Come out of the kitchen and join the party

Back in January the marketing team at 6Connex posted the following:

Here’s a list of live (as we write today) virtual environments to give you an idea of how the virtual technology platforms (6Connex and others) are being used:

  • Secure international sales and marketing conference (3 of these)
  • Continuing medical education center
  • Partner portal with both secure entitlement and public access options (4)
  • Association trade show (14)
  • Executive briefing center with public access (2)
  • Product line marketing and communication portal (6)
  • Consumer product information center (31)
  • Highly secure pre-patent (executive only) poster show on new technology
  • Medical equipment tradeshow (4)
  • Hybrid events – virtual component to a physical show (22)
  • Sales training conference (3)
  • Thought leadership knowledge center (2)

If ever there was evidence that virtual event solutions are becoming an integral part of the mainstream, surely this is it.  And every day there is yet another announcement from a technology provider about new clients and new uses for the platform.

With the possibilities only limited by your imagination, if you haven’t already investigated the opportunities, don’t you think it’s time you did? Come and visit us to see for yourself.

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Are virtual events too predictable? Three reasons to embrace randomness, unpredictability and the unexpected

Following on from yesterday’s post about taking a non-determinist approach, we are grateful to Ike Singh Kehal from Virtual Events Hub  for giving us permission to republish his very interesting blog post from 31st March.

Consistency is the best foundation for the unexpected

Over the last several years, virtual event companies have created reliable frameworks and systems to help their clients drive more leads and maximize event ROI. Unlike virtual worlds, such as Second Life, virtual event platform providers aimed to develop consistent and controllable experiences that their Enterprise customers could trust. This consistency of experience was critical to the development of the virtual events industry and without it online events might have been a non-starter.

At the same time, while consistency is a worthy goal, I sometimes think that it is holding us back from optimizing our online experiences for attendees.  Humans are not information consumption machines. They need to be entertained. They delight in the unexpected. And, they choose their friends emotionally, not rationally. For all of these reasons, virtual events will increasingly need to embrace randomness, unpredictability, and the unexpected if they are to win the hearts of attendees and not just the minds of event organizers.

Three reasons to embrace randomness, unpredictability, and the unexpected

Random reinforcement in game dynamics – Over the last 18 months, virtual event providers have started to embrace game dynamics as a way to encourage attendees to engage with event content and connect with each other.  But, for the most part, the dynamics that providers have focused on have been fairly linear: do X –> get 10 points –> win prizes. The problem with this approach is that, as anyone who took Psychology 101 will remember, fixed-ratio schedules (where a reward is given after a set number of actions), are not particularly good at driving behavior. A better approach would be to introduce a level of randomness into the system to keep customers engaged.  For example, in addition to earning points for set activities, attendees might occasionally encounter unexpected prizes that are not announced up front. Small unexpected prizes would drive individual satisfaction and engagement, while larger prizes would drive buzz within the attendee community.

Unpredictability in content and experiences – Every event manager knows that people love surprises. As a result, it is somewhat surprising that virtual events rarely embrace unpredictability in terms of content and other experiences. Why not organize a surprise session on a previously unannounced hot topic? Why not invite the most active attendees to a VIP chat session with an industry expert of company executive? What impact would random acts of kindness (small unexpected gifts) have on driving attendee satisfaction.  For more on the topic of why we need to make virtual events more fun, check out my previous article Bring On the Virtual Bar.

Unexpected relationship building – many companies are investing heavily in Social CRM as a way to connect attendees at virtual events. These systems identify other attendees that you might want to talk to, based on your profile. Over the next year, the trick will be to develop systems that merge the science of social CRM with the art of relationship building. In other words, we need to match people based on their interests, but, we need to make the process of meeting feel as organic and “real” as possible. For example, rather than just giving attendees a list of people with similar interests, we should use games and game dynamics to get people to work together to solve problems and interact with event content. Studies show that people tend to feel closer to people that they work with to solve problems and we should definitely leverage this to the benefit of attendees and event organizers alike.

Do you expect the unexpected?

 Over the last several years, the virtual events industry has been built on a platform of consistency. However, in order for virtual events to reach their full potential, we need to build experiences that give event organizers the control that they need and attendees with the surprises that they crave. Doing so will require event organizers to embrace randomness in game dynamics, unpredictability in content, and unexpected relationship building.

How the West was virtually won

We are delighted to welcome Greg Hackett, managing director at Informa VBC as our guest blogger today, talking about the New Frontiers of virtual events.

For anyone who has seen the shocking but excellent Deadwood, US TV’s dramatised journey into the Wild West, they may also have found themselves drawing parallels with the emerging Virtual Events market. Or maybe that’s just me, but as with any gold rush it is difficult to estimate the size of the prize, though some have tried with $15bn by the year 2015 being the most commonly distributed estimate.

 Such quoted numbers are likely to have many an opportunist packing up their wagon and heading West. Gunslingers, evangelists, entrepreneurs, law-keepers and all manner of people offering services, advice and partnerships to anyone willing to listen. Hoping to be early in – and in some cases early out following an acquisition – this community has set up shop before very much gold is unearthed.

I am not complaining –  it is a good thing and a necessary part of the process for an emerging market. I believe there is enough custom in them there hills for all, and most of the characters are ingenious and certainly watchable.

So within the dusty streets of Virtual Deadwood there are a number of battles raging, all of which are played out in the neighbourhoods of Social Media for those of us interested enough to participate. Largely, the areas of conflict centre around pegs that different businesses have decided to hang their strategy on.

The biggest strategic decision of them all is 3D – go down this alley as a platform provider and there is no coming back. I have no problem with 3D for those who want it. And why should I? Who am I to judge how people should consume content? But there are judges at large in Virtual Deadwood.

Some people in business like the idea of avatars, but for most of us who want to meet anyone for real we can catch a plane or pick up the phone, both of which the last time I looked still do the job. Our kids might want all this stuff, having graduated at Club Penguin but that’s a few years off and business also needs to deal with the here and now. But good luck to them.

What I do want is real live poker down at the saloon. In 20 years of events I have never seen a presentation which would improve with a second outing. Events should come and go, delight in the moment and remain in the memory. Otherwise they are not events at all, but simply trapped content, processed and served cold. A pre-recorded speaker will never let anything interesting slip, drop witty asides or impress you with his or her business guile.

Even though this industry is in truth quite old now, the real opportunity has only recently come into view for most. Some of the big winners may not even be in town yet. I am humbled by the work that has gone before and I respect the pioneers.  But like the vast majority I want to be a settler, which hopefully means I am less likely to be seen down a canyon pulling arrows from my back.