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Tips For Hosting Your Virtual Event

The "lobby" of CA Technologies' month-long May Mainframe Madness virtual trade show

According to research conducted by Unisfair, 60 percent of marketers say they intend to increase the amount of money they’re spending on virtual events in 2011. CA Technologies is hosting what it says is the longest virtual trade show ever, a month-long event that will include more than 150 presentations and 25 virtual booths. We spoke with the company behind this virtual trade show, ON24, about how companies can host their own Web events.

“These are events rather than meetings,” said Mark Szelenyi, senior director of webcasting for ON24. “Events are usually very structured in theme and the experience people have with it, and there’s a lot of advanced thinking about the brand message and how it’s going to get across.”

So, there’s a difference between hosting a virtual event and a casual tweetup even though both are happening online.

ON24 offers services for three types of events: a webcast, a trade show or conference, and a “virtual briefing center” that provides content on an ongoing basis that visitors can come back to. While a webcast can take two to three weeks to organize, a trade show or conference is more like three months, giving time for people to register and for adequate promotion. (Tricia Heinrich, senior director of strategic communications at ON24, says that most registrations come from a company’s in-house lists of contacts, FYI.)

“Something to consider upfront is it’s easier to lose your audience here,” said Szelenyi. “When you fly someone in, you have them captive. In a virtual event, there are many distractions and it’s easy to click away.” Engaging with attendees is important like including chats with keynote speakers and between networks of people.

Attendees can be encouraged to interact through social media as well. Events can include social media widgets that can drive traffic to a LinkedIn group or to Twitter, where information can be shared through a broader network, Szelenyi says.

Content is critical too, adds Heinrich, not just during the event (adding new information regularly keeps people coming back) but even after, as in the case of CA Technologies and its “briefing center.”

Besides trade shows and conferences, ON24 says that clients are using virtual channels for sales meetings and other internal communications, training for company partners, and other audiences. “Virtual has benefits. It doesn’t require travel, it’s more cost-effective, and it’s green,” Heinrich reminds us.

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