additional activity and engagement.

Source: flickr (User: Live Solutions)

The Virtual Sales Conference

In a virtual sales conference (and related corporate events), attendees naturally have a large list of potential buddies – the trick is to incent the attendees to populate that list within the virtual event.  Alternatively, management may choose to pre-select the buddy lists by organizing the sales force into teams – whereby your buddy list is pre-seeded with your fellow team members.  The location app is all about checking in (with each other) and sharing information towards gaining points for your team.  In this manner, the location app helps encourage learning and collaboration, making the virtual sales conference more effective.

Social Networks

For certain types of events (e.g. virtual trade shows), integrating the location system with users’ social networks can be powerful.  For instance, a check-in to the keynote presentation can auto-generate a tweet out to the attendee’s Twitter followers – providing a registration link to the event.  Similarly, a check-in at an exhibitor’s booth may prompt the user whether she wants to post an update to her Facebook wall.  In summary, the location service should facilitate sharing not just within the virtual event, but to external social networks as well.

Prevent Gaming (of the System)

The virtual events platform will need to carefully build the measurement and scoring methodologies to ensure that the “game is not gamed”.  In the real world, there is overhead involved in becoming the mayor of a watering hole – in the virtual world, clicking 50 times to enter an exhibitor’s booth is quite easy.  The scoring system ought to consider rate limits, as well as threshold values around selected activities.  Additionally, becoming “mayor” should factor in actions that are not as “game-able” as mouse clicks or visits.

Conclusion

There’s  probably a lot of work to enable the underlying platform to accomplish this – however, such a system can go a long way to achieving retention, engagement, enjoyment and loyalty.

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