Tools for Interactive Online Events

What are the best tools for designing interactive online events? As I explained in my last post (Design Considerations in Designing Online Events), you can’t just lift and shift a face-to-face event to the digital world and expect interactive experiences to happen. You must deconstruct the face-to-face event and design an interactive online event.

This post will dive into various tools for designing interactive online events. I won’t be recommending specific tools, but providing advice for evaluating these tools.

You Probably Have the Tools You Need

How do you currently host live webinars? Think about the tools you already have, and leverage your investment in them. Your investment includes things like licensing costs, IT integration with your company’s identity systems, and integration with your marketing automation systems.

You will want to ensure that the platform can handle the size of the audience you’ll have if you convert a face-to-face event into an online event, and that you’re able to accommodate for the increased bandwidth.

It’s also a good idea to use this as an opportunity to investigate all options the platform provides, especially if you’ve been using it for a while. Does the platform allow for things like file sharing, built in polls, closed captioning, or even broadcasting to other platforms like YouTube.

Go where your audience congregates

The most overlooked tools for interactive events are the ones where your audience can communicate with you and other audience members. The way to encourage people to participate is to meet them where they are.

Where does your target audience interact online? Is it Twitter? Slack? LinkedIn? Reddit? Find a way to go to them. But be careful of making it weird — don’t show up in the tools your audience is comfortable using with your perfect messaging and expect people to want to interact. That’s just weird.

This is a great time to interview the experts who work in your company, who are probably already interacting in these spaces (yes, with your customers!). Work with them to figure out the best way to make these spaces a part of your architecture for interactive online events. Your internal experts are key to making this part not weird.

Our world is networked, your customers don’t interact with you in the hierarchical ways of the past. Some even say that now co-learning trumps marketing. Take advantage of this opportunity, and meet your customers where they are.

Make Your Content Interactive

Do you want the audience to be interactive? Make sure the content you are
creating for these events is interactive! Stop making sage on the stage
presentations, they are boring.

Also, no one wants to sit through 15 minutes of your marketing message before they can get to the real content they came to hear. If your downstream marketing teams are doing their jobs, everyone has heard this message before. In presentations. On product pages. In marketing emails. All over social media.

The quickest way to disconnect folks is to drone on about what YOU want them to hear. Create presentations that focus on problems your audience have, but be sure you’re telling the story in a way that your customers recognize their environments. Help them see how using your problem helps them solve their problems.

If you’re being honest, you know when your face-to-face audiences tune out. Whether it’s a keynote being delivered after a live band performs at 8 AM or a training class, people go to their phones the minute the content is irrelevant to their needs.

Get back to basics. Focus on your audience’s needs, not your need for
them to hear your polished messaging. Focus on what they came to hear, make sure that is bounded by your messaging, and provide a mechanism for live feedback if they do reach for their phones.

Staff Appropriately for Interactive Online Events

It is tempting to attempt to save money by cutting back on the staff assigned to support interactive online events. Give in to that temptation at your own peril! You need staff to monitor the online event and fan the flames of interest to get that roaring fire of interactivity going.

Bare minimum for staffing during the event is a speaker and perhaps a moderator. But you also need subject matter experts (SMEs) manning where you’ve planned to have interaction. That may mean having an SME in the chat in the webinar, but don’t forget to have SMEs manning social media.

These folks shouldn’t just answer questions. Be personable – just like you
would be in a face-to-face conference! For most of us, this isn’t unusual to do on social media. If you approach these areas openly, you’ll probably encounter some snark. But let’s be honest, if customers trust you they are going to be snarky to your face as well.

Having SMEs monitoring interactive areas can also help find problem areas. It may become apparent that the audience doesn’t understand or agree with the presentation. That could derail the presentation in the interactive space. Having a monitor that understands that language of your audience who can act as a mediator is critical.

This SME can also pass any problem areas to the host or speaker, so that the speaker can address the audience concern. This real time interactive
acknowledgement of the audience is something that can not be done in a live face-to-face keynote. Imagine the impact of really being heard could have on your customer audience.

Don’t underestimate the value of having your marketing teams also monitoring audience interactions. They can document questions to build an online FAQ, take measurements on which social platforms seemed to be most lively, and monitor discussions afterwards with social media tools. If your marketing team works with your SMEs to find keywords and create hashtags, this will help you keep the interactive fires warm until your next event, either online or face-to-face.

Real Talk

There’s no doubt about it – you will need to rely on tools for interactive online events. The good news is that you probably already have the tools you need. You’re going to need to evaluate these tools, create interactive content, and resist the urge to run these events with a minimal crew.

In our next post in this series, I’ll review an online event that was designed for interaction. I’d love to hear your experiences . What is the most interactive online event you’ve attended? What made it awesome? Let me know below in the comments.

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Can Small World Theory Explain Polarization? #blogredux

small world

This week in Blog Redux: can small world theory explain polarization? This week I’m reviving an old post from from July 10, 2010. The post was titled How information needs and small world signatures are related to affinity and relevance. Ahh the good ole days when we didn’t have to worry about SEO and we could just write to communicate!

This blog post was based on my undergrad degree, in particular the work of Elfreda Chatman. Unfortunately she passed away very unexpectedly soon after I graduated. I wish she were around to know how much she impacted my work, and so I could work with her now.

As always, I’ll re-post the blog in its entirety here, and add my comments as a quote that start with Thoughts from 2020.

How information needs and small world signatures are related to affinity and relevance

Last week I wrote a post asking if anyone knew a technical term for truthiness.

No takers on that so that request. So now this is my reflective post to work my way through the idea that unscrupulous information impostors will be able to figure out how to use social media to control information networks. How can that happen? Think about information.

Thoughts from 2020: I wrote that post as I was working out my presentation for Bitnorth. That presentation was on the digital divide, and how can normal people compete with media that intend to manipulate videos and stories to get their message across. Spoiler: the bad guy was Andrew Breitbart.

Information Needs

We talk alot about the digital explosion of data at EMC, but how is data different than information? Information has more depth than data because information responds to a need. There may be a need for the information, but if that need is never expressed the information seeking process never begins.

Thoughts from 2020: this point about information is really important. We are overrun with data, even more so 20 years later. The data we pay attention to is the data that responds to a need. That’s what marketers do, look for (or create) an information need, and convince you that only their product can fill your needs. That’s also how propaganda works.

The way that people process information is dependent on the small worlds (or communities, or tribes…) to which they belong. The roles we play in our small worlds also impact if we are able to express a need for information.

Thoughts from 2020: I went along with the social media craze of talking about our “tribes”, mostly because it felt pointless to fight it. But ten years later, we have native twitter, and seriously great posts from citizens of native nations explaining why saying tribes is appropriation and actually has a negative impact on native people today. Follow some native people, learn more, and stop encouraging people to “find their tribe”!

Small world signatures

Once you belong to small world, you have to conform to that group’s signature (or style) to remain a member of the world. The signature defines how a group will handle events, topics that can be discussed (or must be excluded), the form of interaction, and the level of meaning of events.

The style also instructs group members how to deal with outsiders. Usually, if a stranger enters a small world they present enough raw information about their world to allow members of the group to see a worldview beyond their own. If the stranger understands the rules the group has for information exchange, the stranger can continue to share his alternative world view. But if the stranger forgets to stay within the group’s signature, the members of the small group won’t communicate freely anymore.

Think about Windows admins vs UNIX admins. Think about very technical people and marketers. Think about women in technology. Think about teenagers and parents. Think about yankees and southerners.

Thoughts from 2020: Think about our current political climate. All sides have these small world signatures, and it is interesting to see how some of the political groups define the signature (hats, catch phrases, how to interact).

Also think about what happens when an outsider tries to interact. If the outsider says or does certain things, the communication channel is abruptly closed.

How this relates to social media

Relevance and affinity are two goal posts companies are driving toward with their social media programs. Its the place companies want to get after all of their investments in listening and building reach. The idea is to build real relationships with customers, not to just market at them.

Here’s my idea:

Relevance is being able to meet an information need. If a company has done their homework, they know how to be relevant and end up in one of their customer’s searches for information.

Affinity is being able to know a small world’s rules for exchanging information, and being able to copy the pattern so that information exchange is possible. Its understanding your target community, connecting on their terms, talking their language.

Thoughts from 2020: I believe these definitions of relevance and affinity have held up. From a corporate marketing standpoint, this is very hard work. I feel like for the most part this was abandoned when community was ditched for pure digital marketing.

If we think about the current political climate, and how digital and social media marketing tools have been used to sway elections, the implications are more sinister.

Here’s what scares me

Information imposters can have play this game too. They can study small worlds, make themselves relevant to information searches of their target population, and build affinity. If they are able to do all of these things they should be able to infiltrate a small world. Will they be able to change the group’s signature? Will they be able to change the rules so that people no longer have a need to search for information?

And now this post is getting too long — so I have more reflecting to do. What do you think? Am I on to something here?

Thoughts from 2020: Ten years later, and my predictions were correct. And frankly, that terrifies me. The question now is: how do we fight this? How do we take back social tools to unite us, instead of divide us?

All of this came from a paper I wrote in my undergrad days, the material was from class notes in my Information Needs and Preferences course which was taught by Elfreda Chatman.

Thoughts from 2020: Are you interested in finding ways to fight the polarization in our world? Do you want to help link small worlds instead of fighting against each other? We are too. Please subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on LinkedIn if you’re interested in learning more.

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Is Community Still a Bad Word? #blogredux


This week in Blog Redux: is community still a bad word? This week I’m reviving an old post from from February 2012 (almost 8 years ago!). The post was titled On dev-ops, marketing, the c-word, and pneumonia. Don’t worry, the c-word is community.

As always, I’ll re-post the blog in its entirety here, and add my comments as a quote that start with Thoughts from 2019: .

On dev-ops, marketing, the c-word, and pneumonia

Pneumonia is a funny thing. For those of you who don’t know, I was diagnosed with pneumonia a week and a half ago. While I was at Cloud Connect. I can honestly say I’ve never been this sick in my entire life. It’s worse than the massive kidney infection I had when I was 8 months pregnant. Or the appendectomy that happened when I was six months pregnant. (Yes same kid. She obviously inherited tenacity from the get-go).

I’ve had to just lay in bed for 12 days now. This blog has been written and re-written several times in my head, but today is the first day I’ve had the energy to sit up and write it.

Thoughts from 2019: I was very sick. I didn’t even have the energy to read, which was a first for me. It was the first time I had slowed down in a very long time. The universe absolutely told me to have a seat. Hard IT burn-out lessons learned here.

One of the things I’ve been laying in bed thinking about is how social media tools are being used for marketing. I jumped to marketing from technical education because I wanted to blog and learn and talk about all of the cool new emerging technologies. I wanted to do more than maintain courses on legacy technologies  for a corporate training organization. And isn’t marketing really just educating people about what your company can offer?

Thoughts from 2019: I maintain that this is exactly what a product marketer does, based on research and collaboration.

Social media gives all of us the ability to find experts on all sorts of topics . Hell, you may be the expert – maybe you find a blog or a video or a message board that sparks innovation by giving you a different angle, a different definition. Then you share your innovative idea with others – and you banter and argue and everyone learns a ton.

Thoughts from 2019: I believe this is still true, but it may be harder to find. I mean, kids these days want to grow up to be influencers, not influence others with their unique insights and talents.

For businesses, harnessing the power of the experts inside and outside of your organization can be a very powerful thing. Unfortunately, that’s not what I’m seeing in the world of marketing. Lots of the traditional marketing viewpoints – reach, eyeballs on the pages, crafting and controlling the messages seem to be much more important than telling the company’s story from the viewpoint of external and internal experts.

You may have seen me talking about the “C-word” on Twitter. The c-word is Community. I started using the c-word after talking to some other social media folks who had also noticed in meetings about new social media plans, lots would be said about various social media tools, keywords, even metrics, but nothing was ever said about how this plan would impact and build the community. It’s almost like community is a dirty word!

I think the support groups in an organization – e.g. Education and Marketing – really need to step up and start changing the way they do business. We need to stop applying the old way of doing things to these new social media tools.  We are the teachers, the story tellers. Why aren’t we telling stories, teaching our communities? Why are we just making plans to tweet and blog and chatter? Let’s take advantage of the promise of the tools – and change how we do things!

Thoughts from 2019: Just coming out of a corporate product marketing role, I’m not sure this has gotten much better in the last 8 years. It is much easier to create video and blog content, and social media marketing is really part of digital marketing now. There are even efforts to do influencer marketing, but that too doesn’t try to knit ties between internal and external parties, let alone build internal or external communities. There is so much potential for marketers and educators here, surely we are better than nation states who use social media marketing tools to disrupt the social fabric of their enemies.

One of the few conversations I was able to have at Cloud Connect was with Brent Scotten of DreamHost. We mulled over the idea of what will happen if the whole devops movement really takes root in organizations.  The devops movement is about the operations and software development teams working together to create the best infrastructure possible in order to quickly develop and deploy software. If those teams work as a well-oiled team, and the company’s product is getting better faster because of it, marketing and education can’t be add-ons. These groups can’t continue to business like they did last century when the bread and butter of the business has moved on to doing things a new way.

I love this point the Agile Admin makes in a post about the definition of dev-ops:

The point is that all the participants in creating a product or system should collaborate from the beginning – business folks of various stripes, developers of various stripes, and operations folks of various stripes, and all this includes security, network, and whoever else.  There’s a lot of different kinds of business and developer stakeholders as well; just because everyone doesn’t get a specific call-out….   The original agile development guys were mostly thinking about “biz + dev” collaboration, and DevOps is pointing out “dev + ops” collaboration, but the mature result of all this is “everyone collaborating”. (emphasis mine)

Thoughts from 2019: We are 8 years in, and I believe the dev-ops movement (although the intentions were good) and public cloud providers have actually widened the gap between developers and IT admins.

These days I’ve had to lay in bed have allowed me to really reflect on who I am. I’m a community builder, an educator, a story teller. My forced shut down reminded me how important those things are. Looking forward to getting my strength back and getting back to work to try and to help people see that community isn’t a bad word.

Thoughts from 2019: A strong product community can make a better product. We strayed from that original idea to chase likes and views. I think it’s time to revisit the promise of community.

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