Event Savvy: The Debate - Integrating Virtual Components
With audiences expecting (and finding) more and more free content, how can conference and event organizers integrate virtual components into the face-to-face experience without compromising their business model?Published in August 2009 event savvy | virtual | Departments
With audiences expecting (and finding) more and more free content, how can conference and event organizers integrate virtual components into the face-to-face experience without compromising their business model?
Sound-Off: Does virtual attendance cannibalize on-site?
“Is it really going to sell more tickets for next year? What’s going to sell more tickets is people going home and saying, ‘Twiistup was an awesome conference and I’m going to attend next year.’ [With] the free crowd, to me, the argument is, would they ever pay? And the answer is, they wouldn’t.”
— Francisco Dao, producer of Twiistup, a Los Angeles tech startup and digital media event
“If you don’t think they’d want to be face to face, then there’s not a lot of value in the event. It’s very interesting how when you flip it and think about the Super Bowl, the live streaming does not cannibalize the face-to-face 10-day Super Bowl experience at all.”
— Jeff Hurt, director of education and events, National Association of Dental Plans
“I’ve seen the more the conference is open, the more free content that gets out there, the more buzz that gets generated, and therefore the more people want to go for the next year.”
— David Meerman Scott, speaker and best-selling author of “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” and “World Wide Rave”
“It’s two different audiences, really. Looking at cannibalizing is really looking at the worst side of the whole story. You really need to look at the optimistic side — sometimes even people who RSVP won’t come, so really you’re just giving them access.”
— Julius Solaris, head of blur Marketing
Case Study: Cisco Live
Heading into their 2009 show, Cisco Live managers knew that reduced travel and training budgets could significantly affect their attendance, which drives the conference’s budget. To counteract this, they offered Cisco Live Virtual in conjunction with the face-to-face experience, allowing people to watch the keynotes virtually, participate in Q&A sessions, join groups, write and comment on blogs and connect with attendees with similar interests.
“Our theory going into it was that people with the budget and the time and the ability to attend on-site, will,” said Staci Clark, marketing strategy manager for Cisco Live. To avoid cannibalizing on-site attendance, conference organizers:
- Didn’t market the virtual option until later in the marketing cycle to preserve early-bird registration.
- Marketed very selectively. Marketing intelligence said the two driving factors for attendance were tenure with the event and proximity to the location, so the virtual experience was marketed first to those who were least likely to attend: those who had never been to Cisco Live who were far from the San Francisco area. As the event date approached, marketers gradually expanded the universe of people they marketed Cisco Live Virtual to.
- Offered paid and free virtual attendance. Free virtual attendees could access the keynotes and a handful of tech sessions and had limited social networking capabilities. Paid virtual attendees had a richer networking experience and could access sessions presented exclusively to them.
- Marketed them as two different experiences, leaving it to the audience to select which was best for them.
“It was a way to increase our reach to a new audience who may be less invested in the show,” said Clark. Free virtual attendees are prospects for paid virtual; paid virtual are prospects for the live experience. “We move more people into our sphere of influence. If they stay virtual forever, that’s great. Cisco is still having a conversation with them.”