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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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How Your Virtual Event Can Benefit From Personalized Guides

March 2, 2011

Add Personalized Guides to Your Virtual Event

Introduction

In virtual events, there are staffers to “patrol” the event and assist attendees who have technical and logistical issues.  Beyond the logistical matters, however, how much do event planners invest towards the end-to-end attendee experience?

And, how often do staffers provide tips and guidance on the more strategic elements of an event: which sessions to attend, what content to download, which exhibitors to visit and which attendees to meet with? The answer: probably not enough.

An Idea, Sparked by Metaverse Mod Squad

I was struck by this missing element while reading a New York Times article, “A Patrol for the Web’s Playgrounds.” The article profiles Metaverse Mod Squad, a company that provides clients with moderators to “patrol” their web sites and virtual worlds.  Amy Pritchard (@AmyMMS), the company’s chief executive, had a great quote:

“We found if we greeted people, told them what they could do, gave them an event card and introduced them to other people, they had more fun.”

I think the same benefit can apply to B2B virtual events, where “fun” (in the sentence above) could be replaced with “getting more value out of the event”.

Benefit #1: Better Orientation of New Visitors

After logging in to a virtual event, attendees typically see a video greeting, either in an embedded video player, or via a host/hostess who was filmed against a “greenscreen” and overlaid on top of the environment.  The “New Greenscreen” are real, live “greeters”, who welcome visitors to the virtual event and chat with them, either via text or audio/video.

The “New Greenscreen” is like a host or hostess at a cocktail party.  They take your coat and point you to where the action is happening.  To support large audiences, the greeters can hold group sessions.  They can let the gathered audience know “what’s hot” (e.g. details on the session that is coming up next) and ask attendees what they’re looking to get out of the event.

As they learn more about the visitors, the greeters can suggest exhibitors to visit, sessions to attend and event content to download. Already, you’re providing attendees with a lot more usefulness than the typical video greeting, which is targeted to a broad audience and not an individual (who has unique needs and goals).

Benefit #2: Better Connect Attendees to One Another

A significant benefit of events (whether they’re physical or virtual) is the ability to network with like-minded (or perhaps different minded) attendees. In a virtual event, I may “seek and find” other attendees via social network integration, via group chat and perhaps via search.  But the connections are somewhat random and serendipitous.

The event’s personalized guides could serve as “business-oriented matchmakers”, pairing attendees with one another. I once attended a physical networking event and told the host that I work in the Marketing function at a start-up.  She immediately introduced me to a consultant who helps companies launch new  products – and, asked if my company was looking to hire, since there were executive recruiters in attendance.

Without the proactive host, my introduction to the consultant may never have happened. In a similar way, the personalized guides, upon understanding attendees’ business goals (and challenges), could pair them with exhibitors whose products or services address those challenges.

The guides could have a special designation on their profile (analogous to wearing a “Staff” shirt at a physical event), so that attendees know to accept their chat requests – and, so that they can be proactively contacted by other attendees.

Benefit #3: Get Help from the Concierge(s) at The Information Desk

Personalized guides would all have their “presence indicators” (i.e. whether they’re online) appear at The Information Desk. This area becomes the one-stop shop for both technical support and “concierge” services.  Need a recommendation between the two sessions airing simultaneously? Visit the Information Desk and get an informed opinion.

Looking for exhibitors who provide certain solutions?  Ask your friendly guide at The Information Desk.  Looking for that “kitchen design consultant” to map out the schedule and activities for your entire day?  No worries, the concierge at the desk who assemble a “user journey” for you.

Conclusion

Virtual events do not employ this sort of service today, but I think that attendees will find it valuable. Of course, doing this will result in additional cost for the event producer, but it may pay off in the long run, based on attendee satisfaction.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below – will this work?



It’s All Virtual Turns Two

December 12, 2010

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

It all started two years ago today.  The first blog post was made on December 12, 2008.  Since that time, I’ve covered virtual trade shows, hybrid events, virtual worlds, Second Life, social media and many other topics.  It’s been a fun ride to date, but I’m even more excited about what the next 2 or 5 years will bring.  For now, let’s take a look back at five selected posts from the past two years.

What Started It All


My first post, from December 2008, looked ahead to 2009.  It was titled “2009: The Year We Go Virtual“.  I was mostly on target with this post, except for that innocent comment where I noted that face-to-face event producers would struggle to survive.  I should have known that physical events would never go away – and, I hadn’t considered what would follow in 2009/2010, the hybrid event.  Whoops.

Lenovo’s 3D World, Powered by web.alive


This posting, from January 2009, remains today the top grossing piece on this blog.  Lenovo launched a 3D world to promote their Thinkpad notebooks.  It used the web.alive 3D platform from Nortel (and is now part of Avaya, via Avaya’s acquisition of Nortel).  While touring the environment, I met Nic Sauriol, the Venture Lead for the project and he took  me on a personal tour.  Read more: “Review: Lenovo’s eLounge Virtual World“.

Musings on Physical Events & Virtual Events

(Photo courtesy of “ExhibitPeople” on flickr)

Physical events have been around for a long time.  So I decided to write about what we like at physical events and consider how those “features” could work in a virtual event.  I didn’t expect it at the time, but this turned out to be one of the most popular postings this year.  For more: “Bringing The Physical Event Experience To Virtual Events“.

Whose Platform Do I Use?

Once you’ve decided to do a virtual event, one of the key steps is finding the right virtual event platform.  In my Virtual Events 101 series, the most popular posting was this one: “Virtual Events 101: Tips For Selecting A Virtual Event Platform“.  For me, it comes down to the 6 P”s – People, Platform, Production, Price, Process and Partners.

Branching Out A Bit

Branching out from virtual events, I shared some thoughts on the topics of social gaming, location-based services, “gamification” and loyalty programs.  In the coming 1-3 years, gamification, location services and virtual events will come together (via API’s and integration).  On the gamification front, it’s noteworthy that San Francisco will be home to the Gamification Summit in January 2011.  For the full post: “The Name Of The Game Is Engagement“.

Conclusion

It’s been a great two years.  It’s hard to imagine what the (virtual) “world” will look like in another two years.  There’s one thing for sure: I’ll be blogging about it.  Come along for the journey and subscribe to regularly receive my posts.  Until next time!


RainToday.com Podcast: Accelerated Lead Generation via Virtual Events

November 30, 2010

Introduction

I was interviewed by Michelle Davidson, Editor at RAIN Group, on RainToday.com’s “Marketing & Selling Professional Services Podcast”.  Michelle and I talked about lead generation via virtual events – a process I call  “accelerated lead generation”.

About RainToday.com

RainToday.com “is the premier online source for insight, advice, and tools for growing professional services businesses. Marketers, rainmakers, and leaders in consulting, accounting, law, AEC, marketing, advertising and PR, training, financial, IT, and other professional services industries, turn to RainToday.com for research, tools, training programs, and recommendations to help them market and sell their services.”

Virtual Events Questions

The questions Michelle asked me:

  1. What is a typical virtual event?
  2. What’s the cost of a virtual trade show compared to a physical trade show?
  3. Do people worry about the lack of face-to-face interaction in a virtual event?
  4. What kind of success have B2B service professionals had with virtual events?
  5. You wrote on your blog that generating leads with virtual events is a process, not a discrete project – tell us about that?
  6. Is the use of virtual events growing?
  7. How does a company get started with virtual events?
  8. If people want to get more educated, do you have any resources to recommend?

You can find the podcast here:

http://www.raintoday.com/pages/6575_podcast_episode_96_accelerated_lead_generation_via_virtual_events.cfm

Additionally, you can directly download the MP3 here:

http://traffic.libsyn.com/raintoday/Shiao_Virtual_Events.mp3


Answers To Your Virtual Events Questions

November 23, 2010

Introduction

Got a question about virtual events, virtual trade shows, virtual career fairs, etc.?  Post it to FOCUS.com and a network of FOCUS Experts is here to help.

Focus “provides millions of professionals with the expertise they need to make better business decisions. At the heart of Focus is a network of world class business and technology experts. These experts power the real time Q&A, world class research, and personalized support that so many businesses now depend on”.

Sample Q&A

Below is a sampling of the questions posted, along with their answers:

Virtual Trade Show Best Practices: Best Practices for Exhibiting at a Virtual Trade Show

Should virtual event teams reside on the IT or Business side?

Virtual trade show booths: What are best practices for creating virtual event booths?

What are your top three tips for planning a successful virtual event?

Virtual Trade Show success: What is the ideal number of exhibitors at an event?

What should your content strategy be for your virtual event booth?

Virtual Events: Best practices for determining the success of your virtual event?

Conclusion

Join the conversation! If you need some help with your virtual event strategy, planning or execution, post it on Focus.  If you have thoughts and experiences to share, “come on down”.  Hope to “see you” there.

Related Links

  1. From the INXPO blog, “Interview with The Funnelholic: Virtual Events, FOCUS Expert Network and More
  2. A webinar I did with FOCUS, “How Smart Marketers Succeed with Virtual Trade Shows

Your 5 Step Guide to Virtual Trade Show Success

November 13, 2010

Over on the INXPO blog, I provided a 5-step guide to exhibiting at virtual trade shows.  The five steps are:

  1. Define your mission statement
  2. Assemble an all-star team
  3. Build and promote your presence
  4. Engage with prospects
  5. Qualify and follow up with prospects

If you’re exhibiting at a virtual trade show for the first time, follow these steps and you’ll be on the right track.  Here’s a link to the full posting:

Exhibiting at Virtual Trade Shows: Your Five Step Guide


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