Web Strategy: How To Integrate Social Technologies with Virtual Events

I’ve participated in dozens of online and virtual events, including created my own, below is a playbook to think about virtual events as they intersect with the social web. While the scope of this article is focused on online virtual events, many of these tips can be used in real world events and the like.

[To be successful, virtual –and real world events must have a strategy that integrates social technologies, before, during, and after]

Traditional Online Events Vendors Recognize Impacts of Social
My focus on social technologies continues to spread to many verticals, industries, and experience. Virtual events, where companies host attendees through a digital online experience, continue to captivate marketers.  It’s good for attendees, as they can experience a virtual online event event during an economic downturn, and continue to rely on virtual events for making decisions.  Currently, I’ve been briefed by On24, Unisfair, InXpo, Webex, and have had conversations with GPJohnson (I lean on Kenny) a company that fouses on physical and digital events.  As virtual events continue to grow, expect them to tightly integrate social technologies.

Three Principles Of Modern Events
To be successful, virtual –and real world– event planners must abide by the following principles:

  1. Events should integrate with existing communities and social networks where they exist.
  2. Events should have a strategy that includes the before and after –not just during.
  3. The audience can assert control over the event, so encourage audience participation and know when to get out of the way.

Planners must develop a Pre, During, and Post strategy that integrates social.
Today, event planners only think of the fixed event that occurs in a day, they often overlook that a community talks, discusses, and chatters before, during and after an event. They should:

Have a “before’ strategy. Use social tools before an event to increase signups by first locating where their target community is, and use social tools to reach them. Encourage members to tweet and share an event before it occurs, they should create events in Facebook so it triggers updates on the newsfeed. Assign a hashtag so that excited attendees can interact with all tweets, blog posts, tags, photos, and videos can be easily found, tracked, and then measured. Savvy organizers will source questions and topics from the crowd before the event occurs, both to increase the relevancy of the content and spur word of mouth. Truly advanced organizers will allow members to connect to each other before an event by allowing users to connect in an online community, or login using existing social network profiles to ‘find their friends’.

Integrate existing social tools during an event, thereby increasing interaction. During the event, organizers should be monitoring the social web and chat rooms to see how the crowd is reacting –be ready to react in real time. Make it clear what the assigned hash tag is, and source questions in real time from audience members as appropriate. Integrate chat features and tweets live into the event, centralizing the fragmented discussion in your event.  Take for example, virtual events company InXpo already provides Twitter integration to experiences and offers some best practices, see how Cisco has coupled their physical events with online events.

Follow up using social tools to aggregate and identify opportunities. Event planners shouldn’t quit once the event is over, the opportunity to further relationships is at hand. Event planners should immediately launch a survey to gauge quality and experience, and ask if there are follow-on opportunities. They should aggregate all created content (remember the hashtag) and create blog posts that highlight the top reactions. Advanced events will have a community where attendees are ushered to and can continue the conversation on after the event continues on. Finally, a brand should respond using the same tools as attendees in Facebook, Twitter, or leave comments on blogs and continue the dialog.  There re more best practices available to study.

In the Future, Virtual Events Must Integrate Social

Virtual events will integrate with existing social networks. Brands need to fish where the fish are, and find communities where the exist. Virtual events will need to deploy in Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, and Twitter communities, allowing them to login and register with their accounts on those platforms –and then message on these platforms. See how Gigya’s Socialize product has helped Turner Broadcasting with the online event for the NBA finals.

Virtual Events won’t be a limited duration, but will become a persistent experience. Today, virtual events are often a limited duration experience (2-6 hours on average, perhaps longer for global events). We should expect them to be persistent longer term experiences that span days, weeks, and in some cases be permanent fixtures.

Integrate with existing corporate communities. Expect virtual event vendors to develop partnerships with community platform vendors, InXpo has staked a claim in early integration.. The first folks they should talk to? Leverage Software (who already has a strong community event module) Jive, Telligent, Awareness, Mzinga, Lithium, Neighborhood America, all cater to the corporate B2B market. These vendors provide long term community experiences for brands, and virtual events should integrate with the identity of existing customers, and foster experiences before and after the virtual event.

Event planners will need to measure their influence on the social web. Assign team members to monitor and track occurrence to a spreadsheet using Twitter search tools or Technorati, or hire a brand monitoring vendor that will provide a report.

Certainly, this isn’t a comprehensive guide, please provide your tips as social and online events integrate.

If you found this helpful, please share it with others, kindly tweet: “Web Strategy: How To Integrate Social Technologies with Virtual Events http://bit.ly/Y6xmP via @jowyang”

59 Replies to “Web Strategy: How To Integrate Social Technologies with Virtual Events”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this recently and have come to the conclusion that all (or mostly all) business activity should have a community or group of communities associated with it. In fact, we recently started building community functionality into our pdf whitepapers via community badges, and integrating Twitter functionality like “Tweet this Whitepaper if you like it”.

    So connecting communities to virtual events are important, but why stop there?

  2. Virtual events are almost more powerful/useful in the acrhive format. There are so many events, it is hard to attend all but as an archive, it can be useful to ‘skip’ thru the material. User intercation is often limited to live but it would be better to see the archive as an ongoing event and something like twitter can bring maintain its life.

  3. Jeremiah,

    Thanks for mentioning InXpo and you provide a great overview of how social is incorporated in virtual events. Regarding the archive or on-demand perspective, Terry mentioned that it would be good to “see the archive as an ongoing event and something like twitter can bring maintain its life.”

    As more show hosts decide to extend their events into year-long communities, the use of social technologies and user-generated content will be instrumental in making the “virtual event communities” living, breathing organisms. This can be done with regular webinars or scheduled discussions that serve as a reason for people to come into the community, network, and interact with another. Furthermore, by providing quality content, the virtual event serves as a valuable resource when no event/discussion is scheduled.

    It™s definitely an exciting time for our industry!


    Cece Salomon-Lee
    Director of Marketing, InXpo

  4. Hi Jeremiah;

    Great article.

    VCall has a very cool platform for archiving events / digital assets and creating e learning modules- even monetizing as well. Larger than an SME play, but agencies can offer the services on a time slice basisto address SME deployment. 😉


  5. Super Post Jeremiah. Thanks for the mention.

    I would just emphasize two points:

    1)”An Event is an Event is an Event”. Just because the event is happening in the virtual universe, does not mean that we un-learn all the things we know about executing a successful event. This is especially true for the event™s social media strategy. For some reason, I have noticed, that when folks start talking about a virtual event they seem to stop having the conversation around the social media strategy for that event. Remember you still need to generate demand, integrate with other social networks, activate your audience, and engage post event. Many companies need to integrate their social media and virtual/physical events teams even tighter to ensure these sorts of conversations are intertwined in the planning process.

    2) Many of George P. Johnson™s clients are trying to figure out, how to move from an occasion based event (with a start and stop) to a 365/24/7 community experience. I understand, that is kind of the gold ring, right? Everyone wants to know how to keep the conversation going. My advice here is to really think about if it is necessary. It is the old Build or Join conversation. If you move toward building this community, make sure you have a good community strategy in place”a hosting strategy, a seeding strategy, and a maintenance strategy. To just extend something for extension™s sake can actually be more detrimental than it can be positive.

    Thanks, Jeremiah, for giving this topic an even greater stage to act out on.


  6. Jeremiah – great post. We’re definitely starting to see more and more cold, hard business justification for virtual events. The savings can be huge, and it’s all without sacrificing the immersive ‘presence’ you get at a real event. Also, no jet lag 😉 One of the interesting things is that if you attend a fully-baked virtual event (complete with break-out areas, bars, refreshment stands etc as well as the conference space itself), you’ll find that the socializing (an important part of events and trade shows) can be just as good as it would have been in real life. In fact, people have been known to linger even longer at virtual events after the sessions, to hang out, drink, chat, even dance. So you don’t even need to sacrifice that aspect of it, which, let’s face it, is often where deals can be done and relationships cemented, rather than in a boardroom.

    With full disclaimer, as i work as part of their PR team, thought it would also be worth you taking a second look at Linden Lab, and the work they’ve done with the Second Life platform for virtual events. They’ve helped faciliate large scale virtual and mixed reality events across the enterprise, gvt and education sector, including recent events for IBM (http://bit.ly/CXyDs) and the current administration (http://bit.ly/OR3Le).

  7. Louise, thanks

    I’ve not spoken to the Linden team in a while, and would love to take a briefing. We’ve (Forrester) been bearish on brands using SecondLife –too many barriers to entry and adoption rates. Perhaps things have changed –let me know, would love to see case studies from large brands.

  8. No doubt that media needs to become more collaborative.

    There are already tools which integrate community collaboration into a media stream. There are hashtag communities http://bit.ly/oXBBu that can now be connected for free into a video or audio stream via http://twebevent.com Just launched last week in very early alpha. No doubt the bigger players will catch up and start charging, but there will always be a need for a lightweight tool that is free.

    In addition, twebevent will provide browsing and searching for events so that public events can gain more exposure.

  9. Hi Jeremiah, Great post. I completely agree with everything you’ve said here, and would echo Kenny’s comments as well. One thing I would add is: virtual events, face-to-face events and social media all play an important role in facilitating relationships. Events (physical and virtual) are points in time which allow people and brands to accentuate relationships. Social networking is ongoing, and while social tools can be integrated into pre- during- and post event activities, the answer is not simply integrating social tools into events. The reverse of this: integrating events into the social web as well as the greater marketing mix will foster the conversation and build lasting relationships based on these conversations, a mutual exchange of value, and shared experiences.

  10. Hey Jeremiah, great post. And I would like to hit on Kenny comments a little more also… “how to move from an occasion based event (with a start and stop) to a 365/24/7 community experience.” I feel this can also be determined not by the event itself, but by the subject topics being covered at the event. The social aspect of the event outside of a physical location can give some users just as much of a feeling of actually attending. And most people from the event are sharing their feedback and comments in realtime as well, so it becomes a third-person conversation.

    I still think some larger companies are afraid to integrate live social media platforms to their events because of the unknown. “What will be said on live feeds as CEO XX is speaking? What if people start talking about that acquisition?” Like Ian posted, this will help “foster the conversation and build lasting relationships based on these conversations, a mutual exchange of value, and shared experiences,” which in turn will give more value to participants and companies equally.

  11. I would also be interested to see more example of how companies are doing this and maybe ‘worst case scenarios” they have faced in executing. For example, I saw an event in Germany run live feeds and get spammed with porn links during the event.

  12. Jeremiah: great post. I wonder, does the technology integration apply in both directions? So social technologies get integrated into virtual events – but what about virtual event technologies being integrated into social network sites? There are some intriguing possibilities – I believe that a virtual event’s interactive technologies can add a lot of value to social networks and their associated communities.

  13. Please check out EventSpan.com, the search & syndication listing service for web-based events such as webinars and webcasts. (It’s owned by Aperio Networks, and we also publish ConferencingNews.com and the WebinarWire.com.)

  14. Steven, yes doing it wrong would be a great discussion. Brands need to make sure they have staff on hand for moderation.

    Dennis, that’s absolutely right, they need to be integrated both ways.

  15. Great post and a very robust conversation. While Kenny notes that “An event is an event is an event”, it’s also true that “All events are not created equal”. The specific objective and nature of an event should define the role of “social” in virtual events the same way the role of “networking” is defined in physical events. Networking is just one of three core dimensions (education, commercial, networking/social)that define the aggregate event experience. In my view, we are in the process of sorting out the rapidly expanding list of tools becoming available to enhance the social dimension of virtual events. Well crafted, specific, focused event objectives around each of the three core dimensions of the event experience is more important than ever before and are the key to creating a successful virtual event.

  16. Jeremiah,

    You captured this really well. Leverage has launched hundreds of event communities over the last six years and see the value of extending the event into ongoing. It’s fairly easy to justify the ROI of doing just that. We can provide you with “things not to do” which will provide your readers with a list of best practices to minimize the risk of failure and increase the likelihood of success.
    I agree that partnering with InExpo and the like is valuable to our joint customer base. Having an ongoing community after a virtual event makes sense in many cases as does launching a virtual event from an existing community.

    Thanks for the inclusion here.


  17. Excellent Mike. I would recommend to community platforms like yourself to survey your customer base and see which virtual event vendor is most prominent –and start with customer needs for prioritization for business partnerships.

    Pretty cool how a blog and it’s commenters can connect an industry –forming alliances and improving the ecosystem.

  18. Jeremiah,
    I would recommend checking out the 6Connex Virtual Experience Platform (VEP). We recently chose to partner with 6Connex to offer the VEP to our clients for virtual events. We went with their solution because of some of the important aspects of connecting with communities and archiving capabilities you speak of here.

    Pre-event you are able to set up community blogs and forums for attendees, vendors, speakers, etc, that continue the conversation well after the event is over. During-event, the social engagement live chat, which includes video-to-video chat, multiple language chat and transcript retrieval, just solidify the reach of virtual events. Post-event, event administrators have the ability to keep the event “open” to attendees and even allow entry from new registrants for a minimum of 90 days.

    Thank you for your great post!
    Angela Bouma

  19. wow an excellent event blog, this is great summery for anyone wishing to set up an online event! i have never really thought about any kind of online event my self! never even heard of one!

  20. Hi Jeremiah,

    Great topic.

    Would enjoy briefing you on BrightTALK. We have social media built into the tool for host and attendees to one-click connect and share an event to their networks.

    The event is also contained in a flash container that can be embedded. The embed can accept registration and host the live event within any webpage. The live event is automatically recorded and updated within the embed. Hosting your online events on your website allows one to control and connect the social discussion.

    Thanks for bringing more awareness to this important subject.


  21. Another great post Jeremiah. I totally agree with the three phases you mention. It may be semantics but I’ve labeled them slightly differently in the past as Qualification, Event and Amplification. I find this demonstrates the purpose behind each phase a bit more perhaps.

    The only other dimension I’d like to add to this is that it’s important to view all three phases according to two distinct audiences – Participators and Spectators. Both audiences have very different needs, motivations and insights which need to be addressed when developing communication strategies and social technologies around virtual events. Brands obviously need a clear strategy to recruit and engage enough participators to make the event happen but this qualification phase can be far more impactful if they enable spectators to observe the process. It’s only by embracing the wider community of spectators that conversations and buzz around a virtual event begin to gain traction.

    The same logic applies in the amplification phase where brands need to enable social technologies to ensure participants can share their first hand experiences whilst spectators can talk about the event afterwards.

    Participation Marketing has been around for a while but it’s only now with the social web that we can take this marketing approach to a whole new level.

  22. Nice post here, Jeremiah. The point about following up after the event is a good one (though I like Kenny’s caution about extending a community unnecessarily), and it’s one that’s often missed. In particular, I seldom see an aggregation and/or analysis of, say, hashtagged tweets from a virtual event or physical conference. This is *instant* feedback about quality of speakers/sessions/venue quality and that data shouldn’t be overlooked. Plus, hashtagged tweets aren’t retrievable after a few weeks, so aggregating them and identifying highlights/trends/etc. quickly is important.

    Could be a good opportunity for community vendors (including us LiveWorld) to provide this service for brands.

    Bryan | @BryanPerson

  23. Overall good stuff here though I have to take exception with one line: “Virtual Events won™t be a limited duration, but will become a persistent experience.” The copy that follows the headline is more open and agreeable but the headline (which people may pull for their slides) suggests something different for me.

    What we find is that there is a wide variety of virtual events and although many will benefit from becoming persistent experiences, some may not and/or their owners will and are choosing not to follow that model.

    I was talking to a virtual event producer today that highlighted this. He has a virtual event that he runs twice a year and gets over 1500 people to pay him a few hundred dollars to attend each time. To get the content and experience, you must attend the event (which he also makes available as a dvd to all attendees so they have the content in their own archive). He feels having the environment open after the event takes away the necessity to attend the event and waters down the impact and experience of having all of the attendees engaged at once. Not the right model for everyone but this guy knows his stuff and has been doing this for years.

    Another example is a pure lead gen outfit that produces about 2 events per quarter and they also have no plans to create a more persistent environment. In their case, they say the majority of their audience would not come back except for a specific event that was of interest to them and that their audience mix trends to vary so a persistent environment couldn’t be focused enough to cater to all. They use the same features and functionality but build a new environment and content for just about every event. Again not the model for everyone.

    I think the concept of persistent environments make a lot of sense and can add tremendous value to many events but just not all.

  24. Jeremiah – Thanks for your insightful post and the list of community platform vendors. Your post takes virtual events a step closer to being a part of mainstream marketing. Here are some thoughts and tips based on first-hand experience and some crystal ball gazing.

    1) When a tactile event has a simultaneous virtual complement (hybrid), the virtual takes a back-seat during the tactile event because exhibiting in trade shows consumes tremendous energy, effort and focus of the exhibitors and the event organizer. Similarly social media technologies have greater use before and after a tactile event, but limited use during the tactile event when people want to meet face-to-face and conduct conversations with undivided attention – conversations pre-scheduled through diligent use of social technologies.

    2) When an event is a standalone virtual event with no tactile counterpart, two scenarios emerge (a) In a virtual conference with live speakers “ the unmoderated use of social technologies is a distraction for the attendees and disrespectful to the speakers, (b) however, virtual exhibit halls meant for many-to-many interactions are greatly served by social technologies.

    3) Social networks give rise to their own virtual events, and therefore media companies trawling for fish in established social networks risk member-backlash, unless they have something compellingly refreshing to present.

    4) A virtual event that is unlimited in duration ceases to be an event. Its content goes stale easily. The better alternative is a permanent venue under the event™s brand “ with spells of special-purpose activities, making for a place to which participants can return, while not risking over-exposure of the event™s brand.

    5) Due to social technologies and better online search and discovery, exhibit halls will move online, thus refining tactile events into more meaningful in-person social interactions, resulting in less heavy-lifting and hauling, more handshakes and hugs.

    I would be happy to speak with you about what we have learned in more than a decade of doing virtual exhibitions at iTradeFair.com.

  25. We have the largest community of HR people and have been very successful in building out live virtual events for our community. We built our own platform on top of our social networking platform and replaced Inxpo which was just too expensive for our business model. Since then we have been successful liscencing this to other communities. We do not believe virtual events alone are a sustainable model for a community, they just bring a community alive for a specific period of time and are a more scalable model than webcasts. With virtual events you can support multiple revenue sources and offer more value to the community.

  26. This is an excellent discussion.
    Picking up on Michael’s comments I do find that the trend with our large customers at Unisfair is going from episodic events towards ongoing engagemet in persistent environments.
    Some of our customers use their Virtual Environmens as repositories of collective knowledge. Widely promoted events are great to draw attention to the virtual space, but particularly companies with wide geographic distribution are finding that they get even more total visitors during the periods between events.

    Their participants have built networks within the environment, – the next step is leveraging external communities.

    Unisfair will host an exciting event on this topic with Jeremiah as the keynote speaker on Sept 16: “Building a Virtual Engagement Strategy through Social Media”
    Please join us to share your experience and insights.

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