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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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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


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!


What The @NFL Can Teach You About Virtual Events

April 20, 2012

Introduction

News flash: The National Football League (NFL) is an event planning organization. And they happen to be among the best in the universe. The NFL runs a year-long series of events, from mini-events, to large scale events to mega events (e.g. The Super Bowl).

Recently, the release of the NFL’s 2012 schedule coincided with 3-hour, prime time specials on both ESPN and NFL Network. Wow. Unlike any other major sport, the NFL is top of mind (in their fans’ minds) 365 days a year, 24×7.

While I’m not suggesting that your virtual event become a year-round, round-the-clock sort of thing, I do think the NFL can teach you some things. Instead of your annual virtual event being a “one and done” experience, steal some ideas from the NFL to extend your event’s livelihood. Let’s take a further look.

The Ecosystem

While the NFL is the arbiter of its brand, it relies on an ecosystem of partners to extend and reinforce that brand. The ecosystem includes:

  1. Individual teams
  2. Broadcast partners
  3. The Press
  4. Related content providers
  5. Merchandise retailers

The point here is that the NFL can’t do it alone. Where would it be without CBS, FOX and ESPN? Similarly, consider your virtual event. Your ecosystem includes:

  1. Exhibitors and sponsors
  2. Speakers and presenters
  3. Content providers
  4. Service providers

Be sure to fully leverage your own ecosystem in areas like monetization, audience generation, buzz building and media coverage.

Owned Media

The NFL, over the past several years, concluded that it needed to beef up its owned media, to complement its ecosystem. Have you visited NFL.com recently? It has as much original content as its ecosystem partners (e.g. ESPN.com, SI.com, SportingNews.com, etc.), written by a growing team of writers.

And of course, there’s NFL Network, which launched in 2003 and is carried on cable and satellite TV systems. With its talented team of analysts, I often find myself tuning in to NFL Network before and after games, when I’d formerly watch ESPN.

As a virtual event planner, you need to consider owned media, too. This could take the form of an event web site, a related blog and social media channels. If you run an annual, mid/large scale virtual event, realize that you’re now in the publishing business. Devise an Editorial calendar and start banging out content. Start by linking to and commenting on existing articles, then consider developing content of your own.

Generate Online Chatter

Is there any other sports league where the release of the season schedule is an event in and of itself? That’s the genius of the NFL. For an organization where most of the action takes place on the field, the NFL finds ways to create action (and generate related commentary and discussion) off the field.

The release of the 2012 schedule is an example of using its ecosystem (e.g. ESPN) and its owned media (e.g. NFL Network) to create an event (“2012 Schedule Prime Time Special!”). The prime time specials were the “main event” and it generated a wealth of discussion and commentary online, in the form of social networks, blogs and web coverage.

Think of similar ways to create news about your event that results in online chatter.

Select and Announce Speakers

Speaking of which, how about generating buzz around the selection of speakers for your virtual event? Madden NFL (from EA Sports), a key partner in the NFL’s ecosystem, runs an online tournament to select the player to appear on the game’s cover.

This not only puts the power in the hands of its fans, but generates buzz and chatter about the upcoming season’s game. Why not do the same for your virtual event? Allow your attendees to vote for the speakers they’d like to see and build some buzz at the same time. You could generate additional registrations, while creating a loyal attendee base at the same time (which will help your attendance rate).

Create an Off-Season Schedule

If your virtual event makes up your season, consider how you engage with your audience during the remaining 11+ months of the year. The NFL loves to generate online chatter, but it also knows that it needs to connect directly with fans via off-season events. Consider the following “mini events,” which occur after The Super Bowl:

  1. NFL Combine
  2. NFL Draft
  3. Training Camp
  4. Pre-season Games

Fans are invited to attend each of these events and all build up quite nicely to opening day. Like I said, with the NFL, it’s a year-round schedule that doesn’t have an end. Consider ways in which your virtual event can be complemented with off-season events. Speaking of which..

Re-broadcast (i.e. re-purpose) key content

Ever notice how NFL Network re-broadcasts a selected game from the prior week’s action? They don’t re-broadcast the entire game, mind you. They edit out the “between play” action, where players stand up, walk back to the huddle, etc. If you missed the game, this makes it quite convenient to view the action you missed.

In virtual events, you can provide access to all sessions for on-demand viewing, but why not take it a step further? Create abridged versions of the sessions (e.g. the top 10 slides from the presentation), then schedule a mini event during which the presenters appear (online) to engage with the audience.

Further Monetize Your Audience

The NFL has numerous ways to monetize its audience, in the form of ticket sales, merchandise sales and corporate sponsorships. There’s also TV commercials, the content of which has nothing to do with football.

According to Wikipedia, NBC generated $75MM in advertising sales for the Super Bowl XLVI broadcast (2012). The NFL benefited in the form of broadcast rights paid by NBC. Consider ways in which you can leverage your ecosystem to generate additional revenue from your audience. Hint: it could be in the form of unrelated content!

Conclusion: This takes work.

I can hear you already: you’ll tell me that your organization has nowhere near the resources to pull any of this off. And I’ll agree, somewhat. All of this takes work, which involves resources. You must first analyze how much you’re willing to invest (dollars, head count, etc.) and whether the anticipated ROI is there.

The NFL decided it was. It now employs writers, analysts, broadcast engineers (and more) – but, it continues to wisely tap into its ecosystem to widen its reach. Leverage your ecosystem to make this year’s Super Bowl your best ever.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


What Virtual Event Platforms Can Learn

March 12, 2012

Introduction

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then virtual event platforms may be well served by sending some flattery to social networks. This post is a compilation of past posts and looks at areas from which virtual event platforms can learn.

Social Networks

What virtual event platforms can learn from Pinterest.

What virtual event platforms can learn from Twitter

What virtual event platforms can learn from Facebook.

What virtual event platforms can learn from Quora, Groupon and FarmVille.

Miscellaneous

What virtual event platforms can learn from physical events.

What virtual event platforms can learn from the airline industry.

Virtual Exhibits

Photo credit: The Pug Father on flickr.

What virtual exhibits can learn from the Apple Store.

What virtual exhibits can learn from farmers markets.

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5 Things Virtual Event Platforms Can Learn from Pinterest

February 13, 2012

View my Pinboard on the Jeremy Lin sensation: http://pinterest.com/dshiao/linboard/

Introduction

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” (source: Pinterest). While I haven’t created my own Pinterest boards, I’ve been reading about the service. And, I’ve visited the Pinterest pages of a few friends. During the course of learning more about the service, I’ve come to the conclusion that virtual event platforms can learn a lot from Pinterest.

1) Visual appeal.

Let’s face it, the “meta data” surrounding virtual event information is heavy on text. Whether it’s session titles, exhibitors or digital spaces, everything is described via alphanumeric characters. But what if virtual event content could be rendered visually?

For instance, for a selected session, you could “pin” a photo of the speaker. When viewing sessions, isn’t there always that one slide that you’d love to capture and share? Virtual event platforms could utilize “Pinterest-like” boards in lieu of the conventional “user profile page,” which promotes event content via images, rather than text.

2) Make it seamless to take action.

Pinterest would not be where it is today without the “Pin It” Button. Once you add this button to your Bookmarks, it becomes a cinch to add to your pinboard as you find interesting images across the web. There’s also a Pin It button for web site publishers, which “will allow your customers and readers to pin your products onto Pinterest.”

Virtual event platforms need a one-click “pin it button” that enables attendees to post interesting content (e.g. sessions, other users, exhibitors, documents, links, etc.) to a curated space (namely, their profile page).

3) Allow “second order” sharing.

Posting an item to your “pinboard” is a “first order” form of sharing. Pinterest has a “repin” feature, which allows you to take another user’s pinboard entry (e.g. say, a captivating image) and pin it to your own Pinterest page. In virtual events, let’s say a user has pinned her favorite session to her pinboard. Other users who visit her pinboard should be able to add the same session to their own profile page.

4) Brings out the “dorm room decorator” in all of us.

As I visited users’ Pinterest pages, I was reminded of college dorm rooms. College students use their dorm room walls as a means for expressing who they are and what interests them. They have posters of their favorite movies or musicians, photos of family and friends and perhaps a ticket stub from a life-changing concert they attended.

Of course, virtual events won’t inspire the same degree of self-expression, but we may want to display our favorite event content, wouldn’t we?

5) Adds some “user-generated spice.”

Pinterest allows users to include short comments on items they pin. For an image of a dream vacation spot, the user may write, “Wish to get here some day.” For a sought after gift item, perhaps it’s “makes for a great holiday gift.”

In virtual events, content can be a tad “dry,” but adding user-generated content can add some spice to the environment. If a user wrote “best session of the day,” other users are more likely to view the on-demand archive. An exhibitor booth that was tagged “visit them and chat with Donna” may encourage others to visit and seek out Donna.

Conclusion

With interest in Pinterest growing by the day, platforms ought to apply some of its interesting features to virtual event experiences. Use the Comments section below to share your thoughts – or, to list your Pinterest page.

Related Resources

  1. Great article by Mark W. Smith (@markdubya), published at USAToday.com, “How to use Pinterest’s pinboard for the Web.”

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