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Archive for September, 2009

Where are Virtual Events Headed?

September 22, 2009 10 comments

VirtualEvent

The idea of “virtual events” has actually been with us almost as long as the web itself (well, OK, maybe not all the way back to ARPAnet, but you get the point).  Through the years, online chats, webcasts, webinars, videoconferencing, and podcasts have offered us with options to carry on seminars, meetings, and conversations online.

Today, comprehensive “virtual event” technology platforms support entire conferences, trade shows, private exhibitions, product launches, job fairs, corporate training, and just about any other type of event you would hold in person – conducted online using only a web browser.

These environments are often based on the model of a corporate campus, convention center or exhibit hall replete with booths and sales staffs, an auditorium for breakout sessions, and even a lounge where attendees can ‘chat’ with each other.  The providers of these environments have done a great job at combining several interactive and content delivery elements into one nice neat package. 

Among the largest and most successful virtual event technology platform providers to date include companies like 6Connex (who provided the sample virtual event image above), UnisFair, InXpo, and On24.  Several other large corporations and early adopters on the client side have also begun to develop their own custom in-house virtual event capabilities.

It’s not hard to understand the growing attraction to this technology.  There are a lot of business, social, and economic factors drawing marketers and clients to virtual events.  Just a few of these include:

  • Corporate budget & travel constraints
  • Large geographic distribution of event attendees
  • International events with multilingual content requirements
  • Extending the length of time to reinforce marketing messages
  • The “green” movement (reducing carbon footprint, paper use, etc.)
  • Ability to leverage existing digital content and assets
  • Demand for detailed event metrics to demonstrate ROI

So who are the key influencers that have shaped virtual events as we know them?  And, just as importantly, what impact will these influencers have on the continuing evolution of virtual events?   

My take is that early on, event marketers and their clients have had most of the influence on virtual event platform development.  Most technology platform providers initially set-up events in a “virtual trade show” format, with multiple companies displaying their products and services in booths that resided in exhibit hall environments.  Event marketers and their corporate event marketing clients quickly related to this model because of its familiarity.  They also understood its ability to extend the reach of live events, appeal to new audiences, and more clearly measure event ROO and ROI with detailed web metrics.  Since event marketers have been among the earliest and most prominent adopters of virtual event technology, their influence has spurred a continued refinement of virtual event types, formats, features, interface variety, and content management capabilities, while retaining (for the most part) a foundation of standalone events with a definitive “shelf life”.       

More recently, web and digital marketers, along with their corporate marketing clients, have begun to exert their influence in the virtual event space.  In the interest of creating customer “communities”, they have naturally gravitated to supportive technologies like social media, and are now becoming similarly attracted to virtual events.  Their impact is being seen in the push for integration of social media into virtual events, as well as the idea of more “persistent environments” with a much longer-term existence.  Virtual event technology providers have in turn responded by expanding their offerings to include these features in their platforms.    

Another emerging influence will soon be coming from virtual event attendees.  As they become more experienced and discriminating, they will also become more vocal with their feedback, and will have an increasingly larger impact on the future direction of virtual event evolution.  While the jury is still out on this group, my bet is that accessibility, responsiveness, usability, content, and overall quality of experience will be their hot buttons.

I think this combination of event-centric, community-centric, and user-centric forces shaping the direction of virtual events is healthy.  It will continue to drive technical innovation and ultimately deliver greater business value to the users of virtual events and environments.  What do you think? 

Will virtual events eventually fade off into the sunset, as just another passing fad?  Will they remain as standalone event web sites with a defined “shelf life”?  Will they become permanent virtual business environments?  Could they even become a replacement for the cookie-cutter corporate web sites that we see so often today?  Or, like most evolving technologies, will the best features of virtual events end up somewhere – and everywhere – in between?

– Jim S.

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Do we fear measuring Social Media?

September 9, 2009 3 comments

FearI smell fear.  

In spite of overwhelming evidence of its impact on people’s perceptions and opinions, as well as numerous examples of its prowess as an effective marketing tool, it sure seems like there are still too many marketers with a real fear of measuring social media. 

OK, I’ll admit that fear is not the only reason.  Far from it, there are several other reasons that we don’t measure. 

Regardless, this lack of measurement is preventing us from demonstrating the real value social media brings, and it may ultimately slow its adoption rate in the corporate marketing world. 

Please understand that I’m not suggesting that we should apply the same method of social media measurement to every situation.  Since marketers bring anything but a “one size fits all” approach to social media use, it would be unwise to apply a single approach or finite set of metrics to its measurement. 

What I am suggesting is that as professional marketers, we carry a responsibility to demonstrate the value of any tools we use, including social media.  While we may need to look at each situation on a case-by-case basis to determine a specific method of measurement, it is critical for our clients to understand what goes into it, and what they can expect out of it, in order for them to buy in.  Our ability (and willingness) to measure tools like social media is also critical in getting clients to understand our value as marketers.   

Perhaps a different way of looking at things is to ask what we should fear if we don’t measure social media to demonstrate its value.  Some recent examples:

  • In “Social Media Denial”, a recent Web Business  blog post, author Ken Burbary points out that  “…there are many people who either don’t agree, don’t understand or haven’t yet taken the time to learn about social media”.  He also provides an example of a long-time communications professional that clearly doesn’t get it.   
  • In a post called “Have kool-aid drinkers totally screwed the social media space?” from The Viral Garden blog, author Mack Collier laments that we may be part of the problem in inadvertently creating an environment where clients often don’t understand the value that we provide via social media consulting and services.   
  • In his Social Media Explorer blog, author Jason Falls states in a post called “Social Media ROI? Traditional Is Still More Accepted” that we already face an uphill battle, as social media isn’t (yet) valued as highly as other more traditional, but even less measurable, marketing methods. 

Ultimately, my opinion is that when it comes to measuring social media, we still have a window of opportunity to demonstrate its value, with so many great minds, powerful tools, meaningful metrics, and vast resources at our disposal.  However, if we “pass” on this opportunity, whether due to fear or other reasons, that window will close on us quickly. 

So how about it – what do you think?  Do we fear measuring social media? How are you measuring it?  Or, if you aren’t, why not?  I’d love to hear, and would welcome your comments.

– Jim S.

We’re “Goin’ Mobile”, but are we already behind?

September 2, 2009 1 comment

TheWhoSometimes, an important realization can creep up on you slowly.  Other times, it can hit you like a two-by-four.  Last week, let’s just say one hit me like an entire fleet of lumber trucks. 

Our agency had just completed a successful weekend-long live event activation at several cities across the U.S., where we were able to capture several thousand qualified sales leads exclusively via mobile devices. 

Shortly afterward, I attended a presentation by Abhi Ingle, AT&T’s VP of Mobility Application Solutions, entitled “The Future of Wireless”.  On top of a number of other equally provocative statistics, he cited a forecast that one billion new users worldwide will soon be having their first web experience – on a smart phone, as opposed to a PC. 

Finally, the “trifecta” came at the end of the week, when I encountered this little nugget from the Silicon Valley Insider, forecasting that smart phone sales will overtake PC sales by 2011: 

ChartOfTheDay

What really hit me was not so much the realization that, in the immortal words of The Who, we’re “Goin’ Mobile” – instead, it’s the realization of how fast we’re going there, and what it means to us as digital marketers.   

We are entering a pivotal period where the rapid shift to the mobile (devices & web) will have a profound impact on our digital marketing strategies and tactics.  Nearly everything that we’ve been used to delivering via the “traditional web” will need to be conceived, designed, and executed in a much different way. 

Make no mistake – since our early mobile digital marketing efforts, which consisted primarily of relatively simple WAP sites, forms, and text/SMS based interaction – we are definitely making progress.  However, advancements in connectivity, hardware, and software applications are rapidly making consumer tastes more sophisticated.  We will need to shift our digital marketing skills and approach even more quickly just to keep pace.

I have a strong feeling (not unlike that of another lumber truck barreling down on me) that we’ll be returning to the topic of mobile soon in this blog.  In the meantime, the question remains: How are YOU “goin’ mobile” in your digital marketing efforts?  And, more importantly, how fast are you going there? 

Please chime in with your comments and thoughts.

– Jim S.