Advertisements
 

It’s All Virtual Turns Two

December 12, 2010

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

It all started two years ago today.  The first blog post was made on December 12, 2008.  Since that time, I’ve covered virtual trade shows, hybrid events, virtual worlds, Second Life, social media and many other topics.  It’s been a fun ride to date, but I’m even more excited about what the next 2 or 5 years will bring.  For now, let’s take a look back at five selected posts from the past two years.

What Started It All


My first post, from December 2008, looked ahead to 2009.  It was titled “2009: The Year We Go Virtual“.  I was mostly on target with this post, except for that innocent comment where I noted that face-to-face event producers would struggle to survive.  I should have known that physical events would never go away – and, I hadn’t considered what would follow in 2009/2010, the hybrid event.  Whoops.

Lenovo’s 3D World, Powered by web.alive


This posting, from January 2009, remains today the top grossing piece on this blog.  Lenovo launched a 3D world to promote their Thinkpad notebooks.  It used the web.alive 3D platform from Nortel (and is now part of Avaya, via Avaya’s acquisition of Nortel).  While touring the environment, I met Nic Sauriol, the Venture Lead for the project and he took  me on a personal tour.  Read more: “Review: Lenovo’s eLounge Virtual World“.

Musings on Physical Events & Virtual Events

(Photo courtesy of “ExhibitPeople” on flickr)

Physical events have been around for a long time.  So I decided to write about what we like at physical events and consider how those “features” could work in a virtual event.  I didn’t expect it at the time, but this turned out to be one of the most popular postings this year.  For more: “Bringing The Physical Event Experience To Virtual Events“.

Whose Platform Do I Use?

Once you’ve decided to do a virtual event, one of the key steps is finding the right virtual event platform.  In my Virtual Events 101 series, the most popular posting was this one: “Virtual Events 101: Tips For Selecting A Virtual Event Platform“.  For me, it comes down to the 6 P”s – People, Platform, Production, Price, Process and Partners.

Branching Out A Bit

Branching out from virtual events, I shared some thoughts on the topics of social gaming, location-based services, “gamification” and loyalty programs.  In the coming 1-3 years, gamification, location services and virtual events will come together (via API’s and integration).  On the gamification front, it’s noteworthy that San Francisco will be home to the Gamification Summit in January 2011.  For the full post: “The Name Of The Game Is Engagement“.

Conclusion

It’s been a great two years.  It’s hard to imagine what the (virtual) “world” will look like in another two years.  There’s one thing for sure: I’ll be blogging about it.  Come along for the journey and subscribe to regularly receive my posts.  Until next time!

Advertisements

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!


Project Planning For Your Virtual Event

September 18, 2010

Planning and executing a virtual event can be a juggling act – moving parts include people, deliverables, technology, content, people, support, sponsorships, exhibitors, presenters, executive sponsors and more.  More than an “event” or a “project”, virtual events are a journey.  When crossing the finish line of a virtual event, some feel like they’ve just completed a marathon.

This leads to an interesting question – what tools do virtual event planners use to manage this journey?  My belief is that most teams use the basic ones.  The most prevalent is probably Microsoft Excel, in which a date and owner-based task list is used.  For a more robust project plan, some teams may use Microsoft Project, which (among other things) allows you to better build in dependencies and critical path items.

In addition to the project planning tools, virtual event teams need to collaborate and coordinate, both within the team and outside their organization (e.g. experts, speakers, technology providers, exhibitors, booth representatives, etc.).  The team may have the benefit of SharePoint or Lotus within their company, but that doesn’t solve the challenge of coordinating with outside parties.

I came across a few articles this week that highlight interesting project management tools.

At Forbes.com, Gene Marks wrote an article titled “Project Management Software That Brings Order To Chaos.”  Tools mentioned by Gene were:

Desktop Software

  1. Microsoft Project 2010
  2. Primavera P6 Project Management (Oracle)
  3. OpenProj (Serena Software)

Hosted Software

  1. Basecamp  (37 Signals)
  2. Zoho Projects
  3. Central Desktop

Basecamp sounds particularly neat – as Gene writes, “Basecamp’s functions include milestone management, collaborative file sharing, time tracking, messaging and integration with the company’s Campfire group-chatting software.”

Group chatting could be useful and efficient compared to numerous phone calls and conference calls.  I’ve surely used a lot of AIM and Skype when coordinating my events – and having a system that all team members can standardize on (for chat) could be a win.

At Entrepreneur.com, Jonathan Blum wrote an article, “The Web-Based Scheduling Tool That’s One Step Ahead of You.”  The article highlights a project planning tool called TheDeadline – a hosted application that integrates with Google Apps.  The neat thing about this tool is that it attempts to predict which tasks you need to work on next.

However, it sounds better suited to an unsequenced task list – so, the current version may not be the best fit for planning a virtual event, where there’s an ordered list of deliverables and tasks that have a pre-deteremined sequence.  I do think it’s something to keep an eye on – imagine entering some tasks into a system and having the tool tell you that speakers’ presentations are due today!

Leave us a comment below – what tools are you using to plan and execute your virtual event?


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.

Tweet this posting:


Top 5 Virtual Event Posts Of 2010

August 5, 2010

Here are the Top 5 posts (on this blog) for calendar year 2010.  The Top 5 List is in descending order and based on the number of page views per blog posting.

#5: Virtual Events 101: Tips For Building Your Virtual Booth

My guess is that many readers built their first virtual booth during 2010.  This posting provided tips planning and objectives, content strategy and booth staffing.  In addition, it provided tips on content presentation, “search optimization” and how to stand out from the crowd.  This posting is part of a broader Virtual Events 101 page that provides tips on virtual events.

#4: Bringing The Physical Event Experience To Virtual Events

This posting did some brainstorming on features that virtual event platforms could provide to bring physical event experiences to virtual events.  Then, it covered tips for virtual events, including how to gauge attendee interest, how to connect with interested attendees and how to create better attendee networking.

#3: COMDEX Re-Launches As A Virtual Trade Show

This was big news back in March, that the famed COMDEX show would return as a virtual event in November 2010.  I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store this November at COMDEX Virtual.

#2: How 3D Virtual Worlds Can Be More Like Twitter And Facebook

Twitter and Facebook have taken the world by storm – this post received a lot of traffic by association.  I thought it was logical that 3D virtual world platforms could adopt some of the principles developed by Twitter and Facebook, such as the pervasive “Like” feature from Facebook.  I posited on some new concepts, such as closed circuit TV and on-demand TV for virtual worlds.

Finally, I guess I foreshadowed “Second Life Shared Media”, when I suggested that web content be embedded in-world – Linden Lab announced that feature a few short months after my blog posting.  More recently, I wrote about Second Life being at an important crossroads.

#1: The Future Of Virtual Events

There’s always something about the “future” that generates interest and curiosity.  I’m still a believer in the vision of the future (for virtual events) that I painted here.  While none of it has come to fruition, it’s just a matter of time.  In the future, that is!

Tweet this posting:


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!

Tweet this posting:


Mid-Year Report Card: 2010 Virtual Events Predictions

June 9, 2010

At the end of 2009, I posted my 2010 predictions for the virtual events industry.  Now that we’re nearly half done with 2010 (can you believe that), I decided to provide a self-assessment for my predictions.

Overall, I’ve decided on a grade of “B” (I’m an easy grader) – which may improve based on the second half of the year.  Let’s review the individual predictions.

Video Integration (Grade: B)

I wrote:

In 2010, I believe that the virtual event platforms will integrate with third party video conferencing technologies in a big way – stirred largely by client demand for it.

While video conferencing integration has not (yet!) been implemented on a wide scale, we witnessed the first occurrence of telepresence enablement in a virtual event.

The Sustainability Virtual Summit: Smart ICT was produced by G2 Events, “featuring telepresence enablement, allowing roundtable and panel discussions to be broadcast between panelists in remote locations worldwide (first in a virtual event)”.

I attended the event and viewed a number of telepresence-enabled sessions.  While impressive, it should be noted that my prediction was around “incorporation of multi-party, HD video conferencing”, whereas the Sustainability Virtual Summit event enabled telepresence via “simulive” playback of pre-recorded sessions.

Multi-party HD video conferencing over the public Internet is likely a few years away – instead, we’ll likely see multi-party (with virtual event integration) enabled in a corporate setting, with its tighter controls over available bandwidth – and, with the option to distribute the video conferencing streams via IP multicast.

Global Players (Grade: B)

I wrote:

I expect to see another European-based platform emerge in 2010, along with one or more in Asia Pac.

Gensee, based in China, provides a “Web Virtual Events Platform”.  The market for virtual events in China seems to be less developed than in the U.S. and Europe – as such, Gensee may be well positioned to capitalize on any uptick in adoption (in China), as their platform was built to serve a Chinese audience.

“China has more than 400 million internet users, with Flash based virtual games and social network services very popular, although with its own flavors and local providers”, notes Benjamin Chen, CEO of Gensee Technology.

Chen continues, “China has many economic centers and many enterprises have geographically dispersed customers and employees. I already see great demands to complement physical trade shows, expos, events and e-learning with virtual components”.

VisualMente is another European player in the virtual events space – they’re based on Spain and have done virtual event campaigns for BlackBerry, among others.

To be fair, both Gensee and VisualMente were around when my predictions were made, so I didn’t technically predict their emergence.  That being said, I do believe in the trend that more and more players will enter the space, with a growing number of vendors outside of the U.S.  The U.S. is the most developed market to date (relatively speaking) – which means that even larger opportunities lie abroad.

If you’re aware of additional virtual event players (outside of the U.S.), please leave information in the comments section below – thanks.

Source: Cisco Live and Networkers Virtual

Response Rates (Grade: A)

While I can’t provide insight for “relative response rates” on audience generation for virtual events in 2010, I did write the following:

Virtual event show hosts will need to consider the incorporation of gaming, the creation of affinity programs and more.

Cisco Live and Networkers Virtual is incorporating gaming into their upcoming event – Dannette Veale (Cisco) published a post regarding  objectives and considerations behind enabling gaming in that event.  I should disclose that I’m with INXPO, the virtual event platform that’s hosting this event – and we’re big believers in social gaming in virtual events.  So my prediction was a bit self serving.

I do believe in the effectiveness of gaming, especially in a virtual event or virtual business environment (e.g. for learning, retention, sponsor interaction, etc.) – as such, I expect to see an increasing amount of games (especially games with a social component) enabled in virtual events going forward.

Some vendors will integrate them into the core platform, while others will start by creating “one off” games that are loosely coupled with the underlying event platform.

Immersiveness (Grade: A)

In the U.S., the Virtual Edge Summit is the annual face-to-face event in the virtual events industry.  New this year was a “Business 3Di Track”, demonstrating the growing interest in immersiveness [see full program here].  I wrote:

Client interest and demand will drive some platforms to add immersive capabilities in 2010.  I don’t expect a software download, however – it would serve platforms well to support the immersive experience within their existing framework (e.g. Flash, JavaFX, Silverlight).

One of the exhibitors at Virtual Edge was Altadyn, who provides an offering called 3DXplorer – “the first ‘browser-based’ and ‘installation-free’ solution which enables a 3D interactive and fully immersive experience, accessible from any corporate or individual computer”.

In addition to Altadyn, one of the “pure play 2D event platforms” (at Virtual Edge) provided a demo of immersive capabilities they’ve incorporated into their platform.  I expect to see more experimentation and deployment in the second half of this year.

Consolidation (Grade: C)

I wrote:

We’ll see the merging or acquiring of virtual event platform companies.

Since neither of these has yet to come true in 2010, this grade really could be an “F” or an “Incomplete”.  I’m still holding firm on this prediction, however, as I do expect some M&A activity in the second half of the year.

Conclusion

The first half of 2010 sure has flown by – on the predictions front, I’m looking decent so far at the half-way mark.  I’m expecting an eventful second half (pun intended).  What are your expectations for the second half of this year in our industry?  Leave your thoughts below in the comments section.

Tweet this posting:


%d bloggers like this: