The Future of Digital Events: It’s All About the Community

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It seems everyone is seeking a strong community these days, particularly when it comes to events. The point was brought home last week by Michael Kushner, VP of Digital Media Strategy for UBM Studios, during a Virtual Edge Summit session entitled, “Virtual’s Next Stage – Going Beyond Events.”

After revisiting the history of the virtual event, from it’s beginning as a webcast through it’s growth into a full virtual tradeshow mimicking a physical event, Kushner stated that his company now builds “immersive digital environments.” He made particular note of the fact that he did not use the words “virtual” or “event.”

The online “destinations” that Kushner spoke of focus much more on the experience, content and journey and much less on the platform, he said. These digital environments seem more an extension of physical events where users can start conversations, see a live stream, ask questions, peruse resource libraries and more. In addition, organizers of these destinations can see everything users do in the virtual environment.

The focus in nearly every case Kushner shared seemed to be creating a community around an event or product that interacts with the digital environment throughout the year. The uses were many.

Road Show

UBM developed a webcast theater for Dupont – a destination where the company can repurpose their road show content on a regular basis. Once a user registers, he or she continuously receives updates of new content. The perpetual environment contains a welcome video and resource center. It can also host chats.

Product Launch Pad

A product launch pad that provides a video platform for editorial and tutorial videos was built for Aflac. Sponsors buy slots, thereby monetizing the site and its content.

365 Community

This model takes existing online communities with a high level of engagement, ie forums, blogs, message boards, and combines them with a perpetual virtual environment.

Career Recruitment

Kushner noted that he’s seeing more and more company centered recruitment. A digital recruitment center can be available year round or can go live with recruiters available in an environment that can host one-on-one video chats. Content can include career advancement and development resources. Career Recruitment sites have high levels of traffic, Kushner said.

Interactive Event Companion

These digital destinations are designed to engage and inform attendees before, during and after a face-to-face event. They provide a single destination for all things related to an event and are accessed on any device including mobile, tablets and web browsers. They combine a show guide, conference bag, content management and networking in one location. They also enable attendees to create a personal agenda, schedule appointments and see which fellow attendees are there. Keynotes can be streamed live or recorded and provided on demand.

Kushner concluded by sharing some keys to success when organizing virtual events. They were:

  • Identify opportunities: make the business case, develop a game plan
  • Know your audience: deliver value; if you build it, will they come?
  • Define objectives: set goals, establish benchmarks
  • Get support: identify champions, involve the stakeholders
  • All hands on deck: seek proper staffing, moderate and host

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