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How Facebook’s Latest Changes Point To The Future of Virtual Event Experiences


Photo source: ivanwalsh on flickr.

Introduction

Have you heard? Facebook announced a set of changes to its service. Some changes are active now, while others will be rolled out in the coming weeks or months. Previously, I wrote about why Facebook is the world’s largest virtual event. Looking at the changes Facebook announced, I think that some of the new features should be adopted by virtual event platforms, to improve the user experience. Let’s take a closer look.

Subscribe (for Personal Pages)

You can now subscribe to a user’s personal page without having that person “friend” you back (a la the “follow” on Twitter). This feature is useful for celebrities who have a personal page, but no associated brand page. Where can this be useful in virtual events? Allowing attendees to subscribe to exhibitors in virtual trade shows.

The “subscribe” action creates a much more valuable “relationship” (to exhibitors) compared to the booth visit, document download or document view. By subscribing to an exhibitor, I see “status updates” that they post during the life of the event. This forces exhibitors to:

  1. Publish content (status updates, special offers, etc.) during the event.
  2. Have an ongoing conversation with you, without the pressure for you to respond back.
  3. Be useful to you.

I “Like” it.

The New Timeline

While not yet rolled out, the Timeline replaces your Profile page. It’s an auto-generated, visual summary of your entire life (on Facebook). It provides you with a “scrapbook on life,” and could be a convenient way for your Facebook friends to quickly check out what you’ve been up to.

Virtual events should create an “Event Timeline” that’s dynamically updated throughout the event. As with the Facebook Timeline, certain events are condensed, especially those that happened in the past. The Event Timeline could include:

  1. A listing of all sessions.
  2. Activity updates (e.g. the 1000th user just logged in; 500 attendees viewed this session; etc.).
  3. Announcements.
  4. Special offers from exhibitors (e.g. sponsored listings).
  5. On-demand content (e.g. a prior session that is now available on-demand).

Top Stories

If something happened a week ago that Facebook deems noteworthy, it wants to keep that event (e.g. a status update from a family member) in the Top Stories section atop your News Feed. Virtual Events can leverage this concept alongside the “Event Timeline” (discussed above). An event’s Top Stories could include:

  1. The most viewed sessions.
  2. The most downloaded documents.
  3. The most popular users (e.g. most connections, most friends).
  4. The most active users (e.g. most chat postings)
  5. The most visited areas of the event.

The Ticker

Facebook’s Ticker resides on the right side of your News Feed and lists interesting things that your friends have done. For a one-day virtual event, it’s not likely that I’m going to build out a significant list of friends or followers. So instead, a virtual event’s Ticker could simply be a updated and scrolling area that displays the Event Timeline and Top Stories (discussed above), as they unfold.

Bonus Item: iPhone 4S Assistant

Apple recently launched its iPhone 4S, which includes an Assistant (Siri). You speak to Siri, it understands what you say and it attempts to perform the actions youv’e asked it to do (e.g. find a restaurant, give me directions, etc.). We need a Siri personal assistant (activated by voice commands) for virtual events. And of course, it needs to work on smartphones and tablets.

Conclusion

Facebook is “always on” to its end users, who use it day and night and all year round. Virtual events tend to be “point in time” occurrences that happen on a single day, or over a few days. While it’s interesting to consider these concepts, their value will surface only if applied correctly. That being said, let’s get to work.

Related Resources

  1. David Pogue of The New York Times writes “Facebook Changes Inspire More Grumbling
  2. Learn more about the iPhone Assistant (Siri).
  3. My thoughts: Why Facebook Is The World’s Largest Virtual Event
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