My Grown-Up Christmas List for Digital Events

December 19, 2011

Introduction

Driving in the car during the holiday season, I love it when Amy Grant’s “Grown-Up Christmas List” comes on the radio. Here’s what Ms. Grant wishes for in her song:

“No more lives torn apart,
That wars would never start,
And time would heal all hearts.
And everyone would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end.”

Sounds about right to me. Now, I’d like to provide a list of my own. It’s certainly not as noble as Ms. Grant’s list. Mine is a grown-up Christmas list for digital events.

A User Experience That’s More Whole

Ms. Grant sings, “no more lives torn apart.” My corresponding lyric would be “no more user experiences torn apart (by new browser windows).” Think of it this way: the more browser instances you see “popping up” in a digital event, the less cohesive the user experience. We need to deliver better and more integrated experiences. How often does Facebook launch a new browser window? Never.

A Consistent User Experience Across Platforms

Ms. Grant hopes “that wars would never start.” Well, we’ll always have “platform wars” (e.g. iOS vs. Android). And as digital event platforms “widen” to meet a growing array of platforms, my wish is that the user experience remains consistent across all of them. My iPhone and Android experiences ought to be the same. And to the extent possible, my iPhone experience should resemble what I see on the desktop. Is that HTML5 I see under the tree?

Driving Adoption by Meeting Expectations

Ms. Grant hopes that “time would heal all hearts.” Digital events have their share of naysayers, who are not convinced on the “return on investment” (ROI). For these naysayers, my wish is that “baby steps” are taken in 2012. Throw ROI out the window for now. Make a small bet and see if digital events (at a small scale) generate a Return On Expectations (ROE). The healing process here is about finding ROE first, then delivering on the ROI as you progressively scale up your bets.

More Discovery and Connecting of People

Ms. Grant hopes that “everyone would have a friend.” Most of us login to a digital event with no pre-existing friends (at that same event). My wish is that digital event platforms prove more effective in helping us discover and find new “connections” (people) as a “side effect” of attending the event. We need to reproduce the serendipity of meeting others at face-to-face events, online.

More Focus on the Attendee Experience

While Ms. Grant sings, “and right would always win,” I shout, “the attendee must always win.” My wish is that digital event planners always put the attendee first – they come before the speakers and the sponsors. Deliver them what they want and need – and you will always win. And they will, too.

Keeping the Lights On (Event Communities)

Ms. Grant sings, “and love would never end,” while I sing, “events don’t need to end.” With digital events, there are no walls to tear down and no stands to ship back to your vendor. Why, then, do so many digital event planners “abandon” the digital event once the schedule of sessions has concluded? Digital events can and should sustain “365 communities.” Attendees stay engaged with one another until the next scheduled activity (when they continue to engage, of course).

Conclusion

Thanks, Amy Grant, for the wonderful song. My hope is that your wish list comes true for all of us. Secondarily, let’s see if my digital event wish list comes true in 2012.

To all of you out there, thanks for reading. And, Happy Holidays.


Why Every Virtual Event Needs a Community Manager (by @LaurenEHarper) #cmgr

December 5, 2011

The following is a guest post by Lauren Harper.

Introduction

One of the main goals for every community manager is to help build and facilitate engagement. Virtual events are no different. There are many reasons for companies to host a virtual event. Whether trying to promote a product or service, generate leads, or simply showcasing thought leadership, virtual events prove to be an important strategy for businesses of all kinds.

It is important to have goals outlined ahead of time for each virtual event, and having a community manager on your virtual event can only help to attain those goals. Virtual events need community managers to generate excitement, facilitate engagement, grow the community, employ any and all social business initiatives and strengthen overall brand recognition.

The following are some important areas to focus on:

Engagement

Regardless of the reasons for hosting a virtual event, one of the main goals should always be to connect with all attendees. Community managers can help pave that path of collaboration by reaching out to attendees one-on-one.

They can also take charge of all social activity surrounding an event in order to help achieve goals of engagement and knowledge sharing before, during, and after the event. Depending upon what kind of platform is being used, community managers can also help inspire conversation among attendees by asking questions and replying to comments. Similarly, community managers can help direct people back to the actual company website to ask questions, or download relevant research.

Even if the goal isn’t to have the attendees interact with each other, it is still important that they engage with the topic, speaker, and the company as a whole, and community managers can help facilitate that. Also, having a community manager present offers a great chance to have a “face” for the company and help humanize the brand.

Platform Assistance

Virtual events have grown exponentially in popularity over the last few years. Due to the overwhelming demand for them, many event platform vendors have emerged. It’s important to have a community manager present to help visitors not only figure out how to log on, dial in, or sign in to the event, but to also help with any other difficulties that attendees may have.

By having the community manager troubleshoot simple issues, the event producers are able to focus on ensuring that the speakers have everything they need, and to sort out any technical issues they may have.

Collect Feedback

Allowing the community manager to engage with attendees creates an easy way to collect feedback that can be disseminated to the speakers and host company, post-event. Customer feedback is an essential element to a company’s success.

Having an actual human listen in to your community’s feedback and take note of any new or inventive ideas helps to make virtual events a more enjoyable experience for the participant. This will ultimately lead to better attendance rates for future events. It also helps the audience feel as though it is are being listened to and valued, again, leading to a better overall experience for the broader community.

Promotion

Community managers are also a great source of free promotion for your events. Virtual events present a great opportunity for them to promote any other upcoming live or virtual event that the company is hosting. They presumably know the community better than anyone and would know how best to promote an event to reach the target audience. Better yet, they could reach out to people individually and invite them to attend the event.

Community managers can help combine virtual events with their company’s social business initiatives by leveraging all the social media sites the company has a presence on. Posting to social media networks during events in real time can help to reach a broader audience, and boost brand recognition.

Distributing content from the event, e.g.: tweets with quotes, slide URLs, etc., will attract a lot of attention from the social sphere. Companies may find that people will join in mid-event to hear what the speakers have to say.

Conclusion

No matter what type of virtual event you host, there is a real need for a community manager. Community managers are invaluable for event promotion, feedback collection, user experience and audience engagement initiatives.

They also help to retain a consistent audience as companies continue to host events. Virtual events are a great tool to showcase a company’s vibrant community, which inevitably is the thing that will keep people coming back.

About The Author

Lauren Harper is the Sales and Marketing Community Manager at Focus.com. Follow Lauren on Twitter at @LaurenEHarper.


Provide Answers to Virtual Events Questions (#engage365 Twitter Chat)

December 3, 2011

Introduction

Recently, I joined an #engage365 Twitter chat and answered virtual events questions posed by host Jenise Fryatt (@JeniseFryatt). I’m posting the chat questions here and inviting you to provide answers.

Question List

  1. What do you see as the biggest obstacles to virtual events right now?
  2. Would you please define a “virtual event?”
  3. What are some of the ways that planners are funding their virtual events?
  4. With hybrid events on the rise, are you seeing more organizations offering free remote attendance, or charging?
  5. With more free remote attendance, it would seem more organizations are understanding the marketing value, agree?
  6. When people do charge for remote access, what types of events still get good remote attendance?
  7. How can organizations best prepare for the growth of virtual events in the future?
  8. Do you think a new position that combines IT knowledge with event knowledge will evolve to meet virtual event needs?
  9. Do you see websites of events transform into virtual events year round? Examples maybe?
  10. What part of a virtual events team should have a dedicated person? I see content and experience as labor intensive. You?

How to Participate

Use the Comments area to provide your answers. In addition, feel free to provide comments to the existing answers. Thanks!

 


Top 5 Ways Virtual Events Are Like Football Games

October 31, 2011

Introduction

The 2011 World Series was simply amazing. But now that baseball is over, it’s time to turn my sporting attention entirely to football (American football, that is). After watching a weekend’s worth of football, it occurred to me that there are similarities between winning football games and producing successful virtual events. Let’s consider 5 ways they’re similar.

1) The Importance of the Game Plan

In the NFL, head coaches spend the entire week preparing for the upcoming game. They’ll put in 16 hour days and sleep on the sofa in their office. They plan the offensive schemes, the defensive schemes and they’ll even map out the play calls for their first drive.

Once they’ve done all their preparation, execution on the field becomes secondary. Yes, it’s important, but without a solid game plan, teams are less likely to claim victory. With virtual events, the game plan and preparation are equally important. As in football, make sure you script out your plays ahead of time.

2) Games Are Won and Lost on Turnovers

Interceptions and lost fumbles often dictate the outcome of football games. In virtual events, a “turnover” is anything that doesn’t occur as expected. It may be a technical glitch or a speaker who never shows up.

When a turnover happens in a football game, your defense must step up to the plate to limit the damage. In a virtual event, you’ll want contingency plans documented (in your pre-game planning) so that you have a “set of plays” to use for each possible turnover.

3) Delegate Important Tasks to Your Team

In football, wins and losses rest on the shoulders of the Head Coach. The coach, however, has an entire staff behind him, much in the same way that the President of The United States has a cabinet. Football teams have coaches for the offense, the defense, the offensive line, the quarterback and much more.

Are you the “Head Coach” of your virtual event? The first step will be to identify all the staff positions you need (e.g. marketing, operations, speaker coordination, sponsorship sales, etc.). Then, fill those positions with competent coaches, then delegate.

4) In-game Analysis and Adjustments

Ever see a quarterback on the sidelines, viewing a photograph with his coaches? By viewing a snapshot of that play’s formations, the quarterback is able to analyze what he did (or did not do) correctly on the given play.

In your virtual event, pause and take “snap shots” throughout the event. You’ll want to analyze things like number of attendees, attendance rate, average session time, number of chats, viewers per session, etc. Just as the quarterback may use photo analysis to make adjustments, learn from what your event snap shots tell you and make the appropriate in-game adjustments.

5) The Importance of Clock Management

Clock management, especially at the end of the two halves, is critical in football. You can’t score if you’ve run out of time.

In virtual events, clock management is first about mapping out the right schedule. For one thing, make sure you provide enough “down time” between scheduled activities so that everyone (e.g. staffers, attendees, presenters) can properly transition from one activity to the next.

Next, clock management in a virtual event is about sticking to your published schedule. If a session is scheduled to run 30 minutes, make sure you begin the “wrap-up” with 5 minutes remaining. Or better yet, go with football’s “two minute warning.”

Conclusion

Here’s to your success on the field. Remember that it all starts in your coaches’ office and practice facility. If you execute well in your virtual event, you can go home a hero on Friday’s and spend the weekends watching football. If you’re so inclined, that is!


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

October 24, 2011

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

How to Generate Registrations and Attendees to Your Virtual Event

August 11, 2011

Introduction

Successful virtual events start with the ability to generate registrations and attendees that meet or exceed your targets. I presented a webinar at AMA’s Virtual Forum on “Achieving Success with Online Events.”

My webinar was titled “How to Generate Registrations and Attendees to Your Virtual Event.” My presentation was divided into two parts: I first covered how to generate virtual event registrations and followed that with how to convert registrants into attendees.

Top 10 Tips for Generating Virtual Event Registrations

To generate virtual event registrations, I provided the following 10 tips:

  1. Leverage speakers
  2. Leverage exhibitors
  3. “Less is more” on your registration form
  4. Use social sharing buttons
  5. Promote via syndication
  6. Start early
  7. Create a LinkedIn Event
  8. Promote on Twitter
  9. Promote on Facebook
  10. Promote via content marketing

Top 5 Tips for Converting Registrants into Attendees

To convert registrants into attendees, I provided 5 tips:

  1. Spruce up the confirmation page
  2. More content marketing
  3. Game mechanics
  4. Automated email messaging
  5. Facilitate pre-event networking

View My Slides

Feel free to view my slides (below). They’re also available for download, if you visit the presentation directly on SlideShare.net.

Conclusion

The AMA virtual forum is available on-demand and you can view all of the archived sessions.  You can register for this free event on the AMA web site.

Leave me a comment below if you attended the session – or, if you have questions or comments on this topic. Thanks!

Related Content

  1. Blog Post: Virtual Event Audience Generation via Content Marketing
  2. Blog Post: How to Leverage LinkedIn for Your Virtual Event
  3. Download: Free eBook on Social Media and Virtual Events

This Week: Achieving Success with Online Events (#AMAAdobe)

August 8, 2011

Introduction

This week, The American Marketing Association (AMA) is hosting a half-day virtual forum on “Achieving Success with Online Events.”

The online event “will explore how to create online events that will attract your target audience, how to utilize online events to further engage your customers, how to measure the success of your online events and most importantly, convert these efforts into top line revenue.”

Details

Date: August 11, 2011

Time: 10AM-2PM CT

Where: Online. Register here:

http://www.marketingpower.com/Calendar/Pages/VirtualXchange_Create_Engage_Convert.aspx

Speakers

I’ll be speaking at the virtual forum and will be joined by a great group of speakers:

  1. Carmen Taran, Co-founder of Rexi Media
  2. Ken Molay, President, Webinar Success
  3. Maria Pergolino, Senior Director of Marketing at Marketo

My Session

I’ll be presenting at 11:15AM CT.

The title of my presentation is “How to Generate Registrations and Attendees to Your Virtual Event.” Got a question? Feel free to leave me a comment below. In addition, you can tweet your question to me. Be sure to include the virtual forum’s hash tag, #AMAAdobe.

Conclusion

Hope to “see” you (online) at the virtual forum. Register now:

http://www.marketingpower.com/Calendar/Pages/VirtualXchange_Create_Engage_Convert.aspx

 


Virtual Events Q&A

July 27, 2011

Read the full Q&A: http://www.icon-presentations.com/blog/bid/40930/Virtual-Events-for-eventprofs-Q-A-with-Dennis-Shiao

Introduction

Icon Presentations is “one of the country’s presentation leaders specializing in projection and wide screen video blending.” Jenise Fryatt (@IconPresentsAV) is with Icon Presentations, where she authors the Sound n’ Sight blog.  I had the privilege of doing a Q&A with Jenise on her blog, on the topic of virtual events.

Q&A

I provided answers to the following questions:

  1. Can you define “virtual event”?
  2. What do you think is the biggest myth about virtual events?
  3. What do event professionals need to learn about them?
  4. Can virtual events help planners to show a measurable return on investment for their clients?
  5. How do you determine which kind of virtual event will best meet your needs?
  6. What resources would you suggest for event professionals who want to learn more about virtual events?

To read my answers, view the full blog posting at Sound n’ Sight.


This Week: HubSpot Inbound Marketing Virtual Conference

June 14, 2011

Introduction

According to HubSpot, “The Internet has profoundly changed the way people learn about and shop for products. To connect with today’s buyer, you need to stop pushing your message out and start pulling your customers in. The rules of marketing have changed and the key to winning is to use this change to your advantage.”

HubSpot is hosting the first ever virtual conference on inbound marketing.  It’s this Thursday (06/16) from 11AM to 5PM ET.

Session: Inbound Marketing for Your Virtual Conference

Previously, I wrote about how content marketing can drive registrants to your virtual event.  I’m excited to share similar thoughts at the HubSpot virtual conference.  I’ll be joining Eric Vreeland, HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Manager, in a session titled “Inbound Marketing Best Practices for Your Virtual Conference.”  Our session kicks off the virtual conference at 11AM ET.

Save the Date

Virtual conference details:

Date: 06/16/2011

Time: 11AM – 5PM ET

For further information: http://www.hubspot.com/marketing-webinar/inbound-marketing-virtual-conference/

Disclosure: The HubSpot virtual conference is hosted on the INXPO virtual events platform (my employer).


Virtual Event Audience Generation via Content Marketing

June 13, 2011

Introduction

Email marketing is far from dead. For proof, look no further than Groupon, which recently filed for an IPO. Groupon’s business hinges on “daily deal” emails to their growing audience of subscribers. For virtual events, email blasts bring in 75% (or more) of the registrations [my estimate].

Despite Groupon’s success, virtual events’ reliance on email blasts is not sustainable. In this post, I introduce the concept of applying content marketing to generate an increasing percentage of your virtual event registrations.

Content Marketing is a Renewable Resource

Develop content that promotes your virtual event – and, remains viable well after the event is over. Market your event, while creating sustaining content at the same time. In the process of driving registrations to your virtual event, you’re also creating “inbound marketing,” – your content gets indexed by search engines. Content becomes a renewable resource, which can generate ongoing “returns.”

Email blasts, however, are a different story. You may open that Groupon daily deal email, but an offer to attend a virtual event may not garner the same interest. In addition, “repeat sends” of the same offer have diminishing returns. Get it right with your first offer, because subsequent blasts (to the same list) are dangerous. You’re more likely to generate opt-outs than opens or clicks. Email blasts are interruption-based, while with content marketing, users find you while they’re actively looking and searching.

Virtual Event Planners: The New Media Company

Consider the goals of a media company:

  1. Generate an audience (and associated lists)
  2. Engage the audience
  3. Sustain (and grow) audience loyalty

Virtual event planners are media companies. For virtual events, the above 3 steps become:

  1. Generate registrations (audience)
  2. Engage registrants (so they attend)
  3. Create a great event (so they come back next time)

Content marketing should be leveraged to generate a high attendance rate (i.e. number of attendees divided by number of registrants). Email reminders do not qualify as content marketing. In addition to reminders, share valuable content with registrants on a regular basis, leading up to the virtual event.

Content Marketing Portfolio

Never fear, you don’t have to build a media company on your own. Instead, leverage key stakeholders in the virtual event and invite them to provide content:

  1. Speakers
  2. Exhibitors
  3. Partners
  4. Your employees

The types of content you should be publishing:

  1. Blog postings (your blog)
  2. Guest blog postings (related industry blogs)
  3. YouTube videos
  4. Social sharing (of the above) via your social media channels
  5. Occasional email touches (to registrants) with valuable content [include an opt-out]
  6. Earned media

This content should be mixed and matched to attract new registrations and to interest existing registrants into attending the live event. An added benefit of all this content? Inbound links to your virtual event’s registration page, which increases its ranking with search engines.

Conclusion

Developing quality content is not easy. With a heavy reliance on email blasts (for virtual event audience generation), however, content can be a secret weapon. It’s your natural and untapped resource – and it’s renewable! Share your thoughts in the comments below – how are you using content marketing for your virtual events?


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