When is Your Next Online Conference?

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Some of the companies I’m working with, especially business to business (B2B) are seeing some incredible results and return on investment with the use of virtual events and tradeshows. I’ve been wanting to post about virtual event marketing for quite some time, and recently got to speak to Unisfair, the leading virtual event, virtual tradeshow and online job fair provider online.

Unisfair offers a total Software as a Service platform, including the conference software, webcasting software, online chat, lead collection and reporting tools. Unlike a traditional conference where it’s difficult to track attendees, a virtual conference allows you to track everything! In addition to cost per lead reductions, many companies are adopting virtual conferences to be environmentally responsible as well.

In a survey earlier this year, Unisfair found 48 percent of marketers planning to increase their use of virtual events in the coming year. The most popular reasons for adopting virtual events are to extend marketing reach (32 percent) and increase lead volume (15 percent).

American Business Media has reported that 75% of business decision-makers surveyed said they attended three or more Web-based events during the past 12 months. Marketing Sherpa has reported virtual meetings have increased 37% as an information resource during the first half of 2009. Tighter travel budgets, the explosion social networks and the search for new lead generation tools have combined to spur this rapid growth.

Ariba is one of Unisfair’s success stories. Ariba is global management company who realized the economy was going to have an impact on people traveling to their next conference. Using Unisfair’s platform, they moved their physical conference online and benefited greatly, resulting in 2,900 registrants, 1,618 attendees, 4,000 downloads, 5,200 booth visits, 538 chats initiated and 1,078 messages! That’s some nice engagement!

3 Tips for Virtual Event Marketing

Joerg Rathenberg, senior director of marketing for Unisfair, has provided the following tips for virtual event marketing:

  1. Before the event: Start to prepare early, just like you would for a physical conference or event. Ensure that you have a sound audience generation plan. Be creative and try to make the experience as engaging as possible. For example, send out event packages with conference material e.g. t-shirts to registrants if you charge for the event. Provide hooks for social networking that allow registrants to share the invitation with their communities. Be sure to include exciting content with speakers who can draw a crowd. Good content is the key to a successful virtual event! Ensure that registrants have the start time on their outlook calendars.
  2. During the event: Chunk your sessions into smaller pieces – during virtual events, people don’t have the same attention span as physical attendees. We found that 20 min is the best length. Make sure that your speakers are available for chats in the networking lounge. Provide lots of opportunity to interact, network and connect. Leverage polls and social media integration to create buzz and to take the temperature of your event. Real-time reports will tell you what is going on. Use messages to drive people to where the action is. Provide incentives for attendees to engage, such as contests or drawings.
  3. After The event: Virtual events are quickly developing into always-on virtual engagement platforms. All of your content, including Q&A, should be immediately available on-demand right after the live portion is over. Typically about 50% of registrants show up live. Make sure that you get the other 50% to attend as well – just later. Leverage tools such as Unisfair’s Engagement Index to rank your audience based on their demographics, activities and interests and provide this information to your team for follow-up. Virtual events have the benefit that you will know everything an attendee did while s/he was in your environment. Provide all of this rich information to your sales team to make sure that they can continue the conversation.

Some other players in the market are InXpo, ON24, Expos2, Second Venue and 6Connex. I’m not ready to give up physical events yet – I find too much value in networking with other attendees. Since a conference cost can start at $50k, though, a virtual conference is a must. You’re going to attract so many people who are great prospects but are avoiding the cost or inconvenience of travel.

What do you think?

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