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.



Webinar Evolution

October 6, 2010

Introduction

Do you attend webinars?  If so, what is your satisfaction level with the experience?

Webinar Q&A

I was attending a highly captivating webinar last week.  The speaker had delivered a great, crisp presentation and was doing a great job answering questions during the Q&A period.  While viewing the webinar, I tweeted the following:

Needed in webinars: tool for producer to dynamically insert Q&A topic on screen – better than seeing static closing-slide image

When presenters complete their presentation and transition to Q&A, the viewer is left with a closing slide.  That slide remains unchanged for the duration of the Q&A session.  Couldn’t the moderator play a role here by generating some updates that appear in the webinar player, adding some context to the presenter’s answer?

That’s one of many ways that the webinar experience can evolve.  About a year ago, in fact, I wrote a posting about applying Web 2.0 features to webinars.  Here’s a link to that posting:

https://allvirtual.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/from-web-2-0-to-webinar-2-0/

Let us know your thoughts – how can webinars evolve?


Using Social Media Marketing To Drive Your Virtual Tradeshow Leads

September 14, 2010

The following is a guest post from Cece Salomon-Lee.

As a marketer, one of my goals is to generate the right leads for my sales force as efficiently and quickly as possible.  This requires constant evaluation of existing tools — emails, banner ads, and events — as well as new ones such as social media and virtual events. While webinars arguably are a standard part of a marketer’s lead gen toolbox, virtual tradeshows are just being considered. Part of the challenge is how to effectively drive qualified sales leads to your booth or virtual event.

Here are recommendations on how to leverage social media to market your next virtual tradeshow (Please note that these recommendations are for organizations who are hosting their own virtual tradeshows and may need to be amended for those exhibiting within a virtual event):

Identify Online Influencers

Each industry has influencers who yield a lot of sway with potential and existing customers. However, popularity – the number of followers or readers -is not necessarily a barometer of one’s online influence– the ability to drive a community of individuals to an action. Identifying the right influencers based on your objectives and audience will require research and time. When done well, these individuals will write or tweet about your upcoming event.

Here are some recommendations:

Twitter Search: Use keywords to find those who tweet the most about your industry.

Twinfluence: Not only does Twinfluence provides a list of the top 50 twitter users based on reach, velocity and social capital, but also can leverage this to determine the influence of those you researched via Twitter search.

AllTop: While you can use Technorati to search for top ranked blogs, I recommend starting with Alltop, which categorizes blogs under separate topics. This will help narrow down the blogs most appropriate for your virtual tradeshow.

Engage in Conversations

Have you been in a middle of a conversation when a stranger suddenly interrupts and adds his two cents? Your initial reaction probably was “who is this guy?”. Well the same applies to online conversations. It’s important to engage in existing conversations BEFORE jumping in to promote your event and disappear. Rather, take time to monitor and participate in ancillary conversations weeks if not months before your event.

For example, research and join relevant groups on Facebook or LinkedIn related to your company, industry and/or solution. If there is a relevant question, avoid the temptation to market only your company or product. Rather, respond with valuable information that contributes to the conversation. This helps to position you and your company positively.

Advertise Socially

Social networks have a wealth of demographic and professional information regarding its members. This is a great opportunity to create ads that target specific age groups or professional titles.  Facebook allows you to select age group, region and professional title when creating ads. Like Google adwords, you’ll want to create variations of your ads, test and refine to determine the best copy and attributes. If you’re targeting more than one professional level, I recommend creating separate ads with only that professional title to better determine who is clicking through. At this time, Facebook doesn’t provide detailed analysis by title.

While LinkedIn Premium Events service is coming soon, you can leverage the social networks’ Direct Ads service to target the network’s 76+ million members. Options include company size, job function, industry, seniority, gender, age and geography.

Share Freely

With the proliferation of information online, the challenge is to demonstrate the value of your virtual tradeshow to motivate people to register and attend. You can entice potential attendees by highlighting the types of information that is available at the tradeshow. For example:

– Blog Posting: Planning a white paper? Consider sharing a graph from the white paper and soliciting feedback to drive interest.

Slideshare.net: Presenting in the virtual tradeshow? Upload the presentation slides to Slideshare and promote via Twitter, your blog, etc. Then invite people to submit questions that will be answered at the conference.

YouTube: Have a product video? Consider posting to YouTube and embedding it on your website, blog, etc

In each instance, include information about your upcoming virtual tradeshow, such as dates, times, and a unique URL to track conversions.

Measurement and Tracking

So you’re tweeting the event, connecting with industry influencers and sharing content online. The next question is how to you track the effectiveness of your social media marketing?  Most virtual event platforms should have a system for tracking and measuring media campaign effectiveness. At minimum, they should be able to provide a formula for tracking those who visit a landing page and register accordingly.

Assuming the above, I recommend:

1) Creating unique landing page URLs for each channel

2) Shorten the URL via a URL shortener service, such as Bitly, that tracks the number of clicks per URL

3) Measure, evaluate and update your marketing mix based on the a) click-through rate and b) conversion to registrations

Conclusions

One word of warning is to first research and evaluate before plunging in with a social media marketing program, especially when contacting individuals and bloggers or participating in online discussions. While social media marketing takes time and effort, when done well, the results can be spectacular!

What strategies or tactics have you used to drive virtual tradeshow attendance?

Bio

As Principal of PR Meets Marketing, Cece Salomon-Lee has over 15 years experience conceptualizing and executing successful strategies for public relations, customer communications, executive visibility, analyst relations, social media and virtual events.  She has worked with start-up and established organizations in enterprise software, SaaS and digital entertainment, such as Blue-ray Disc Association, Cisco Systems, DreamWorks Animation, HP, Yahoo!, and MapQuest. Follow Cece at @csalomonlee or via email cece@prmeetsmarketing.com.


How To Effectively Generate Virtual Event Registrations

September 4, 2010

International Freelancers Day is “the biggest ever (FREE) online conference exclusively for solo professionals.”  Want to know how to effectively generate virtual event registrations? Follow this event’s lead.  They make it easy for you to sign up.  And once you do, they provide you with compelling value well before you attend the live event.

Prominently feature of a short video on the event home page

You can’t visit the home page for this event without noticing the prominent video.  It’s short and effectively markets the event (e.g. why should I attend?).  You’ll notice that the home page is not heavy on text that describes this event – instead, the messaging and background is contained within the video.  A well-produced video can describe and promote your event better than any paragraph of text can do.

Make registration easy

Registering for a virtual event typically requires the user to complete a registration page with 10-15 questions (or more!).  Ever wonder why registration counts are down? Could be the complexity of the registration process itself.  With International Freelancers Day, I simply enter my email address.

The event used a “double opt-in”, which means that I received an email, which prompted me to click on a link to confirm my registration.  This is a good protective measure, as a single opt-in would allow anyone to register any other user (email address) for the event, without that user’s knowledge.

In addition to this model, I expect to see virtual events adopt “social registration”, allowing users to register via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. That would also make virtual event registration very easy.

PROVIDE VALUE on your confirmation or welcome page

All too often, a virtual event’s registration confirmation says “thank you” and “see you at the live event.”  That’s it?  Instead, build a page that provides value to the registrant.  These days, attendance rates at virtual events (e.g. free virtual conferences or virtual trade shows) are 50% or lower.  That means that half or your registrants (or more!) never attend.

Your challenge, then, is to demonstrate value to the user as soon as they register.  Consider the confirmation/welcome page a big opportunity.  International Freelancers Day does a great job:

Pre-Event Training Videos

What a great idea – provide content to the registrants, in the form of videos from experts.  Registrants are provided access to 6 training videos.  The first 3 videos had these titles:

  1. A Simple System for Landing More of the Work You Quote
  2. How to Pick the Right Target Niche
  3. Ask Better Questions

Videos #4 through #6 are not yet available, but if you’ve registered for the event, you’ll receive an email when they become available.  Another great tactic – a steady, pre-event flow of content, which keeps you coming back.  That, in turn, keeps the event “top of mind” with registrants.

If users enjoy these videos, they’ll gain confidence in the value of the live conference, which means they’ll be more likely to attend live.  Finally, each video was hosted on a unique URL and allowed comments to be posted.

Video #1 had 17 comments, which means that registrants are viewing the videos – and, they’re already starting a dialog with the event host (and each other) prior to the live event!

Allow registrants to promote the event on your behalf

This event’s welcome page also included the following:

  1. A link to the International Freelancers Day Facebook Page
  2. A “tweet button”, allowing you to share the event with your followers on Twitter – and, a mention of the event’s hash tag (#IFD10)
  3. A snippet of HTML code, so that you can “add the International Freelancers Day badge to your website or blog”
  4. The Twitter ID’s of the event’s co-founders

Conclusion

I’m not a freelancer and yet this event registration process has me sold!  Generating registrations and attendees to your virtual event is a two-tiered process.

You first need to generate registrations.  Then, you need to get those registrants “through the door” (to attend live).  Use effective tactics, like those employed by International Freelancers Day, and you can excel at both.

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Virtual Events As Sonar Fish Finders

August 13, 2010

Victor Kippes (@vkippes) wrote a guest posting on the Experient blog titled “Fishing for Qualified Leads: Which Strategies Yield the Biggest Catch“.  Victor covers lead capture at events and conferences – he outlines the “fishing pole” strategy (being selective in which leads you engage with) and the “fishing net” strategy (cast the net wide and engage with any and all leads).

I commented to Victor on Twitter that I prefer to use the fishing pole strategy.  I prefer to work with a small set of highly qualified leads, versus a large (and perhaps unmanageable) pile of leads.  The large pile results in more work for me, as I need to then separate the wheat from the chaff.  If I stick to a fishing pole strategy from the start, then I make the best use of my (and my fellow exhibitors) time at the event.

Now, let’s consider the virtual event.

Virtual Events: Get to Know Your Guests

When exhibiting at a virtual event, I like to stick to the fishing pole strategy.  Build your booth well and allow visitors to enter, browse around and engage with your content.  Give them a gentle welcome (as you might in a physical event), but then let them approach you.  Ah, but wait.  In a virtual event, I can review the profile of each visitor!

I can click on the profile image of any booth visitor and see their first name, last name, title, company and other attributes that the virtual event organizer chooses to “expose”.  I’ve just upgraded my fishing pole, as I now know where to cast my line.  I know that I don’t need to spend much time talking to the university student, but I should zone in on the CIO who just entered.

Rather than bombard the CIO with private chat invitations, I’d review his actions (e.g. how many times did he visit and which documents did he view) and let your colleagues know that he visited.  This way, your entire team is on alert should anyone have a subsequent interaction with the CIO.

Virtual Events: Activate your Sonar Fish Finder

Next, activate your sonar fish finder – you know, those “GPS for fishes” devices that tell you where the fish are swimming?  In a virtual event, this is the Search (or Advanced Search) feature – something that’s highly underutilized by exhibitors.  Search for companies on your target list and see whether any attendees (from those companies) appear in the search results.

Next, determine whether those attendees are online (right now!) or offline.  Introduce yourself to a particularly “attractive” lead by sending your vCard.  This may be a more subtle step than immediately inviting leads to a private chat.  Some virtual event platforms provide an Advanced Search, which allows you to search by attendee vs. exhibitor, online vs. offline, attendees vs. booths.  In addition, you may be able to search against certain registration attributes (e.g. seniority, title, country, etc.).

The end result is that you more precisely target the leads at the virtual event, making your team more efficient in the use of their time and energy.  The more time your team spends engaged with your lead “targets”, the more leads you’ll qualify and hand over to Sales.

Conclusion

Exhibiting at events, whether physical or virtual, requires a strategy and plan going into the event.  For virtual events, exhibitors should leverage the information and tools that the virtual platforms provide.  If done right, you’ll be sure to reel in plenty of big catches.

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Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go (eBook)

July 23, 2010

Announcing the availability of a FREE eBook (PDF):

Virtual Events: Ready, Set Go

This eBook was created from a collection of past blog postings that cover virtual event basics, such as planning, selecting a platform and building your virtual booth.  You can see most of the blog postings on this Virtual Events 101 page.

Note, this is in PDF format – it’s not the same type of “eBook” that you read on the Amazon Kindle, iPad or related device.

Here’s the chapter outline:

  1. What is a Virtual Event?
  2. Planning Your Virtual Event
  3. Selecting a Virtual Event Platform
  4. Building Your Virtual Booth
  5. Running a Virtual Event Command Center
  6. Organizing a Virtual Event De-Brief

Here’s the link to download your free copy:

Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go

Enjoy – and, drop a comment below to let me know your feedback.  Thanks!

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Cisco GSX: Learnings, Best Practices, Looking Forward

December 3, 2009

In 2009, Cisco moved their annual Global Sales Meeting from a physical gathering to a 100% virtual event called Cisco Global Sales Experience (GSX).  I authored a posting on the InXpo blog regarding GSX – with numerous insights from Angie Smith (Manager, Global Sales Experience at Cisco), I covered:

  1. Best Practices – Virtual Sales Meeting
  2. Considerations for a Hybrid (Physical+Virtual) Sales Meeting

Here’s a link to the full blog posting:

http://inxpo.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/the-hybrid-model-comes-to-global-sales-meetings/


How To Run A Virtual Event Command Center

September 19, 2009

Source: flickr (User: Verizon Business)

Source: flickr (User: Verizon Business)

Your extended team worked weeks and months to plan and strategize for your virtual event – now, it’s time to deliver.  While your attendees enjoy the convenience of joining the virtual event from anywhere, the functional leads on your team ought to convene in a single physical location while supporting the event.  As I wrote in a posting on Virtual Tradeshow Best Practices, it’s a good idea to set up a virtual event war room – or, what I prefer to call a Command Center.

The notion is ironic – attendees gather virtually, but the support team gathers in person?  Well, there’s tremendous value to face-to-face when supporting a large scale event.  The benefits include:

  1. Instant communication – If I discover an important issue, I can yell out my discovery and have the entire room hear me.  Those responsible for addressing the issue can jump right onto it.  I suppose you could set up an audio conference bridge to accomplish this sort of coordination, but sitting around the table (in the same room) makes it all the more convenient.
  2. Better facilitates instant collaboration and problem solving – if there’s an issue that requires triage, I can lean over and look over the shoulder at my colleague’s monitor.  We can troubleshoot the issue together and call over other functional leads as necessary.
  3. Quick turnaround on requests –  in any virtual event, there’s a series of requests that one functional team requires another to implement.  Rather than handle the request communications via email or IM, it can be easier to walk to the other side of the room, communicate what’s needed and receive instant confirmation that the request is being addressed.
  4. Builds camraderie – whether it’s the large cheer in the room when the two thousandth attendee enters or the laughing and joking at a team member’s expense, being in the same physical location builds a sense of team closeness and camraderie that’s hard to achieve over a conference bridge.

I fully expect that technologies will emerge to make a virtual command center an intriguing possibility – for now, however, I’m a firm believer in gathering the support team face-to-face.  Here are some best practices in configuring and running the command center:

  1. Carefully select the command center staff – you don’t want too many people in the room – however, you do want a lead from each functional area (e.g. Operations, Engineering, Marketing, Strategy, Communications, Support, etc.).  Make sure the right staffers are present – and communicate to the rest of the extended team via IM, email and virtual meetings.
  2. Arrange the command center seating strategically – similar to how a business might arrange employees’ cubicle assignments, determine the common collaboration paths – and seat applicable combinations of people close to one another.  This way, Operations doesn’t need to walk across the room to huddle with Engineering – instead, they can tap one another on the shoulder.
  3. Configure large-screen displays with dashboards – use the displays to show the virtual event in action – also create dashboards of key metrics that allow the team to spot trends or issues.  For instance, a real-time graph of simultaneous users can flag a system issue if the upward trend line suddenly drops.  Additionally, use displays to monitor attendee feedback, such as chat room activity and Twitter comments.
  4. Schedule regular checkpoint meetings – make sure the team has a chance to stop what they’re doing and take a step back to collectively review where things stand.  You want to provide a summary of recent happenings (or metrics), highlight issues that need addressing and identify any key trends for the team to be aware of.  Take a moment to review your key metrics and ask all functional leads to provide an update.  With everyone moving at a fast pace, it’s important to pause and get a handle on the bigger picture.

And finally, what’s one last benefit of the command center?  At the successful conclusion of your big event, you all get to go out together for the celebratory dinner.


Virtual Tradeshow Best Practices: Top 10 Exhibitor Tactics

May 20, 2009

At b-to-b virtual tradeshows (VTS), exhibitors compete for the attention and interest of the attendees.  And many times, the competition for attention occurs “against” the competitors of your business.  Thus, it’s even more important to make your mark, which places an onus on exhibitors to leverage new and creative ways to generate interest.  Here are Top 10 Exhibitor Tactics that I’ve observed while working with virtual tradeshow exhibitors.

  1. Set up a (physical) war room – it seems a bit contradictory, given that you’re exhibiting virtually, but if it’s practical to gather in a single location (physically), you’ll be more effective and coordinated.  As visitors pour into your booth and engage with you, it will be easy to shout aloud, “I’ll take this one” and have everyone immediately know what you’re referring to.  In addition, being together physically creates a buzz as the event goes on – you’ll hear cheers, shouts, jeers, etc. as activities unfold throughout the day.  I’ve participated in one and it does help with coordination and build camraderie.  Short of a physical gathering, another option is to keep a telephone conference bridge active throughout the day to coordinate activities.
  2. Send product experts into the Networking Lounge – you need to solicit your subject matter experts to participate in the virtual tradeshow in the first place.  And believe me, their presence will be worth it.  Send them into the lounge to soak in all the discussion – and encourage them to chime in.  The idea here is to demonstrate thought leadership and generate “organic interest” in your company and your company’s booth.  During one event I attended, an expert’s presence in the Lounge generated interest from an industry analyst, who set up a follow-up meeting (with the expert’s company) to further discuss their products and services.
  3. Leverage a compelling booth welcome – always make a good first impression for that first-time visitor.  Create a Flash video for your booth’s “front screen” that’s unique to the VTS – or, have your CTO or CEO (via greenscreen video) greet visitors with a short video welcome.
  4. Ad-hoc prize giveaways – drop a surprise on attendees and let them know that you’re giving away prizes in your booth.  Got leftover giveaways from a physical event?  Distribute that excess inventory to your virtual event visitors.  Draw them into the Group Chat in your booth and ask them to answer questions posted there (about your products and services)  in order to win.  You’ll end up not just with some happy booth visitors – but you’ll also have educated others who observed the group chat.
  5. Be practical with booth displays – if you have scheduled chats occuring in your booth – or, if you have distinguished experts staffing your booth, let visitors know!  How about an animated image that displays in the front screen of your booth, which rotates through the miscellaneous activites scheduled there that day.  Sometimes, the simplest and most practical approach is the most effective.
  6. Staff your booth with your product experts – for those experts that you send into the Networking Lounge – be sure they’re available to interact with your booth visitors as well.  When your expert has won over the respect of an attendee, then that attendee becomes more comfortable with your company’s products and services.  I’ve witnessed a few experts field requests for pricing information or a follow-up sales call.  While that’s best handled by a salesperson, it clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of having your products experts in your booth.  Another observation: if your experts are having engaging interactions with booth visitors, their presence will encourage repeat visits.
  7. Invite your company executives to participate – a virtual tradeshow affords your company executives with an easy and convenient way to connect directly with customers and prospects.  The attendees find the interactions engaging, as it’s not often they have direct access to your executives.  Additionally, your executives gain further appreciation of the virtual event via their first hand participation, which makes budget approvals quicker for subsequent events.
  8. Got extra books?  Give them away as prizes – first, you need to find the right book for the particular audience – one that will generate strong demand.  Then, by giving away a large number of them (50, 100, etc.), you generate interest because of the likelihood of winning one.  One event I attended awarded a free book to the first 100 booth visitors.  The particular book was authored by an industry expert whom all attendees were familiar with.  The first 100 visits occurred within minutes of the opening of the event!  Later in the day, visitors will still coming into the booth, asking if the book was still available.
  9. Functional avatar images – some exhibitors select their avatar image from the event platform’s image library.  Others upload a picture of themselves.  One exhibitor went a different route and created custom images that denoted the functional expertise of each exhibitor. The image had the company logo as a background, with text overlaid on top (e.g. “Product Expert”, “Integration Expert”, etc.).  Since attendees can determine your functional domain (by your avatar), they can immediately determine whether to interact with you.
  10. Use a “call to action” image in the final slide of a Live Webcast – want viewers to visit your booth at the conclusion of your Live Webcast?  Make your closing slide an image of the virtual environment, with a big arrow pointing to your booth’s location on the Exhibit Hall.  Title the slide, “Got more questions?  Visit our booth”.

So there you have it.  Try some of these tactics at your next virtual tradeshow and let me know how it goes!


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