Virtual Events Won’t ‘Cannibalize’ Face-to-Face
If the years 2008 to 2010 were about fully engaging social media in the planning, marketing and delivery of meetings, 2011 will be all about transforming face-to-face into “hybrid” meetings — in-person events with a strong online presence.
Meeting professionals no longer fear that virtual event technology will cannibalize their physical programs. Instead, they project that online components of meetings will help organizations and corporations broaden market reach and deepen value to all constituents — members, customers, suppliers, partners.
The annual meeting of the Professional Convention Management Association in Las Vegas in January sharply reflected this shift. Its virtual experience, called PCMA365, featured live interviews; general, plenary and selected session streaming; and moderated chat. On-site conversations brimmed with talk of hybrid events, and many meeting professionals stayed on for the co-located Virtual Edge Summit.
“We’ve reached the tipping point,” said Michael Doyle, executive director, Virtual Edge Institute. “It’s now a given that you need online presence with your physical event. Together they drive business engagement and create new revenue opportunities. But we’re still in the early stages of developing this powerful tool.”
So, what should you be doing about hybrid meetings?
Take a partner. That’s the approach the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) took, sharing risks with a publisher in its industry. Despite “way more questions than answers,” admitted Chris Brown (photo right), executive vice president, the virtual preview and post-show wrap-up of its 2010 annual meeting far exceeded expectations, as 45 percent of 7,000 registrants participated. NAB learned enough to take full ownership going forward.
Make it easy. The user experience — from sign-up to participation — must be simple. “It takes work — people and time — to do right,” noted Brown. That’s why Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC) built Flash demonstrations in video format — one for exhibitors, another for attendees. “It’s new for almost all participants,” added Lance Simon, vice president of client services, iCohere. “They’ll need more hand-holding than you realize.”
Innovate carefully. “If you don’t do it right the first time, you may not have a second chance,” said Christopher Price (photo left), vice president, GASC. So, the virtual components of 2010 Graph Expo were carefully decided: 22 exhibitors, some sessions streamed, themed chats, and a low price point to attract a younger audience. “We showed that we were innovative,” he said.
Monetize content. Scott Klososky, technology entrepreneur and author, pointed to the TED model, which has migrated from event to content source. “Push information out, make it relevant and powerful, spread it to more people to convince them to attend, and create a following so that you can make money later,” he said. Others advised streaming important content, but capturing the rest; market and price its staggered release on demand.
Play with pricing. To engage a younger demographic hit by the economy, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) launched a hybrid of its 2009 annual meeting, with some live streaming, 75 exhibits, and social media integration. It drew 2,000 virtual attendees and 17,000 on demand. The 2010 version, with $165 fee and more sessions but fewer exhibits, drew 1,000 virtually and 3,000 on demand. “We hit a mark members were not comfortable with, and exhibitors questioned the value-add,” said Kevin Novak, vice president, integrated web strategy, and CIO.
Cue the metrics. Measurement in the digital world is inherently better than in the physical world, Doyle maintains; the challenge is getting people to use the analytics to best effect. “Vendors have not necessarily done a good job in packaging dashboard information for good comparison,” he acknowledged.
Don’t just replicate face-to-face. Take advantage of what digital tools do well — amplify what’s happening in the physical space, overcome issues of time and convenience, and integrate people who are not on site. “We’re trying not to look at events as ‘stop-start,’” said Sourabh Kothari, senior manager, global events, Cisco Systems. “We’re engaging all the time.”
While they establish their footing in hybrid meetings, meeting professionals are already looking ahead to the next big trend in 2012 and beyond: mobile applications for smartphones and tablet computers. “I expect these apps will be everywhere,” said Doyle, “especially with more video engagements around events.” — Maxine Golding
Find more “Best Practices” in the Spring 2011 issue of ConferenceDirect Meeting Mentor (available the end of March at www.meetingmentormag.com)
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