Measuring ROI in a brave new (social media) world

In his book Socialnomics, Erik Qualman asserts that the only ROI on investment in social media you can count on is that your business will still be around in a year’s time.  It’s a tough concept to grasp for organisations used to measuring their marketing efforts by the 400% rule.

Social media has turned much of traditional marketing thinking on its head, particularly in organisations used to single rather than multi-stage marketing.  It can leave marketing and management teams, particularly those operating in the events sector, scratching their heads on how to measure success vs effort.

The difficulty lies in our ability to measure internet marketing efforts in a consistent and meaningful way.  Although this is now easier than it once was, it still relies on other people’s algorithms and an understanding of the errors that will inevitably be part of a process that is generalistic and mechanised.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this measurement process is that it is often impossible to see the results of efforts as they are happening – other than on a live twitter feed or by constantly running a report or refreshing a browser.  And, despite appearances, social media is constrained by the same mechanism that has been a restrictive factor for traditional media: the fact that someone else owns the environment in which you are publishing. Once again brands and individuals find themselves limited to measuring those actions which the technology providers have decided are important rather than those which are meaningful to a particular organisation.

An essential tactic is to decide which metrics are the ones which are going to give you the best feedback and a springboard to move your brand messaging forwards enabling you to continually tweak and refine your messaging and your products.  The key is in creating a positive feedback loop that delivers information which you can action quickly and visibly. While facts and figures are reassuring, real ROI can only be delivered if there is also a plan in place for drawing visitors, fans and other participants further into your community once you have initially caught their attention.

Finally, remember that since your audience can change direction many times in one campaign, let alone a 12 month-period, your measurement processes must now be measured in days and hours rather than weeks and months.

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Driving through the efficiency agenda

Clear road aheadWe’re going on an efficiency drive…

Just the phrase is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine of any employee or organisation.  And with justification as this has become the thinly-veiled way of saying “we need to make budgetary savings and the easiest way to do this is by cutting our largest expense” – i.e. the labour-force.

While fiscal pressures may mean that production needs to be cut back to match a shrinking order book, and consequently less manpower is required, but shouldn’t this be a last resort rather than a first?  If an organisation sheds valuable intellectual capital and/or the means to re-engineer its operation too quickly, can it ever recover its place in the market or reputation for delivery of excellence.

The dictionary definition of efficiency is that it is the state or quality of being efficient,  and interestingly the definition of this word suggests that efficiency is achieved more by interrogating systems and working patterns than simply slicing numbers off the bottom line.

ef·fi·cient/iˈfiSHənt/Adjective

(esp. of a system or machine) Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.
(of a person) Working in a well-organized and competent way.

Organisations that top the efficiency leagues come in all shapes and sizes, but a common denominator between them is that they also tend to top the best places to work lists as well.  Their employees feel involved and able to contribute to discussion and decision-making processes: the organisation benefits by being able to tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience that can deliver custom-fit best practice… and efficiency.

By moving from a top-down decision-making to a collaborative process, board-rooms can exploit the experience of all areas of their operation, allowing innovation to spring up from every quarter and be properly dissected and discussed.  The difficulty for large organisations (small ones really don’t have any excuse unless they have multiple office sites) is how to action this process effectively.

Large scale meetings don’t really fit the bill because: a) they are expensive; and b) only the people with the loudest voices get to contribute unless they are very carefully designed.  Enter the virtual business solution… companies like Cisco, HP, Kaiser Permanente and GE have been using this technology for some time now to enable effective communication that reduces time out of the office, carbon footprint and the timelag in disseminating a message to a large number of people while increasing knowledge, motivation and challenging the efficacy of existing working practices.

If ever there was an efficent way to drive the efficiency agenda – this is it.

Educating exhibitors in the etiquette of virtual events

The Death to the Booth debate rumbles on and is unlikely to be resolved any time soon as the closest we have managed to get to an alternative title for this universally understood term is meeting point and that doesn’t quite fit the bill.

But another important theme has emerged, one which chimes very closely with the experience of live event organisers – that of educating your exhibitors to ensure that they get the very best out of their investment and meet the goals they have set themselves for attending.

Goals… now there’s a concept that some organisations haven’t grasped right from the start.  Motivations for being at an event are many and varied: from “my major competitors are going to be there, so must I”  to “I want to tell everyone of your visitors what a big player in the market I am” (generally said by someone with a 2x3m stand, no display graphics and no literature to hand out).  For some organisations, the concept of using an exhibition as the hub of an integrated marketing approach is a complete anathema: there is no dedicated sales message; inappropriate or old literature is taken to the event; there are no experts on hand to talk visitors through very specific issues; there is no pre- or post-event marketing efforts planned.

A presence on a booth in a virtual environment is no different.  During the live days visitors expect to be able to communicate with representatives in real time; to find a wide variety of documentation that is clearly targetted at them; perhaps some instructional videos; or even an opportunity to join in a chat session with the CEO.

With no print costs, and an almost unlimited array of media that can be taken advantage of there really is no excuse for not grasping the opportunity to really engage with virtual visitors in all areas of the virtual environment.  And as organisers of virtual events it is up to us to educate our partners to do this, and do it well.

But then there’s no excuse for sitting on an exhibition stand that represents £50K of company investment reading a newspaper, and yet people still do it…

It’s WHAT you know, not who you know, that is important

Data is probably the single most important asset available to the modern marketeer.  Online or offline, data helps you understand your audience, target appropriately, and evaluate what you have achieved.

Marc Michaels, Director of Direct Marketing and Evaluation, COI

For every organisation, there is an imperative to measure: be this HR statistics, i.e. attendance, satisfaction, billable hours; sales and marketing efforts vs returns; key customer behaviour; client satisfaction; website activity… you get the picture.  For publishing and events companies in particular data underpins almost everything they do, as well as being their most transferrable asset and how this data is managed and used is as important as the brands themselves.

Having established that data is incredibly valuable, and can really drive a business or organisation forward, how come most of it sits gathering dust at the bottom of a drawer or stored somewhere  on an individual’s hard-drive? Why do organisations make the same mistake over and over again, despite conducting annual satisfaction surveys or presenting monthly figures to the board?

Is part of the answer that once an organisation has collected some data they consider job done,  and haven’t established a clear mechanism for acting on the results?  Or is it because there is such a lag between collecting the data and delivering the results that by then the business has moved on and believes it is already addressing issues highlighted in the retrospective research (when in fact it isn’t)?

Of all these factors, time lag has to be the most important.  Receiving a visitor list a month after the event fails to capitalise on the momentum of a live experience; it leaves visitors wondering why you didn’t contact them earlier and your sales team have already moved onto something else.  Spotting a need to deliver another specialist session at a conference can only happen if you are either a) there in person and able to listen in to all of the chat; or b) able to view what everyone is talking about around a specific topic as it happens.

Even in the corporate sector, the ability to capture data about what is important to your staff or the customers they are talking to is nothing unless it is available in real time, in a format that can be interpreted easily and acted upon.

Virtual experience platforms go a long way towards achieving this.  Built correctly and with the right technology in place, they are able to tell you what your audience really wants to know, where they are going to find out about it, what they expect to receive, who they want to interact with them and how long they are willing to do it for.

Valuable information that is available instantly.

The Booth is dead. Long live the Booth*

GE RSNAHumans, if nothing else, are creatures of habit.  Which goes a long way to explaining why it can take a seemingly inordinate amount of time to introduce a new business practice or why the first reaction to change is often resistance.

The development of the Virtual Experience Platform has followed a path that has taken this need for security in acquaintance into account. The first iterations of the technology frequently been labelled Virtual Event Platforms: two-thirds of which are clearly understood by the majority of the business population and one-third which requires but a little explanation.

By creating an environment online which replicates much of what we would experience (except the transport delays, bad coffee and lack of seating) at a live event, early pioneers of virtual events have been able to cross that line from innovation to familiarity in a very short period of time.  With an inherent understanding, participants know that to view a presentation they must navigate to the auditorium, to participate in a moderated chat they must go to a meeting room and that in the exhibition halls they will find organisations and their representatives promoting their products and services on digital booths.

And therein lies the difficulty.  To many, the term Booth just doesn’t cut the mustard.  It says static and without innovation, like the Grandma at a teenager’s party.

The discussion Are trade show booths in a virtual event really relevant any more?  was started on LinkedIn by Richard Feldman in the Virtual Events and Meeting Technology group and has already managed to traverse into other virtual events related groups on the site.  Amongst the comments about the unsatisfactory nature of the Booth in the virtual environments are some that would be awfully familiar to a live event producer: lack of information and content from the booth owner; and the need to illustrate real ROI, particularly where the booth has been paid for as part of a sponsorship package.  A number of individuals comment that sponsoring companies should be scattered around the virtual environment for best exposure rather than having a single site presence (aka a Booth) – but why can’t they have both?

Which brings us to another conundrum… if you aren’t going to have Booths at your virtual event, what are you going to have to push your delegates to part of the site that the sponsor owns, you can’t have lists and links need to go somewhere… You need to create an area that the sponsor owns and can create as their own.  Ideally you should be using one of the high performing platforms such as 6Connex, Ubivent, On24 or InXpo that allow this creative and design flexibility so that Booths don’t necessarily have to look like… well Booths.

Perhaps this is one of those chicken and egg discussions, where we pretty sure that we aren’t happy with the status quo, but there doesn’t seem to be a suitable, more effective or as easily understood alternative. Rather than concentrating our energies on trying to find a ‘booth-alternative’ shouldn’t we be focusing on getting clients and participants enthused and engaged in the concept of creating great, relevant content for the virtual audiences?

*Booth = Stand

Construct a virtual event in the same way as you would build a house

We are delighted to welcome Cece Salomon-Lee, founder and Principal of PR Meets Marketing, and co-founder of The Virtual Buzz as our guest blogger today, who shares below her thoughts on best practices for how to effectively design and implement a virtual event.

2010 was the year that virtual events – or digital solutions for meetings and events – were embraced by the larger physical meetings and events industry. No longer seen as an either/or situation, going virtual is a way to further extend an organisation’s audience reach, expand brand awareness and drive business objectives forward.

Though the benefits of virtual are more widely accepted today, best practices for how to effectively design and implement a virtual event vary from organisation to organisation. Oftentimes, organisations will select a technology solution first, and then work backwards, resulting not only in a poor user experience, but also falling short of business expectations.

Rather, a virtual event is very similar to constructing a house – start with the design, estimate costs, and end with the building phase.

Design with objectives in mind

If you’re building a house from the ground up, would you ever put up the walls and roof before consulting with an architect? Probably not. You need to consider each room’s function, how the occupants will interact with the room, and the best layout to accomplish this. The same is also true for a virtual event.

To develop your virtual event design, invite key stakeholders to participate during the design phase, such as IT, marketing manager, and executive sponsor. Key questions to address include:

  • What are the business objectives of my virtual event? Lead generation; customer appreciation; product launch; extend to global audience; etc.?
  • Is this purely a virtual event or an augmentation for a physical event?
  • What is the technology prowess of my audience? Novice or advanced?
  • How do I want to engage my audience? Broadcast only or engagement with video chat and games?
  • What is my budget?
  • What is my timeline?
  • What resources do I have to plan and staff this event?
  • How many people will be attending?
  • Private or public?

Estimating: engineer the costs

A virtual event strategy is equivalent to architectural designs for estimating the costs of your online event and even narrowing down which vendors to invite for your proposal. For example, you can eliminate providers who are unable to provide the full suite of solutions you’re seeking, such as social media integration and real-time language translation, or those who are too cost prohibitive based on your budget.

Furthermore, you are able to compare each proposal side by side and determine if there are any factors you haven’t considered. When comparing the proposals, consider these points:

  • Did the vendor address each item in my proposal?
  • What will the additional costs be if I add an additional webcast? Exhibit Booth? etc.
  • Did the company augment my proposal positively? For example, the company recommends adding ask-the-expert video sessions for your product launch.
  • How will the company staff my project?

Building: Construct to design

Once you’ve awarded your project, the next stage is overseeing the construction phase. To ensure that your virtual environment is built on time and to your design, don’t assume that the virtual event vendor will manage this on your behalf. Assign a project manager who will act as a liaison, monitor the timeline and track all milestones. Additionally, schedule a weekly meeting with your vendor to review progress and address any issues.

Biography

As founder and Principal of PR Meets Marketing, Cece Salomon-Lee has 15-plus years’ experience translating technology innovations into cohesive and successful campaigns that cross from public relations to marketing and virtual events. She has been an active participant in the emergence of the virtual events industry as co-founder of The Virtual Buzz and contributor to the Virtual Edge Institute.