2010 In Review for It’s All Virtual

January 2, 2011

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers
About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 33,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 87 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 202 posts. There were 220 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 8mb. That’s about 4 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was September 28th with 213 views. The most popular post that day was Trends In The Virtual Worlds Industry.

Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, linkedin.com, facebook.com, en.wikipedia.org, and hootsuite.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for virtual calendar, match.com, all virtual worlds, gregory house, and comdex.

Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Trends In The Virtual Worlds Industry September 2010
6 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

2

Virtual Events Calendar December 2008
14 comments

3

The Business Benefits Of Second Life March 2010
2 comments

4

About December 2008
16 comments

5

COMDEX Re-Launches As A Virtual Trade Show March 2010
1 comment


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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Your Guide to Social Media and Virtual Events

August 19, 2010

Announcing the next in our eBook series – the latest is:

Your Guide To: Social Media and Virtual Events

This eBook utilizes the following outline:

Chapter 1: Twitter

How to promote your virtual event using Twitter; how to utilize Twitter Lists; how to provide end user support via Twitter

Chapter 2: Facebook

How to incorporate Share on Facebook, Live Stream Box and Facebook Open Graph

Chapter 3: LinkedIn

How to leverage LinkedIn Events and LinkedIn Widgets

Download your free copy and leave a comment below with your feedback!

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What I’ve Been Tweeting (Edition 1.1)

August 2, 2010

Because tweets are temporal, while blog postings are permalinked…

Virtual Events

  1. Virtual Meetings and Exhibits Still Coming of Age: http://bit.ly/aFZF3B #eventprofs #virtualevents
  2. RT @CiscoIBSG: Can Virtual Experts Smooth Expat Transition? How P&G Is Successfully Using Cisco #TelePresence: http://bit.ly/afrmsS
  3. From @CiscoLive & @dveale: embed event video across the web, drive new registrations! http://bit.ly/9CWvxC #eventprofs
  4. Event Planners ‘Check In’ To Location Based Services: http://bit.ly/cFMH9A #eventprofs #wec10
  5. Getting started with #virtualevents? Download my eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go”: http://bit.ly/asJqFs #eventprofs
  6. RT @InXpo: We’re excited: “Latest Cisco Offering: ‘Collaboration for Events’ features INXPO Virtual Platform”: http://bit.ly/apKOH6
  7. Virtual Events ROI Case Study: @virtualedge Hybrid Event: http://bit.ly/cRJt2b #eventprofs #virtualevents #ROI

Social Media

  1. RT @clickz It’s All Fun and Games for Brand Marketers: http://bit.ly/aV8H3r (by @tessawegert)
  2. Twitter time-savers by @markwschaefer: Success in just 20 minutes a day: http://bit.ly/9aHoiu via @addthis
  3. RT @mashable How Twitter in the Classroom is Boosting Student Engagement: http://bit.ly/bmgxpw #classroom #education
  4. From @MarketingSherpa: #Webinar Promotion that Delivers: Use Email, Social, Viral Referrals and Video: http://bit.ly/ddDbhY
  5. 5 tips for lively Twitter chats: http://bit.ly/dqjQlL via @addthis – great article, @leeodden
  6. RT @mashable SCVNGR Launches Sophisticated Rewards Program http://bit.ly/bEQz5l #foursquare #marketing #rewards

Product Ideas

  1. Idea for @LinkedIn: ability to add “Notes” to a Connection (e.g. “Met at SXSW”, “Ask for recommendation”, etc.)
  2. Idea for MLB: for fans’ favorite players, send mobile alerts for “check ins” from home plate, 1B, 2B, 3B
  3. Next move for Facebook: embedding “Like” capability into rich media (e.g. video, audio). Let me “Like” a song from my iPod
  4. Idea for @Facebook: use Facebook Questions (itself) to address users’ questions about the new service
  5. Idea: integrate a brand’s CRM w/their Facebook Fan page – brand mgr sees user’s likes and comments superimposed w/their CRM records
  6. Idea for Google: when search results contain an address, embed Maps functionality, so I can see driving directions right there

General

  1. Good quote from Ask.com: “Google is a verb. But don’t forget that ‘ask’ is a verb too”
  2. Excited to be working for one of Lead411’s hottest companies in the Midwest (@INXPO): http://bit.ly/b2g1Ox – we’re also hot on West Coast!
  3. Physicians confirm we’re alive by checking our pulse. Bloggers, check the ‘pulse’ of your own blog – is there a constant, steady beat?
  4. Event and meeting planners have so many tools at their disposal these days that they’ll need to start wearing Craftsman belts
  5. ESPN and Playdom now under the same parent company (Disney). Wondering (and excited) about possible tie-ups…
  6. Interesting POV from @kimmaicutler: “Why the Facebook/Amazon integration is bigger than you think”: http://bit.ly/bVwz5J

Previously, I posted “What I’ve Been Tweeting” Edition 1.0.

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Virtual Event Evolution

June 28, 2010

In a prior blog posting, I promoted a wiki that I created that allows us to collaborate on the evolution of virtual event platforms.  The wiki received some very thoughtful contributions.

Miguel Arias (IMASTE) added several insights via the wiki. In the paragraph “Make it easier to experience” he writes:

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 a a mainstream audience. Mainly considering plugin or applets downloads, system performance and learning curve barriers.

In the paragraph “Make it easier to experience” he writes:

The most relevant virtual event platforms will introduce or already have Facebook connect and twitter connect, and they will need to move to even wider standards like OpenID. On the other hand, deskopt or mobile widgets to control your stand usage, statistics and reporting will be a must. Lastly, the platforms will have extense APIs to manage their integration with various social networks, corporate databases, physical event managing software, etc.

Miguel then added a new paragraph:

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.

Steve Gogolak  (Cramer) also added several insights via the wiki. In the paragraph “Make it easier to access” he writes:

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.

In the paragraph “Make the experience available on more devices” he writes:

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!

In the paragraph “Make the platform more adaptable for different customer needs and different usage” that Miguel created, Steve writes:

Take a hint from Apple’s “face time”. 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.

To view the fruits of our collaboration, you can read the wiki page here:

http://allvirtual.pbworks.com/How-Vendors-Should-Evolve-Their-Virtual-Event-Platforms

By default, you’ll be taken to the “VIEW” tab – to contribute, click on the “EDIT” tab. We’d love to hear (read) your thoughts!

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From Virtual Events To Virtual Business Communities

May 31, 2010

Increasingly, virtual event planners are keeping their virtual events “open” year-round.  The model is evolving from a focus on the annual live event to a focus on the overall business environment, which has live events scheduled throughout the year.

Hence the progression – first, the virtual environment is kept open year-round (“Come in, we’re open”).  From there, virtual event planners become virtual community managers to evolve the environment into an active and engaged community.

Your virtual business community is quite similar to a social network (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.).  Thus, look to those social networks for effective community building and networking tactics.

Content

“Traditional” content forms the foundation of your business community: on-demand webcasts, videos, documents, articles, etc.  That being said “non-traditional” content is what makes a community shine and prosper – it includes other members and their associated user-generated content (e.g. 1:1 and group chat, message boards, blogs and old-fashioned community discussion).

Users may be drawn into your community for the professionally produced content – what makes them stay, however, are the connections with other members and the business conversations that unfold.

Draw them in – with Email

Some community sites (e.g. Facebook) are fortunate enough to have members login as their first stop on the web each day – today, it’s not likely that a virtual business community can achieve the same loyalty.  The key, then, is to provide community members with reasons to return, login and participate.

Email may be considered old fashioned by some, but it still works.  Want proof?   Look no further than Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which all use email effectively to notify members of activity and bring members back into the community.  Examples:

  1. Facebook – I receive email when a Facebook friend has commented on my Wall posting – additionally, when I submit a comment on a friend’s posting, I receive email when subsequent comments are posted.
  2. Twitter – I receive email when new users follow me on Twitter; in addition, when a user sends me a “direct message” (DM), I receive an email with the text of the DM.
  3. LinkedIn – When I comment on a LinkedIn Discussion thread (in a LinkedIn Group), I can opt in to receive email notifications on subsequent comments posted.  This way, I’m instantly notified as other group members comment on my comment, with the email containing the text of the submitted comment.

For your virtual business community, utilize similar email notifications to alert members of new activity and draw them back in to the environment.

Once they’re in, keep them Engaged

Now that you’ve successfully drawn members into the community, keep them active and engaged.  Build tools like the Facebook Status Bar:

The Notification component of the status bar is an area that I check each time I login to Facebook – I want to know who’s “liked” my comment, picture, video or link – and what they wrote about it.

Notifications keeps you engaged once you’re in – and can even serve to draw you there (in the first place).  I occasionally login to Facebook solely to check for new Notifications!

Mobile Integration – Draw them in, from their device

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. provide a variety of mobile apps, developed by the companies themselves and by third party developers.  With mobile apps and mobile clients, members can stay constantly connected to their social networks and communities – they can always stay “in touch”, literally and figuratively.

With a virtual business community, mobile integration does not need to be about 3D spaces, multimedia or immersiveness – things we often associate with virtual events and virtual worlds.  Some day, we may be able to experience full immersiveness on a mobile device.  But in a business community, it’s more about user-to-user connections at a more basic level – e.g. the likes of Twitter @replies and Facebook wall discussions.

Conclusion

Our industry still centers around the occasion-based virtual event – as event planners begin to morph into event-based community managers, they’ll need to map out tools and technologies to keep their communities active, engaged and coming back.  Should be a fun ride.

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How To Leverage LinkedIn For Your Virtual Event

May 26, 2010

With over 65 million registered users worldwide, LinkedIn has become an essential destination where business professionals connect and network.  Make it easy for attendees to connect and engage with their LinkedIn network and virtual event planners have much to gain.

The good news is that LinkedIn provides several convenient integration points – there are LinkedIn Events, LinkedIn Widgets and a full-blown Application Programming Interface (API).  Let’s consider a few possibilities.

LinkedIn Events

To promote your event, create a LinkedIn Event – it’s easy to “Add an Event” once logged in to LinkedIn.  Complete a few input fields and within 5 minutes, your event record is created.  There is a check box for “This is a virtual event” – you’ll obviously want to select that.  Once created, your event will appear at http://events.linkedin.com and be searchable by all LinkedIn members.

Your next step is to generate awareness of your event to LinkedIn members.  On your LinkedIn Event creation confirmation page, you’ll have the option of sharing the Event with selected LinkedIn contacts – and/or advertising the event with LinkedIn’s DirectAds advertising system.  In addition to these options, consider promoting the event to relevant LinkedIn Groups, including those that your company has created – or is active on.

As LinkedIn members find your LinkedIn Event, you’ll begin to generate registrations – members can also denote whether they’re “Attending”, “Interested” or “Not Attending”.  If they’re “Attending”, they can further define their role at the event (e.g. “Attending”, “Presenting” or “Exhibiting”).

Note that a member can denote that they’re “Attending” your virtual event (on LinkedIn), but will still need to complete your event’s registration page, typically hosted on your site or your vendor’s site and separate from LinkedIn.

Once a few members denote that they’re “Attending” your virtual event, LinkedIn’s sharing features kick in – as you see above, I can “Browse Events” and view all upcoming events that a LinkedIn connection (or connections) is attending.  I can click on the LinkedIn Event record to view all attendees – and, I can view which of my connections plans to attend.

This could help in two ways – first, knowing that other like-minded professionals are attending may tip the scales in favor of my own registration and attendance.  Second, I now know (in advance) that one or more of my connections plan to attend, so I’ll be on the look-out for them within the virtual environment.  Or, I may email them on the live event date to ask for their early impressions.

Here’s a useful article: Promote Your Event Using LinkedIn Events Application

LinkedIn as Your Registration Page

Registration page abandonment is a concern for all virtual event hosts – use a form that’s too long and potential registrants may give up and never return.  LinkedIn has a Profile API that can be used to retrieve certain attributes from a LinkedIn member’s profile.

The first step for users, of course, is to authenticate to their LinkedIn account, granting the virtual event platform permission to access their LinkedIn profile.  Once authenticated, the virtual events platform can use the Profile API to obtain some profile attributes.  This should cover 40-50% of a typical event’s registration questions.

By making it convenient for registrants, you’ll see a higher conversion rate and generate more registrations.  You’ll need to balance that by collecting additional information (that exhibitors may need) once registrants login to the event (e.g. email address, which the Profile API does not provide, street address, zip code, qualifying questions, etc.).

LinkedIn Widgets

LinkedIn makes it easy for you to incorporate functionality by way of Javascript-based widgets – LinkedIn provides you with a few lines of Javascript and you embed the code on your web page (or virtual event page).  There are three widgets currently available: Company Insider (see how many connections you have at a particular company), Profile (display a user’s LinkedIn profile) and Share on LinkedIn (share content with your LinkedIn Connections or Groups).

Your virtual event’s registration page is a logical place to embed the “Share on LinkedIn” widget – users registering for your event can share it with their LinkedIn network – or, with particular LinkedIn groups to which they belong.  As shown above, members can share the page via status update (on LinkedIn), via a posting to a selected LinkedIn Group or by emailing selected connections.

The registration page is the one page where sharing makes sense – the rest of the event sits behind the registration page.  Thus, sharing pages from within the event are less useful, since recipients would first need to complete the registration page prior to seeing the “shared content”.

Searching for LinkedIn Connections within the event

I occasionally attend a virtual event where I come across a former colleague in the Networking Lounge or in an exhibitor’s booth.  If not for the random encounter, I would have never known s/he was attending the same event.  The virtual event platform ought to provide me with the ability to search my LinkedIn Connections and then check to see if any of them are registered or online (right now!).

This would be useful for:

  1. Attendees – have the opportunity to connect with a former colleague or business partner, right there in the virtual event.  Additionally, be able to compare notes on exhibitors, sessions, etc. with folks you know.
  2. Exhibitors – invite contacts (connections) to visit you in your virtual booth and get them caught up on your latest product offerings.  Also, be alerted to existing customers and business partners who are attending – whom you may not have known were online in the environment.
  3. Show Hosts – be alerted to business contacts who are attending your event – and be able to check in with them (or connect with them afterwards) to ask about the event experience.

Conclusion

Leveraging LinkedIn can bring many benefits to a virtual event planner – you can generate awareness and additional registrations via LinkedIn Events and the “Share on LinkedIn” widget; you can create an accelerated registration process for your users (and generate additional registrations along the way) and you can create enhanced engagement within the event by allowing attendees to discover their peers and business partners.  Give some of these ideas a try and let me know how they worked out!

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What Can Be Better: Social Networks, Social Games, Virtual Events

May 4, 2010

Social networks, social games and virtual events are coming together.  Today, INXPO announced the INXPO Social Suite, which brings social networks and social gaming directly into the INXPO virtual events platform.

Over on the InXpo blog (Virtual Insights), I provide details on how we’re making these powerful forces come together.

Here’s a link to the full blog posting: Introducing INXPO Social Suite

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Bringing The Physical Event Experience To Virtual Events

March 30, 2010

Source: flickr (User: cafebiz08)

Virtual trade shows got their start by creating 2D graphical replicas of physical trade shows: exhibit halls, booths, auditoriums, lounges, etc.  Most users are “wowed” in their first experience attending a virtual trade show – they enjoy the quality of the user interface and often comment that they felt like “they were  there” at a physical event.

Exhibitors, too, find the virtual trade show experience to be quite enjoyable – at the same time, they often highlight important differences between exhibiting virtually vs. physically.  In a physical event, for instance, you have some amount of guaranteed foot traffic on the show floor – a portion of which will naturally wander into your booth.  The “efficiency” of a virtual event means that users only enter your booth by explicitly clicking into it.  In a physical event, exhibitors can greet prospects with a friendly handshake – in a virtual event, the exhibitor may never see the prospect’s face.

How can virtual event platforms incorporate aspects of the physical event experience?   Let’s consider a few ideas.

Source: flickr (User: ExhibitPeople)

How To: Gain Virtual Foot Traffic to Booths

On a crowded show floor at a physical event, an exhibitor knows that some percentage of attendees will visit their booth – additionally, exhibitors can increase their investment and receive strategic placement on the floor (e.g. near the entrance, near areas where food and drink are served, etc.).  In a physical event, as attendees walk towards (or past) your booth, there are tactics to catch their attention (e.g. making eye contact, telling them about a special sales offer, showing T-shirts that you’re giving away, complementing them on their laptop bag, etc.).  In a virtual event, you never see someone “passing by” your booth – they click directly to where they want to go.

The Guided Random Walk

Virtual event platforms could re-create the leisurely stroll down the show floor aisles.  Clicking on a “take me on a guided booth tour” button could allow the platform to become the auto-pilot and guide the attendee to the “store front” of randomly selected  booths.  At each  “stop”, the attendee is presented with an overview of the exhibitor, the products/services they provide and a list of staffers with whom they can engage.  The attendee can click to enter the booth – or, continue on with the “walk”.

Once they enter a booth, attendees would see a “resume walk” button to return to the guided tour.  Additionally, the virtual event platform could collect “interests” on the registration form (or on the attendee’s profile) to more efficiently recommend exhibitors (on the tour) to attendees.  Since most virtual attendees prefer to visit only those areas that interest them, this service would be completely optional.

Strategic Offer Placement

Virtual event platforms provide many avenues and areas for exhibitor branding and promotion (e.g. banner ads, jumbotron, etc.) – similar to a physical booth located near the food and drink, virtual event show hosts could map out the event hot spots (e.g. lobby, auditorium, etc.) and provide sponsorship opportunities for exhibitors.  For instance, the Auditorium could display banner ads that drive traffic to premium sponsors’ booths.  Since the virtual attendee is bound to navigate through key areas  (e.g. the Auditorium), promotions in those areas creates the equivalent of “passerby traffic” in a physical event.

Webcast Exit Actions

Imagine taking all attendees of a physical conference session and teleporting them to a specific sponsor’s booth at the conclusion of the session.  Well, a virtual event makes such teleporting possible.  If an exhibitor is presenting in one of the event’s Webcasts, have the virtual event platform provide an “exit action” to drive Webcast viewers to the exhibitor’s booth when it concludes.   Be sure to instruct the Webcast presenter(s) to inform viewers that additional questions can be addressed within the booth at the conclusion of the Webcast.  And, be sure those presenters also “exit” into their booth to provide the answers!

Source: flickr (User: SESConferenceSeries)

How To: Gauge Visitor Interest

When an attendee visits your physical booth, you can quickly judge their interest level based on facial expression and body language.  While these signals are not available from virtual booth visitors, you certainly can decipher interest based on the visitors’ mouse clicks.  Eloqua developed the concept of digital body language – and it applies directly to virtual booth visitors – “Digital body language can arm sales people with deep insights into the areas and levels of interest of every prospect.” (source: Eloqua)

The virtual event platform could provide real-time profiling of booth visitors, based on the actions they’re taking within the booths.  Inactive visitors can probably be left alone, whereas highly active users (lots of document views, document downloads, web site views, chat requests, etc.) may literally be raising their hand to engage in a conversation.

The virtual event platform could first characterize the nature of the prospect’s interest (e.g. map the requested documents to high level “interest categories” defined by the show host) and then place a subtle offer in front of the visitor (e.g. “An online representative is available to answer questions about telepresence – click here to engage in a 1:1 chat”).

Since this feature could be deemed too “Big Brother” by attendees, it would have to be tested (to gather feedback) and/or have an explicit opt-in setting that allows attendees to enable or disable the feature.

How To: Connect with Interested Attendees

During periods of high activity in a physical booth, visitors often walk up, see that all staffers are speaking with other attendees and decide to move on to the next booth.  Perhaps  later in the day, the same visitor returns to see if any staffers are available.  The observant exhibitor may recognize the visitor (from her prior visit) – and if so, provide special attention to her (since she made the effort to visit the booth and return a second time).

In a virtual event, all activity is tracked, which means that observant exhibitors need only turn to the services of the platform to let them know about repeat visitors.  Virtual event platforms ought to explicitly track repeat visitors and alert booth staff accordingly – perhaps the platform plays one audio alert for the first time visit  – and separate audio alert for the repeat visitor.

Additionally, the platform could allow exhibitors to build in rules and offers based on the amount of repeat visits.  For instance, on the fifth visit to the booth (within the same day), the visitor could be offered to download a free copy of the exhibitor’s software.  Exhibitors  could then leverage the resulting action to qualify the worthiness of the prospect (e.g. visited my booth 5 times + downloaded a copy of my software = have a sales rep follow up tomorrow).

Source: flickr (User: bilateral)

How To: Create Better Attendee Networking

One of the key attractions to an event is the ability for attendees to network with like-minded professionals – exchanging ideas, thoughts and business cards.  In a physical event, there are many “transitory phases”, where attendees migrate from one locale to another.  These phases create opportunities to meet or “bump into” random strangers.

That being said, meeting at a physical event is largely inefficient, based on the random nature of the meet-up.  Who knows if you’ll meet someone aligned with your interests or an uninteresting individual who’s there only for the free cocktails?  A virtual event can leverage the information available in user profiles to make meet-ups a bit less random – and far better “matched”.

In virtual, we can skip past the not-so-subtle glance at another attendee’s badge label – instead, we can auto-recommend like-minded individuals.  In my mind, the single most effective feature of LinkedIn is the “People You May Know” listing in the upper right of your LinkedIn home page.  Virtual events ought to create recommendations (of other attendees) with the same effectiveness.

The recommendation engine could be combined with an interface similar to ChatRoulette – whereby attendees enable their webcam and rotate through and chat with other attendees in roulette-type fashion.  It may not be quite the same as the physical experience, but the use of webcam can add a whole lot more than just text chat.

Conclusion

While it’s still true that virtual events can never replace the handshake – there are benefits of physical events that if modeled and implemented properly, can be a boon for virtual events.


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