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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!

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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.


Virtual Recap: Recent Postings On Virtual Events And Virtual Worlds

August 26, 2010

Virtual Events eBooks

  1. Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go – download the eBook
  2. Social Media and Virtual Events – download the eBook

Across the Industry

  1. My guest post at PR Meets Marketing, “Go Virtual for your Next Press Event” – how virtual events can be an effective platform for PR and marketing simultaneously
  2. Ken Heyward (vcopious) with a guest post on this blog, “Flexible Platforms in a Virtual World,” which addresses considerations for SaaS vs. on-premise software for virtual events
  3. ROI for Virtual Events,” a posting I authored on the INXPO blog, with insights on virtual events ROI from thought leader Todd Hanson from ROI of Engagement

Virtual Worlds

  1. Stanford Media X Event – Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs Show The Way
  2. Stanford Media X Event – Summary of IMVU Presentation from Brett Durrett, VP Engineering at IMVU
  3. FountainBlue Event – Annual Virtual Worlds Conference hosted by Cisco (Milpitas, CA)

Virtual Events Calendar

  1. There were a few virtual events in August as summer winded down – but look at what’s scheduled for September – events on luxury travel, natural products, publishing, higher education, autos, wireless technology, cruise shipping and eBooks.  Glad to see virtual events being leveraged across so many distinct industries

Go Virtual For Your Next Press Event

August 17, 2010

I authored a guest post on the influential blog “PR Meets Marketing”, which explores the intersection of PR and Marketing.

The title of my post is “Go Virtual for your Next Press Event“.  I outline the many benefits of a virtual press event:

  1. Global Reach
  2. Convenient access to your executives
  3. Seamlessly include your customers and prospects
  4. Use activity paths to follow up effectively

I concluded the posting by writing this:

I believe virtual events can be the definition of ‘PR meets Marketing’. As PR and Marketing look to Web 2.0 to broaden reach and engagement, consider virtual events as one more tool in your arsenal.”

Here’s a link to the full posting:

Go Virtual for your Next Press Event

Go Virtual for your Next Press Event


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