Who is Responsible for Your Virtual Event’s User Experience?

  • 5 min read
  • Sep 21, 2009
Who is Responsible for Your Virtual Event’s User Experience?

It has been a busy few weeks for virtual events and we have had the luxury to attend a few recently that were overall pretty good but still have some issues that shouldn’t be happening. Remember, just because it is a “virtual” event doesn’t mean it should anything less than a perfect experience for your attendee—in fact, it’s even more important in my opinion. Why? The obvious reason is that people are in front of their computers with the ability to connect to a world of information or their email and IM in a fraction of a second and studies show that they will, given the slightest provocation. Another reason is that the event is your brand. If you are the event producer (and I would say the event platform provider as well) the event is your brand and you can reinforce your brand or damage it depending on your attendee’s event experience.

For example, at one event I was at, I had visited the show producer’s booth to chat with them about how it was going and while I was there I had decided to sign up for a copy of their magazine. Nice booth and an attractive, large graphic offering their free subscription but when I clicked on the graphic to take action, I got a 404 error saying the page could not be found.

As I was about to tell them in the chat box, I saw that there were other people already making them aware of the problem. I hope they got that fixed quickly because as I scrolled through the chat I saw there was much discussion on it and suggestions of alternative links. Not a good user experience though you could argue it did get people to chat who otherwise might not have. Seriously, it was a poor reflection on the exhibitor in this case the show’s producer. It made me wonder what else might be messed up at the event.

Normally here I would talk about the need to fully train the exhibitors and test their booth links for them but this was the show organizer’s booth so I will now say that the platform vendors out there need provide a link check for their client’s events. Perhaps this is an automated solution that could be implemented across all events. The attendee experience is perhaps the most important aspect of the business in the virtual event industry. Let me repeat that — the attendee experience is perhaps the most important aspect of the business in the virtual event industry. It seems obvious right? If attendees have a good experience, they’ll likely attend more virtual events and may seek out more such events to participate in thus growing the market opportunity for virtual events. People talking about a great event they attended virtually is great word of mouth marketing (WOMM). People tweeting about an event that people should go to can cause increased attendance at an event and spread that WOMM message even further.

Here is a BIG user experience problem and it seems to be getting worse as fewer event producers are providing profile information on attendees. If I’m attending a virtual event, I want to know who else is there and want to be able to find out something about them so I can decide if I should try and reach out to meet them. Giving me a person’s name and their company (I whited out parts of it) is just not enough in a virtual environment. There should be a list for core information that is required and provided as part of the profile of all attendees. Someone’s name and company are useless (unless I already know them). If you can’t do anything else, link to their public LinkedIn profile but I would strongly recommend that the LI profile be a backup, general profile and the event have a more specific profile targeted to the specific event. This will only help all attendees get more out of the event. If I were a platform vendor, I would have a minimal set of profile questions that were required for any event. A profile like the following is a negative reflection on virtual events in general.

It’s Not All Bad. Here is a Virtual Booth I Love!

HubSpot helps drive inbound leads and Rebecca Corliss was the person who had managed their presence at a marketing event I recently attended. They did what most people are not doing in virtual booths…they did a video. That’s right most of the booths I visit still do not have a video—a huge mistake. It can be easy and inexpensive or you can go all out and spend a lot but you are at a tremendous disadvantage if you do not have a video for people to get an introduction to your company. I will be doing a series on how to produce videos soon so keep an eye out for it.

Watch the video from HubSpot’s virtual booth now, you’ll love it.

I had a great user experience in their booth and the video just started it off…and I’ll bet it started lots of booth chats with people who otherwise may not have chatted. It absolutely made me feel like I wanted to find out more about this company.

Meanwhile at That Same Event…

I (and many other attendees) was confused by the way the program was displayed. First of all it is hard to know what time zone things are scheduled in unless it is noted next to session or activity time listing. There was a robust listing of sessions for the day and they were in chronological order but all of them had an “Attend Now” button that was activated yet when you pressed the “Attend Now” button you got a page that said “Sorry, this presentation is not available.” This is a bad user experience and one that can be easily fixed by either making only those sessions that are available at that moment active (the others grayed out) and or have a prominent “Now Playing” list on every page. Both are probably preferred as even though people were in the system for the start of a session (a keynote) much of the chat was centered around people not being able to find the link to the session. Since the session was later in the day and the attendee’s program schedule started from the first session of the day versus what was currently playing, you had to scroll way down to find it…judging by the chat, it was a bad user experience.

Some of these issues may seem like small problems or that we are being overly critical but they add up and are easily avoidable in the first place. For example when I was trying to get into the keynote session I hadn’t seen the speaker’s bio and didn’t know her name or company and when I did get to the session it was already started. I was surprised to find that her bio and name (at the least) was not on the session landing page yet there was an area where it could have been displayed. Not a big deal again but I eventually had to go out and find her info and then come back to the session. What made this worse was that she was talking about her website and only occasionally showing pieces of it but I never saw the branding. Had I known what site she was talking about, I would have gone off to look at it while keeping the audio going—not what you really want your attendees doing though.

Finally, I’m not sure that I received a follow up survey to any of the events and I usually try and fill those out but I could have missed them. Not doing a follow up survey to attendees would be a lost opportunity to find out what you could do better with your next event. All in all, the events seemed to be pretty well received based on the chat comments but you really can’t tell a whole lot from chat review.

Like physical events, virtual events need attention to detail for all aspects of the event. What is nice about virtual events is that you can test and check most aspects of the environment out before you launch so allowing you to get the user experience (or most of it) before the event. Take the time to visit your event as a user and develop a user experience council that will help you evaluate and improve each event.

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