How To Market Your Virtual Event

February 18, 2009


MarketingSherpa published an excellent primer on Virtual Event Marketing.  The 10 tactics listed were:

  1. Partner with assocations
  2. Invest in PR
  3. Get exhibitors involved
  4. Advertise on relevant web sites
  5. Market to internal email database
  6. Email registrants the day before and the day of an event
  7. Use social media to attract attendees
  8. Emphasize the value of the event
  9. Use the virtual event’s microsite
  10. Use sweepstakes as an incentive

Based on my involvement in marketing virtual events to an Information Technology (IT) audience, I’d like to add the following:

  1. Promote early and often – get your microsite launched up to 2 months prior to the live event.  Time is critical, because it gives you options to try different tactics, measure response rates and adapt accordingly.  If you leave yourself too little time, your flexibility is limited and your registrations will suffer.
  2. Invest in search engine optimization (SEO) – make sure your registration page and microsite are optimized for SEO.  For more insights into SEO for virtual events, see this blog posting:
  3. Invest in search engine marketing (SEM) – just like you’d buy keywords to drive visitors to your corporate web site – figure out which search terms are relevant to your virtual event and spend a little of your budget purchasing search engine keywords to drive clicks to your virtual event microsite or registration page.
  4. Use interactive technologies to draw attention – with the amount of email received by your target audience, it’s harder and harder to stick out from the crowd.  To do so, use interactive visuals like a screencast (to give users a sneak preview of what your virtual event environment looks like) or a short video clip embedded within an HTML email.
  5. Use a variety of promotional vehicles – email is the most heavily used, but not all of your users pay attention to promotional emails.  So try display ads, placement in e-Newsletters, text links on publisher web sites and sponsorship of relevant sections of web sites.
  6. Highlight the prominence of expert speakers – in some industries, a well-known speaker can generate the audience all by herself.  If you’ve secured such a speaker, be sure to promote her prominently.  In fact, use her name right in the Subject heading of your promotional emails.
  7. Highlight the ability to interact with executives and experts – once you landed that expert speaker, invite her to participate in the virtual event after her speaking appearance.  In fact, in lieu of a Q&A after the Webcast/Videocast, have her appear in the Networking Lounge to answer questions there (via text chat), interacting directly with the audience.  In addition, invite your executives to participate and interact with the audience.
  8. Display the list of exhibitors – as you sell sponsorships, display the list of companies who will be exhibiting.  That may convince some users that they need to attend – what better a way to narrow your purchasing decision than to “meet” with the candidate solutions providers in one fell swoop?
  9. Provide a sales contact for potential exhibitors – some registrants of your virtual event may represent companies who’d like to exhibit (sponsor).  So give them an email address or phone number and you might have just sold an additional sponsorship.

What has worked well in promoting your virtual events?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) For Virtual Events

February 2, 2009

Flickr (martin.canchola)

Source: Flickr (martin.canchola)

These days, any publisher of information on the web is very keen to Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  If you build it (SEO) into your pages, they will come.  If you don’t, then you’re missing out on page views.  But, with all the effort we place on optimizing our web sites (e.g. corporate web sites, content sites, social media sites, etc.), how much SEO effort do we put into our virtual event pages?  I get the feeling that the answer today is “not much”.

For the external (non-private) virtual event, show organizers and exhibitors often judge success based on the number of registrations, attendees and interactions.  Basically, “the more, the better”.  However, what’s the largest source of registrations for most virtual events?  Outbound email promotions to (usually) large lists of users – where you’re hoping that some percentage of users open your email, click on the email and convert into a pre-registered attendee.  Very low on the list today is organic traffic from search engines like Google, Yahoo or MSN.

So the opportunity is quite large – improve the SEO of your virtual event and you can make a big impact on registrations, attendees and exhibitor satisfaction.  But where to start?  Well, first identify the pages on which to apply your SEO tactics.  For a virtual event, we’re usually talking about the microsite that describes your event – date, hours, speaker bios, etc..  The microsite often has separate tabs to list the event’s agenda, existing exhibitors, contacts for sponsorship info and (importantly) the event’s registration page.  All of these pages/tabs should have SEO applied.

A nice overview on SEO is titled “Search Engine Optimization 101” by Marketleap, a division of Acxiom Digital.  You’ll want to apply some of the basic concepts discussed here – including the right content on your virtual event pages; the use of meta tags; how to write good titles and strategic use of keywords.

Next, you’ll want to foster in-bound links to your virtual event microsite.  Promote the virtual event on your corporate web site (with a link).  Place links to the virtual event in your social networks (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc.).  Find blogs related to your industry and leave comments there.  Don’t blatantly promote your virtual event in the blog comment, but refer back to it (e.g. when leaving the comment, have your name be hyperlinked back to your virtual event’s microsite).  The more inbound links you can create, the higher your microsite will rank with the search engines.

Correction: comments you leave on other blogs can help with clicks (back to your blog), but do not help with SEO – most blog sites utilize a nofollow directive on the anchor tag, so search engines do not “follow” hyperlinks left in blog comments.

Finally, if your virtual event is not behind a registration wall (e.g. maybe it’s a 365 day, open environment), then make sure you provide “search engine friendly” content pages within the platform that search engine spiders can index.  Stay away from the Flash-heavy page and go with a flat, content-rich page.  Users will land here (from search engines), so be sure to provide easy navigation from this page to the main areas of the event (or environment).

For b-to-b virtual tradeshows, I’d estimate that well south of 10% of registrants are sourced from search engine traffic today.  Make it a goal at your next event to hit the 10% mark.  Your email lists will thank you.

How to Exhibit at B-to-B Virtual Tradeshows

December 14, 2008

Planning to be an exhibitor at a B-to-B Virtual Tradeshow (VTS)?  Here’s how to become a VTS All-Star:

  1. The right people – to attain All-Star status, first find your own team of all-stars from within your company.  You’ll want a good mix of product folks (product managers and/or product marketers), sales folks (direct sales reps or Inside sales reps) and technical folks (engineers or sales engineers).  Prepare your team for the event by bringing them up to speed on VTS (if this is their first time) and give each member clear goals of what you’d like them to do and accomplish.  For instance, the sales folks proactively connect with attendees; the product marketers participate in the public forums; the sales engineers are “on call” to the product marketer in case a really tough technical question is asked.
  2. The right content – place content in your virtual booth that is directly applicable to the theme of the event.  Take the time to carefully select your White Papers, Case Studies, podcasts, videos, etc.  Don’t simply repeat what you used at an unrelated event.  Attendees will be on the look-out for useful content, so if you’re selections are on the mark, you’ll generate more views and downloads.  Think of it as a form of search engine optimization – where the “spider” is the visitor to your booth.
  3. The right actions – train your booth reps to proactively connect with your booth visitors.  Thank them for their visit, send them a virtual business card, invite them to review your booth’s content.  Ask them about specific challenges they face and have your product marketers suggest solutions.  You’ll come out ahead if you help the attendees, rather than doing a hard sell on your products and services.  Attendees at B-to-B virtual events are not shy about seeking you out, which means they’ll come asking for pricing and product information.  When they do, make sure you have answers – or, be able to find an answer within an hour.  There’s no greater shame than getting hot leads at a VTS and then making them wait for the info they’ve asked for.
  4. The right prizes – that’s right, everyone loves the giveaway, even if it’s as small as a $25 gas card or coffee card.  A “big prize” (e.g. Nintendo Wii or HDTV) always attracts attention, but I like doing a large number of smaller prizes – reason being, attendees like the immediate gratification of winning a small prize, instead of receiving a chance to win the big prize.  So whether  it’s 100 USB drives or 50 Starbucks gift cards, you’ll get the attendees’ attention.  The most effective prize I’ve seen – copies of a book (by an expert) whose name was known by all attendees.

So there you go.  Do the “right” thing to secure your spot on the VTS All-Star Team.  Good luck and have fun.

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