Should I Be Seeking Out Virtual Attendees?
The world is inexorably connected. People now have access to unlimited knowledge bases. Interests and specialties are becoming narrowly siloed, and the result has been an explosion in conferences, summits, seminars and live events that cater to very specific audiences. As interest grows in these events, so do the number of people across the world that would like to attend them but can’t. Enter the virtual attendee.
The concept of a virtual attendee is a relatively new one – and the industry is still trying to figure out best practices on how to engage these people. The benefits of adding virtual attendees to an event, however, are many – and the emerging technology for doing so is already impressive.
Why do I want virtual attendees?
Rudiger J. Ellis is the CEO and Co-founder of JOICASTER, a live streaming service that allows users to stream their content to multiple channels. He says, “Having the ability to reach additional people outside of an event is a huge win for a product or speaker’s messaging.” For Rudiger, TED is a great example of an organization who has taken advantage of streaming and created a strong brand by doing so.
“TED events occur at a multitude of locations throughout the globe. Capitalizing on the opportunity to extend your marketing reach speaks volumes.”
An increase in reach is certainly an added benefit – but does the added reach actually translate into ROI? Can virtual attendees provide as much value as attendees in the room? Rudiger sees opportunity to monetize the virtual content.
“Providing great value to remote attendees can add additional cost to producing an event, but these additional costs can be offset with a fee to access the live stream for external viewers.”
By offering a lower-cost option to stream content from your event, you are extending your reach without cutting into your revenue. “Sure the fee will not be the full price of the conference,” Rudiger says, “but a ‘tune-in’ fee is most certainly acceptable as long as the VOD (video on demand) version of the content will not be publically available post event.”
Rudiger even suggests making virtual attendees of onsite attendees. “Archive copies of an event are also an additional value add for onsite attendee because it allows them to truly focus on the materials being presented and can reference the materials (video & slides) at a later date/time for review.’
The Society of Women Engineers has been offering virtual content for four years now. Peter Finn, SWE’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Learning Officer, says it’s all about widespread access. “It creates another access point for our members and larger community to get a sample of the content we’re generating.”
There’s an important key there. Did you catch it? Peter is also counting on offering virtual content as a way to attract new members and sponsors.
“I also see it as a great marketing tool for the conference. People are able to check out content before going. We use it as a way for prospective sponsors or companies that want to get more involved to give them a sample of what kind of content we’re generating.”
For this reason, SWE makes it’s virtual pass available to anyone – even attendees at the event who want a chance to review content or “attend” a session they missed.
How do I make my content…well…virtual?
Adding value to your event from virtual attendees is a trade off. The content you’re offering them must match the value you’ve put on the virtual resources – especially because nothing beats the live event.
“The key though is to make sure the remote attendees can participate and can appear to be somewhat immersed in the environment,” says Rudiger.
In addition to live-streaming, let’s take a look at some of the methods by which you can deliver engaging content to virtual attendees.
In a traditional event structure, attendees will consume content in a dark room with a speaker or presenter standing in front of them and referring to some presentation slides. It seems to work okay – but it’s not always the most engaging for folks in the room, let alone anyone following along at home.
With screencasting technology, both onsite and virtual attendees can hold the presentation in their hands and interact at the same time. Lintelus is a company that provides multiscreen technology with a dose of interactivity. Attendees (in person and virtual) can follow along with the presenter’s slides while also taking advantage features that allow them to take notes, participate in live polls, chat and tweet, and even ask questions of the presenter.
Attendees can use Lintelus on a phone, tablet, or even Google Glass. Imagine a world where a virtual attendee could be attending your event from another event. It’s like event inception.
Social Media Aggregation
Most events have boarded the social media train. We all know by now that creating and amplifying a larger conversation around your content is key to growing and sustaining an event.
With a social media aggregator like Eventifier, virtual attendees can see the conversation in real time from a meta perspective. A dashboard that is gathering photos, videos, tweets and more will make sure that virtual attendees are surrounded by the event conversation and engaging in it themselves. It takes the overwhelming feeling out of scrolling through endless Twitter streams and switching between various social networks.
Patrick O’Rourke is the Associate Director for Membership and Corporate Engagement for the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). Patrick helps to produce more than 8 conferences annually, and has found that including presentation materials in their event app not only engages members who can’t make it to the conference, but also provides value for onsite attendees before, during and after.
“At each conference, we provide attendees the use of a mobile app so they can view the presentation materials in-hand. Be that before the session so they can inform their viewing, or during and after the session to improve the experience.”
For Patrick, making presentations more widely available even has a hidden benefit. “It has also pushed our presenters into making better slides which is a healthy, happy cycle.”
UPCEA’s event app is also streamlining content delivery. “Invariably, we have last minute ideas and the program would already be printed. Instead of stuffing paper into the program, we have a natural means to distribute information to attendees.”
Where is all this headed?
The choice to include virtual attendees is going to change the way events think about attendance. JOICASTER recently took on the task of streaming the 4th Annual Streamy Awards – a popular awards show for web video content. “Not only were they able to live stream their event to one location, but we took it a step further and syndicated their live stream to 13 different end points, for that one stream to be seen. They saw a 10x increase in overall viewership, compared to if they streamed to just one centralized location.”
Rudiger even envisions taking event streaming a step farther. “I believe we are entering down the path where a technical video director will have an opportunity to pick from a multitude of camera angles by crowdsourcing content from the audience.” It’s easy to imagine how a technology like this could truly make for an immersive virtual attendee experience.