Trends from Enterprise 2.0: The Move to Social Business

November 11, 2010

Introduction

I attended Enterprise 2.0 in Santa Clara, CA this week.  I predict that in 2011, “business as usual” will move to social business.  As usual. Meaning, social tools will be enabled across the enterprise and they’ll quickly be ingrained as the “new way to do business”.  Here are specific trends and observations from Enterprise 2.0.

Start-ups on Equal Footing with the Technology Giants

Social business, by way of its “newness”, evens the playing field.  In fact, it actually provides an advantage to the start-ups, who built their business (from the ground up) on a foundation of social features.

The established giants, meanwhile (e.g. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, etc.), need to retrofit existing offerings – adding social into (or on top of) what already exists.  Or in some cases, the giants are developing new social platforms that live in parallel with their legacy systems.

Commenting on a T-shirt that poked fun at “jive talking”, Christopher Morace (@thinkoutloud) said it well when he tweeted, “How in a space with IBM, MSFT, & SFDC did Jive become ‘the man’? I’m still in my 30’s!”

Social Business UI – New Models Needed

During the event, I tweeted that if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Facebook should be quite flattered.  In other words, everyone’s social business UI looks and feels like Facebook.

Conference attendee Robert Lavigne (@RLavigne42) agreed and tweeted back, “good from a cross training point of view, bad from a breaking that mindset in the sales cycle though. Need innovation not UX copy”.  Robert continued, “Time for something innovative in terms of UX”.

If we do not see UI/UX innovation and differentiation, then the market will face commoditization, where everyone’s platform looks the same.  And that’s not good for the market.  Expect to see fresh, new looks in 2011, especially as some of these platforms evolve to version 2.0.

The Intranet (As We Know It) Is Dead


The Intranet, as a self-standing web site, is now dead.  In its place will be social business platforms.  Do you really use your company’s intranet?  It’s good for routine activities (e.g. look up phone numbers, find the expense report template, etc.), but it doesn’t significantly improve employee productivity.

The typical intranet doesn’t get much activity and it’s hard to find what you need.  Now consider the likes of the Socialtext, Yammer, Salesforce Chatter and others. Common features they provide are:

  1. Follow and be followed – people, documents, sales opportunities, etc.  Need to track an important document?  Follow it, and be alerted to all updates on it.
  2. Crowdsourced answers – need to find a nugget of information or an obscure document?  Ask your followers via a status update and you’ll likely receive an answer within minutes.
  3. Polls – want to know how Marketing is doing with sales collateral?  Create a poll and invite employees to participate.  Publish the results via a status update.
  4. Collaboration via 140 characters – OK, most social platforms don’t impose Twitter-like character limits, but you get the idea: status updates are the new water cooler conversation.
  5. Mobile – access to social business is enabled on your smartphone, via apps provided by the social platforms.  How often did you access your intranet from mobile?

What This Means for Virtual Event Platforms

In my 2011 predictions for virtual events, I wrote about “Market Expansion”.  Guess what? Social business platforms do, in fact, look a lot like virtual event platforms.  Some striking similarities:

  1. A move from point features to a “platform”
  2. Presence
  3. Private and group chat
  4. Collaboration

Some social platforms provide capabilities not found in virtual event platforms today, such as wikis and real-time collaborative document editing.

Virtual event platforms will continue to have the upper hand in supporting live/scheduled (online) events, but will face expanded competition in the area of “virtual communities”.

Conclusion

(A tag cloud generated from the session descriptions at Enterprise 2.0 – using wordle.net)

It’s an interesting time.  2011 could be a year of battles, shifts and migrations.  With the move to social business, along with the larger shift to cloud computing, expect 2011 to be  The Year of the Shakeout.


Virtual Mingle Rooms: Show Them What You’re Talking About

November 1, 2010

The following is a guest post by Daniel Ruscigno of Mingleverse.

Introduction

Mingleverse is a new service offering browser-based virtual rooms where 2 to 50 people can get together to talk using 3D audio while watching various types of media together (pictures, presentations, videos, webcam, screen broadcasting, etc).

Although predominantly a consumer-facing service, Mingleverse is used not only by friends and family in Facebook, but also by teachers and trainers, and small businesses.  However, the most interesting adoption has been with authors and athletes who are using their Mingle Room to mingle live with their fans.

Use Cases

For example, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell had a live virtual mingle with 25 of his fans, where they were all able to ask him questions about his books and his future writing plans.  Gladwell mingled from the comfort of his New York apartment and came into the room via webcam for all of the fans to see.  He commented afterwards that it really did feel like meeting 25 new people, and the fans were ecstatic that they got to meet their favorite author.

The Vancouver Canucks NHL team have also taken advantage of Mingleverse’s virtual Mingle Rooms by embedding one directly on their website.  After each home game the Canucks invite their fans to join the Mingle Room to talk about the night’s game, watch live post game interviews and press conferences together, and watch highlights streamed directly from YouTube.

There are now several professional sports teams who are looking to be the leaders in live fan interaction and are excited about providing fans the opportunity to mingle live with players and coaches.

Conclusion

As Mingleverse has shown, virtual world technologies allow us to become more interactive with people from all over the world and can afford us new opportunities not regularly available in our daily physical lives.  As we adopt these new technologies, perhaps our celebrity idols will ask you to meet them in their Mingle Room in their next tweet!

You can try Mingleverse for free at http://mingleverse.com or through the Mingleverse Facebook Application.

Related: Mingleverse picks up $1.4M in seed funding for video conferencing with cardboard cutouts (from VentureBeat, Dec 2010)


2011 Predictions For Virtual Events

October 30, 2010

As we head into the final 2 months of 2010, it’s time for another round of predictions.  First, let’s review my 2010 predictions:

  1. The 2010 Predictions for Virtual Events
  2. The Mid-Year Report Card on the 2010 predictions
  3. A posting on the Future of Virtual Events

I assigned myself a mid-year grade of B.  And now, I’m designating a final grade of B-.  I hope to improve in this year’s predictions.  To assist with my predictions, I invited a few experts from the community to chime in, so I’ll be including their predictions with my own.

Market Expansion

To date, “market expansion” has meant a growing number of “pure play” virtual event platform providers.  In the US, we started with a handful of major vendors and we’ve seen new entrants into the market in 2009 and 2010.  We also saw the emergence of platforms outside the US, notably in Europe – and in 2009, in Asia Pacific as well.

For a large Requests For Proposal (RFP) in 2009 and 2010, the virtual event platforms knew whom they were competing against (each other).  Starting in 2011, it gets cloudier (pun intended), as the blending of virtual, social and Enterprise 2.0 means that a wider set of vendors are vying for the same business that virtual platforms got in 2010.

Consider the following vendors, each of whom has offerings that (in part) look, feel and smell like virtual events or virtual business communities:

Jive Software, Yammer, Pathable, Facebook Groups, Socialtext, SharePoint (Microsoft) and Lotus (IBM).

Virtual event platforms can expect to sell against some of these players in 2011 and some platforms may go the partnership route, to build a combined offering as a competitive advantage.

Service Level Agreements (SLA)

The virtual events industry is at a point in its growth where Service Level Agreements (SLA) make a lot of sense.  With a growing number of vendors, SLA’s help separate the contenders from the pretenders – if you’re offering money back (or a credit) if an event fails, then only the strong will survive.

I predict that one vendor will lead the way and proactively hit the market with an SLA – forcing others to follow suit later in 2011.  Expect SLA’s around availability and simultaneous users.

Later in 2011 (or perhaps in 2012), SLA’s will be defined around “quality”, such as response time.  This development helps the market – the assurance provided behind an event allows the market to expand, attracting new customer growth that exceeds 2010’s figures.

Market Upheaval

Market expansion and SLA’s mean the strong get stronger. But lesser platforms have a challenging year ahead. According to Cece Salomon-Lee, Principal at PR Meets Marketing, “some players will be bought by larger organizations, merging to bring together complimentary strengths or even some disappearing from the industry all together. No matter how, we will begin to see some consolidation within the industry.”

Meanwhile, Miguel Arias of IMASTE believes that US platforms will look abroad for acquisitions.  To “gain presence, customers and market knowledge” in Europe, Latin America and Asia, Arias believes US platforms will look to partner or acquire in-country platforms in those same regions.

In my mind, there is an enormous, (largely) untapped market within the US, which means that US-based platforms will continue to focus domestically in 2011.  Global expansion will occur in 2012 or beyond.  In addition, due to the “strong get stronger” phenomenon, I predict that one of the prominent US-based platforms will cease operations in 2011 – or, be sold at a below-market price.

Technology A La Carte


Today, virtual event platforms are “monolithic” – you enter an event and all of the functionality provided by the platform sits within that event.  You can’t experience the platform’s features outside of an “event”.  In my futures column, I predicted that virtual events “move closer to the end user”.

Driven by market demand, platforms will “break out” pieces of their technology platform in a la carte fashion. Customers who do not need a five course meal may opt just for an appetizer and coffee.  This may surface in a number of ways, including:

Thin desktop clients, mobile apps, browser toolbars, virtual booths embedded in banner ads, group chat embedded on a web page, etc.

Hybrid Innovation & The Year of the Hybrid

In 2009, some INXPO colleagues and I predicted that 2010 would be The Year of the Hybrid.  This was partially true – in fact, Cisco received the 2010 Grand Ex Award for their hybrid approach to Cisco Live and Networkers. However, the mass adoption of hybrid events (that we predicted) did not ring true.  But that’s OK, it’s always better to be a year early than a year late.

Event and experience marketing agencies have adopted virtual in varying degrees – 2011 is the year where they demonstrate the most aggressive push to date.  You’ll see strong adoption from the “big brands” in 2011 and it will come by way of these channel partners to the virtual event platforms.  2011 will set the foundation for growth – with “hockey stick growth” coming in 2012.

Another major adopter in 2011 will be associations. They’ve done a number of virtual events to date – in 2011, you’ll see 200%+ growth.  Local chapter meetings will continue to occur at physical locations, while the annual, national chapter meeting of the association will move to a hybrid event, with the virtual component serving those members who were not able to make it to the physical gathering.

More generally, 2011 will see innovative technologies that blend the virtual/online world with the real world.  And these same technologies will be integrated into hybrid event experiences, blurring the lines between physical and virtual.  I’m referring to location based services (LBS), mobile, augmented reality and QR codes.  Expect to see a lot of hybrid events innovation, which benefits everyone.

Miscellaneous Predictions

From Miguel Arias, “After some virtual events vendors, marketers and event organisers have shown in 2010 with successful case studies what are the benefits of virtual events we will see much more events and movements in Europe and South America specially.  I expect a 250-300% growth of the total market size in those regions.”

From Cece Salomon-Lee, “I believe the players that will remain on the landscape will begin building out an ecosystem of services to plug-and-play on the platforms.”

From Miguel on vendor specialization, “With more vendors in the space and more clients asking for more tailored solutions we will probably see a leader in the corporate events environment, a leader in the generic trade show market, other for hybrid events, for virtual career fairs, etc.”

Conclusion

I’ll sum up this piece by using a number of nouns to describe what I expect to see in 2011: innovation, shake-out, growth, change, adaptation, expansion, excitement.  Check back here in 6-8 months for my mid-year report card!


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.


With Virtual Events, You’ve Got Game

September 20, 2010

On the INXPO blog, we write about virtual events and virtual business environments.  I wrote a posting about gamifying your next virtual event.  The benefits of adding a game element to your event:

  1. Games are Participatory
  2. Games Create Competition & Networking
  3. Games Foster Elevated Retention

I then provided some strategic advice for virtual event gaming:

  1. Content Must Be Contextual
  2. The Game “Layer” Should Be “Thin”
  3. Benefit of Teams

Do you got game? Read the full posting:

INXPO: Gamify Your Next Virtual Event


Stanford Media X Event: Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs Show The Way

August 20, 2010

Introduction

Media X at Stanford University hosted a workshop titled “Cashing In on Virtual Worlds: Entrepreneurial Insights for the Healthcare Industry.” The workshop was organized by Parvati Dev and Laura Kusumoto, who combine leading edge research, expertise and hands-on experience with virtual worlds and virtual worlds platforms.

In her introductory remarks, Ms. Kusumoto provided a perspective on the current state of virtual worlds. While the consumer-focused virtual worlds have seen notable platform closures (e.g. Google Lively, Metaplace, There.com, etc.), there has been positive activity on the enterprise side of virtual worlds, including virtual events and virtual trade shows.

Virtual Worlds: On An Upswing?

Kusumoto referenced a recent Gartner Hype Cycle Report that positioned “public virtual worlds” in a phase of “Trough of Disillusionment.”  The good news is that the subsequent phases are called “Slope of Enlightenment” and “Plateau of Productivity.”  Web 2.0, Tablet PCs and Wikis are positioned in this “Slope of Enlightenment” phase in Gartner’s cycle.

In the afternoon, we heard 5-minute pitches from entrepreneurs who were looking to launch virtual worlds businesses related to health care. These entrepreneurs showed me how virtual worlds (and notably, the surviving virtual worlds platforms) can embark on an upward path towards enlightenment.  Here’s my view on how virtual worlds are evolving:

Circling back to the Gartner Hype Cycle, I look back at the following progression:

  1. Technology Trigger: Artists and Hobbyists discover this technology for self-expression
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations: Fortune 500 brands enter the mix, expecting a transformation of marketing and advertising
  3. Trough of Disillusionment: An assortment of virtual worlds platforms fold
  4. Slope of Enlightenment: Entrepreneurs develop innovative businesses that ride on top of virtual worlds platforms

The entrepreneurs who presented are leading the way towards enlightenment and the virtual worlds platforms (e.g. Second Life, Unity, OLIVE, etc.) stand to benefit.  The new business model is the purchasing of virtual land (or, the licensing of virtual world platform technology) that entrepreneurs leverage to drive monetization and revenue.

In a sense, this is similar to the smartphone app store – the entrepreneur creates intellectual property that rides on top of a “platform”.  The entrepreneur then leverages that platform to drive revenue to a direct sales channel (customers).

Noted Entrepreneurs

I’d like to highlight some of the presenting entrepreneurs (and their businesses).

Club One Island

Lose weight in a virtual world, on Club One IslandCeleste DeVaneaux gave a fascinating overview of how participation in a virtual world program can facilitate habit change.  It’s one thing to urge people to eat slower – it’s another thing to show them how.  And, to have their own avatars practice the habit of doing so.  Club One Island runs on top of the Second Life platform.

Related: How I lost 20 pounds in Second Life (featuring Club One Island – by Hypergrid Business)

CliniSpace


CliniSpace is a collaborative virtual medical environment created by Innovation in Learning, Inc. (the company led by Parvati Dev, one of the event’s organizers).  The goal of CliniSpace is to provide virtual world-based training to physicians, nursing students, etc.  A virtual patient can start out completely healthy, but then be programmed to worsen, such that s/he requires CPR within 15 minutes.  The service runs on top of the Unity platform.

InWorld Solutions


InWorld Solutions “incorporates a wide range of avatars, content and features specifically designed to facilitate clinical and educational applications.”  InWorld can facilitate treatment for substance abuse by having patients in a virtual world, with their doctors observing from the same physical space – or, from within the virtual world.  Patients can experience peer pressure (virtually) and be advised and coached on how to respond.  InWorld runs on top of Forterra’s OLIVE platform.

Conclusion

These were just a few of the innovative business concepts brewing in one particular industry (health care) around virtual worlds.  As more entrepreneurs launch virtual worlds businesses, the platform vendors (e.g. Linden Lab / Second Life, Unity, Forterra / OLIVE) stand to benefit.  And importantly in this vertical, another entity stands to benefit: the human condition.

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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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Event Planners “Check In” To Location Based Services

July 26, 2010

Introduction

Due to the rising popularity of Foursquare, Gowalla and related apps, location based services (LBS) is quite the buzzword both in consumer and technology circles.  Logically, the ability to “check in” at venues, connect with friends/associates and make new contacts has relevance to events and event planners.

Let’s highlight some of last week’s articles and blog postings on this topic.

Trade Show News Network

Michelle Bruno (@michellebruno) wrote an article in Trade Show News Network (@TSNN_com_US) titled “Checking Out ‘Checking In’ for Events“.  The article references Foursquare and Gowalla and then profiles a technology provider named Double Dutch.  According to its web site, Double Dutch provides “White label geolocation apps for your brand”.

Michelle references a key point regarding hybrid events, in which event planners support both physical and virtual venues.  Michelle writes, “If a virtual event is also taking place, live attendees can check in at the online and offline events for more recognition”.

Tracking and supporting check-ins across physical and virtual locations can build a more cohesive and compelling hybrid event.  In fact, it can serve to bridge the physical and virtual venues.

Virtual event platforms should look into this.  In fact, I blogged about location based services and virtual events previously.

Cisco Live

In Cisco’s Virtual Environments blog, Dannette Veale (@dveale) writes about virtual technologies that Cisco has incorporated into their Cisco Live (@CiscoLive) annual conference.  The 2010 Cisco Live event concluded recently – the physical component was hosted in Las Vegas, while a virtual component ran concurrently.

Disclosure: My employer (@INXPO) provided the virtual platform for Cisco Live

Dannette describes an innovative use  of Foursquare by Cisco Live’s event planners – a type of scavenger hunt, in which conference attendees received a clue (via social media channels) about a check-in location.  The first 75 attendees to check in at that location (and complete an additional task) would receive buttons, which could be used to redeem a daily prize at the Cisco Store.

The contest generated 802 checkins and allowed conference attendees to network and make connections with one another.

SCVNGR (Mashable)

SCVNGR, “a game about doing challenges at places”, this week announced the social check-in.  Two or more users can bump phones (or, wave them at each other in close proximity) and check in at the same time and place.  There are many ways event planners can leverage this technology.

In a trade show, attendees could be encouraged to perform social check-ins with each other – or, with exhibitors.  In a user conference, the social check-in could be used as a back-drop to a game that encouraged attendees to network with one another.  In a corporate setting, social check-ins could be used to encourage team building.

Conclusion

The concepts of “check ins”, location awareness and location tracking have natural uses for events.  While they’re a great fit for physical events, think about tie-ins between physical and virtual for your hybrid event.  And, think about ways in which “location tracking” (in a virtual event) can create connections, engagement and interaction.

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How Vendors Should Evolve Their Virtual Event Platforms

July 10, 2010

The following is a collaborative posting by Miguel Arias, Steve Gogolak and Dennis Shiao.

Content creation and collaboration was facilitated by a PBworks wiki – the wiki page can be found here: http://allvirtual.pbworks.com/How-Vendors-Should-Evolve-Their-Virtual-Event-Platforms

To evolve their platforms for enhanced experiences and broader adoption, virtual event platforms should consider the following:

Make it easier to experience

Most virtual event platforms are easy to use – on a first-time visit, users tend to grasp the overall user experience and can figure out where to go (and how).  That being said, for wide scale adoption, virtual events needs to be as easy as Facebook.  That is, our grandmothers need to be able to access the site and figure things out.  On Facebook, grandmothers can update their profile, read their “friends” posts and write updates to their Walls.  Can a grandmother login to a virtual event, update her profile and participate in a group chat?  We’re not so sure.  Similarly, navigation and interactions need to be easier.  Most virtual events are intuitive to navigate (e.g. Lobby, Auditorium,  Lounge, etc.) – but may not be so intuitive with regard to message boards, chat, blogging, rating, etc.

Along with a simplification of interfaces and the use of usability and navigation conventions, many customers and users seem to be demanding more immersive environments. While presenting a brand and hosting an interactive experience in a convention centre, it seems an interesting field to add some real-time rendered environments using engines like papervision3D or Unity3D. This said, it is unlikely that avatar-based real time rendered environments will make it to a mainstream audience. Key considerations (or obstacles) are plugins or applets downloads, system performance and learning curve barriers.

Make it easier to find

The typical “location” of a virtual event is quickly becoming outdated – microsite with registration page, with no ability to experience the event prior to completing all mandatory registration fields. The registration page serves as a “wall” not only to potential attendees, but to search engines as well.  Virtual event platforms need to move “outside the wall” and expose their technology on Facebook, on blogs and on publisher web sites.  Platforms should widen their distribution via widgets, embed code and application programming interfaces (API’s).  Facebook is not limited to Facebook.com – it has Facebook Connect, Facebook Open Graph and much more.  Virtual events platforms, on the other hand, seem to be restricted to “VirtualEventPlatform.com”

Make it easier to access

The most relevant virtual event platforms will introduce, or already have, Facebook Connect and Twitter API, and they will need to move to even wider standards like OpenID.  For public events, ease of registration is a must.  Using open methods for registering and/or connecting social networks have three-fold benefits:

  1. Registration is faster because basic information can be provided by services like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.  Shorter registration forms increase completion, period.
  2. Intelligence gathered by the platform about the user’s existing social graph can enhance the experience within the event by automatically creating connections with other attendees based on that user’s connection outside the platform.  This will lead to more networking and awareness of actual people within the environment.
  3. Users opting into connections at the point of registration allows platforms to create publishable actions that can be spit out to twitter and facebook news feeds that can increase viral awareness of the event.  Marketing automation at its best.

On the other hand, desktop or mobile widgets to control your stand usage, statistics and reporting will be a must. Lastly, the platforms will have extensive APIs to manage their integration with various social networks, corporate databases, physical event managing software, etc.

Make the experience available on more devices

Most virtual event platforms support Windows, Mac and Linux.  They need to support more platforms, especially mobile.  On the mobile front, it’s important to consider iPhone/iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows 7 Phone and WebOS (listed in our order of importance).  To start, we don’t believe the entire virrual event experience needs to be “ported” to mobile devices -rather, vendors should determine the most critical features for attendees and exhibitors – and prioritize based on importance.  For instance, chat is an important element of virtual events, so why not make a mobile app that allows exhibitors to staff their booth via their smartphone.

The entire 3D environment does not need to be supported on a mobile device, but the networking tools (visit card managing, real time conversation, etc) and the reporting tools certainly do. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see what happens with Flash and Apple, and see which vendors will try to develop their platforms using HTML5.

One of the key areas where mobile can play a huge role is the “reminder” needs that come from tons of scheduled activities within virtual events.  If attendees have the ability to build out a personalized agenda before the event and opt-in to either SMS reminders or download some kind of app that will push notifications at them throughout the day, it would be much easier to create a flexible agenda.  Currently we’re cramming so much into the shortest amount of time because we’re afraid of losing people.  If only we had better planning and reminding tools, driven by devices that never leave our pocket!

Make the platform more adaptable and flexible

Related to our point about mobile support, platform vendors have important decisions to make regarding the development platforms.  Virtual event platforms today are based on Flash, Flex, Silverlight, Java and JavaFX.  Are those the “right” platform technologies for the future – or, should platforms move in the direction of HTML5?  Does a combination off HTML5, Javascript and Ajax create a more adaptable and flexible platform?  What do we “lose” by shifting away from Flash, Silverlight, etc.?  And what are the mobile implications with the chosen direction?  All good questions for the platform vendors to consider.

Make the platform more adaptable for different customer needs and different usage

There are so many different kind of virtual events: trade shows, conferences, job fairs, corporate events, webinars, congresses… that vendors should decide in which market niche they are going to play. We will see generic platforms and other vendors delivering a tailored solution for one or many of the previous choices. It will become more and more complex to provide physical event managers with the features they need to handle their hybrid events at the same time as the platform is able to cope with the extensive data handling of the virtual job fair, or the networking tools of a professional tradeshow.

Take a hint from Apple and FaceTime

Video chat will, without a doubt, increase the effectiveness of networking.  It is the one key element that can be introduced that will get critics to come around to the idea that networking in an online environment can be as effective as the cocktail hour of a physical event.

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5 Tips For A Successful Virtual Trade Show

June 22, 2010

The following is a guest post from Craig Rosenberg.

On the 29th of June from 8AM to 4PM Pacific, I’ll be running my first virtual trade show: Mastering Lead Management.  At Focus, the company I work for, we’ve been doing webinars for our clients for years. But this virtual event is our first day-long comprehensive show.  To differentiate and make it as successful as possible, there were a few critical decisions we made during the show’s development:

We called it an interactive summit — To us, a virtual trade show or trades hows in general give the impression of a vendor bazaar where everyone’s main goal of the event is to get buyers introduced to vendors. Buyers expect more.

We leveraged all unbiased, third party content (no vendor pitches) — We have sponsors, but our approach to any content we create is all about making it “buyer-helpful,” that is, information that helps buyers do their jobs better or make more informed purchasing decisions.

We gave all sponsors full booth functionality — Instead of worrying about creating different pricing schemes for different features in the booth, we gave everyone everything we could.

    We think these decisions are at least in part the reason why we’ve garnered thousands of registrants to the event so far. Based on what I’ve learned and past experience with all kinds of trade shows, here are my 5 tips for successful virtual trade shows:

    1. It’s all about the content, it’s always about the content – All the blog posts and marketing we find today about virtual events is about minimizing environmental impact, shrinking travel budgets, etc.  While I think these points are interesting, we believe that if the content is compelling, they will come.  Think about it, despite all the marketing we are producing about people avoiding live events, they go and they go because they see value.  White papers, webinars, you name it, they all still work. But it’s about the content. Why would virtual events be different?  The answer is they are not.
    2. It’s all about the variety and volume of content – A virtual summit gives you multiple opportunities to peak a buyers interest with all kinds of content.  In a white paper or a webinar, it’s a one-shot deal.
    3. Content drives the types of leads you get – The biggest factor for the future of the virtual trade show market is ROI.  I can tell you that if you try to be something for everyone, then that’s what you’ll get.  Guess what, that is the problem with the traditional trade show market.  For successful lead generation, I’d suggest creating more targeted content and be prepared for less numbers.
    4. Virtual events are scoring machines – From a lead management perspective, virtual shows provide amazing activity data on attendees.  There is a lot of content available to participants and a lot of opportunities for interactivity. All of this should be collected and sent to whomever cares, such as sponsors.
    5. Understand why trade shows don’t work – This is a bit of a “reset” of the points above, but trade show attendance isn’t only down because of shrinking travel budgets. Trade shows are down because buyers have A LOT of choices for content to do their job better.  15 years ago, trade shows had a pretty solid hold on information. Now with the internet, information is everywhere without the time and resource commitments that make it harder for live trade shows to compete. What can you learn?  Well, people aren’t going to come to your event just because your show is virtual (and you don’t want them to), they are going to come because they see value.

    Craig Rosenberg is Author of The Funnelholic, his very popular B2B sales and marketing blog. He is also Vice President of Products and Services at Focus where he oversees product creation, management, and delivery. Prior to Focus, Craig spent years as a consultant for SalesRamp where he designed, built and managed lead-generation and inside sales strategies and processes for high-tech startups.

    During that time, Craig built lead generation machines at over 25 different companies in a variety of different high-tech verticals ranging from business applications to IT infrastructure. Because of his extensive experience, Craig acts as an advisor to Focus‘s clients, helping them solve a variety of different marketing and demand-generation challenges  You can visit Craig’s B2B Demand Generation Blog at www.funnelholic.com.

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