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Why Big Data is The Future for Virtual Event Platforms

May 18, 2013

The future for virtual event platforms

Image source: User gwire on flickr.

Introduction

Previously, I wrote about the future of face-to-face events. The future of events lies in technology that creates business intelligence from event data. Events create a massive amount of data (trees) and technology should enable event planners and sponsors to “see the forest from the trees.”

Virtual/hybrid event platforms can play an important role in this future. These platforms are a primary driver of “event data.” The future for virtual event platforms is to pair the data they generate with third party data sources to generate comprehensive event intelligence.

Let’s consider reasons why Big Data is the future for virtual event platforms.

Data is no longer in one place.

Data is no longer in one place

Image source: Horia Varlan on flickr.

In the early days, data generated by the virtual event platform was the one and only source of event data. Along came social media and attendees began to tweet, post and pin their way around (and often outside) the event experience.

Throw in hybrid events (which have a corresponding face-to-face event) and you have another universe of data being created “on site” (check ins, user-generated video, badge scans, etc.).  The reality is that event data, even for virtual events, is widely dispersed. To drive true event intelligence, “someone” needs to coalesce that data and make sense of it. For me, the virtual event platform should be that “someone.”

The ever-elusive “ROI” can be defined up front.

Virtual event planners still struggle to answer the question, “how are you measuring [and proving] ROI for your virtual event?” One reason is that the planner doesn’t quite know how to measure ROI. The other reason is that tools aren’t readily available to do so. By working with Big Data, virtual event platform providers (and the event planners) can define the ROI model when the deal is sold.

I imagine the platforms providing both standard and custom “ROI packages.” Standard packages could be “sentiment” (for internal, HR events) or “retention” (for training events). Using “pre” and “post” data, planners can now make statements such as, “our virtual town hall meeting drove a 45% increase in employee satisfaction.”

When you define, measure and prove ROI, it’s more likely that this year’s virtual/hybrid event will happen again next year (and the year after that).

The core technology already exists.

The foundation for the future is already in place: virtual/hybrid event platforms create online experiences, store data, process data and present/render data. The missing piece (and yes, it’s a big one) is the ability to integrate (import) third party data coming from social media, the broader web and face-to-face event systems.

The strategic value is in the data.

The value is in the data

Image source: User andertoons on flickr.

Content and user experience will always be critical to the success of an event. You need the right content and user experience to drive engagement, after all. After the event is over, the strategic value you take from it is found in the data.

Attendees will remember the content and user experience. Business owners will remember the data. Why do virtual event platforms need to work with (and make sense of) data outside their own platform? Because it paints the whole picture. And because true ROI cannot be delivered without it.

Conclusion

There’s a technology company called Splunk that “turns machine data into valuable insights no matter what business you’re in.” (source: Splunk web site). Splunk is a publicly traded company with a market cap well over $4B. There’s value in data. Virtual event platforms can be the “Splunk for event data.”

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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


Post Your Slogan for Virtual Event Experiences

April 26, 2012

Photo source: mckaysavage on flickr.

Introduction

Recently, Mike Swift published an interesting article in The Mercury News, “Ship code or ship out: Bootcamp for new Facebook engineers.”

The article provided a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at Facebook’s boot camp for new engineers. I loved reading about the slogans that Facebook reinforces within its team. As Swift notes, “Facebook recruits are exposed to a series of slogans that are intended to encapsulate the company’s values.”

Facebook’s Slogans

Swift’s article lists the following Facebook slogans:

Move Fast and Break Things
What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?
The Foolish Wait
Our Work Is Never Over
We Hack Therefore We Are
Are You Fearless?
Done Is Better Than Perfect
Code Wins Arguments

Slogans for Virtual Events

It occurred to me that we should develop slogans regarding what virtual event experiences should aspire to. So fresh off reading Swift’s article, I went to Twitter to ask. After all, for soliciting slogans, what better a place than one that deals in 140 characters or less?

And the Twittersphere spoke:

“Think big and be creative!”  — @EmilieBarta
“Where less is more”   — @scottlum
“Less steps, less windows, less mess = less stress!”  — @EmilieBarta
“DIY-Do It Yourself”  — @virtualpioneer
“Be Effective. There’s too much doing too little reasoning” — @webcaston
“Connect everywhere, anytime with everyone”  — @mike_arias
“Content Engagement”  — @firstlegion
“Make Every Seat The Front Row” — @bXbOnline

And here are my slogans:

Minimize Load Times
Simple Always Wins
Less Clicks
Connect People to People
Connect People to the Right Content
Make Them Want to Come Back
Delight and Overdeliver

Let’s Hear From You

There’s got to be plenty of great slogans out there. Use the Comments section below to leave your slogan. Thanks!


What Virtual Event Platforms Can Learn

March 12, 2012

Introduction

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then virtual event platforms may be well served by sending some flattery to social networks. This post is a compilation of past posts and looks at areas from which virtual event platforms can learn.

Social Networks

What virtual event platforms can learn from Pinterest.

What virtual event platforms can learn from Twitter

What virtual event platforms can learn from Facebook.

What virtual event platforms can learn from Quora, Groupon and FarmVille.

Miscellaneous

What virtual event platforms can learn from physical events.

What virtual event platforms can learn from the airline industry.

Virtual Exhibits

Photo credit: The Pug Father on flickr.

What virtual exhibits can learn from the Apple Store.

What virtual exhibits can learn from farmers markets.

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5 Things Virtual Event Platforms Can Learn from Pinterest

February 13, 2012

View my Pinboard on the Jeremy Lin sensation: http://pinterest.com/dshiao/linboard/

Introduction

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” (source: Pinterest). While I haven’t created my own Pinterest boards, I’ve been reading about the service. And, I’ve visited the Pinterest pages of a few friends. During the course of learning more about the service, I’ve come to the conclusion that virtual event platforms can learn a lot from Pinterest.

1) Visual appeal.

Let’s face it, the “meta data” surrounding virtual event information is heavy on text. Whether it’s session titles, exhibitors or digital spaces, everything is described via alphanumeric characters. But what if virtual event content could be rendered visually?

For instance, for a selected session, you could “pin” a photo of the speaker. When viewing sessions, isn’t there always that one slide that you’d love to capture and share? Virtual event platforms could utilize “Pinterest-like” boards in lieu of the conventional “user profile page,” which promotes event content via images, rather than text.

2) Make it seamless to take action.

Pinterest would not be where it is today without the “Pin It” Button. Once you add this button to your Bookmarks, it becomes a cinch to add to your pinboard as you find interesting images across the web. There’s also a Pin It button for web site publishers, which “will allow your customers and readers to pin your products onto Pinterest.”

Virtual event platforms need a one-click “pin it button” that enables attendees to post interesting content (e.g. sessions, other users, exhibitors, documents, links, etc.) to a curated space (namely, their profile page).

3) Allow “second order” sharing.

Posting an item to your “pinboard” is a “first order” form of sharing. Pinterest has a “repin” feature, which allows you to take another user’s pinboard entry (e.g. say, a captivating image) and pin it to your own Pinterest page. In virtual events, let’s say a user has pinned her favorite session to her pinboard. Other users who visit her pinboard should be able to add the same session to their own profile page.

4) Brings out the “dorm room decorator” in all of us.

As I visited users’ Pinterest pages, I was reminded of college dorm rooms. College students use their dorm room walls as a means for expressing who they are and what interests them. They have posters of their favorite movies or musicians, photos of family and friends and perhaps a ticket stub from a life-changing concert they attended.

Of course, virtual events won’t inspire the same degree of self-expression, but we may want to display our favorite event content, wouldn’t we?

5) Adds some “user-generated spice.”

Pinterest allows users to include short comments on items they pin. For an image of a dream vacation spot, the user may write, “Wish to get here some day.” For a sought after gift item, perhaps it’s “makes for a great holiday gift.”

In virtual events, content can be a tad “dry,” but adding user-generated content can add some spice to the environment. If a user wrote “best session of the day,” other users are more likely to view the on-demand archive. An exhibitor booth that was tagged “visit them and chat with Donna” may encourage others to visit and seek out Donna.

Conclusion

With interest in Pinterest growing by the day, platforms ought to apply some of its interesting features to virtual event experiences. Use the Comments section below to share your thoughts – or, to list your Pinterest page.

Related Resources

  1. Great article by Mark W. Smith (@markdubya), published at USAToday.com, “How to use Pinterest’s pinboard for the Web.”

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The Biggest Virtual Events Opportunity No One Is Focusing On

January 23, 2012

Introduction

Let’s talk opportunity, by way of an analogy. Amazon.com. Consider that at this moment in time, Amazon’s users have thousands (if not millions) of items in their shopping carts. Combined, I have to believe that the aggregate (but untapped) value of Amazon users’ shopping carts is in the millions of dollars.

Now, let’s consider virtual events. For public-facing virtual events, the average attendance rate is 35-50%. If a virtual event generates 10,000 registrations, let’s be generous and say that half of those registrants (5,000) attend the live event.

E-tailers like Amazon would love for you to take the contents of your shopping cart and “check out.” Virtual event planners need to focus on the 5,000 users who didn’t attend the live event and get them to “check out” (the on-demand archive of the event).

These “no shows” are an enormous opportunity for every virtual event planner, but I don’t see enough effort around this opportunity. So here are tips to get your registrants to “check out” (your event).

The basics: a follow-up email.

Imagine that users registered for your virtual events two months prior to the live date. You’ve scheduled reminder emails, but the users missed them. When your live event comes around, users have forgotten about it. This means that they’re also not aware that an “on-demand archive” exists. Sending a “Sorry we missed you” email is easy to do and gets you immediate results. Invite your “no shows” to experience your event “any day, any time.”

Scheduled webcasts.

Plan an editorial calendar in advance, which includes a few presentations after the live date of your event. Did you covet particular speakers, but they weren’t available on your event’s date? If so, plug them in to the post-event schedule. And, make sure you invite not just the “no shows,” but folks who attended your live event as well.

Scheduled chats (Experts).

Re-feature some of your presenters and invite them back for a 2-hour, text-based chat in your environment. Invite attendees to return and promote this opportunity to “no shows” (e.g. “A great opportunity to interact directly with our featured industry expert.”)

Scheduled chats (Sponsors).

Schedule a few dates to allow sponsors to host chats in the on-demand environment. This could be a nice up-sell feature in your sponsor packages. Note that sponsors tend to generate less response (attendance) as your experts, so plan accordingly.

Email Alerts for New Content.

Did sponsors upload fresh content? Or, perhaps a featured presenter provided an updated slide deck from her webinar. Send an email out, alerting users that new content is available in the environment. Don’t do this too often, of course – and, be sure to include an opt-out link, so recipients can be removed from subsequent mailings.

Activate Social Games.

Find some prizes, then activate a few social games. The games require that users login to the environment, engage with content and engage with one another. It creates fun for the users and active engagement for you (and your sponsors).

Conclusion

Just because users took the time to complete your registration page, doesn’t mean they’re “sold” when your event comes around. Utilize your event and its content, however, to “re-sell” the event to non-attendees. If you sell it well, your users will empty their shopping carts … and buy in.

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How Facebook’s Latest Changes Point To The Future of Virtual Event Experiences

October 24, 2011

Photo source: ivanwalsh on flickr.

Introduction

Have you heard? Facebook announced a set of changes to its service. Some changes are active now, while others will be rolled out in the coming weeks or months. Previously, I wrote about why Facebook is the world’s largest virtual event. Looking at the changes Facebook announced, I think that some of the new features should be adopted by virtual event platforms, to improve the user experience. Let’s take a closer look.

Subscribe (for Personal Pages)

You can now subscribe to a user’s personal page without having that person “friend” you back (a la the “follow” on Twitter). This feature is useful for celebrities who have a personal page, but no associated brand page. Where can this be useful in virtual events? Allowing attendees to subscribe to exhibitors in virtual trade shows.

The “subscribe” action creates a much more valuable “relationship” (to exhibitors) compared to the booth visit, document download or document view. By subscribing to an exhibitor, I see “status updates” that they post during the life of the event. This forces exhibitors to:

  1. Publish content (status updates, special offers, etc.) during the event.
  2. Have an ongoing conversation with you, without the pressure for you to respond back.
  3. Be useful to you.

I “Like” it.

The New Timeline

While not yet rolled out, the Timeline replaces your Profile page. It’s an auto-generated, visual summary of your entire life (on Facebook). It provides you with a “scrapbook on life,” and could be a convenient way for your Facebook friends to quickly check out what you’ve been up to.

Virtual events should create an “Event Timeline” that’s dynamically updated throughout the event. As with the Facebook Timeline, certain events are condensed, especially those that happened in the past. The Event Timeline could include:

  1. A listing of all sessions.
  2. Activity updates (e.g. the 1000th user just logged in; 500 attendees viewed this session; etc.).
  3. Announcements.
  4. Special offers from exhibitors (e.g. sponsored listings).
  5. On-demand content (e.g. a prior session that is now available on-demand).

Top Stories

If something happened a week ago that Facebook deems noteworthy, it wants to keep that event (e.g. a status update from a family member) in the Top Stories section atop your News Feed. Virtual Events can leverage this concept alongside the “Event Timeline” (discussed above). An event’s Top Stories could include:

  1. The most viewed sessions.
  2. The most downloaded documents.
  3. The most popular users (e.g. most connections, most friends).
  4. The most active users (e.g. most chat postings)
  5. The most visited areas of the event.

The Ticker

Facebook’s Ticker resides on the right side of your News Feed and lists interesting things that your friends have done. For a one-day virtual event, it’s not likely that I’m going to build out a significant list of friends or followers. So instead, a virtual event’s Ticker could simply be a updated and scrolling area that displays the Event Timeline and Top Stories (discussed above), as they unfold.

Bonus Item: iPhone 4S Assistant

Apple recently launched its iPhone 4S, which includes an Assistant (Siri). You speak to Siri, it understands what you say and it attempts to perform the actions youv’e asked it to do (e.g. find a restaurant, give me directions, etc.). We need a Siri personal assistant (activated by voice commands) for virtual events. And of course, it needs to work on smartphones and tablets.

Conclusion

Facebook is “always on” to its end users, who use it day and night and all year round. Virtual events tend to be “point in time” occurrences that happen on a single day, or over a few days. While it’s interesting to consider these concepts, their value will surface only if applied correctly. That being said, let’s get to work.

Related Resources

  1. David Pogue of The New York Times writes “Facebook Changes Inspire More Grumbling
  2. Learn more about the iPhone Assistant (Siri).
  3. My thoughts: Why Facebook Is The World’s Largest Virtual Event

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