How MOOCs are Similar to Virtual Events (and Quite Different, Too)

October 19, 2013

Can you say MOOC?
Photo credit: Flickr user audreywatters via photopin cc

Introduction

In Boston this past week, I attended one marketing conference and walked past another. I scanned the schedule of the other conference and saw a recognizable set of popular topics: mobile, big data, social media.

And then I noticed a session on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and their role in the future of education. That evening, I met a college buddy for dinner and we talked about MOOCs. He was experimenting with them and even received a few certifications from completing an online course.

So this got me thinking about MOOCs and their growing popularity. In doing so, I was drawn to the many similarities they have with virtual events. Let’s consider a few.

How MOOCs are Similar to Virtual Events

Extended Reach to a Global Audience

Extended reach across the globe
Photo credit: Flickr user DonkeyHotey via photopin cc

MOOCs, like virtual events, can reach anyone with an Internet connection. Whether you’re in Paris, France or Paris, Texas, it doesn’t matter.

The New York Times ran a piece about a boy who attended several courses via MIT’s MOOC from his home in Mongolia. And that’s the power of an online platform. Traditionally, your event or your college course required your physical presence. Today, anyone can attend from anywhere.

Disrupting Business Models and Conventions

The emergence of MOOCs and virtual events disrupted venues and formats with hundreds (or thousands) of years of history (e.g. education and events).

When disruption hits an industry, some seek out the change, while others combat it. We’ve seen these dynamics in both the education and events industries. The disruptive force, though, needs to seek and refine a sustainable business model. MOOCs are finding their way. Virtual events have not proven to be self-sustaining, financially.

The Power of Online Collaboration

MOOCs and virtual events help people find and discover new connections (online) and facilitate a degree of collaboration that wouldn’t have happened face-to-face.

In MOOCs, online students can answer each other’s questions (which would be rude to do in the middle of a lecture), while also grading each other’s assignments.

In a virtual event, 50 attendees can simultaneously chat and brainstorm a topic, in a way that just wouldn’t be possible (with that many people) in-person.

Ultimately, the power of online collaboration can lead to face-to-face connections and experiences. The boy from Mongolia (Battushig Myanganbayar) ended up attending MIT. And the girl in Paris, France will end up traveling to the conference that she first attended online.

How MOOCs are Quite Different from Virtual Events

There are important differences between MOOCs and virtual events – and these differences give MOOCs a higher likelihood of finding a sustainable and successful business model.

Education is a More Basic Need

The need for education is basic
Photo credit: Flickr user One Laptop per Child via photopin cc

TED conferences are an exception. In B2B, the majority of conferences and events are for industry gatherings and professional associations. In other words, places you go once you’ve started your professional career.

Higher education, on the other hand, is what many seek in order to land their first job. And because of the high cost of higher education, some families have never sent a single person to college.

MOOCs can now provide a taste of that education to any family member.  They’re also relevant to those already in the workforce who want to stay current in their industry or branch out into others.

Conceived by Insiders

Let’s consider some well-known MOOCs: Coursera, edX and Udacity. They were founded by professors at Stanfard, MIT and Harvard. In other words: insiders identified the need, built the platform and formed companies to find sustainable business models.

It’s the insider angle that gives MOOCs their advantage: an insider appreciates the complexities of the system in a way no outsider can. And, the insider has valuable connections that would take outsiders a long time to assemble.

Virtual events platforms were built by entrepreneurs, who partnered with the insiders (event professionals) to find a sustainable business model. Advantage: MOOCs.

Technology Advancement

Virtual events emerged circa 2005-2006. At the time, Twitter didn’t exist, Facebook was just opening its service outside college campuses and the iPhone had yet to be created.

MOOCs emerged several years later, to an entirely different world: a world of social media, pervasive mobile device usage, lower bandwidth costs and more convenient video production/streaming capabilities.

Technologies like USTREAM and Google+ Hangouts have made it a cinch to broadcast live video from anywhere. As a result, they’ve raised the bar for vendors who provide similar services. If only virtual (and hybrid) events had it so easy back in 2006.

A Focus on the Core Unit (the Lecture)

The college lecture
Photo credit: Flickr user pinelife via photopin cc

MOOCs found success by focusing on the core unit of their offering: the online course. Virtual events, on the other hand, charted a more complex route by attempting to re-create the conference experience in 3D or pseudo-3D.

Virtual events had elaborate lobbies and lounges, and an exhibit floor complete with virtual booths. MOOCs have not attempted to re-create the quad, the library steps and the dining hall (although online eating may be possible one day with 3D printers).

Over time, virtual events adapted to focus more on the content and less on the virtual furniture. MOOCs have focused on the core content from the start.

Conclusion

Massively Open Online Events. Would virtual events have evolved differently if we used an alternative name? Probably not. MOOCs, while similar to virtual events, have a number of advantages.

I’ll be watching to see how their business model evolves. And like my college buddy, I’ll have to spend a few evenings attending an online course myself.

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A New Way to Follow Up with Attendees after Events

July 6, 2013

The New Way

Photo credit: Flickr user bernatcg via photopin cc

Introduction

Recently, I attended a virtual event. The event had a large number of sessions and virtual booths (exhibitors). Due to a number of meetings I had scheduled that day, I couldn’t stay too long. I attended one session and visited a few booths to see what was going on.

The Current Way

A day after the event, I received an email from the event organizer. They thanked me for attending and invited me to log back in to view all of the sessions on-demand. So far, so good.

And then it started. Over the next two weeks, I received emails from exhibitor after exhibitor. I recalled visiting some of the exhibitors’ booths. For others emailing me, I had no idea they were even part of the show.

The New Way

I don’t like the current way. It results in too many emails, most of which aren’t relevant to me. So here’s the new way.

Warning: this takes extra work on the part of the event organizer. But in the end, I think everyone wins.

1) An exhibitor can only email an attendee when the attendee requests it, on the event website.

2) All post-event emails come from the event organizer (only).

3) The event organizer becomes an Editor of sorts, assembling emails that pair vendor-neutral content (the on-demand sessions) adjacent to vendor information (product listings that relate to a session).

4) Continuing the Editor role, the event organizer builds sections of the event website (or, the virtual event environment itself) segmented by “solution type.” As attendees view on-demand sessions, they’re able to view lists of vendors within each solution type.

5) In this way, it’s the event organizer who’s helping move attendees along the sales cycle!

Benefits of The New Way

More Credible Emails

In The New Way, the emails come from a credible source. I attended the event, so I’m likely to consider the event organizer credible. An exhibitor I never heard of that’s decided to start emailing me? Not so credible.

Better Email Management

We receive far too much email

Photo credit: Flickr user deltaMike via photopin cc

The New Way results in far less emails. By centralizing the sending from a single source, attendees have one opt-out to manage, rather than 5, 10 or 15 opt-outs from all the exhibitors. With a single opt-out, the stakes are also raised for the event organizer.

More Effective Emails

Today’s approach (from exhibitors) amounts to a shot in the dark. The recipe for the email is:

You attended event X. I sell a product, Y that has some relation to X. Want to buy?

With The New Way, the emails focus on the content of the event and attendees are invited to self-select their follow-up paths. They do so based on the sessions they view, the pages they visit and the requests they submit for more information.

More Qualified Leads

The New Way can invert the process: instead of exhibitors pursuing attendees, the attendees can be the ones asking for appointments with the exhibitors. It’s the job of the event organizer to facilitate this match-making: NOT to simply hand over lists of email addresses to exhibitors.

For bonus points: event organizers can create multiple “email tracks” (by topic) and invite attendees to select the track(s) most relevant to them. Combine this with email analytics and marketing automation to tailor subsequent content down to an individual basis.

Conclusion

It’s up to you, event organizers. By adopting The New Way, you can make your attendees much happier. And if done right, you can enable your exhibitors to achieve higher ROI than they’re getting today. Let’s leave the shot in the dark emails to those selling snake oil.


Why Big Data is The Future for Virtual Event Platforms

May 18, 2013

The future for virtual event platforms

Image source: User gwire on flickr.

Introduction

Previously, I wrote about the future of face-to-face events. The future of events lies in technology that creates business intelligence from event data. Events create a massive amount of data (trees) and technology should enable event planners and sponsors to “see the forest from the trees.”

Virtual/hybrid event platforms can play an important role in this future. These platforms are a primary driver of “event data.” The future for virtual event platforms is to pair the data they generate with third party data sources to generate comprehensive event intelligence.

Let’s consider reasons why Big Data is the future for virtual event platforms.

Data is no longer in one place.

Data is no longer in one place

Image source: Horia Varlan on flickr.

In the early days, data generated by the virtual event platform was the one and only source of event data. Along came social media and attendees began to tweet, post and pin their way around (and often outside) the event experience.

Throw in hybrid events (which have a corresponding face-to-face event) and you have another universe of data being created “on site” (check ins, user-generated video, badge scans, etc.).  The reality is that event data, even for virtual events, is widely dispersed. To drive true event intelligence, “someone” needs to coalesce that data and make sense of it. For me, the virtual event platform should be that “someone.”

The ever-elusive “ROI” can be defined up front.

Virtual event planners still struggle to answer the question, “how are you measuring [and proving] ROI for your virtual event?” One reason is that the planner doesn’t quite know how to measure ROI. The other reason is that tools aren’t readily available to do so. By working with Big Data, virtual event platform providers (and the event planners) can define the ROI model when the deal is sold.

I imagine the platforms providing both standard and custom “ROI packages.” Standard packages could be “sentiment” (for internal, HR events) or “retention” (for training events). Using “pre” and “post” data, planners can now make statements such as, “our virtual town hall meeting drove a 45% increase in employee satisfaction.”

When you define, measure and prove ROI, it’s more likely that this year’s virtual/hybrid event will happen again next year (and the year after that).

The core technology already exists.

The foundation for the future is already in place: virtual/hybrid event platforms create online experiences, store data, process data and present/render data. The missing piece (and yes, it’s a big one) is the ability to integrate (import) third party data coming from social media, the broader web and face-to-face event systems.

The strategic value is in the data.

The value is in the data

Image source: User andertoons on flickr.

Content and user experience will always be critical to the success of an event. You need the right content and user experience to drive engagement, after all. After the event is over, the strategic value you take from it is found in the data.

Attendees will remember the content and user experience. Business owners will remember the data. Why do virtual event platforms need to work with (and make sense of) data outside their own platform? Because it paints the whole picture. And because true ROI cannot be delivered without it.

Conclusion

There’s a technology company called Splunk that “turns machine data into valuable insights no matter what business you’re in.” (source: Splunk web site). Splunk is a publicly traded company with a market cap well over $4B. There’s value in data. Virtual event platforms can be the “Splunk for event data.”


Blasts from The Past: Posts on Virtual Events, Airlines, Facebook and More

August 24, 2012

Introduction

While recent posts have focused on social media, I used to crank out a few dozen posts (every few months) on virtual events. After all, just look at the name of this blog. So I thought I’d round up some former blog postings and bring them back to life.

What Virtual Events Can Learn from The Airline Industry

From frequent flyer programs to first class and business class, I shared ideas on how virtual events could apply concepts from the airline industry. If you’ve seen examples of virtual events that have applied these sorts of concepts, please share details in the comments section.

Read the full post (from 2009): What Virtual Events Can Learn From The Airline Industry

Breaking News: Facebook’s Not a Social Network, it’s a Virtual Event

Facebook has hundreds of millions of active users. And guess what? They’re online, right this moment. If you’re a Facebook user, you probably know the drill. You post a photo from your daughter’s soccer game and as the page refreshes with your update, you’ve already received 5+ Likes from friends. Yes, Facebook is a virtual event – and it’s the world’s largest.

Read the full post: Why Facebook Is The World’s Largest Virtual Event

Give Me a Virtual Farm for my Virtual Event

I looked at group buying (Groupon), Q&A sites (Quora) and virtual farms (FarmVille) for ideas that could be applied to virtual events. Not sure how well these would work in a real-life virtual event, but I’d love to see someone try.

Read the full post: What Virtual Events Can Learn From Groupon, Quora and FarmVille

Dear Flight Attendant, I’m Online

That’s right, back to the airline industry again – and the old fashioned flight attendant call button. Virtual events should add one of these, as a form of “presence indicator” for technical support, interaction with other attendees and interaction with exhibitors. The engagement model is flipped on its head: instead of venturing “out” to find interactions, people find you instead.

Read the full post: A Flight Attendant Call Button for Virtual Events

Are You Ready For Some Football?

With the NFL 2012-2013 season right around the corner, I bring you this earlier post about the NFL. Look to the NFL to learn how you can turn your “once a year” event into a year-round experience. So after your “Super Bowl,” hold an “NFL Draft” to determine your speaker line-up for next year’s championship event.

Read the full post: What The NFL Can Teach You About Virtual Events


Harness the Power of Your Personal Brand

May 17, 2012

Introduction

In 2006, TIME magazine declared “You” their Person of the Year. TIME’s selection was based on the rise of YouTube and other social web sites that allowed individuals to become publishers. TIME’s cover concluded, “You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.”

Some six years later, we have even more tools to publish, interact and discover. Facebook is approaching 1 billion global users, while the past 12 months has seen the rise of Instagram and Pinterest, to name a few.

In the midst of your status updates, posts, blog comments and photo uploads, I think there’s a larger meaning (and value) that you can achieve: migrating from simply “You” to “Your Personal Brand.” Let me explain.

Brand Around Your Passions

When I speak about personal branding, people often ask, “just where do I start?” I encourage people to identify their passions. For me, it’s sports, social media and virtual events! For others, it might be food, wine or art. Your personal brand has the highest potential when it’s based around your passions.

Personal Brand Benefits: PASSION

Now, let’s consider the benefits of your personal brand. I use the acronym PASSION. Let’s take them one by one.

Possession

Whether you’ve been at your current job for 20 years or 20 months, as an “at will employee,” you can be asked to leave tomorrow. Your personal brand, however, has guaranteed possession. No one can take it away from you – it’s your’s for the rest of your life.

Annuity

An annuity is defined as “a specified income payable at stated intervals for a fixed or a contingent period, often for the recipient’s life.” As you manage and grow your personal brand, it routinely “pays you income” in the form of recognition, authority, presence and “real” income (if you so desire).

It’s important to realize, however, that while your personal brand’s annuity pays out over time, it’s an investment that must be actively managed to guarantee continued payout. It’s a bit more involved than a conventional annuity: it’s more like a mortgage, in the sense that you need to “pay back” (contribute) each month (or each day!).

I love the part about “for the recipient’s life” in the definition, because it ties back to Possession: the annuity, like your personal brand, is your’s for life.

Searchability

Most businesses think and talk a great deal about “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO). It’s critical for your web site(s) to “get found” when potential customers are searching online. As you construct and develop your personal brand, a natural benefit is “searchability,” or the ability to “get found.”

In a 2008 blog post titled “Downsized? Fired? Here are the new rules of finding a job,” David Meerman Scott (@dmscott) tells us about Heather Hamilton, who describes herself as “Microsoft Employee Evangelist, Quasi-Marketer and Truth-Teller.” Hamilton performs an inverse of the typical job search process. Instead of posting a job description and receiving resumes, she proactively searches the web. As Meerman Scott writes, “So if you’re not publishing, you won’t be found by Microsoft.”

[As a side note, the above blog post by Meerman Scott is singularly responsible for the start of my own personal brand.]

As you join new social networks, it’s critical that you fully populate your profile there. This is a critical first step in establishing your personal brand. On LinkedIn, for instance, ensure that your profile is 100% complete. Don’t settle for 95%, make sure it’s a full 100%.

As you gain a presence across different parts of the web, be sure to “cross link” your presences within your social profiles. For instance, on my Twitter profile page, I link to this blog and to my book on Amazon. You’ll also notice that on this blog, I cross-link to many other “personally branded presences” on the right side of the page.

Now, let’s return to Heather Hamilton. If you’ve published content related to Hamilton’s search terms, then the following may appear in Hamilton’s search results:

  1. Your blog.
  2. Your LinkedIn profile.
  3. Your Twitter profile or a recent tweet.
  4. Your answer on Quora or Focus.com
  5. An eBook that you published on your blog.
  6. An article in which you were quoted.

So in conclusion, the more you invest in your personal brand, the more visible you can be. And with more visibility comes more chances of others finding you.

Sense of Self

By “sense of self,” what I mean is that you learn about yourself as you build your personal brand! I’ve been blogging since 2008. It’s helped highlight (for me) my passions, my strengths and my weaknesses. In a post about her own blogging journey, Amber Naslund (@AmberCadabra) writes, “One of my favorite quotes is from the writer Joan Didion, who once said ‘I write to discover what I think.’”

As I became active on Twitter and LinkedIn, I discovered something about myself that otherwise wouldn’t have been obvious: I love to find, meet and connect with others. Twitter has been amazing in its ability to find and follow others, share thoughts and ideas and get to thoroughly know (in my mind) someone I’ve never met in person. This discovery has led me to consider ways in which I can continue this “connecting” in offline settings, as well.

Identity

While your personal brand should align with your passions, going niche (vs. broad) gives you a lot of advantages. Building a personal brand around “technology” is challenging. Go a step deeper, based on what interests you. Consider “social web technology” or better yet, “social and mobile web technology.”

My personal brand focuses on virtual events and social media. The social media part is challenging, in the sense that many, many others are more knowledgeable than me. The virtual events realm is smaller and more focused, so there’s more of an opportunity to build an identity around it.

By “identity,” I mean that your personal brand comes to be known for something. My personal brand is closely tied to virtual events – I suppose the name of this blog says it all.

Objectives

Having a personal brand helps you set objectives around it. For some, it can be as basic as “continue to grow the brand.” For others, it might revolve around Twitter followers, a Klout score or page views on your blog. Yet others may seek to parlay their personal brand into a new job in a new industry. Your personal brand will evolve over time and objectives are there to help guide you.

Networks

Based on your employment history (or your small business), many of you have amassed a “network” of connections on LinkedIn. A personal brand allows you to significantly extend that network. Via social networks, your blog, comments on other blogs, guest posts on other blogs and articles submitted to publications, you can meet and engage with new people.

It can all start with a single Twitter hash tag. On Twitter, there’s a vibrant community of event professionals who gather around the hash tag #eventprofs. By simply reading, responding and re-tweeting (via this hash tag) over the years, I’ve gotten to know lots of event professionals that I otherwise would not have “met.”

Many #eventprofs are sole practitioners or run a small event business. So personal branding is critical to them, as their personal brand and their business’ brand are one and the same. In addition to the “#eventprofs network, I’m part of many others, including the networks on Quora, Focus.com, Instagram and Pinterest.

Actively engaging in networks helps raise the visibility of your personal brand and brings with it annuity, searchability and many other benefits.

Conclusion

Got a passion? Then put some PASSION around your passion. Developing your personal brand can lead to business opportunities, speaking gigs, fame and fortune. Why not get started today?

Related Links

  1. Blog Post: 7 Tips for Building Your Personal Brand Online 
  2. Slides: How to Build Your Personal Brand and Advance Your Career with Social Media

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


It’s All Popular: Top 2012 Posts at It’s All Virtual

May 10, 2012

Introduction

This blog used to be about virtual events – all day, every day (or almost every day). It’s branched out, of course, to cover a number of additional topics, including social media. This shift is reflected in the list of most popular posts for 2012. Without further ado, here’s the list, in ascending order of popularity.

5) 5 Tips for Organizing Your Google+ Circles

If you’re just getting started with Google+ now, take the time to set up and organize your Circles up front. I added people to the same one or two Circles and had to invest the time to go through them and assign them to more specific Circles.

It was worth it, however, as an organized set of Circles made my use of Google+ all the more productive and beneficial. Read the full post:

http://allvirtual.me/2012/02/06/5-tips-for-organizing-your-google-circles/

4) 5 Reasons I’m Breaking Up With You, TweetDeck

I once made heavy use of a Twitter client called TweetDeck. Now, I find myself relying exclusively on Twitter.com, from my browser. This post details why I decided to break out with TweetDeck. Read the full post:

http://allvirtual.me/2012/02/27/5-reasons-im-breaking-up-with-you-tweetdeck/

3) 5 Tips for Hosting Google+ Hangouts


Google+ Hangouts are pretty darn neat. The first time I hosted a Hangout, however, I ran into a number of snags. The goal of this post was to share my mistakes and subsequent lessons learned. Read the full post:

http://allvirtual.me/2012/01/30/5-tips-for-hosting-google-hangouts/

2) 5 Things Virtual Event Platforms Can Learn from Pinterest

“It’s All Visual.” That’s a core attribute that makes Pinterest so popular. I couldn’t determine which was more popular: Pinterest (itself) or articles and blog postings on the topic of Pinterest. So I decided to try out the service – and then tie Pinterest together with virtual events. Read the full post:

http://allvirtual.me/2012/02/13/5-things-virtual-event-platforms-can-learn-from-pinterest/

1) Why My Third Grader Loves Second Life


While visiting the Tech Museum in San Jose, I was surprised to find a set of workstations installed with Second Life – or perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that it’s a technology museum. My third grader loved interacting with this custom version of Second Life, so I decided to analyze just why that was. Read the full post here:

http://allvirtual.me/2012/02/08/why-my-third-grader-loves-second-life/


Post Your Slogan for Virtual Event Experiences

April 26, 2012

Photo source: mckaysavage on flickr.

Introduction

Recently, Mike Swift published an interesting article in The Mercury News, “Ship code or ship out: Bootcamp for new Facebook engineers.”

The article provided a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at Facebook’s boot camp for new engineers. I loved reading about the slogans that Facebook reinforces within its team. As Swift notes, “Facebook recruits are exposed to a series of slogans that are intended to encapsulate the company’s values.”

Facebook’s Slogans

Swift’s article lists the following Facebook slogans:

Move Fast and Break Things
What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?
The Foolish Wait
Our Work Is Never Over
We Hack Therefore We Are
Are You Fearless?
Done Is Better Than Perfect
Code Wins Arguments

Slogans for Virtual Events

It occurred to me that we should develop slogans regarding what virtual event experiences should aspire to. So fresh off reading Swift’s article, I went to Twitter to ask. After all, for soliciting slogans, what better a place than one that deals in 140 characters or less?

And the Twittersphere spoke:

“Think big and be creative!”  — @EmilieBarta
“Where less is more”   — @scottlum
“Less steps, less windows, less mess = less stress!”  — @EmilieBarta
“DIY-Do It Yourself”  — @virtualpioneer
“Be Effective. There’s too much doing too little reasoning” — @webcaston
“Connect everywhere, anytime with everyone”  — @mike_arias
“Content Engagement”  — @firstlegion
“Make Every Seat The Front Row” — @bXbOnline

And here are my slogans:

Minimize Load Times
Simple Always Wins
Less Clicks
Connect People to People
Connect People to the Right Content
Make Them Want to Come Back
Delight and Overdeliver

Let’s Hear From You

There’s got to be plenty of great slogans out there. Use the Comments section below to leave your slogan. Thanks!


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