Once You Go Hybrid You’ll Never Go Back—Hybrid Event Drives Physical Event Attendance

  • 4 min read
  • Oct 12, 2009
Once You Go Hybrid You’ll Never Go Back—Hybrid Event Drives Physical Event Attendance

Originally driven by the poor economy and the concern for customer travel restraints, Cisco Live, Cisco’s annual customer conference, stepped up their virtual event activates and went hybrid for the first time. Cisco Live and specifically the Networkers conference has been using virtual technology for some time now; from on demand virtual solutions to live Second Life activities, Cisco has been at the forefront of virtual event strategies.

“For the last two years, Cisco Live has been active with live virtual elements being streamed into Second Life,” said Dannette Veale, Global Virtual Strategist, Cisco Live. “We’ve had keynotes, technical sessions and expert panels available for customers that couldn’t come to the physical event. This year we wanted to have a platform that could reach a much larger audience than you can with a Second Life type solution. We also wanted to be able to allow our onsite attendees the ability to make connections with their peers that were unable to travel to the event. Though we had over 10,000 attendees at the physical event, this new capability allowed us to really expand our reach and community on a year-round basis. The hybrid event serves as an excellent marketing and awareness funnel for net-new attendees.”

The results have been very positive and especially for future attendance at the physical event. 34% of the virtual attendees have indicated that they are very likely or extremely likely to attend the next Cisco Live in person. By holding a hybrid event Cisco was able to offer customers that had not attended the event before an opportunity to experience the event and see what actually was taking place at the physical meeting. It also gave those that are on a rotation the change to stay connected with the attendee community, get some of the content they crave and most importantly, remember what a great event they are missing so they fight to go next year.

Cisco Live Virtual Stats

  • Likelihood of purchasing a Cisco product as result of attending–80%
  • Likelihood of attending in person next year—340%
  • At the close of the physical show, registration for virtual only—4,400
  • Virtual booth visits–4,000
  • Session views—21,000
  • Average virtual booth rating–4.4 (out of 5)
  • Average session rating –4.5 (out of 5)
  • Overall sat score–4.2 (out of 5)
  • Groups created—43
  • One-on-one chats started—1,400
  • Blogs created–74
  • Profiles matches run—2,500
  • Unique lounge visits –2,000
  • Countries represented–29

To achieve these kinds of results, you need to have a good strategy mapped out and then execute flawlessly. Cisco looked at what they call an “event intersection.” This is a process of looking at what the attendees are doing on site, what is the nature of the interactions and what should be exclusive to the onsite attendees and what should be shared with the virtual audience. They also looked at what they could add for the virtual attendees that could or should be exclusive opportunities for them.

They used Second Life for some unique sessions for that virtual audience and then used the InXpo platform for more of the live and technical sessions. Technical sessions ranged from 60 to 120 minutes and the retention rate was very high. There were 10 sessions per day available for the virtual audience and some were concurrent but as the sessions were all archived, onsite and virtual attendees could view them later on demand.

Cisco Live Virtual also hybridized the “World of Solutions” expo where elements from the expo like the “Technical Solutions Clinic”, “Ask the Expert” and a” Meet the Engineer” were all available live from the show floor but connected to the virtual attendees. Those programs were very popular and both from the attendees point of view as well as Cisco’s as the Cisco experts were able to reach a much larger audience. Cisco also had some key partners and many internal Cisco business units participating in the virtual World of Solutions.

Another exclusive opportunity for the virtual attendees utilized the high level executives that Cisco had on site by setting up live group video chats after their keynote presentations. So virtual attendees could ask Cisco’s CTO Padmasree Warrior for example questions and get her perspective on technical, Cisco and general business issues. Access to Cisco executives was very efficient this way and attendees rated these activities very high.

“The beauty of the hybrid is that we could actually track people coming in to these group chats with Cisco experts, see them breaking off into individual IM chats and then coming back into group chats reporting problems had been solved and sharing results,” noted Veale. “In the past, virtual attendees didn’t have these kinds of opportunities in fact we were giving them something they probably couldn’t even get onsite so this was a big step forward and something we’ll be expanding on.”

The technology they used for this application was part of the platform and in addition to the using it for the applications above, they also used it to broadcast live from the Cisco booth in their Solutions Theatre. This was a simple setup; just a webcam pointed at the stage and a bridge from the sound board and virtual attendees could watch presentations from various Cisco units and partners.

Veale recommends opening the platform early and giving people a reason to go in and get familiar by uploading their profile, using various functions and features and starting to get the networking going. Cisco plans now to keep the environment going 24/7 365 so opening early for them won’t be an issue next year. Cisco uses ON24 to capture hundreds of sessions audio and video and once those have been cleaned up through post production, they will be released in batches to the virtual environment and mini events will be associated with those releases. Overall, they plan for lots of activities and events prior to next year’s Cisco Live event including reaching out to other groups at Cisco to offer them use of the platform.

Lessons learned

  • Don’t open group chats in virtual booths or other areas not likely to be monitored before the event is open as it makes for extra work checking for chats that need to be answered.
  • Do close down the event with ample time (1 month) to get everything tested and cleaned up.
  • Do train-train-train the vendors, speakers, moderators and support teams.
  • Don’t take your virtual event lightly—top customers will be there, partners will be there, company executives will be there, media might be there, your peers will be there so mark the brand look good!