Virtual Events in 2009: Then vs. Now

April 10, 2020

man wearing black virtual reality goggles

Photo by Eugene Capon from Pexels

I spent most of 2008 organizing virtual event campaigns at a technology media company. I helped define and execute a turnkey virtual event sponsorship product. We licensed a vendor’s technology platform to run virtual events for companies like HP, Oracle and CA Technologies.

Our clients saw virtual events as a new and innovative way to run their lead generation campaigns. A lead who attended a half-day virtual event was more qualified than one who downloaded a white paper.

These clients were ahead of the curve. Maybe a little too far ahead. Because while virtual events were an effective form of outreach back in 2008, they never really took off. Until now.

My Blogging Niche: Virtual Events

During the 2008 financial crisis, I was laid off from that job, but quickly found a new one with the virtual events technology vendor we were using. I re-made myself as a virtual events evangelist and blogger. I established a personal blog and also wrote for my new employer’s blog. All told, I must have published over 300 posts on the topic.

It’s much different today. Just look at what Google Trends says.

Virtual Events Saw Early (But Limited) Adoption

I started my job in early 2009. The financial crisis caused corporate event budgets to be slashed and we expected virtual event adoption to follow a hockey stick curve. Early adopters included B2B media companies and technology companies. We experienced solid growth, but the hockey stick never surfaced.

The other day, I saw “virtual events” in a headline on the New York Times homepage. In 2009, I never could have imagined that happening. Now that virtual events are back in vogue, I’ve been doing some reflecting.

Why was awareness so low in 2009 and why didn’t the adoption come sooner? Here are my thoughts.

What’s in a Name? Everything

I wish we came up with a better name. The dictionary definition of “virtual” refers to something “simulated or extended by computer software,” while I associate the word with “that which is not real.” The “virtual” in “virtual events” makes the category seem mysterious. When something is mysterious, it’s easy to put it aside or pay less attention.

What if we built in some aspiration into the name, like “supercharged experiences,” “dynamically digital” or “measurable moments of delight”? I’m somewhat joking with these particular names, but the sentiment holds. We would have been better served with a name that connected better with people.

Hard to Get a Feel or a Taste Without Attending a Virtual Event

What added to the mysteriousness?

The fact that you couldn’t just “check one out” easily. There were large-scale, highly publicized virtual events. Cisco and SAP were early innovators, hosting virtual events for their Cisco Live and SAPPHIRE conferences.

However, unless you attended one, you didn’t know what the experience was all about. Sure, you could register for free and check it out. But people who were not part of Cisco or SAP’s target audience probably never heard of them.

What we probably needed back then? Open (e.g., no registration) showcase environments, as well as testimonial videos that showed how an attendee experienced a virtual event. I recall seeing some videos, but we needed more. Overall, we, the industry, needed to better market ourselves.

Fear of the Unknown

To experienced event marketers, virtual events were a brand new thing. Remember my issue with the mysteriousness? Some event professionals feared the unknown. I wish I had more empathy for the event planners back then. I’d be the outsider, the rah-rah person cheering “virtual, virtual, virtual!” while they were wondering things like:

Why will these things work?

What’s my role going to be?

What if I’ve never done one before?

We had a lot more success when we shifted our focus from 100% virtual events to “hybrid events,” in which the virtual experience extends the face-to-face event.

The industry discovered that when a physical event had a “virtual extension” (creating a hybrid event), people who attended digitally would purchase a ticket to next year’s physical event. In other words, virtual could be a marketing vehicle for the physical event.

In the midst of the current pandemic, hybrid events aren’t possible. But the lesson was clear. Some perceived virtual events as “disintermediation.” Hybrid events, on the other hand, were a nice compromise.

PCMA, a leading association for event planners, now has a Digital Event Strategist (DES) certification. Many of my peers from the 2009 era have one.

No ‘Crossover’ From Digital Marketers (Until Now)

In 2009, I found myself engaging with executives and event planners at B2B media companies and technology companies. What about the digital marketers responsible for demand generation? There were a few pioneers, like the ones I worked with at my technology media job in 2008. But there were very few.

Meanwhile, from 2009 to the present, look what happened:

  1. Social platforms emerged (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.).
  2. Companies built branded communities using online community platforms (e.g., Lithium, Jive).
  3. Webinars became a standard tool in digital marketers’ demand generation toolbox.
  4. Slack and Microsoft Teams became the new way to communicate and collaborate.

In other words, all marketers got more comfortable with related tools. And in today’s situation where everyone is working from home, virtual events are a natural fit. It may be the only fit. So an entire new market has opened up. Demand generation tends to have the largest budget within marketing teams. Unlike 2009, a decent chunk of this budget will now go to virtual events.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Just as BlueJeans and Zoom built more modern tools atop the market established by Cisco WebEx, GoToMeeting and others, I expect to see innovation in this space, both from existing vendors and new entrants. Similarly, the practitioners of virtual events will dream up new and creative ways to engage audiences.

I look forward to it.

Note: This post was originally published at CMSWire.

How to Be More Authentic on Twitter

June 13, 2015

how to be more authentic on twitter

Note: This post was originally published at Online Super Ninja.

One of the great things about Twitter is its wide variety of users. There are brands, celebrities, executives, sports fans, music fans, startup founders, bloggers and more. Everyone brings their unique style. Some users are real and authentic, while others seem automated.

There are automated accounts out there, in the form of spam (and other) bots. Twitter even has a webpage titled “Automation rules and best practices.”

I prefer to follow and engage with authentic users on Twitter. Here are 16 tips on increasing your Twitter authenticity.

1) In your bio, don’t refer to yourself in the third person

In your Twitter bio, you have 160 characters to tell us who you are. Talk to us as if we’re meeting for the first time at a cocktail party. Tell us your occupation, your interests, your hobbies. But substitute the word “I” instead of your first or last name. If you do refer to yourself in the third person at cocktail parties, people probably think you’re talking about someone else.

2) Avoid overstuffing your bio with hashtags

I get it: you want to insert key hashtags in your bio, to increase the likelihood that people find you. But if your bio is exclusively hashtags, then we really don’t know whom you are. It’s like the old days of SEO: when you keyword-stuffed a web page, people no longer knew what you were trying to say. So include a hashtag or two. But be conversational in your bio.

3) Think twice about Auto-DM’ing new followers

“Auto DM” (or, automated Direct Message) refers to the practice of sending a private message (Direct Message) to new people who follow you. I don’t like receiving these. Other users feel the same way. In fact, some users will unfollow anyone who sends them an Auto DM. Not only are these messages impersonal, they also tend to be promotional (e.g. “Check out my website”, “Visit my YouTube channel”, “Like me on Facebook”).

4) Respond to questions

twitter dialog, @dshiao and @jentsao

I try to respond to any question (or comment) that I receive, assuming the question itself is authentic. Twitter is a great conversation channel that enables me to converse with others. The neat thing is, these conversations can result in connections, colleagues and friends.

5) “Favorite” tweets to send positive karma

The “Favorite” button is interesting because people use it in different ways. Some people use it as a bookmarking service. I use it to send positive karma back to the person who tweeted. It’s a way of saying “I like what you tweeted.” And that’s how I interpret it when people Favorite my tweets.

6) Monitor interactions on your scheduled tweets

Tools like Buffer help you schedule tweets to be sent out at specific times. I use Buffer when I find a lot of links to share. Instead of sharing all at once, I spread them out over time. If you schedule automated tweets, be sure to monitor interactions. I stay on top of my interactions by frequently checking Twitter from my smartphone. If someone replied to my scheduled tweet, I’ll see that on my phone. If you schedule a lot of tweets and never reply to a comment, people will think your account is completely automated.

7) Share photos

While you have 140 characters available in each tweet, a picture is worth a thousand words. Sharing photos helps take users into your world. We get to see what you see. I share photos from events, the outdoors and other interesting things I come across.

8) Share your geographic location

twitter profile of Heidi Thorne

This tip comes courtesy of Heidi Thorne (@heidithorne): “I appreciate a general idea of where you’re located. I realize that some are concerned about security issues. I get that and you have to do what’s right for you. But for those without security concerns, including a country, state or region would be really helpful.”

9) Ask questions and encourage conversation

Twitter is one of the world’s best focus groups. I like to start a dialog by asking a question. For example, “What marketing automation solution are you using?” or “Tell me something exciting you have planned for this weekend?” Asking questions gets you engaged with followers and non-followers alike. These sorts of conversations increase authenticity. Just avoid selling yourself or pitching your product when doing so.

10) Own up to your mistakes

This tip comes courtesy of Jenise Fryatt (@JeniseFryatt): “Mistakes make you human. Don’t be afraid to admit them. Taking responsibility for your mistakes adds to your credibility, trustworthiness and authenticity.”

11) Share facts in your bio that no one else knows

Twitter profile of Aaron Lee

Taken literally, this might be hard to do. But the point is, share some unique facts about your hobbies, interests and passions. In my bio, I mention that I love blogs, bad jokes and karaoke. My LinkedIn network doesn’t know this (well, most of them don’t), but my Twitter followers do.

12) Don’t Favorite or RT your own tweets

Let’s just say it: this looks weird. It would be like writing a positive review of your own book. Or walking around town complimenting your good looks. Quick note: a “Favorite” can be un-done. If you mistakenly favorited your own tweet, click on “Favorite” a second time and it’s erased.

13) Use humor

Another tip from @JeniseFyatt: “Humor makes you a more likeable and approachable human.” I’ll crack a joke from time to time. Sometimes, people respond. Other times, the joke falls flat. One metric I use for authenticity is DTMYL: Did That Make You Laugh?

14) Mix business with pleasure

When I started on Twitter, I was “always on” with work-related tweets. I was too focused. I was not authentic. These days, I primarily tweet about Marketing topics, but will mix in tweets about my sports teams (especially when they’re playing) and related non-work interests.

15) Retweet regularly

Retweets get other people’s tweets on your profile (and in your followers’ feeds). If you never retweet, then every tweet is coming from you. Share the love by expanding the reach of others’ tweets. Don’t go overboard, however: use a good mix of original tweets (from you) and retweets.

16) Give thanks

Let people know that you appreciate their share, comment or retweet. Saying “thank you” is not only authentic, but it incents the recipient to share more of your content in the future.

Your Turn

I shared 16 tips for being authentic on Twitter. Surely, I missed a few. What tips would you add to this list? Use the comments area below.

Let Me Explain: Why I Have Not Endorsed You on LinkedIn

December 3, 2012



In September, LinkedIn rolled out Endorsements, “a new feature that makes it easier to recognize them [Connections] for their skills and expertise.” In their Q3 2012 earnings announcement, LinkedIn noted that “members have generated more than 200 million endorsements to their colleagues.”

I contributed just a handful of endorsements to the (quite impressive) 200 million total. While I’m fairly active on LinkedIn, Endorsements is one feature I haven’t used much. Let me explain why.

1) It’s too easy and convenient.

What skills do connections have? Asks LinkedIn

Yes, that does sound counter-intuitive. And granted, LinkedIn wanted to make it easy and convenient, a la the “Like” on Facebook. On Facebook, I’m happy to “Like” a friend’s witty comment or interesting photo. It takes less than a second and provides an endorsement of sorts.

But LinkedIn is a business setting. And if an action takes so little overhead to perform (just a single click), then the meaning and significance of that action is diminished. To “endorse” a post on Facebook is one thing, but to endorse a colleague’s work? That should take more effort.

That’s why I like LinkedIn’s Recommendations feature: you need to put some effort into expressing why you’re recommending your Connection. And you need to do so “in writing,” rather than via a single click.

2) It doesn’t describe quality or depth.

Notice the language used by LinkedIn: “Does [NAME] have these skills or expertise?” and “Does [NAME] know about [TOPIC]?”. So the Endorsements feature is a way to validate the skills that users list on their profile. That’s fine and good, but it doesn’t capture the depth or quality of the particular skill.

You could measure depth based on the quantity of endorsements received per topic. But all that says is that people confirm that you have the skill. It doesn’t denote that you perform the skill particularly well.

3) Creates awkward decision-making moments.

Does Diane have these skills?

I don’t know about you, but I find this process a bit awkward. Do I endorse Diane for all of the listed skills, or would that be too generous? Do I remove a few, then endorse her for the rest? Should I feel bad that I’ve chosen to NOT endorse Diane for particular skills? These are some of the questions that run through my head when I see the Endorsements “prompt.”

Feature Ideas: LinkedIn Endorsements

Let’s discuss ways to address some of the issues I list above.

1) Reverse the model.

What if Connections could view a set of skills and expertise and endorse you from that list? This way, the endorser determines the list of skills, not the endorsee. When making an endorsement, it would be ideal to hide the pre-existing endorsements (from others), so as not to influence the endorser. This model would make the endorsements more meaningful, as they’re independently selected by the “audience,” rather than being influenced by the user (i.e. via the skills that they choose to list).

2) Use up/down voting.

LinkedIn renders your endorsements in order of quantity received

Currently, proficiency in your skills is based on the quantity of Endorsements you received. Your Connections can influence your proficiency based on the specific skills for which they endorse you. An endorsement for a “highly endorsed” skill widens that bar, while one for a previously un-endorsed skill creates a small blip.

Instead, why not let Connections perform a set number of up/down votes. Is “social media marketing” listed too far above “lead generation”? If so, I’ll up-vote lead generation, if I think you’re not getting enough credit for that skill. This model allows Connections to more directly influence the relative order of your skills.

3) Endorse particular achievements or completed projects.

Did you work on an impactful project? Pull off a world class event? If you did, then I’m sure the project involved a number of people. List the project (or event) on your profile and allow those involved to endorse your work on it. And, they can leave a comment on how the project impacted them – or, how your role was instrumental to its success.

4) Use comments to capture depth of particular skills.

Ratings and endorsements, in the form of clicks, can be gamed. And that makes them less meaningful. It’s harder to “game” a written endorsement, however. So similar to LinkedIn’s existing Recommendations feature, Endorsements could have particular areas (e.g. the “project idea” listed above) that allow endorsers to chime in with their thoughts. Rather than long paragraphs of text, perhaps this uses the Twitter approach (140 characters or less).


I hope this post helps explain why I haven’t been active in LinkedIn Endorsements. I have participated quite a bit in Recommendations (rather than Endorsements), because I believe in the worthiness of the written (vs. one click) form.  Leave a comment below to let me know if you endorse this post!

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

Jack Dorsey’s Awesome Town Square Speech

June 9, 2011


TechCrunch published an article about a “TownSquare” speech that Jack Dorsey (@jack), CEO of Square, gave to the company back in November 2010.  The article, “Jack Dorsey & The Golden Gate Bridge (Exclusive Video)” provides a video of the speech, along with the full transcript. As I read the transcript, I drew some parallels to virtual events.

Design is as Much Functional as Visual

To quote Dorsey’s speech, “Design is not just visual, design is efficiency. Design is making something simple. Design is epic. Design is making it easy for a user to get from point A to point B.”

Love it.

Dorsey’s point reminds me of a great book I read, “Design Is How It Works” by Jay Greene. Design can be “visually beautiful,” in the same way the Golden Gate Bridge is beautiful (as Dorsey describes in his speech). But the Golden Gate is also functional – it’s a bridge that Dorsey wants to cross and it’s an experience to do so (unlike other bridges, which are neither cross-able nor great experiences).

This is where we stand today with virtual events. In the beginning, we “designed” virtual events around a visual experience. We tried to make things look like a trade show, with a 2.5D lobby, lounge, auditorium and exhibit hall. These environments were not easy to navigate. We often failed to get the user from point A to point B with ease.

If early stage virtual events were a search engine, we created bells and whistles on top of your search, whereas users just wanted a Google experience, delivering them directly from search query to results page.

Everyone is a Designer

To quote Dorsey, “Every engineer in this room, every operator in this room, every customer service agent in this room, is a designer.”

Everyone involved in a virtual event (e.g. producers, speakers, exhibitors, support staff, AV staff, web developers, graphics designers, etc.) is a designer, because each person plays a part (some more than others) in the resulting attendee experience.

Another quote from Dorsey, which he relayed from colleague “Brian” – “support and feedback is what our customers are telling us, and product is what we’re telling our customers.”

In a virtual event, the attendee experience is the product.  Virtual event designers need to think of attendees as a form of customer – we must build such a good “product” that customers would part with their money for – and, we must create happy customers who will return and “purchase” again.

Building the Brand

Dorsey likes to read The Economist. To quote Dorsey, “The other thing to notice about this is that there are no bylines at all, there are no names in here, not event the editor has a name. It’s The Economist, they’re building The Economist, they’re writing articles for The Economist.”

As I read this quote, I wondered whether an event could take the route of The Economist. I’d find it odd if an event did not list the speakers, their titles and company affiliations. But then I considered that if an event were to do this, the event brand would truly rule the roost. The event that comes closest to this today are the TED conferences.


Dorsey’s speech was both fascinating and inspiring. While Dorsey’s speech focused on building a great product, many parallels can be drawn between great products and great events.

Related Links

  1. TechCrunch article, “Jack Dorsey & The Golden Gate Bridge (Exclusive Video)”
  2. Video of Dorsey’s speech on TechCrunch TV

Virtual Events 101: Tips For Building Your Virtual Booth

April 13, 2010

Your company is exhibiting at a virtual event and you’ve been assigned the responsibility of building your company’s virtual booth.  You’ve had plenty of experience assembling a physical booth, but never before have you built one virtually.  What’s your first step?  To immediately resist the urge to start the virtual build.

Set/Confirm Objectives & Goals

The objectives and goals for your virtual booth should align with the goals for your company’s participation in the virtual event. If you do not set the direction yourself, be sure to round up the necessary decision makers and have a documented set of goals – publish them internally and be sure that all stakeholders have a copy.  Sample goals include:

  1. Obtain contact information from “X” number of prospects
  2. Generate “Y” number of meaningful prospect engagements in-booth
  3. Yield “Z” number of qualified sales opportunities
  4. Generate “X%” of brand uplift, as measured by “Y”

It’s absolutely critical that goal definition be your first step, as it drives the decisions you make regarding the build-out of your virtual booth.

Content is King

The main elements of a virtual booth are (1) content [e.g. images, signage, videos, documents, links, etc.] and (2) virtual booth staffers.  Your first job is “content curator” – review all content available and be selective about which content you’ll place in your booth.  It all goes back to the defined goals – the content you select should align with the goals.

So if your goal is demand generation, find the same White Papers that your marketing team is using to generate sales leads across the web.  If your goal is driving awareness around a product launch, grab that 2 minute video of your product manager and have it auto-play when visitors enter your booth.  Besides documents in your marketing library, be sure to cobble together useful links on your web site, along with third party articles, blog postings and product reviews that reinforce your objectives.

Booth Labels Are Like Headlines

Content in a booth is typically housed behind a set of “booth labels”.  Your next job is one of headline writer – you’ll want to craft captivating “headlines” for the booth label, along with attention-grabbing titles (and descriptions) for the underlying content items.  You’re like the home page editor for your favorite content site – you need to figure out how to write headlines (titles) that will grab your visitors’ attention.

While you certainly want to avoid the “bait and switch” (e.g. writing a label/title that intentionally deceives), your labels need not literally reflect the underlying content. For example, if you assemble a set of blog postings from your company’s blog, you need not label these “Blog Postings”. Instead, organize the blog postings into themes – a set of postings on best practices could simply be labeled “Best Practices” in your booth.

While I suggest you do not change booth labels while the event is live (that would significantly confuse your booth’s repeat visitors), you’ll want to review the activity reports from your booth to learn from the labeling decisions that you made.  You’ll begin to figure out what worked and what didn’t – and can use those learnings for your next event to more effectively use labels/headlines to achieve your goals.

Use A Call To Action – Not A Declaration

For signage within the virtual booth, I prefer to use a call to action (e.g. “Ask Us Why 2010 is The Year of The Hybrid” above) over a declaration. So instead of declaring, “The world’s leading producer of plastic widgets”, try a call to action, “Ask us why plastic widgets are the new metal widgets”.  The call to action initiates a conversation with your visitors, rather than telling them what they should know.  If visitors enter your booth’s group chat and proactively ask the question stated in your call to action, then give yourself a pat on the back.

Stand Out From The Crowd

You’ll likely have competitors exhibiting in their own virtual booths, which means that a key part of your job is to figure out how to separate your booth (and company) from the crowd.  Greenscreen video (aka an embedded video greeter) has been used at enough virtual booths that it won’t make your booth any different.

Instead, try an offbeat video that’s not yet made its way to YouTube.  Or, how about an avatar of your CEO whose mouth movements are synchronized to the words s/he is speaking.  Perhaps an animated avatar is the new greenscreen.  Thinking further outside the box, how about bringing one of your products to life – personalizing that product to the point where it speaks and delivers a message to visitors.  A good example (in general – not in a virtual event) is the DCX Man character created by Brocade:

Source: Brocade (

Further information can be found here:

Optimize Your Content For Search

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not the sole domain of your web site or blog – it applies to virtual events as well.  How can this be?  Well, most virtual event platforms provide basic and advance search capabilities – they index all content in the event (e.g. documents, links, Webcasts, etc.) and some platforms even index the contents of uploaded documents.

As a result, keep SEO in mind for selecting documents to include in your booth, along with the labels, titles and abstracts that you use to catalog your booth content.  Taking a step back, be sure to write an SEO-optimized description for your company and booth – if attendees search for a key term and your booth is at the top of the search results, then all is good in the world.

Subject Matter Experts as Booth Staffers

While you’ll certainly want sales reps and sales engineers as booth staffers, it’s critical to work subject matter experts into the staffing schedule.  A visitor who asks specific product or service questions is a hot prospect – and telling that prospect “let me get back to you with an answer to your question” becomes a lost opportunity.  Even worse, that opportunity could fall into the lap of your competitor, whose booth is only one click away.

If you’re a technology vendor, try to have your product manager, chief engineer or event your CTO available within the booth.  While some technology folks may not be comfortable face-to-face with a customer, most feel quite at home in a text chat session.

Optimizing For: Demand Generation

If you’re looking to generate sales leads, cobble up all your best lead gen content – the latest White Papers, Case Studies, product sheets, videos, podcasts, customer testimonials, etc.  Be liberal and selective at the same time – that is, ensure there is a good mix of content choices, but be religious in making sure the content you select aligns with your goals – and relates to the theme of the virtual event.  The beauty of a virtual event is that registration occurs once – but all activity with your content is tracked.  So you’ll have rich activity profiles at your disposal to help you separate the cream of the crop leads from the visitors who came simply to enter your prize drawing.

Optimizing For: Thought Leadership

Are some of your co-workers experts or luminaries within your industry?  If yes, then have them be staffers within your booth!  Visitors will have a natural inclination to engage with them – and they’ll be able to funnel the ripest opportunities to sales reps within your booth.  If your employees have not achieved rock star status within your industry, leverage some of the luminaries to produce content on your behalf.

Perhaps it’s a research report authored by an industry expert – or, a video interview (hosted by the expert) with your CEO.  Better yet, a Webcast within the virtual event that features the expert(s) who provide a presentation prior to your own speakers.  If the experts are available to attend the virtual event, invite them to provide Q&A within your booth, as they’ll serve to draw interest and engagement from visitors.


While much of the logistics occur “online”, building a virtual booth will take longer than you think (if done right).  Be sure to clearly define your goals first – then, make sure your booth achieves those goals.  Take planned breaks from the virtual build to assess whether your booth aligns with the stated goals.  Finally, be sure to study activity data from the live event so you can make improvements for your next event!

Related Links

  1. Browse the Virtual Events 101 Index Page
  2. Download the eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

FountainBlue High Tech Entrepreneur Forum: From Free-mium to Premium

February 12, 2010

Based in Silicon Valley, FountainBlue “supports collaborative innovation, one conversation, one leader, one organization at a time through our monthly events, our dynamic communities, our ongoing discussions on entrepreneurial issues, our invitation-only CEO forums, and through our consulting services.”

FountainBlue Entrepreur Forums launched in 2006 – on average, they attract 50-150 entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and investors.  I attended an Entrepreneur Forum in 2009 entitled, “Virtual Worlds: The Hype, The Reality, The In-Between” and found the presentations engaging and the post-event networking enjoyable.

The next Entrepreneur Forum takes place on March 8th, “From Free-mium to Premium“:


Experienced entrepreneurs still standing after the recent tsunami know that you have to prove you can be resourceful and build product and sign on customers despite the economic conditions!

A popular way to bring in customers, gather feedback and build momentum is to adopt a ‘free-mium to premium’ model, letting most users try basic versions of a solution for free and incentivizing some to upgrade to full-featured functionality, paying for the service.

But rare is the company able to successful do this. This panel will feature entrepreneurial companies who have done this and are willing to share their secrets.

The Panel

  1. Facilitator Sergio Monslave, Principal, Norwest Venture Partners
  2. Panelist Will Cheung, Founder, DuffelUp (@WillCheung)
  3. Panelist Daniel Cheng, Graystripe
  4. Panelist Donna Novitsky, CEO, BigTent (@bigtentdonna)
  5. Panelist Entrepreneur – MMO/Virtual World Entrepreneur

Courtesy of Google Maps

Date & Time: Monday, March 8 from 5:30 until 8:00 p.m.
Location: Cooley Godward Kronish, LLP, 3175 Hanover Street in Palo Alto
Audience: Early-Stage, Funding-Bound Clean Energy, High Tech and Life Science Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs


FoutainBlue will plant a tree for everyone who pre-registers by noon on 3/5 using the PayPal link at

Note: Readers of this blog are eligible to receive the “High Tech Partner” rate of US $32 for this event – select the $32 option (above) when processing your payment.

I’ll be attending this event – if you plan to attend as well, send me a message on Twitter (@dshiao) – additionally, feel free to follow FountainBlue (@foutainblue).  Hope to meet / see you there.

Register for the event:

For Virtual Event Platforms, User Experience Is Key

May 22, 2009

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

Heard of this new web site?  It’s Wolfram|Alpha, whose “long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone”.  Unveiled with much media coverage (and drawing some comparisons to Google), the Wolfram|Alpha web site is exceedingly easy to use.  Other than the insiders at the company, we’re all first-time users of this service – and Wolfram|Alpha incorporates a lot of noble elements in User Experience (UE) – for one, the main page is prescriptive.

Not sure how the service works?  Well, click on any of the links in the “A few things to try” area and you’re off and running.  A left-click on any of the listed examples inserts the search term into the search box and the page dynamically updates to instruct you on what to do next [e.g. “Click here (or press enter) to get the result”].  Here’s a closer view of the “A few things to try” area:

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

How does this relate to virtual events?  Well, in 2009, virtual events have witnessed a dramatic surge in both interest and attendance.  The surge in attendance means that many users of virtual events have been first timers.  In fact, I’d estimate that of all virtual event attendees in 2009, one third (33%) were first time attendees.  Since first impressions are critical, this means that virtual event platforms need to nail the User Experience factor in order to have first time users return for more virtual events.

For first time users, it’s important for the platform to have the following attributes:

  1. Be prescriptive where needed – the last thing a virtual event platform provider wants to hear is a user who says that the environment is “hard to navigate”.  Especially for the first time user, virtual event platforms should add prescriptive features to the user experience – such that booth visits, search, chat, etc. leverage visual indicators similar to Wolfram|Alpha.
  2. Use examples – why not mirror the Wolfram|Alpha approach of  “A few things to try” – use that as a title in a navigational area of the virtual event and you’re sure to have users leverage it to get acclimated.  In a virtual event, a few things to try include: private chat, group chat, private webcam chat, view a Webcast, visit a booth, etc.  By providing these examples – and walking the first time visitor through each activity, you’re allowing these new users to take off their training wheels – and they’ll thank you for it.
  3. Be intuitive and easy to grasp – easier said than done, but the example I’ll use here is Netflix.  When I first joined a few years back, I immediately found the Netflix web site to exceedingly intuitive, with a savvy use of AJAX in just the right places.  Finding movies and managing the Queue were so easy and convenient.
Source: Netflix

Source: Netflix

It would be silly to think that attendees of a physical event partake in “training” in order to navigate and participate.  This holds true in a virtual event – if the platform handles UE properly, the first time user should be up and running as a virtual veteran within the first 30 minutes of that first session.

Virtual Events For Online Dating

February 21, 2009



The Internet Dating industry has a conference called iDate.  This year, iDate 2009 is scheduled for Los Angeles, London and Miami.  The event is billed as “the largest conference that covers the business management for the Internet Dating and Social Networking Industries.”  iDate has launched a virtual conference to complement their physical events [see press release].

Perhaps at the iDate 2009 events, industry players can collaborate on leveraging virtual event platforms to faciliate online matchmaking.  What are some of the challenges of online matchmaking today?

  1. Interaction is via asynchronous messaging (either via email – or, via messaging within the service’s web site)
  2. You never get to learn much about potential mates besides what they’ve chosen to provide in their online profile
  3. You’re never sure if that uploaded picture is “true” – for singles of a more advanced age, perhaps the picture is one from 10 years ago
  4. You don’t truly get a feel for your potential mate prior to a phone call or in-person meet-up

So for the likes of eHarmony,, Yahoo Personals, etc. – why not organize virtual events for online matchmaking!  There would be numerous benefits:

  1. The game changer: webcams – require all participants to utilize a webcam.  Without one, you truly won’t know who’s on the other end of a chat window.  With one, you’ll be able to discover whether the picture (that attracted your attention) matches up with the individual who uploaded it.  And, you’re able to interact via spoken word to other attendees – and see their facial expressions.
  2. Global access, from home – the event would have elements of a physical meet-up, but attendees could participate from anywhere.  That being said, regionalized virtual events may be necessary, to facilitate match making of individuals within close geographic proximity.
  3. Profile matchmaking – some virtual event platforms already have this feature – for online dating, this is the secret sauce that differentiates one service over another.  For an eHarmony, perhaps they integrate their sophisticated algorithms into the event platform, so that attendees can be paired up in the virtual event like they are on
  4. Speed dating via webcam – facilitate five minute private webcam sessions between two attendees – after which, they’re rotated to brand new webcam partners.
  5. Post-event data portal – after the event, participants can login to a personalized web-based portal, where they can review all the interactions they had with other attendees.  If you met over 20 people online, you might need such a feature to remember whom you really liked!
  6. Find mates by observing – topical chat rooms could be organized (e.g. Music, Sports, Food, Travel), where attendees could congregate to chat about their hobbies and interests.  The chat need not be restricted to text – some platforms support multi-webcam rooms, where participants can speak and see the other participants.  By observing, one might find someone interesting/attractive – and later on, you can connect with that person privately (e.g. in a 1-on-1 chat).

For the online matchmaking service providers, virtual events provide a nice up-sell opportunity to complement subscription-based revenue.  To avoid canibalization of the subscription business, perhaps you only allow access to the virtual event for existing subscribers.

The virtual events could also serve to generate new subscriptions – imagine tying the event into Facebook’s ~175MM active users via Facebook Connect.  Attendees could see which of their Facebook friends are in the event – and, post updates back to their Wall, driving new users into the event (and hence, new subscriptions to your service).

So, time to get moving – millions of singles across the globe await!

Product Comparison Guides 2.0

February 20, 2009

In the world of Enterprise IT, sales cycles for IT products and services tend to be long and complex.  Decisions are made by committee (vs. by an individual) and the process follows an extended cycle that begins with problem definition, progresses to vendor selection and arrives at a final destination of price negotiation and purchase.  Once the problem has been defined, the committee identifies the set of vendors who provide applicable solutions.

It’s at this stage where technology publishers can often help, with the publication of product reviews and comparison guides.  Here’s an example of a product comparison guide for Hosted CRM, published by

Source: (partial view of comparison guide)

Source: (partial view of comparison guide)

So this is Product Comparison Guide 1.0.  For version 1.5, you might host this guide on a web site (rather than a PDF) and allow readers to click over to the vendor’s web site — perhaps the vendor’s product page for their Hosted CRM offering.  Maybe you host a registration page and drive sales leads to the Hosted CRM providers.

Now, let’s take it to the next step.  Product Comparison Guide 2.0 is an interactive community site that’s powered by a virtual event platform.  Let’s imagine the same Hosted CRM guide – published as an SEO-friendly HTML page.  Perhaps you leave the high level product information on this page – just enough to entice the reader to continue.  The purpose of this page, then, is to drive traffic into your interactive comparison guide.

Once a user enters the interactive site, you collect some basic demographic information – enough to uniquely identify the user (and contact her), but not too much that the user abandons and leaves your site (e.g. first name, last name, title, email address).  And now, the full product details behind each solution is provided not by you – but, by the vendors themselves – in their product showcase virtual booth!

Within the booth, a vendor might provide:

  1. Detailed specifications about the product
  2. White Papers that describe how the product solves a given technology challenge
  3. Case Studies that describe how customers have used the product
  4. On-Demand Video and Webinars related to the product
  5. Sales and Marketing staff who staff the booth during business hours
  6. Group chat to allow visitors to interact with the vendor – and with each other

Especially in this economic environment, decisions on IT purchases are not taken lightly, even if the offering is a SaaS solution like Hosted CRM.  And what better way to connect with qualified sales prospects than engaging with them while they’re reviewing the solution space?  Having a user enter your staffed booth (to engage with you)  is a much stronger proposition than sending them to your corporate web site to peruse your content.

So vendors “win” in this scenario.  The publisher also wins!  The publisher can sell sponsorships of Product Comparison Guide 2.0, allowing vendors an assortment of features in the environment (e.g. vendor booth, advertising placements, speaking opportunities, etc.).  I’m sure that most vendors listed in your Product Comparison Guide 1.0 (that SEO-friendly web page) will feel pressured to have a virtual booth in the interactive environment – after all, what happens when users click into the environment and interact with your competitors?  Your absence results in a lost opportunity.

With Product Comparison Guide 2.0, the jobs of buyers and sellers now become much easier.

For Virtual Worlds Info, Here’s Whom I Follow on Twitter (and Why)

January 16, 2009

Author's "Twitter Home"

Source: Author's "Twitter Home"

The pace of change and innovation is quite brisk in the area of virtual worlds and virtual tradeshows.  How does one keep up with the pace? One tool that I use is Twitter, the popular and very useful microblogging platform.  As it relates to virtual worlds, my uses of Twitter are:

  1. Find the news of the day – I check Twitter (and FriendFeed, too) with my morning coffee, in the same way I might have walked down the driveway to pick up the morning newspaper (when I was a kid, of course!).  My RSS feeds in Google Reader are good, but I often find more applicable and more timely virtual worlds news via the folks I follow on Twitter.
  2. Stay connected with the metaverse – I discover the influencers (and, who may soon be an influencer) and keep tabs on the chatter and commentary related to virtual worlds.
  3. Distribute information – Guy Kawasaki has blogged about how he leverages his Twitter network to generate interest in  You can find one relevant post here:  I’ll often let my Twitter followers know about new blog posts that I’ve authored.  In fact, you may notice that I’ve done just that for this blog posting!
  4. Source new business contacts and leads – Twitter moves in two directions – you follow (and receive benefits from) others, but you ought to “give back” and share information that the community (and your followers) may find useful.  When you do that, you find that your list of followers starts growing magically (Twitter users are eager to follow others have a way of finding you), which, in turn, expands your universe of potential business partners.  In fact, you may find that business opportunities will come finding you, without any action on your part (aside from being active on Twitter) – it’s happened to me, for sure.

I follow 253 people on Twitter.  Among those, I’ll provide a short list of the folks I follow specifically for virtual worlds info (and why):

  1. @malburns: Mal Burns has made 29,696 updates on Twitter, most of which are about virtual worlds news.  I don’t quite know how he can be so prodigious, but I do know that I check his tweets to get the latest news each day.  For virtual worlds, he’s my Daily News and New York Times in one
  2. @epredator: Ian Hughes is a metaverse evangelist at IBM (based in the UK) and a blogger at eightbar – he has lots of interesting insights into the metaverse.  See related interviews that I did with Ian: Part 1 and Part 2
  3. @NickWilson and @OnderSkall – Nick Wilson and Caleb Booker (OnderSkall) are executives at Clever Zebra, a virtual worlds business.  Caleb publishes a weekly “Business in Virtual Worlds News Roundup” on his blog that’s loaded with lots of useful links and articles.  Here’s a sample:
  4. @skribe – skribe Forti is a Digital Media Consultant at Skribe Productions – he has his fingers on the pulse of the (virtual) world
  5. @Dusanwriter – Doug Thompson is CEO of Remedy Communications who travels in the virtual world as Dusan Writer.  He blogs about virtual worlds at
  6. @reubstock – Reuben Steiger is CEO of Millions of Us (
  7. ADDED: @Consiliera – Gaby K. Benkwitz is “Futurist, consultant, educator” who links to articles and blog entries about the metaverse.  I also subscribe to her excellent newsfeed on Friendfeed:

I’m sure I’m missing some key people – so drop a comment below to let me know whom else I should be following for virtual worlds info – and, I’ll follow them!

Of course, if you want to follow me, I’m at @dshiao.

%d bloggers like this: