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Virtual Events And Facebook


With 400 million active users worldwide (and counting), Facebook is enormous – in fact, Facebook recently surpassed Google as the #1 web site in the U.S. (as measured by visits).

While recent announcements have stirred up privacy concerns and caused some users to delete their accounts, Facebook continues to generate millions of new sign-ups per day.  All of us know friends, family and colleagues who use the site on a daily (or hourly) basis.

Let’s consider avenues for virtual event planners to tap into the power that Facebook can provide.

Integration 0.1: Share on Facebook

More than half of my Facebook friends (54%) are work-related acquaintances – current colleagues, current business partners, former colleagues and former business partners.  The balance (46%) are friends and family.  I’m by no means the “average” Facebook user.  I believe the typical user tends towards a 65%/35% split between family/friends and work – and, uses Facebook for a family and friend focus rather than work.

That being said, it’s clear to me that Facebook users “friend” their work contacts – and I believe that over time, a growing percentage of your Facebook friends will be work-related contacts, as our personal and work lives blend and mix online.

What does this mean for virtual events?  With a B2B focus (today), this means that a “viable” audience exists (on Facebook) for you to share the virtual events that you’re attending.  Virtual event platforms should make it easy to “share the event” on Facebook, in the same way that users share a web site’s movie review, restaurant listing or product listing.

To make virtual event sharing effective, the “shared items” should include:

  1. A simple and easy to understand title (Facebook grabs the “page title” from the virtual event page you’re sharing)
  2. A suitably sized image (on Facebook, the “sharer” can choose among the images listed on the shared page)
  3. A hyperlink for interested users

If done right, 20 attendees might share your virtual event with their 200 Facebook friends – and you’ve just allowed your audience to promote your event (on your behalf) to 4,000 potential attendees (who otherwise would not have known about your event).

Integration 1.0: Live Stream Box

CBSSports.com used it for live streaming of NCAA March Madness – so did CNN.com for the live stream of President Obama’s inauguration.  As the name implies, Facebook’s Live Stream Box is useful for the “streaming” of “live” events or occasions.  The stream box provides an “Everyone Watching” tab – to submit a comment to that tab, users must authenticate to Facebook.  Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, you’ll still be able to view the running commentary from “Everyone Watching”.

Comments posted to the “Everyone Watching” tab (in the virtual event) also appear on the submitting user’s Facebook Wall.  Thus, participation in a Live Stream Box helps promote the virtual event – users’ comments appear in the News Feed of their Facebook friends, which generates awareness of the virtual event.

Facebook members have the added benefit of a “Friends” tab, which allows users to view their Facebook News Feed, right there from the stream box.  In a virtual event, the Live Stream Box can be placed in the Auditorium (where live sessions are broadcast), the Lounge (where visitors drop by to engage with one another) or Exhibitor Booths (where booth visitors can engage with the Exhibitor – and, one another).

Integration 2.0: Open Graph

“Share on Facebook” goes in one direction (the sharer -> her friends); “Live Stream Box” combines multi-directional interaction with a corresponding one-way share.  Facebook’s Open Graph API, announced in April 2010 at Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference, takes things to the next level.

Now, users can go beyond sharing “the event” and be much more granular in what they “like” (recommend/share) in a virtual event.  I may “like” a session, a virtual booth, a document, or even another user.  And with the Open Graph, I need not share each and every “like”, posting it to my Facebook Wall.  Instead, the “likes” can be aggregated (e.g. by the virtual event platform).

Now, when I login to the virtual event, I may choose to view the activities (and likes) of Facebook friends who opted in to the sharing service.  When I’m making a purchasing decision on a complex product or service, I can poll my Facebook friends to see who’s in the same boat.  If a former colleague attended a virtual trade show in the morning, I may login during the afternoon to view the sessions and exhibitor booths that she “liked”.

Taken at a more granular level, I may choose to see the specific product collateral that she “liked” in the virtual event, or seek out the exhibitor representative that she chatted with and “liked”.  By leaning on those whom I trust, my journey through a virtual trade show just got more productive.

Conclusion

Facebook and its 400+ million users cannot be ignored.  There will be more and more business decisions guided (and made) on Facebook – it can be a great place to “share” your virtual event, both the event as a whole and individual elements within it.

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