So you think you own me?

The previous post You’ve got to deliver what the audience really  wants has provoked discussion in a number of forums and the responses have made for interesting reading, not least because of the seeming inability to move on from old arguments.

So let’s look at the topic from a different angle, by considering two industries closely related to producing live events; so closely related in fact that you would consider them siblings; i.e. publishing and broadcasting.

In both of these industries, the key players are referred to as Media Owners. Because they own the medium through which the content is broadcast. And for years this is exactly what they have done; decided when, where and what information and entertainment their audiences or readerships were going to consume.  They have made and broken many a star, politician or company profit, simply through the editorial decisions they have taken which have influenced the masses.

Conference and exhibition organisers, be they commercial operations, industry bodies or associations, continue to believe that they must operate in a similar way.  Developing programmes of content that they perceive the audience wants, choosing speakers and selecting participating exhibitors (via an economic filter it is true) and presenting a finished product to the visitors at a time, date and venue over which the latter has no control.

Then along came the Internet and social media and the shift in power from owner to audience was seismic.

Because the concept of expertise ownership by a few large corporations doesn’t fit any more.  You can’t tell me what I should be watching, what information I need, or who I should be networking with.  You can’t stop me finding organisations who can’t afford to exhibit at your event or who haven’t got a charismatic speaker, because if their Search and SM strategies are good I can do this on my own.  And, you can’t stop me telling people, a lot of people, about the experience your organisation offers me, within minutes if I so choose.

So let’s bin the argument about virtual not replacing face-to-face; because we all know it won’t.  Let’s stop finding fault with virtual technologies, because frankly some of them are pretty amazing.  And let’s stop pretending that we still own audiences and industries because of the events we produce because we don’t. Let’s embrace the new to enhance the old rather than dismissing it as a fad that has nothing to do with us.

What we need to be doing, with or without the help of virtual technologies, is to work out how we build and maintain relationships with our communities; how we facilitate communication and collaboration between individuals both through a single live day and an online presence; and how we use the unfettered enthusiasm of our audiences to create a profitable business model for the future.

hellen @missioncontrol

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You’ve got to deliver what the audience wants

It seems like the technology has finally been toppled from its place at the top of the virtual events debate and we are, at last, getting back to the basics of looking at the needs of the client.  We are once again talking about the multi-faceted communications approach that engages all sectors of an audience.  There is no sense in trying to shoehorn all comms activity into a one-size-fits-all solution, when every other sector of business is constantly trying to find new niches to occupy.

The evolution of virtual events is being driven by one major factor: as more virtual events happen, more people are participating in them and the better we can measure their behaviour.  So rather than making assumptions and creating technology in a vaccuum, we are delivering the goods the customer ordered.

Two research studies* have been released recently which serve to confirm just how quickly behaviour is changing in the physical and virtual meeting industry; their core findings make for interesting reading, not least because of the gulf of expectation between event organisers and their audiences:

  • Live content, be it video or webcasts, is the most popular on a virtual site, and yet only 43% of physical events capture any of their content to post online, and where they do it is often less than 10%.
  • There is as yet little commercialisation of virtual events, whether this is a conscious business decision, a resistance from the marketplace or the resource issue below is as yet unknown.
  • Organisations worry about the additional staff time needed to execute a virtual event to the cost, the quality of the experiencefor the visitor and the complexity of technology.

The benefits for the organiser though are seen quite clearly; more than 82% of past users of virtual events and 84 %of future users questioned in the Tagoras study mentioned the potential increase in audience numbers, an important consideration where physical events were only enabling them to reach a fraction of their total target audience.

So why are event organisers still so reluctant to embrace virtual technologies.

Meanwhile, the potential audience shows no such reticence:

While organisers of physical events continually state that people want to do business with real people, the Business Motivations and Social Behaviors for In-Person and Online Events study found that:

  • 80 percent of respondents are comfortable connecting and networking with strangers.
  • 70 percent are comfortable using a video/webcam to chat and meet others.
  • 33 percent share information by instant messaging at online events, while 28 percent do so at in-person events.
  • 41 percent use Twitter at online events, while 51 percent do so at in-person events.

Another objection often raised by physical event organisers is that online attendees are easily distracted.  But attendees in real time also check their emails, text, tweet, phone and message while sitting in an auditorium.  The only difference is that the virtual attendees can come back to it later.

Respondents seek similar information from exhibitors whether booths are live or virtual: more than half want to see what a company does and how it can help them, and nearly half of respondents want to get company, product or solution information for review or want to see a demonstration or the product itself.

Where virtual events really begin to draw in the attendees though is in accessibility:

  • the environment’s ease-of-access;
  • the ability to ask questions and participate actively;
  • reduced travel costs and hassles
  • reduced time away from family and office

Given the solid evidence, it is hard to see why so many event organisations continue to find more reasons not to embrace virtual technologies than to explore the possibilities. Perhaps it will take some new entrants into the marketplace to steal a march on the naysayers, establishing great virtual events that morph into fantastic physical ones that take the old-guard by surprise.

Remember: if you don’t listen to your customers, and give them what they want, you are giving them every excuse to go somewhere else.

* The two studies quoted are:

Virtual Event Study, done in collaboration with the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, Relate Content & Community Solutions and Tagoras, and funded by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events:

The Business Motivations and Social Behaviors for In-Person and Online Events, a study sponsored by the Professional Convention Management Association, UBM Studios and Virtual Edge Institute:

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.

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.

 

Getting to grips with hybrid events

Still a bit confused by what this Hybrid Event is that everyone is talking about?  Let us bring you up to speed…

Hybrid events are physical events—tradeshows, conferences, product demonstrations, executive showcases—augmented by virtual technology marketing. They unite the best of both technology and offline environments to create a more powerful and profitable experience. They bring together the most compelling aspects of onscreen, in person and online dynamics.

Participants who can’t get to your event can join in from afar, interacting with exhibitors and attendees, and accessing presentations and content. Visitors who do make it to the physical event can view, download, and forward content from booth kiosks and displays on laptops and mobile devices (at last a proper use for that Internet Cafe you’ve been building for years).

There are three types of hybrid events —Concurrent, Inclusive, and Successive.

A concurrent hybrid event is a physical show launched in tandem with an online virtual counterpart that can be accessed anywhere in the world.

An inclusive hybrid event integrates key virtual elements inside an established physical environment such as an Executive Briefing Centre, sales facility or event specific “command centre” headquarters.

A successive hybrid event is essentially a two-part marketing experience. At the conclusion of a physical event, a virtual version is launched and made available to previous attendees, as well as new customers and prospects.

Want to read more? Read the complete White Paper which is available online now.

Overcoming human nature to deliver success

If the human brain performs best in situations of conflict and the human psyche thrives on competition, how do we reconcile this with the human race’s dependence on cooperation for survival?

Even organisations where we would expect individuals to work together for a singular common aim, such as healthcare, have been permeated by competitive tendencies, whether this be the personality of the major decision maker or in the tendering for the provision of services.  Will this human instinct to incentivise by prize ultimately lead to our demise?

Or could there be a better way?

If you were to take a look at The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies 2011  list, and spent some time drilling down into the narrative for some of the organisations, you will find some common themes:

  • Inspirational leadership
  • Employees who feel valued and that they have a voice
  • A common ownership of purpose
  • Excitement in the direction the organisation is taking
  • A sense that ‘doing it right’ is as important as the drive for profit

All of these boil down to just two key factors: listening and ownership.

But if you have 20,000 employees/associates/partners, how can you possibly deliver this?  How can you pick out the important bits from a multitude of conversations?  How can you ensure that people having the same conversation in different geographical locations are brought together?

Once upon a time it would have been nearly impossible.  Virtual technologies have changed the status quo.

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.