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How To: Generate More Effective Virtual Trade Show Booths

October 19, 2010

My local farmers market had a “Vote 4 Your Favorite Booth” contest.  While the contest was active, I noticed that the fruit vendors were much more engaging and the amount of free samples increased dramatically.  The fruit stands had become more customer-friendly as a result of the competition.  This was a great thing.

I immediately thought – virtual trade shows are a lot like farmers markets – how about creating a similar contest?  Let’s consider a “Vote For Your Favorite Booth Contest” at your next virtual trade show.  The benefits:

Attendees Take Notice

The contest causes attendees to take notice, especially if you offer up prize(s) for voting.  The contest provides attendees a framework (and context) for their booth visits.  Now, when they enter any exhibitor booth, they are paying more attention to what’s there, to judge the current booth to other booths they visit.  Ultimately, they will need to determine their top vote, which requires a certain level of engagement and awareness as they move from one booth to the next.  And that’s a good thing for exhibitors.

Exhibitors Boost and Optimize their Presence

Ever sell a home or condo and host an open house?  I bet your home was de-cluttered and nearly spotless.  And I bet some of you baked cookies for the occasion.  A booth contest is a lot like the open house: the host knows that its visitors will be evaluating the space.  This results in:

  1. More captivating and refined booth imagery
  2. Booth content that aims to please (the visitor)
  3. A higher level of booth staffers
  4. More engagement from booth staffers (just like at the farmers market)

With everyone “raising their game”, this means that exhibitors win and attendees win as well.

SaaS: Sampling as a Service

In the picture above, a fruit stand placed a large assortment of samples in labeled bins, allowing visitors to sample for themselves. I call this Sampling as a (Self) Service!  The idea here is to allow “prospects” to sample your “products” (on their own) and then have a “staffer” come by to see if they have any questions.

The same could be done in a virtual trade show. Place your products in your virtual booth and allow visitors to take them on a test drive.  Let them do their thing, but check in with them from time to time to see if they need assistance.

Logistics

Here’s how the booth contest could be run:

  1. Heavily promote the contest prior to the event
  2. Educate and inform exhibitors on the ground rules
  3. Create meaningful incentives for attendees to vote
  4. Announce the winner two-thirds of the way through the event. This leaves the remaining one-third of the event for the winner to receive the benefits (traffic to their booth)
  5. Create a badge or logo that the winner can place on their web site and share via social networks

Conclusion

The virtual booths at some events can be underwhelming.  A contest can encourage and motivate the exhibitors and create a win/win/win for attendees, exhibitors and you.

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How Virtual Events Can Adopt Location Based Services

January 28, 2010

These days, it seems the social web is like real estate – it’s all about location, location, location.  Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt are gaining popularity as location based, mobile social services.  Yelp has rolled out Yelp Check-ins, which mirror a popular activity on the aforementioned services.  Twitter added location awareness to its API in 2009.  Facebook, some speculate, may enter the fray with their own location based services.

So how would it be possible to enable Location Based Services in a virtual event?  Well, consider that location tracking is inherent to the virtual event platform – in other words, it has a built-in GPS for all users!  I wrote previously about gaming in virtual events – that gaming can generate  retention, engagement, enjoyment and loyalty.  Location Based Services, in the form of competition and gaming, can achieve all of these benefits.  Let’s take a look at how.

Source: flickr (User: dvxfilmerdoug)

It Starts With The Buddy List

Users first need to build their social graph.  This can be accomplished with a virtual event platform’s “buddy list” feature – all users in your buddy list would receive status notifications from the location system.  The notifications would be sent to users within the virtual event (if you’re logged in).  Once you log out, you can opt to receive status notifications via email.  This way, even if you’re no longer in the event, you can receive updates (via email) on what your buddies are up to.

Build A Reward System

Next, a reward system serves as an incentive for users to participate.  The concept is similar to the becoming “mayor” of a location on Foursquare.  In a virtual event, perhaps you allow privileged users (who have achieved a certain status) to obtain a badge – whereby the badge can superimposed on their avatar image – or, listed on their profile page.  In addition to the badge system, a master leaderboard (and perhaps segmented leaderboards) should be utilized, allowing users to track their performance relative to other users.

The Virtual Trade Show

First, the notion of a social graph in a virtual trade show may be an upfront challenge.  At most trade shows, you may know a handful of colleagues or associates who are also attending – but for the most part, everyone else is a stranger (to start).  Thus, a system may need to be in place first to encourage users to add other users to their buddy list.

Assuming you can achieve decent-sized buddy lists, then the “check-in” becomes quite relevant in a virtual trade show.  Each visit that I make to an event area can be tracked (by the platform) as a check-in – allowing my buddies to know what areas I visited – and, where I am right now.  Secondly, I might leave a review or comment about a particular area – perhaps I enjoyed the content in an exhibitor’s booth – or, I didn’t find a Webcast to be all that useful.  When my buddies enter those same areas, they can then view the comments I left them from my prior check-ins.  Thus, when a buddy enters the same exhibitor booth, she knows that I visited earlier and enjoyed the content there.

Exhibitors could then sponsor areas of the event (besides their own booth) – the Lounge, Auditorium, Resource Center, etc.  Then, attendees can vie to become the “mayor” of a given area.  At the end of the live event, perhaps the mayor of the Lounge receives a prize that’s awarded by the Lounge’s sponsor – and to receive the prize, agrees to have a short conversation with that sponsor.  Already, you can begin to see how this location “app” can generate additional activity and engagement.

Source: flickr (User: Live Solutions)

The Virtual Sales Conference

In a virtual sales conference (and related corporate events), attendees naturally have a large list of potential buddies – the trick is to incent the attendees to populate that list within the virtual event.  Alternatively, management may choose to pre-select the buddy lists by organizing the sales force into teams – whereby your buddy list is pre-seeded with your fellow team members.  The location app is all about checking in (with each other) and sharing information towards gaining points for your team.  In this manner, the location app helps encourage learning and collaboration, making the virtual sales conference more effective.

Social Networks

For certain types of events (e.g. virtual trade shows), integrating the location system with users’ social networks can be powerful.  For instance, a check-in to the keynote presentation can auto-generate a tweet out to the attendee’s Twitter followers – providing a registration link to the event.  Similarly, a check-in at an exhibitor’s booth may prompt the user whether she wants to post an update to her Facebook wall.  In summary, the location service should facilitate sharing not just within the virtual event, but to external social networks as well.

Prevent Gaming (of the System)

The virtual events platform will need to carefully build the measurement and scoring methodologies to ensure that the “game is not gamed”.  In the real world, there is overhead involved in becoming the mayor of a watering hole – in the virtual world, clicking 50 times to enter an exhibitor’s booth is quite easy.  The scoring system ought to consider rate limits, as well as threshold values around selected activities.  Additionally, becoming “mayor” should factor in actions that are not as “game-able” as mouse clicks or visits.

Conclusion

There’s  probably a lot of work to enable the underlying platform to accomplish this – however, such a system can go a long way to achieving retention, engagement, enjoyment and loyalty.

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