Virtual Events Help Marketers Travel Through Time (Sort of)

October 22, 2013 Michael Nessler

The idea of time travel has been a staple of science fiction and fantasy stories practically since the genres were invented. And for good reason.

Who wouldn’t like to go back and see the building of the pyramids, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or the best days of their lives? And there is a certain curious fascination to the thought of traveling 500 or 1,000 years into the future to see what the world looks like. Maybe then we’ll finally have those flying cars we were promised in the 1950s.

While the killjoy physicists still insist that actually traveling through time isn’t possible, there is a technology that allows organizations to come close—at least for the events they conduct. Virtual events and virtual environments give organizations the ability to remove the time shackles of “here today, done tomorrow,” as well as the restrictions of distance. This newfound freedom allows them to extend the benefits well beyond the usual limits and keep gaining business value long after a physical event is just a memory.

The Time Machine

Every physical event is limited by having a beginning, middle, and—most importantly—an end. Once it’s over, it’s over. If important prospects couldn’t get there when the event was happening or they want to attend two sessions running at the same time, they’re out of luck. There’s no going back to catch what they missed.

A virtual event, however, has no such restrictions. Whether you’re hosting a one-hour webcast, a half-day training session, or a three-day web conference or job fair, everything that happens can be captured and posted online. If those important attendees couldn’t participate when the event was live, they can simply jump into the virtual event time machine and go back to get the information they want. And they can do it as many times as they desire.

A full virtual environment allows you to take that concept a step further by giving you a single, virtual world in which to present documents, audio and video (organized by event, type of material or whatever criteria you deem fit), create rooms where attendees can chat to continue the conversations they started at the physical event, and develop meeting spaces where they can hear directly from your top executives.

Visitors can come in and out anytime they want, and visit any time frame they want, 24 x 7 x 365. Most importantly, they can do what live event attendees have always said they want to do: keep the conversation going when the event is finished. Which also provides a great lead-in for your next event.

Removing Distance as a Barrier

Another major advantage of virtual events in place of or as an adjunct to physical events is the ability to access them from anywhere you can get an Internet connection. In fact, the elimination of travel was the original catalyst for virtual events and environments.

In the post-tech bubble, post-9/11 world, organizations began imposing severe travel restrictions on their personnel to reduce costs in a down economy. Yet there was still a need for meetings, presentations, and conferences. Virtual events and virtual environments provided an alternative to travel, allowing groups to interact and share information while eliminating the cost of airline tickets, hotels, on-the-road meals, etc.

While those benefits still exist today, they have been largely supplanted by the amount of time they save. Busy workers no longer have to experience the downtime of traveling to and from an event. If they want to participate live, they can check in online minutes before it starts and get right back to work (or their lives) when whatever they wanted to experience is finished. If they don’t have the ability to do that, they can go online when it’s convenient and consume the content in whatever amount works for their schedules.

Leaving a Trail

One area where virtual events and virtual environments differ greatly from their physical counterparts is the ability to determine success by tracking the actions participants take.

At a physical event, you can watch attendance to see what’s popular and do surveys to see how attendees feel about various speakers or activities. But attendance is still conditional on time and place. And as far as surveys are concerned… well, let’s just say what people say and what they really think don’t always match.

With a virtual event or virtual environment, however, you can track everything participants do, gathering tight feedback based on actual actions. If one subject area or speaker has great retention from beginning to end and another has people running for the virtual exits after five minutes, you have the input you need to make your program better. If participants check out the minute video comes on, you know you either have a problem with the content or the format in which the video is delivered. It shouldn’t take long to figure out which and correct the issue.

In-event polls can help you determine not only what your attendees feel about the topic but also how engaged they are with the presenter and presentation. And so forth.

The beauty is none of this is opinion. It’s all quantifiable information based on actions, helping you make continuous, real improvement to your overall program.

Business Impact

The value of virtual events and virtual environments isn’t merely theoretical. Organizations are taking advantage of them today in several ways, including…

  • Marketing and sales. Marketers are using virtual events and environments to brand their organizations, generate and nurture leads, and educate and support their channel partners. It’s an opportunity for sales to cultivate deep relationships with prospects and customers while providing valuable support on an on-demand basis.
  • Recruiting and staffing. Organizations are holding online fairs and expos to recruit new talent. Media-rich environments create an opportunity for applicants and employers to engage in interactions without all the costs and encumbrances of a traditional interview process.
  • Training and development. Conventional training suffers from the problem of providing too much or too little information, too early or too late. Virtual environments are providing immersive and personalized learning that’s available just in time and in just the right amounts. And unlike traditional online training, these environments create a rich, expansive and persistent context in which to experience training events—often as part of a larger series of events.
  • Human Resources. HR specialists have an extraordinary amount of information to convey to employees. They need to address everything from payroll to benefits to corporate policies. They are constantly challenged to convey the implications of new laws and regulations. By using virtual environments, they are guiding members of the workforce to what they need when they need it. However, it’s the richness of the experience—in terms of how information is navigated, presented and consumed—that makes it valuable to both HR and employees.
  • Corporate communications. Whether the issue is public relations, investor relations, or response to an emerging crisis, corporate communications teams have much to gain from virtual environments as a means of engaging critical stakeholders. Even “virtual town halls” now represent an opportunity for top corporate executives to engage a wider audience in a compelling way.

Conquering Space and Time

The Internet has conditioned customers and prospects to expect to gather information when they want it and how they want it. That is the model virtual events and virtual environments follow.

They break through the traditional barriers of space and time to create a richer, more immersive experience for participants. And they do it on an ongoing basis. They may not give you the opportunity to see pyramids being built or to meet your great, great, great grandchildren, but they will help you deliver business value in a more efficient, more user-friendly way.

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