Feb 10, 2009
csalomonlee

Going Virtual Isn’t Necessarily the Answer to Replacing Your Physical Events

 Part of this is due to the heightened scrutiny on how financial institutions are spending money since the financial meltdown. Starting with AIG and now with Morgan Stanley’s announcement, public corporations are weary of holding large “destination” events that are seen as too extravagant. In addition to outright canceling these events, this is giving rise to virtual events.

InXpo Office Space

InXpo Office Space

I’ve been noticing an interesting trend in my LinkedIn discussions recently. People are concerned about the decline of attendance at physical events or the outright cancellation of these events. Event organizers from publishers to corporate planners are struggling with how to maintain relevancy at a time when the bottom line is ruling decisions about corporate events.

Are Virtual Events the Answer?

Nortel's Web.Alive Platform

Nortel's Web.Alive Platform

Virtual events are seen as more cost-effective for both the company and attendees – no travel, no lodging, and no catering costs. Furthermore, there are various technology tools available to ease person-to-person communications or to recreate a networking environment.

While I am a huge advocate of virtual events ranging from online seminars, virtual summits, virtual tradeshows to conferences and sales meetings, I do believe that going virtual isn’t necessarily the right answer for everyone. Instead, if you take a step back and look at the larger picture, there may be other options available to you and your customers.

Questions to Ask

  • What is the objective of your event? – Determine why you’re holding this event. Is this an employee motivation get together, a white-glove customer event or a sales training meeting. I would argue that a white-glove customer event is important for future business while a sales training meeting can easily be moved to an online format. As for the employee motivation get together, this can be done in a hybrid approach which I will describe below.

  • How technically savvy is your audience? - If you decide to do a virtual event, you have to confirm that your audience is computer literate and has access to the minimal computer requirements. For example, my sister is a nurse. While she has access to a personal computer, her hospital doesn’t. So you have to consider the logistics of holding an online event with these constraints and how your audience will be able to view and interact with your content.

  • Will your audience prefer in-person, virtual only or both? – In addition to technical savvy, another consideration is how your audience prefers to interact. If they prefer in-person, then you can consider other ways to provide an in-person experience while minimizing cost considerations.

  • Why not a hybrid approach? – I think one overlooked strategy is looking at what I call a hybrid approach – an in-person event with a virtual component. This approach works when a core segment of your audience prefers in-person events for educational networking purposes, while another segment may be unable to attend due to personal, professional or cost reasons. I also believe that this works when looking at corporate events. For example, Cisco announced that they were canceling their global sales meeting in favor of a virtual event. Assuming that one of the main reasons for a sales meeting is to recognize your top sales folks, you can still hold regional in-person events to recognize these individuals or have an invite-only webcast with the CEO. This imparts exclusivity, while holding a virtual event for general sales training.

  • If you decide to go virtual, then what tools are there to facilitate your objective? – There are many virtual trade show and world vendors on the market, such as InXpo, UnisfairNortel’s web.alive and even Second Life, who can work with you to build out the right environment. Alternatively, you can start small with a web conferencing type of solution to create a webinar program. Regardless of how you decide to proceed, you can then layer social media tools (many are free) to further engage your audiences. And if this is truly a dedicated audience, possibly nurture a community built from the event itself.

Conclusions

Right now, the first reaction is how to cut costs by eliminating physical events. Furthermore, the current market conditions will enable virtual worlds/events vendors to grow and demonstrate the true value of going virtual.

I believe that as companies and event organizers take a step back, people will realize that there are different options available to them to achieve the same objectives cost-effectively.

 

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  • [...] down a few sentences describing each of these factors you can start to form an opinion about whether a face to face or virtual event is right for you. Both virtual and face to face are great options, you just have to match the right [...]

  • [...] Cece Salomon-Lee on Planning a Successful Virtual Event and Going Virtual Isn’t Necessarily the Answer to Replacing Your Physical Events [...]

  • [...] As Cece Salomon-Lee mentions on her blog PR Meets Marketing, “Going Virtual Isn’t Necessarily the Answer to Replacing Your Physical Events.” Its [...]

  • I’m starting up a new company soon. Should I register a virtual office space or should I go ahead with renting a small space first? What are your thoughts?

  • @alli – you raise a very good point. There are different levels of “participation” and “experiences” that we can select. The challenge is how to provide this while at a reasonable price. I always look at what the TED and SXSW conferences are doing as leaders in merging technology with creating unique experiences that people are willing to pay for.

  • Cece… I’m kind of curious to see where the term “virtual event” goes. Today, I think we typically think of the platforms provided by companies like ON24, but as people begin to collaborate around event tags online on their own (on Twitter and elsewhere), they are almost creating their own virtual worlds.

    Last week, I was paying attention to chatter about a conference that I wasn’t attending. Both attendees and “non-attendees” were joining in the discussion. One non-attendee even got a question answered by an attendee in the Q&A session.

    Of course, we don’t always have attendees who are so savvy online (and the structure that typical virtual vendors provide probably makes them more comfortable), but it does start to seem inevitable, doesn’t it?

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About

Cece Salomon-LeeCece Salomon-Lee is director of product marketing for Lanyon Solutions, Inc. and author of PR Meets Marketing, which explores the intersection of public relations, marketing, and social media.

This blog contains Cece's personal opinions and are not representative of her company's.

Learn more about Cece.

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