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Twitter on The Real-Time Web: There is #NothingBetter

November 5, 2012

Image source: User “thecampbells” on flickr.

Introduction

It’s a Sunday afternoon and the New York Giants are visiting the Dallas Cowboys. The game is being shown locally (in the Bay Area), but I’m at an outlet mall in Napa, CA. I search the stores and the food court, but no one is showing the game.

So I do the next best thing. With the battery on my phone running low, I make my way to the mall’s management office. It’s closed, but there’s an air conditioned hallway and bingo! An available outlet. So I charge my phone and make myself comfortable on the floor. From that spot, I take in the second half of this exciting game … via ESPN Gamecast.

ESPN Gamecast

If you can't watch on TV, using ESPN Gamecast on the web is the next best thing

ESPN Gamecast, delivered via your browser, is quite good. I’ve been using it to “watch” MLB and NFL games. It provides near real-time, play-by-play updates on the game, all without having to refresh the page.

In NFL games, Gamecast provides you with the result (e.g. “10 yard pass to the NYG 40 yard line”) and a few seconds later, updates the play with more details (e.g. “10 yard pass to the NYG 40 yard line. On a CROSSING PATTERN”).

Occasionally, I’ll get antsy when no update has been posted for 10 seconds. I’ll refresh the page to see if that pulls in the latest play. Sometimes that works. Other times, the game may have gone to a TV timeout without me realizing it.

An Endless Wait on a Key Play

And then it happened. Late in the fourth quarter, Gamecast posted an update that Dez Bryant of the Cowboys had caught a go-ahead touchdown. I was quite bummed. But then I noticed that no further updates (e.g. extra point, kickoff, etc.) were posted for close to a minute.

I then saw Gamecast post an update that the play was under review. A few minutes turned into a few more minutes. I nervously anticipated the replay result, but no news as of yet. So I turned to Twitter.

Real-Time Updates on Twitter

On checking my Twitter stream, I immediately saw tweets like these:

Twitter users provide insight about a key play in the game

And that’s when I realized:

On the real-time web, there is nothing more real-time than Twitter.

As it turned out, the call was reversed and the Giants held on to win the game.

It's official: the play was overturned

If you weren’t watching on TV, then Twitter was the place where you’d get the replay result first (it beat Gamecast by a few minutes). Twitter can be even quicker than real-time in some instances – it can serve as a leading indicator of what’s about to happen (e.g. sports, stocks, box office receipts, elections, etc.).

How Twitter Facilitates Real-Time So Well

The User Adoption and the Follow Model

Let’s face it, Twitter is the place where athletes, coaches, sports writers, general managers and owners choose to provide their updates, thoughts and musings to the world.

When I watch a big game, I can always turn to Twitter to get real-time scoring updates – and importantly, real-time commentary on what’s happening. And it’s all because the “right” people are active on Twitter – and, I’ve chosen to follow them there.

#WorldSeries was a popular hash tag during the Fall Classic

Additionally, beyond the athletes and the “experts,” millions of fans (like me) are active on Twitter as well. And while I may not follow them all, I can experience their tweets via event or team-specific hash tags, such as #Giants, #Postseason, #WorldSeries and #SuperBowl.

The Efficiency of 140 Characters

Twitter would be an entirely different animal if it permitted 280, 560 or 1,400 characters. The 140 character limit results in short bursts of updates and the smaller “payload” means that information can be distributed, read and processed quicker. For real-time updates, after all, we don’t want essays, we want snippets.

Accessibility Any Time, Anywhere

When watching sports at home, we’re likely on our laptop or tablet. Outside of home, however, we’re probably on our smartphone. And that makes it convenient to share real-time information with others – and to consume it as well.

That’s why Twitter has been effective in providing real-time information during natural disasters. A Mercury News article about the Tohoku Earthquake (in Japan) noted that the Internet (and Twitter) was used to communicate information when the phone system was unavailable.

To quote a member of Cisco Systems’ emergency response operations, “text data uses a relatively smaller portion of bandwidth than voice data does.”

Conclusion

In the big picture, an NFL game is trivial compared to other real-world events. But like those other events, things unfold in real-time.

And experiencing this NFL game via Twitter helped me fully grasp how effective it is for real-time communications. In fact, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s presidential election here in the United States, during which Twitter will provide me with updates. In real-time, of course.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

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Blasts from The Past: Posts on Virtual Events, Airlines, Facebook and More

August 24, 2012

Introduction

While recent posts have focused on social media, I used to crank out a few dozen posts (every few months) on virtual events. After all, just look at the name of this blog. So I thought I’d round up some former blog postings and bring them back to life.

What Virtual Events Can Learn from The Airline Industry

From frequent flyer programs to first class and business class, I shared ideas on how virtual events could apply concepts from the airline industry. If you’ve seen examples of virtual events that have applied these sorts of concepts, please share details in the comments section.

Read the full post (from 2009): What Virtual Events Can Learn From The Airline Industry

Breaking News: Facebook’s Not a Social Network, it’s a Virtual Event

Facebook has hundreds of millions of active users. And guess what? They’re online, right this moment. If you’re a Facebook user, you probably know the drill. You post a photo from your daughter’s soccer game and as the page refreshes with your update, you’ve already received 5+ Likes from friends. Yes, Facebook is a virtual event – and it’s the world’s largest.

Read the full post: Why Facebook Is The World’s Largest Virtual Event

Give Me a Virtual Farm for my Virtual Event

I looked at group buying (Groupon), Q&A sites (Quora) and virtual farms (FarmVille) for ideas that could be applied to virtual events. Not sure how well these would work in a real-life virtual event, but I’d love to see someone try.

Read the full post: What Virtual Events Can Learn From Groupon, Quora and FarmVille

Dear Flight Attendant, I’m Online

That’s right, back to the airline industry again – and the old fashioned flight attendant call button. Virtual events should add one of these, as a form of “presence indicator” for technical support, interaction with other attendees and interaction with exhibitors. The engagement model is flipped on its head: instead of venturing “out” to find interactions, people find you instead.

Read the full post: A Flight Attendant Call Button for Virtual Events

Are You Ready For Some Football?

With the NFL 2012-2013 season right around the corner, I bring you this earlier post about the NFL. Look to the NFL to learn how you can turn your “once a year” event into a year-round experience. So after your “Super Bowl,” hold an “NFL Draft” to determine your speaker line-up for next year’s championship event.

Read the full post: What The NFL Can Teach You About Virtual Events


What The @NFL Can Teach You About Virtual Events

April 20, 2012

Introduction

News flash: The National Football League (NFL) is an event planning organization. And they happen to be among the best in the universe. The NFL runs a year-long series of events, from mini-events, to large scale events to mega events (e.g. The Super Bowl).

Recently, the release of the NFL’s 2012 schedule coincided with 3-hour, prime time specials on both ESPN and NFL Network. Wow. Unlike any other major sport, the NFL is top of mind (in their fans’ minds) 365 days a year, 24×7.

While I’m not suggesting that your virtual event become a year-round, round-the-clock sort of thing, I do think the NFL can teach you some things. Instead of your annual virtual event being a “one and done” experience, steal some ideas from the NFL to extend your event’s livelihood. Let’s take a further look.

The Ecosystem

While the NFL is the arbiter of its brand, it relies on an ecosystem of partners to extend and reinforce that brand. The ecosystem includes:

  1. Individual teams
  2. Broadcast partners
  3. The Press
  4. Related content providers
  5. Merchandise retailers

The point here is that the NFL can’t do it alone. Where would it be without CBS, FOX and ESPN? Similarly, consider your virtual event. Your ecosystem includes:

  1. Exhibitors and sponsors
  2. Speakers and presenters
  3. Content providers
  4. Service providers

Be sure to fully leverage your own ecosystem in areas like monetization, audience generation, buzz building and media coverage.

Owned Media

The NFL, over the past several years, concluded that it needed to beef up its owned media, to complement its ecosystem. Have you visited NFL.com recently? It has as much original content as its ecosystem partners (e.g. ESPN.com, SI.com, SportingNews.com, etc.), written by a growing team of writers.

And of course, there’s NFL Network, which launched in 2003 and is carried on cable and satellite TV systems. With its talented team of analysts, I often find myself tuning in to NFL Network before and after games, when I’d formerly watch ESPN.

As a virtual event planner, you need to consider owned media, too. This could take the form of an event web site, a related blog and social media channels. If you run an annual, mid/large scale virtual event, realize that you’re now in the publishing business. Devise an Editorial calendar and start banging out content. Start by linking to and commenting on existing articles, then consider developing content of your own.

Generate Online Chatter

Is there any other sports league where the release of the season schedule is an event in and of itself? That’s the genius of the NFL. For an organization where most of the action takes place on the field, the NFL finds ways to create action (and generate related commentary and discussion) off the field.

The release of the 2012 schedule is an example of using its ecosystem (e.g. ESPN) and its owned media (e.g. NFL Network) to create an event (“2012 Schedule Prime Time Special!”). The prime time specials were the “main event” and it generated a wealth of discussion and commentary online, in the form of social networks, blogs and web coverage.

Think of similar ways to create news about your event that results in online chatter.

Select and Announce Speakers

Speaking of which, how about generating buzz around the selection of speakers for your virtual event? Madden NFL (from EA Sports), a key partner in the NFL’s ecosystem, runs an online tournament to select the player to appear on the game’s cover.

This not only puts the power in the hands of its fans, but generates buzz and chatter about the upcoming season’s game. Why not do the same for your virtual event? Allow your attendees to vote for the speakers they’d like to see and build some buzz at the same time. You could generate additional registrations, while creating a loyal attendee base at the same time (which will help your attendance rate).

Create an Off-Season Schedule

If your virtual event makes up your season, consider how you engage with your audience during the remaining 11+ months of the year. The NFL loves to generate online chatter, but it also knows that it needs to connect directly with fans via off-season events. Consider the following “mini events,” which occur after The Super Bowl:

  1. NFL Combine
  2. NFL Draft
  3. Training Camp
  4. Pre-season Games

Fans are invited to attend each of these events and all build up quite nicely to opening day. Like I said, with the NFL, it’s a year-round schedule that doesn’t have an end. Consider ways in which your virtual event can be complemented with off-season events. Speaking of which..

Re-broadcast (i.e. re-purpose) key content

Ever notice how NFL Network re-broadcasts a selected game from the prior week’s action? They don’t re-broadcast the entire game, mind you. They edit out the “between play” action, where players stand up, walk back to the huddle, etc. If you missed the game, this makes it quite convenient to view the action you missed.

In virtual events, you can provide access to all sessions for on-demand viewing, but why not take it a step further? Create abridged versions of the sessions (e.g. the top 10 slides from the presentation), then schedule a mini event during which the presenters appear (online) to engage with the audience.

Further Monetize Your Audience

The NFL has numerous ways to monetize its audience, in the form of ticket sales, merchandise sales and corporate sponsorships. There’s also TV commercials, the content of which has nothing to do with football.

According to Wikipedia, NBC generated $75MM in advertising sales for the Super Bowl XLVI broadcast (2012). The NFL benefited in the form of broadcast rights paid by NBC. Consider ways in which you can leverage your ecosystem to generate additional revenue from your audience. Hint: it could be in the form of unrelated content!

Conclusion: This takes work.

I can hear you already: you’ll tell me that your organization has nowhere near the resources to pull any of this off. And I’ll agree, somewhat. All of this takes work, which involves resources. You must first analyze how much you’re willing to invest (dollars, head count, etc.) and whether the anticipated ROI is there.

The NFL decided it was. It now employs writers, analysts, broadcast engineers (and more) – but, it continues to wisely tap into its ecosystem to widen its reach. Leverage your ecosystem to make this year’s Super Bowl your best ever.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


Top 5 Ways Virtual Events Are Like Football Games

October 31, 2011

Introduction

The 2011 World Series was simply amazing. But now that baseball is over, it’s time to turn my sporting attention entirely to football (American football, that is). After watching a weekend’s worth of football, it occurred to me that there are similarities between winning football games and producing successful virtual events. Let’s consider 5 ways they’re similar.

1) The Importance of the Game Plan

In the NFL, head coaches spend the entire week preparing for the upcoming game. They’ll put in 16 hour days and sleep on the sofa in their office. They plan the offensive schemes, the defensive schemes and they’ll even map out the play calls for their first drive.

Once they’ve done all their preparation, execution on the field becomes secondary. Yes, it’s important, but without a solid game plan, teams are less likely to claim victory. With virtual events, the game plan and preparation are equally important. As in football, make sure you script out your plays ahead of time.

2) Games Are Won and Lost on Turnovers

Interceptions and lost fumbles often dictate the outcome of football games. In virtual events, a “turnover” is anything that doesn’t occur as expected. It may be a technical glitch or a speaker who never shows up.

When a turnover happens in a football game, your defense must step up to the plate to limit the damage. In a virtual event, you’ll want contingency plans documented (in your pre-game planning) so that you have a “set of plays” to use for each possible turnover.

3) Delegate Important Tasks to Your Team

In football, wins and losses rest on the shoulders of the Head Coach. The coach, however, has an entire staff behind him, much in the same way that the President of The United States has a cabinet. Football teams have coaches for the offense, the defense, the offensive line, the quarterback and much more.

Are you the “Head Coach” of your virtual event? The first step will be to identify all the staff positions you need (e.g. marketing, operations, speaker coordination, sponsorship sales, etc.). Then, fill those positions with competent coaches, then delegate.

4) In-game Analysis and Adjustments

Ever see a quarterback on the sidelines, viewing a photograph with his coaches? By viewing a snapshot of that play’s formations, the quarterback is able to analyze what he did (or did not do) correctly on the given play.

In your virtual event, pause and take “snap shots” throughout the event. You’ll want to analyze things like number of attendees, attendance rate, average session time, number of chats, viewers per session, etc. Just as the quarterback may use photo analysis to make adjustments, learn from what your event snap shots tell you and make the appropriate in-game adjustments.

5) The Importance of Clock Management

Clock management, especially at the end of the two halves, is critical in football. You can’t score if you’ve run out of time.

In virtual events, clock management is first about mapping out the right schedule. For one thing, make sure you provide enough “down time” between scheduled activities so that everyone (e.g. staffers, attendees, presenters) can properly transition from one activity to the next.

Next, clock management in a virtual event is about sticking to your published schedule. If a session is scheduled to run 30 minutes, make sure you begin the “wrap-up” with 5 minutes remaining. Or better yet, go with football’s “two minute warning.”

Conclusion

Here’s to your success on the field. Remember that it all starts in your coaches’ office and practice facility. If you execute well in your virtual event, you can go home a hero on Friday’s and spend the weekends watching football. If you’re so inclined, that is!


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