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Put on a Great Virtual Conference: 5 Tips
 

Once you go virtual, you might not go back. Here are the ins and outs of putting on a digital conference in style.

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According to a recent report, virtual events are projected to see 56 percent growth between 2012 and 2015. There's a good reason for that--virtual conferences offer tremendous marketing as conversion power, says Kaltura co-founder Michal Tsur. She hosted one last month where 3,000 people attended and one out of every four attendees signed up for a product trial. Here are Tsur's tips on what it takes to produce a great virtual conference:

1.  Define your conference strategy.

Start by clearly outlining your target audience. This will shape the kind of content you choose to include as well as how you decide to market the conference. Next, define your conference objectives. What is it you're trying to achieve with this conference and what's the most effective way to go about achieving those goals? Lastly, create the content program. Clearly lay out the plenary, panel, and breakout sessions you want to have, including a list of speakers.

2.  Prepare the content.

It's a good idea to pre-record content in the form of well-edited and interesting video clips. Not only will this minimize the possibility of technical glitches, it will also guarantee that your invitees are kept engaged. If you're really looking to make an impact on your attendees, it's important that the content be available as video-on-demand after the event.

3. Decide on a conference-hosting platform.

Virtual conference platforms today are robust and competitive. You need to consider whether or not there will be booths for companies and sponsors to demonstrate and promote their products. Another determining factor is how interactive the conference will be and whether or not you plan on including company representatives to answer and engage with attendees. The large selection of conference hosting platforms out there include Intercall, WebEx, 6connex, 3D-VirtualEvents, and Communique Conferencing, among others.

 4. Market your conference.

The success of any conference, be it offline or online, relies on the strength of the marketing campaign.  The more-the-merrier nature of a virtual conference means that you can afford to run an aggressive marketing campaign without having to concern yourself with space limitations, logistics, and per-person costs. Tsur says her team ran a thorough marketing campaign that targeted potential attendees via newsletters, social media networks, and the company blog and website. They also collaborated with several trade magazines and offered to list them as a conference sponsor in exchange for banner ads.

5. Enable attendees to network and interact.

Perhaps the most essential component of a conference is ensuring that attendees connect with each other, share contact information and plant seeds for potential deals, partnerships, etc. Fortunately, one of the greatest advantages of a virtual conference is that networking can be easier and more scalable than at a physical conference.

In each of the "hangouts" of a virtual conference--be it a live session, a booth, or the entry hall--attendees can see a detailed list of folks that are in that area, so they can easily start an online chat or trade details with whomever they'd like. You can even start a private chat during a live session, which is not something that would typically be done at a physical conference, and can stop by virtual booths in the exhibit hall to grab marketing materials, chat with reps, and watch promo videos.

Additionally, rather than having to squint to see small print on the name tags of attendees, you can browse all those who are present (even hundreds or thousands of guests) and trade contact info or start a conversation. For exhibitors there is one additional advantage: Not only do they receive a list of people who visited their booth, but detailed analytics on the whereabouts of those attendees during the conference are made available--which is any marketer's dream in this data-driven economy.

Have you ever hosted a virtual conference? Please share tips below on dos and don'ts of virtual conference planning and production.

IMAGE: altemark / Flickr.com
Last updated: Aug 14, 2013

ILYA POZIN is the founder of Open Me, a social greeting card company. He founded his first company, Ciplex, a digital marketing and creative agency catering to small businesses and startups, at age 17.
@ilyaNeverSleeps




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