Some event planners just know that they want to produce a virtual event. Others take a circuitous route to a virtual event, considering other options first. For those of you “on the fence” – you’re interested in virtual, but not sure if a virtual event makes sense right now, read further about common use cases of virtual events. Based on what others have already done, perhaps you’ll find a similar use case for your business need.
Corporate University, Virtually
Consider a conventional corporate training program – employees travel to the training site and receive instruction. Training is often in the form of long and elaborate PowerPoint-based presentations, with some intra-class interaction mixed in. Some training programs may incorporate hands-on learning (e.g. in a lab or in the field, where the company’s products are used).
Now consider virtual training or virtual university. First, employees (and instructors) skip the flight and hotel – instead, they all participate from their office or their home. Next, each student enters a virtual university environment, with a customized learning program created by the instructor(s). In a virtual university (like in a virtual trade show), the attendees’ actions are tracked. The result – heightened accountability for the students.
Sure, students are still able to view their BlackBerry or iPhone while an instructor is speaking – in virtual, however, learning effectiveness can be measured with precision. For example: number of sessions attended, average session stay (or, “non-idle time” during the session, if the platform tracks that), number of questions asked per session, number of polling questions answered, number of “engagements” with other students, etc.
Quizzes (e.g. certification) can be given, with automated grading provided by the platform. In addition, a variety of learning formats and learning tactics can be employed online: live presentations with “pass the baton” (students take turn as presenters), on-demand presentations, interactive games, online quizzes, user-generated content, Q&A sessions facilitated in a group chat room, etc. Relative to a physical classroom setting, the possibilities are nearly endless, with tracking on a per student, per activity basis – powerful.
Test The Waters in a New Market
Event planners need to consider the creation of new events and new event franchises in order to generate revenue growth and explore new markets. Consider the commitments required for a physical event vs. a virtual event. For a physical event, you’ll need to find and secure an event site and pay a deposit to lock in your event date(s). Then, delegates, exhibitors, presenters and the event staff make travel arrangements to the event site. Finally, exhibitors and the event staff make arrangements to ship booths, printed paper, computers and related gear to the site.
For a virtual event, there’s a commitment (to secure the virtual event platform), but no physical site, no travel and no shipping. In other words, the upfront cost commitment and “overhead” is significantly reduced. This means that you’re more free to test the waters in a new market and evaluate attendee response and sponsorship sell-through rates. If you discover that the market is not right for an event (virtual or physical), you can move on to the next opportunity.
If, instead, you determine that the market is ripe for ongoing events, you may choose to continue the virtual event – or, create a physical event around the footprint you’ve created virtually. If you managed to create a loyal community around your virtual events (i.e. attendees are visiting the environment and engaging with others outside of scheduled events), then you have a natural outlet for promoting your corresponding physical event.
Cancellation of Physical Event
The economic downturn of 2008-2009 caused many physical events to be canceled due to budgetary factors. Despite the cancellations, events planners were left with a mandate from management that “the show must go on” – it was not an option to cancel the annual customer conference or the sales kick-off meeting.
What resulted in 2008-2009 was a lot of virtual event innovation, stemming from savvy event planners who migrated their legacy on-site event or conference into the virtual world. The result for these planners? A larger and wider audience (virtually) that appreciated the opportunity to connect and interact – you can’t replace the handshake or the post-event cocktails, but connecting virtually was better than not connecting at all.
As economic conditions improve and budgets for the on-site conference come back around, event planners are not abandoning virtual to return 100% to physical. Instead, they’re leaving the virtual component in place (in some cases, the virtual component grew into a vibrant online community) and pairing virtual with physical to create a hybrid experience.
Real Products, Virtual Launches
Microsoft made a big splash with its product launch for Windows 95 (in 1995) – the product was ushered in by the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up”. These days, you’re more likely to see Microsoft produce a virtual product launch, rather than a multi-city, on-site road show. A virtual product launch allows for effective and efficient dissemination of product information to a global audience.
Audience segments can be conveniently managed, with hosting of analysts, media, customers, prospects and partners in areas that are virtually “walled off” from one another. This event model is analogous to “computing virtualization” – whereby logical “sub events” can ride over a single event platform. So rather than separate analyst day, media day and partner summit meetings, your analyst relations, PR, product marketing and partner marketing organizations can leverage a single platform to engage with all of their constituents simultaneously.
Virtual Events as Listening Platforms
In my mind, we (as marketers) speak too much and listen too little. In a challenging economic environment, it can be easier to grow existing accounts than convert new prospects. To do so, you need to listen more to your customers and become more in tune to solving their business needs. This is where a virtual events platform can help.
Today, we have the virtual customer conference and the virtual partner summit – those formats, however, are largely focused around “vendor to the customer” content, rather than “customer tells vendor what they need” content. I think a “virtual focus group” should become a part of most virtual customer conferences, where the given “focus group” can be as small as a single customer to as many as 20.
Virtual event platforms can effectively provide listening tools (e.g. chat rooms, webcasts with “pass the baton”, etc.) – to enable better listening, the platforms may need to build better interpretation and analysis tools. For instance, the ability to parse all of the chat room content, summarize the key points made and generate a sentiment rating. Without such tools, event organizers are forced to read through reams of chat transcripts themselves.
I’ve covered a few of the use cases of virtual events – there are many more. What interesting use cases would you like to share with us? Leave your thoughts via the comments section below.
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