As with the evolution of all new technologies it takes a little while for the terminology to settle down and become general use. For the early adopters this can be an incredibly frustrating experience. Why? Because we’ve already been part of the (extensive and believe me exhaustive) debate, discussion and intellectual tussle and just as we sign off on that particular topic, along come the newbies and start it all again.
So it is in the land of virtual/online/hybrid events. As conference professionals and other interested organisations begin to understand that the technology isn’t going to go away; that rather than being frightening in its complexity the right solution can simplify marketing and communications; and that there are other people just like them creating very successful conferences and events; so does the supplier network. The latter are not slow at getting on a successful bandwagon, and nor should they be, but never does caveat emptor apply more than in an emerging market. Not least because you won’t get many chances to get this right with your audiences, and if you are billing something as a hybrid which falls in any way short of other experiences they may have had, your credibility will be questioned.
With hybrid events rapidly becoming flavour of the month, it is incredibly important that conference organisers are very clear about what constitutes a hybrid and what does not. So here’s a quick synopsis:
- A recording of the event posted online two or three days afterwards; sorry but this is just an online post-event recording.
- A live event with a Twitter feed running on a screen at an event; no – this is just an injection of social commentary into your live event
- A selection of individual blogs, chatrooms and social media forums; aren’t these already essential parts of your integrated communications strategy?
- A series of event photos; honestly…?
And if you are a purist you would also say:
- A simultaneous stand-alone webcast; because this is a stand-alone webcast
Why are none of the above really hybrid events? Because they fundamentally miss the point. A hybrid is something where two parts meld seamlessly together to form a unified whole. A post-event recording doesn’t allow first-time viewers to participate in the debate; a twitter feed is a one-way stream of consciousness; and a standalone webcast does not allow the live and online audiences to interact with one another.
What a hybrid event IS:
- An event where a technology solution is used to permit both a live and an online audience to view the same content at the same time. PLUS,
- Where the online and live audiences can interact simultaneously with the speakers and other commentators via spoken questions and typed chat. AND,
- Where the online and live audiences can interact with each other within the timeframe of the live event.
With the right technology solution, or blend of solutions the latter point could also be extended so that the conversation with the audience starts in advance of the live date(s), is developed with the input of relevant and well-informed experts and then continues post event. What is imperative is that you, the conference or event organiser, create an environment, beit online, live or a hybrid of the two, where there is no barrier to integrated conversation and networking.
Hybrid events are delivering great results for organisations such as The Economist so they are there to be embraced. Just make sure that when you step into the water you are taking the right equipment with you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the Conference for Conference Professionals last Friday (1st April 2011), one of the speakers in a session dedicated to virtual events made the comment that the best virtual event organisers are ones that have experience in physical events.
While he had a point in some respects, i.e. that it is easier to visualise and plan the layout, flow and dynamics of a virtual event if you know how it would work in a live environment; it is all too easy to create a situation where the potential of the virtual solution to deliver a dynamic online experience is hamstrung by an inibility to think outside the event box.
What is far more important is a very clear understanding of your target audience: what you are trying to achieve in via your virtual event; what success looks like from their perspective; what they are trying to achieve by attending; and then you can design and build a solution around these goals. Like the very best live events, the very best virtual ones are not just content for content’s sake, or a random selection of suppliers and seminars brought together in a beautiful environment.