Posted by: Dennis Shiao | May 28, 2009

Virtual Events And The Power Of Social Media

Twitter within a Virtual Event Powered by InXpo

Twitter within a Virtual Event Powered by InXpo

For end users, social media and social networks allow us to stay connected with friends, family and collegues; publish and share information about our personal lives and business initiatives; and extend our social graph by meeting new and interesting friends, associates and potential business partners.  For virtual event organizers, these benefits afforded by social networking can drive direct and immediate value to virtual events, virtual tradeshows and virtual sales kick-off meetings.

Benefits of Social Media

Integration of social networking into virtual events can drive interest and awareness (about the event), generate new registrants and attendees (who otherwise would not have registered or attended) and significantly increase the level of engagement within the event itself.  And beyond the end results, social media carries many great attributes:

  1. The costs are efficient – in many cases, the “hard cost” to integrate and leverage social media into your virtual event is zero.  You’ll have some soft cost in education (i.e. learning about specific social networking services and determining how best to engage with that service’s members, etc.) – but once you’re up to speed, you’re literally off to the races.  If you’re completely new to social media and the concepts are foreign or intimidating, hire a social media strategist/consultant, who will help you get your feet wet.  My bet is that your fixed investment in the strategist will pay off with the benefits you’ll reap from social networks.
  2. The distribution of information is efficient – if there’s one thing social networks have demonstrated, it’s how quickly word can spread throughout the blogosphere, statusphere, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Current events, breaking news, controversy, feel good stories, etc. – will often spread throughout social networks at a speed that cannot be matched by mainstream media.  Social networks have a viral effect – where one person spreads the word to 100 followers and those 100 spread the word to their 1,000 followers (and so on).  Imagine promoting a virtual event on a popular topic – social networks may propagate the word on your event and handle the outbound promotion for you.  Compared to search ads, web site syndication, email blasts – social network distribution is far quicker and more efficient.
  3. The acceptance of information (or offers) is heightened – while we all have our favorite web sites and blogs – and subscribe to these publications via email newsletters and RSS, nothing is as valuable as a recommnendation from a friend, family member or colleague.  I’ll click on a link forwarded from a friend or colleague before I click on an article link in my favorite publication’s e-Newsletter.  Reason being, we have a certain level of trust in our person-to-person relationships that exceed those we place in third party publications.  As such, a colleague recommendation to attend a virtual event will carry higher weight than an email blast from a b-to-b publisher.

Combine these three factors and you have a perfect storm of benefits: low cost, efficient distribution and high-impact results.

Social Media Benefits Virtual Events

Now, let’s look at specific benefits to the two main types of virtual events:

  1. The Private Event (e.g. Virtual Sales Kick-Off, Virtual Partner Event, etc.) – private events require controlled access – only those invited to attend can gain access to the virtual event.  Here, social networks are not used to drive new audience members – rather, they’re leveraged to increase engagement within the event.  Integrating social networking services into the virtual  event platform means that attendees can still stay connected with their friends and followers without leaving the virtual event.  For instance, an attendee can provide a status update (“Attending my company’s virtual sales kick-off today and it’s rocking”) within the event and have that update relayed to her Twitter followers.  In addition, the incorporation of social networking features directly into the platform (e.g. blogs, status updates, find new connections/friends, etc.) can increase overall satisfaction for attendees.  For private events where attendance is not mandatory, these social features can increase retention, generating repeat visitors to the next event.  Attendees of physical events often comment that the best aspect of an event was the ability to network with other attendees – for virtual events, social networking tools should be leveraged to create the same result.
  2. The Public Event (e.g. Virtual Tradeshow, Virtual Career Fair, etc.) – the same benefits of a Private Event apply here – in addition, social networks can help drive interest and awareness – and drive new registrants and attendees.  Your primary objective, of course, is to create a great virtual event.  Once you’ve done that, attendees will naturally recommend the event to their friends and colleagues.  And once that happens, social networks handle the outbound promotion for you – and potentially, can become your greatest source of new registrations and attendees.  Imagine a Fortune 100 CEO making a surprise appearance at an industry-specific virtual event.  The CEO is in the Lounge, taking questions from attendees with a webcam connected!  Word will surely spread via social networks and you may suddenly find 500 new live attendees within 15 minutes.

So there you have it – be sure leverage social media and social networks – tap into their power and you’ll reap the benefits.

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