A few weeks ago, Dennis Shiao of It’s All Virtual queried me on my top predictions for virtual events in 2011. And then this same question appeared on Focus, a network for business professionals to respond and answer to critical business questions. Based on my responses to these, here is a summary of my top three predictions for the virtual events industry.
Market Consolidation Ahead
While there are several known players in the market – 6Connex, Inxpo, On24 and Unisfair – there has been a proliferation of new players and those who have gained mindshare in the industry, such as Expos2, Imaste, Stream57, VisualMente, Ubivent, and others. While this is great for the customer – more choice and usually a decrease in price – I believe this will lead to some players being bought by larger organizations, merging to bring together complimentary strengths, or even some disappearing from the industry all together. No matter how, we will begin to see some consolidation within the industry.
Build Me a Better Playground
I believe the industry players remaining on the landscape will begin building out an ecosystem of services to plug-and-play on the platforms. While each provider has an “open API” the question is at what point will the providers a) begin developing apps to harvest the potential of the data and platforms. This includes connecting to Salesforce or truly automating the marketing aspect of virtual. And b) promote a developer community to build third-party apps for its customers. I envision the latter being more of an end of 2011/early 2012 development.
Simplified Web Experiences
This may seem contradictory to point 2, but I think we’re going to see a move away from the current way we experience virtual events – a login to enter a space with different rooms, like an auditorium, lounge, etc. Rather, I think we will see a return to a “website-like” experience. Everything is on a single page with a window for live streaming video and different widgets for engagement, games and other applications can be added or deleted as needed. And with an OpenID model, I can move freely to and from these “virtual events” without re-entering my login/password. Look for someone like Facebook to move more into this space in 2011.
Do you agree or disagree? What are you top predictions?
Over the past few months, my husband and I have discussed the direction that news is heading; and oftentimes, I’m left with the conclusion that news is heading down the wrong path. With this past political cycle and recent posts by Media Bullseye and B.L. Ochman, I’ve come to this conclusion:
The era of striving for objective news has ended
Don’t get me wrong, while the news organizations seek to report just the facts, news has always contained a sliver of perspective that shaped the tone and angle of the story as B.L. indicated in her post. However, the line between conjecture/opinion and reporting the news has been blurred to a point that the general public can no longer delineate one from another.
The competitive, 24/7 news cycle further exacerbates this issue. The tenets of good reporting, such as fact checking and vetting sources, have been thrown out the window in favor of being first. This allows false reports to proliferate quickly over Twitter (who’s the latest dead celebrity), for sloppy reporting with fake quotes sourced from Wikipedia and more.
Rise of commentators and opion bloggers
And the rise of commentators and opinion bloggers is putting personal agendas ahead of the critical issues. As B.L. writes:
“we want to hear from people who are honest, transparent, and opinionated. That way, we know how to interpret what they are telling us”
But is this necessarily the best thing for creating an educated populace regarding domestic and foreign issues? Rather, this allows a few on the left, right and middle to control what we see, watch and listen and create a news funnel that is no longer about informing but rather about ratings.
While we all tend to gravitate to those who share our opinions, this isn’t necessarily the best way to present the news. Here’s a challenge, watch an English news broadcast from overseas – the BBC, NHK (Japanese broadcast), Germany or other available in your area. Now tell me – are we better or worse off compared to our compatriots worldwide?
I recently completed a webinar with MPI on “Dispelling the 5 Myths of Going Virtual.” One of the questions asked was if I could provide a list of relevant case studies in this arena. I thought this would be a great resource to provide and I will add new case studies as I find them to this list.
For now, I purposely looked at case studies from 2009-2010. These were based on articles, blog postings and case studies from vendors, including Imaste and Unisfair. Unfortunately, 6Connex and Inxpo required registration, On24 and Ubivent case studies were outdated, and VisualMente didn’t provide full details regarding objectives and results. If there are relevant case studies, please include them in the comments below.
Corporate Virtual Events Case Studies
- * HP goes virtual – Technology – Event Marketer: Overview of HP’s use of virtual event technology
- * Physical to Virtual Event Transformation – An Interview with SAP’s …: Interview with Scott Schenker of SAP regarding SAPPHIRE – looks at strategy and results.
- * Cisco Blog ” Blog Archive ” Virtual Event Key Learnings – Part Two: Key stats regarding CiscoLive 2009
- * Event Marketer: Cisco GSX Goes Virtual: Overview of Cisco GSX in Event Marketer Magazine
- * Cisco GSX 2009 Case Study on Vimeo: Cisco GSX case study.
- * Cisco Blog ” Blog Archive ” Analysis of a Virtual Event: Cisco Live case study – provides details of post-event survey between physical and virtual audiences
- * Avatars Rising in the Enterprise: GE Healthcare’s virtual exhibit highlighted.
- * KPMG Job Fair Attracts 10,000: Case study overview
- * Ariba Curbs Spending Virtually: Case study overview
- * CA’s Virtual Product Launch: Case study overview
- * Planview Grows Attendance at Virtual User Conference: Case study overview
- * ACS Drives Innovation with Virtual Training: Case study overview
- * Intuit Builds Community in the Virtual Classroom: Case study overview
- * Monster eDays: Case study overview
- * Virtual Job Fair in Brazil: Case study overview
- * Deloitte Spain Virtual Career Fair: Case study overview
Associations – Virtual Events Case Studies
- * Measuring and Maximizing the Impact of a Hybrid Event – The Virtual …: Case study on Virtual Edge Summit 2010 – look at physical and virtual attendees
- * American Payroll Association Trains Members Virtually: Case study overview
- * Grease, Gears, and Geo-location: IMTS Gets Its Social Media Groove On: IMTS case study on using social media
Publishing Virtual Events Case Studies
- * Hybrid Events: The Live/Virtual Combo – emedia and Technology …: UBM Studios discusses virtual for revenue
- * Virtual Events Come Into Their Own: Folio Magazine article that included information from Watt Publishing, Forbes, Nielsen, Futures nd Haymarket Media.
Higher Education/Government Virtual Events Case Studies
- * Virtual Environment Lab for Universidad Politécnica Madrid: Case study overview
- * On Campus Job Fair for Madrid regional government: Case study overview
- * Tour del Empleo Virtual: Case study overview of 25 Spanish Universities
Every Friday, I try to interview an industry expert to provide insight on their industry. This week on PRMM Interview, I interview Scott Kellner, CMO of 6Connex, regarding what the future holds for virtual events and the best way to keep people engaged virtually.
As CMO of 6Connex, Scott is responsible for all communications activities and initiatives for 6Connex, including corporate, product, and channel marketing. He also supervises the 6Connex Service and Support group. Scott brings more than 20 years of marketing leadership to 6Connex. He has established branding and positioning strategies for a variety of companies, both as an agency executive and as senior, corporate marketer. Scott has also implemented the development and training of international reseller networks, managed direct sales organizations, and developed go-to-market, alliance marketing, advertising and PR strategies for companies in industries ranging from entertainment to professional services to consumer packaged goods.
Can you provide a quick intro to 6Connex?
One of the questions we often get is where our name comes from. I think it’s important to cover this because our name underscores our view of the virtual experience industry. The name comes from a combination of: the six degrees of separation connected at a nexus point. As such, our core mission is to connect people with each other, and with relevant content.
While we formally launched in February of 2009, our beginnings can be traced back to the first, and still the largest, virtual event every produced: AMD’s Virtual Experience (or AVE), which was run on 6Connex technology in 2006, and again in 2007. With just under 1 million unique registrants and statistics like 330,000 video views and more than 600,000 document downloads, it was truly a monumental undertaking. That experience, and the software that powered it, launched the company, though we stayed in stealth mode for two years.
Webinars have become a common lead generation tool for marketers. Can you provide 2-3 reasons why marketers should consider virtual events?
Given the way we’ve architected our platform, we believe marketers should consider virtual experiences for more than just events. That said, webinars are a tremendous tool, but they are usually effective for just a moment in time. While there are varying technologies, their efficacy is brief, and they don’t offer the level of flexibility, measurement, rich media content distribution or social networking that solid virtual platforms do.
We counsel our customers to use webinars as a key part of virtual experiences, but to also to take advantage of the ongoing presence afforded by virtual platforms to continually reach out to target audiences, refresh content, encourage interaction and create networks of professionals that can benefit from one another’s expertise.
Some of the best examples of this go beyond mere “events”. We encourage our customers to think in terms of both short and long term objectives, and to utilize the flexibility of virtual technology systems to continually engage their target constituencies. Cisco’s Data Center of the Future, and Siemens’ Navigating Healthcare virtual experiences are great examples of this. Simply put, webinars can do that.
As virtual events become more prevalent, there is a risk of attendee fatigue. What recommendations do you have to keep the experience fresh for attendees?
As many in your audience know, our heritage is not only in software development, but also award-winning interactive strategy and design. 6Connex has created virtual environments and critically acclaimed Web-based gaming programs for Disney, Universal Pictures and ABC, for example, so we understand, at a deep level, things like how to use video effectively, how to create a user experience that’s engaging and meets business objectives, and how to walk the fine line between attendee length of stay and the ease of finding relevant content.
To avoid fatigue, a virtual environment must be both pleasing and intuitive. It must have best in class information architecture, user interface design and be quick to load. But it must also be designed to allow attendees to chart their own path if they want. We believe you avoid weariness by making a virtual experience pleasing to the eye, by enabling people to connect with one another easily and by allowing attendees to encounter content on their own terms.
There seems to be a lot of developments with virtual events. Where do you see the industry going in 2-3 years?
Well, I have to be careful here. I don’t want to tip my hand in terms of what 6Connex has in alpha and beta stages now, though our customers are all in the loop. I will say this: I think better collaborative tools are on the immediate horizon. Improving the effectiveness of virtual platforms will require that providers enable secure, collaborative workspaces for their customers to use.
Another area of innovation centers on video conferencing, for sure. Creating more lifelike environments that complement physical events will continue to be necessary.
Also, integration with physical event technologies will become more important. One great example of this is “pushing” virtual content into a physical space via digital signage. We’re all familiar with “hybrid” events that take in live feeds from physical venue keynote addresses, for example. But we see no reason it cannot work the other way around.
Last, mobile is an obvious area for innovation. The increasing adoption of tablets and personal consoles like the iPad will drive some of this, but the most innovative virtual software providers will seek to push some envelopes in this arena on their own. Stay tuned!
I recently presented a webinar on “Dispelling the 5 Myths of Going Virtual.” My presentation slides are included below and an archived version of the webinar will be available on the MPI website shortly. Free to MPI webinars, the on-demand will be available for $20. The webinar covered these top myths, accompanying case studies and relevant industry stats:
1. Virtual Will Cannibalize My Audience: Case study of American Payroll Association
2. Virtual Will Cannibalize My Exhibitors/Sponsors: Case study of GE Healthcare
3. Co$t$ Too Much: Case study of IMTS
4. Only for the Technically Savvy: Look at technology pace of technology adoption
5. Not as Good as F2F: Case study of CiscoLive Virtual
6. BONUS Myth: No One is Doing It
I have the pleasure of presenting two webinars for the MPI: Dispelling the Myths about “Going Virtual” on November 17 and Making Virtual Profitable: Steal These Business Ideason December 9, 2010. Free to MPI members, the webinars are $20 for non members. If you can’t make it to the live webinar, they will also be available on-demand and I will post the slides after each webinar. Hope you can join me and please forward me any questions or comments.
Dispelling the Myths about “Going Virtual”
WHEN: Wednesday, November 17th, 11am – 12pm CDT
WHAT: The recent economic situation has provided a catalyst for companies to look at cost-effective alternatives to scheduling and executing face-to-face meetings and events. This situation combined with reduced travel and marketing budgets, has given rise to virtual events. A successful virtual strategy reduces costs, increases productivity, extends reach, provides rich data intelligence, and benefits the environment. Yet, meeting professionals are hesitant to incorporate virtual elements into their meetings and event portfolios. Leveraging real-world case studies, this session will dispel several myths about “going virtual”. Get answers to your theories like:
• Virtual will cannibalize my physical audience.
• Virtual will be a costly element for me to include in my budget.
• Virtual will only be used by my most technically savvy members.
• Virtual is only for larger corporations.
Making Virtual Profitable: Steal These Business Ideas
WHEN: Thursday, December 9th, 11am – 12pm CDT
WHAT: According to FutureWatch 2010, 12% of meeting professionals are expecting virtual meetings to be a continuing trend. The question meeting professionals have now is how do they create a virtual strategy that serves their audience’s educational and networking needs while expanding their own revenue opportunities. This session with explore four business models for virtual options:
• Freemium Registration: Free registration for basic content vs. charging for premium content
• Exhibitor Driven: Tiered programs and services for exhibitors
• Sponsorship: Advertising and brand awareness associated with the virtual component
• Hybrid Opportunities: Prizes, games and sponsorships that span the physical and virtual event.
I belong to several groups in LinkedIn and came across a case study regarding the use of social media to increase membership to a LinkedIn group, which then drove conference attendance. I interviewed Bob Etheridge, social media aficionado, to learn more about his experience.
Bob Etheridge’s background has been primarily in the online recruitment and job board industry. In 1999, he co-founded JobCircle.com, a regional job board in Philadelphia and 2003, started a physical Job Fair division for the company, thus entering the event production and marketing world. The economic downturn and lack of hiring had a large impact on the business, so in May, they took their event production experience and created a B to B conference called Social Media Plus, capitalizing on the growth and interest in Social Media. Bob can be reached at email@example.com.
1) We both belong to the same LinkedIn Group and you mentioned how you increased membership to a group you were managing for a conference. Can you provide an overview of what you did?
Yes, creating a Linkedin Group is easy enough, inviting your first degree connections to join the group is also relatively easy. However, growing your group quickly after that becomes a challenge.
November 21, 2010 – Per Bob’s request, I have replaced the previous text with the below two paragraphs:
We utilized a service called Community Leadership offered by a company called Network Sunday. Network Sunday has virtual assistants that can help you with your Social Media marketing outreach. Network Sunday works with business development and conference marketing professionals to leverage Linkedin to help grow communities, create awareness and build personal and professional brand.
By joining relevant, Industry specific Linkedin groups using the Advanced People Search engine on Linkedin, we created a targeted list of members who would most likely be interested in learning about Social Media and networking with other Social Media Marketing professionals. We then invited these people, through Linkedin, to join the Social Media Plus Conference group using a simple, straight forward message. The campaign lasted for approximately 2 months before the conference.
2) Besides LinkedIn, did you use any other marketing and social media tactics? If so, how did you leverage these tactics for driving attendance.
Yes, we created a Facebook page and a Twitter account for the event. While Twitter was a great tool for communication during and after the conference with our #SMPlus hashtag, neither produced significant results in driving attendees.
3) What was the result of your efforts?
The response was phenomenal. In 2 months, our Conference group grew from 50 members to around 1800 and over 700 people attended the conference. We did some traditional marketing such as direct mail and e-mail marketing, but Linkedin was the most effective marketing tool by far. We tracked the click through bit.ly URL’s, measuring the use of unique coupon codes that we offered and by comparing the final attendee list to our Linkedin Group members. 450 attendees had joined the Social Media Plus Linkedin group prior to the conference. (Disclaimer – Bob was so impressed with the results that Network Sunday provided, he is now the US Partner helping other conference organizers in their Marketing efforts).
4) What three tips would you provide to those seeking to use social media to promote their conference?
1) Social Media Marketing is a two way street. Be prepared to spend time communicating directly with your audience.
2) Don’t over sell in your Marketing message. Less is more in this case. People want to explore and learn things on their own. If they have specific questions, they’ll reach out to you.
3) Don’t go it alone. Social Media Marketing can be time consuming and often companies start off with a bang, but burn out quickly. Social Media Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
Cece Salomon-Lee is director of marketing for ACTIVE Network, Business Solutions division, 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.
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