Forget “Content is King”; You’d Better Start Thinking the “Attendee is King”

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Many physical event and meeting producers know how hard it is to get an audience. Virtual events have become an attractive option for those professionals, as they figure if they take the expense and travel out of the equation, it will just be easier to attract an audience.

But virtual event producers have their own challenges when it comes to attracting an audience, and keeping them engaged. And, according to a recent survey, it’s only going to get tougher — even in a down economy where virtual events are gaining traction.

Even for the best online events, producers can expect half (that’s 50%) of all those who register will actually attend the event during its’ live hours. On-demand and archives replays may give producers another 10%-20% jump. And while those numbers aren’t bad, they are the BEST you can expect (for free events, paid are much higher).

Let’s look at the factors that could drive down impact of your virtual events, and what strategies the top producers are using to keep the impact of virtual events high:

• Budgets: Even though virtual events can save thousands for attendees – and millions for producers, most companies simply can’t take their ‘physical’ budgets and spend them on spectacular, cost-effective virtual events. Why, because many times that money has already been spent on the physical event or that budget was slashed in the first. So, the virtual event is an added cost – not a savings.

• Fleeting Visibility: In 2009, few companies are making multi-year commitments to virtual events. Understandably, companies want to take them for test drives to judge their impact, business value and most of all figure out for themselves the cost-benefit of cheaper events with less ‘stckiness’ than a physical event. These assessments are not always possible if virtual events are a ‘Plan B’ option, pulled together with little staff and not enough time. So while you have folks bullish on virtual event right now, it’s not yet clear how bullish they’ll be next year.

• Do They Work?: To become a ‘line item’ in budgets, these ‘trial’ virtual events have to be a success for someone – the producer needs to prove they can meet company objectives, help promote sales, inform customers, and attract target audiences (customers, prospects, shareholders, email subscribers, etc.) . The producers aren’t always the judges.

• Will They Care? Will They Come?: Just as you’re catching on to low-cost online events, so is every other Tom, Dick and Harry out there. Even companies that don’t compete with you for dollars are competing with your target audience for attention. So, event saturation is skyrocketing as your fellow marketers look for leads, branding and to get in touch with current customers. Marketers like virtual events, because they’re presenting a great balance between cost and results, for now. But, be aware over-saturation is coming. Remember plain ol’ email marketing?

Marketers need to brace for all these factors, and have a strategy for ensuring virtual events continue to deliver a great ROI. Whether the economy roars back or not, these 4 questions / factors will impact your virtual event results and strategic plans for future marketing programs. So, what’s the answer?

Let’s go back to the early premise of this piece: Attendee is King.

Ask yourself, is the attendee “king” for your virtual event? No doubt you’d like him or her to be, but if you’re just starting, someone else probably wears your virtual event crown: Your Boss, Lead Gen, Number Crunchers, A/V or IT, or Those that Own the Budget.

It’s not your fault, virtual events can still be complicated, and require lots of help from lots of people. But, once you get over the ‘newness’ of planning and putting on a virtual event, drive your focus to the attendees’ point of view. I can guarantee that if you are attractive and responsive to your target attendee – all the other issues you have about metrics, ROI, lead gen/lead cultivation, branding, etc. will take care of themselves.

I’m about to share with you some questions that will help you assess whether you are paying enough attention to your attendee – or if all the other details and constituencies of a virtual event are crowding out the most important person – Your Attendee.

Is your attendee king of your virtual event (or meeting). Get out your scorecard and read on. You’ll soon find out, perhaps even long before you get to end of the list:

  • Is the registration and login simple and void of error messages?
  • Are your attendees properly prepared and familiar with the schedule?
  • Do you have great content that is unique and highly useful?
  • Are the audio, video and/or slides synced up and working properly?
  • Is there a manned “Help Desk” available throughout the environment?
  • Is navigation to any content or location simple and clearly visible?
  • Is there at least a minimum profile (name, affiliation, title and a brief about company) required and visible for all attendees?
  • Is there a way to see everyone who is currently online at the event?
  • Is there a way to contact an attendee via protected email whether they are online or not? (and get a confirmation that the message was sent)
  • Is there a rating feature available for all sessions, booths, lounge, etc. for attendees to rate their experience? (during the event)
  • Are “moderated chats” or “meet the experts” seeded with knowledgeable staff or volunteers that can ask questions to get the topics moving and keep them going in a productive manner?

What do you think we could add to this list to help make it a better experience for the attendee? After all, if the attendee leaves saying this was an excellent event and very useful getting them back again will be a whole lot easier. And happy and interactive attendees usually mean happy sponsors and exhibitors. What do you think?

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