Virtual Event Strategies for 2011

I’m a believer in hybrid events and the benefits of extending reach through that strategy.

Associations that go down the hybrid road, and make it financially attractive, are putting their profession ahead of profit. AND they will reap long-term benefits.

Why I Am Not There On Pure Virtual Events Yet

However, I’m not there yet on pure virtual events. Here are my personal reasons why:

  • Attendees value the content mot the commerce.
  • They tend to attract an entry- or mid-level professional that lacks enough buying authority or influence to deliver ROI to exhibitors and sponsors.
  • Networking feels limited if it occurs at all.
  • It’s difficult to build trust that leads to purchase through a virtual booth.
  • When education is offered for free and archived, it’s easy to find something more pressing to do. Archived views are less valuable than live ones.
  • And finally, most webinars stink. I can count the good ones I’ve experienced on one hand.

For the past year or more, I’ve been saying that virtual events won’t cannibalize your live ones. I believe that with the hybrid models. Recently I realized that the lowering cost of streaming and hosting has enabled new competition for thought leadership and quality content. Some associations are beginning to feel the competitive pressure from unlikely sources like: publications without events, their best exhibitors or self-organized communities.

Virtual trade show. (Image courtesy Virtual Chainsaw.)

Five Considerations For Your Webinars And Virtual Events

If you are considering conducting virtual events or webinars in 2011, and want to rise above the competition, there are five considerations you need to kick around:

1. Slides synced to audio are not immersive.

After you attend a digital event with video, slides and live chat there’s no comparison. Sure it will work for on demand CEU delivery but not for the live experience. There’s something motivating and compelling about a digital event that integrates live chat.

2. Virtual events are not a numbers game.

If you want to deliver value, you need to shoot with an arrow and plan content that attracts a very specific vertical segment. If you plan content and market to a general horizontal audience, you won’t deliver sufficient value to the participants or sponsors (unless you are delivering content that is just-in-time). Using virtual tech to be first to market on a critical issue is a smart practice of real market leaders.

3. Lower expectations of sponsors or exhibitors.

The cost per lead of a virtual business card is, in my estimation, worth about 25 cents on the dollar of a lead from a live event. Virtual leads are good for list building and in my opinion rarely result in sales ready opportunities. Your no show rate might be high for virtual events. You need to think twice about selling the names of the no shows to your sponsors.

4. Free allows marketing. Paid blocks it.

Most mobile apps and online subscription models have adopted this pricing model. Think about ways you can apply it to your virtual offerings. Maybe members attend free, non-members pay.

5. View virtual events as campaigns not products.

Use virtual events to promote your physical events or to attract and engage less-active or next generation members. If you embark down the virtual road as a money making vs. value creation endeavor, you will likely be disappointed. Sure you’ll be able to partially or fully fund through sponsorships but the virtual decision is one that maps to your mission and mission only.

Digital Events Continue To Evolve

Virtual event business models and value propositions are evolving fast. When crafting your strategy, always look to your organizations mission and strategy. Often those include educating or advocating for your profession.

I predict that organizations that take a gamble and deliver value with a digital event strategy will be rewarded with loyalty, retention and future purchases.

This article was adapted and written by Dave Lutz for Dave’s People & Processes column in PCMA’s January edition of Convene. It is reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association, and from the Velvet Chainsaw’s Midcourse Corrections blog.

What do you think is the future of pure virtual events?'
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