Digital Experience Options are Rapidly Evolving in the Trade Show Space

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Rancho Palos Verdes, CA – Trade show organizers who see the field of digital experience technologies as a head-spinning whirl can rest assured that it is indeed a head-spinning whirl, but one that is also becoming a more organized and user-friendly whirl.

The conventional wisdom in the exhibition industry is that social media and other digital experience technologies are a great fit with trade shows, and that the time is now to add such community building to one’s brands. The only problem – and it’s no small problem – is that the digital experience market relating to live events is in a nearly frantic stage of development, and it is a challenge to keep up with the options. John Barber, vice president of digital experience at Immersa Marketing, said there is “an explosion of emerging technologies” underway. The “explosion” pertains to the virtual event, online video, viral invitation, mobile application and other spaces powered by scores of startups, all seeking their niches in the evolving sector. “It is startling how many entrants there are in this space,” Barber said.

Off-the-Shelf Solutions Are Affordable and Quickly Deployable

It is no small wonder that Barber’s presentation at the Trade Show Executive 2nd Annual Gold 100 Summit was well-received. His rundown of which companies are developing which technologies provided the audience of CEOs and show organizers a welcome overview of what was available in the market and what it could do for their social networking operation. Barber said advances have made these off-the-shelf technologies affordable, easy to use and rapidly deployable.

And if the Gold 100 Summit attendees had to take notes fast, that was because the field is crowded with start-ups jockeying for position like thoroughbreds in the backstretch.

“There is a lot of incubation going on where companies are flying under the radar,” Barber said. “They burst on the scene and can change the landscape. We have rewritten our own view of the landscape six times in three months.” He noted that the digital experience map is taking shape in ways that accommodate the goal of making trade shows and their brands a year-round community for the like-minded people who will attend the event and patronize the exhibitors.

Promising Strategies

A promising strategy is the unification of persisting online social communities and live event communities. The enabling technology platforms for this, known in tech circles as “social enterprise software,” allow the creation of special-interest, white-label social communities around a show’s brand outside the sprawling worlds of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

The hottest products in this realm, according to Barber, are fully-featured white-label social networks like Jive Software and social aggregation tools like EventVue. Products like Jive and its competitors Telligent, Mzinga, and Ning, allow an organizer to create a persisting online community focused on the content assets of their show. A Jive network uses Web 2.0 crowd-sourcing tools like user comments on content, user rating and ranking of content, and social activity streams that surface the most viewed, highest rated or most shared content. It allows organizers to easily turn on social features like discussion forums; blogs; photo, video and document sharing; and the ability for registrants to share content they find on the show’s white-label social network with their colleagues on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. EventVue automatically aggregates the Twitter updates of everyone registered for the show and intermixes them into one activity stream around the show. Registrants can also chatter directly into the EventVue stream and choose whether or not to tweet their updates outside the event community to their Twitter followers. The strategy with both of these approaches is Web 2.0: To enlist online participants as co-producers of value. “Persisting online communities and events are part of the same audience experience lifecycle,” said Barber. “It makes sense for all constituents that they converge.”

Two other key niches noted in the digital landscape presentation were virtual events and digital event platforms. Virtual events, like those provided by vendors 6Connex, InXpo, On24 and Unisfair, are 3-D, immersive re-creations of the entire trade show experience (auditoriums, keynotes, sessions, exhibit halls and booths, networking lounges) that can complement a live event’s marketing strategy. Digital event platforms like MapYourShow are online attendee planning and exhibitor lead-generation tools designed strictly to increase verified attendance and leads on the live show floor. Both can extend the reach and duration of a live event.

Too Many Options Can Lead to Paralysis by Analysis

Barber recommended that show organizers first develop a strategy of what they want to accomplish with these new technologies and then seek out the vendors. A “paralysis by analysis” does no good, but neither does grabbing hold of a new technology simply because it is new. If that task proves too daunting, invest in a consulting firm that knows the landscape regardless of how fast it is changing.

Barber provided a list of categories and some select companies within them that offer the latest digital products:

  • Core Digital Engagement Platforms: This broad category includes social enterprise software, virtual events, and digital event platforms – the destinations where attendees will spend most of their time engaging with the show brand online. Some leading vendors: Jive Software and Telligent; 6Connex and InXpo; MapYourShow and a2z, Inc.
  • Supplemental Engagement Tools: Includes video management platforms, streaming channel vendors, mobile application developers, and mobile applications that enable attendees to interact with each other and consume show content online. Some leading vendors: Kaltura and Brightcove; Stream57 and LiveStream; PointAbout; XNiP; Mingle360; Poken; and DropCard.
  • More Powerful Ways to Leverage Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn: The major social networks have released key application programming interfaces (APIs) that let registrants syndicate show-related content to their entire friend networks on Facebook and Twitter. This can yield a 1:100 viral expansion loop for audience acquisition. Key APIs: Sign In with Twitter; Facebook Connect; Facebook Connect Wizard; and Playground. Some of the core engagement platforms noted above have already built these social net APIs into their products.
  • Relevance Engines: Enterprise search appliances bring your registrants and prospects one unified set of relevance-ranked search results even if you have multiple web properties and databases supporting your show. Recommendation engines (also known as social discovery engines) proactively find show content that matches the interests of individual registrants and brings it to them. Both options cause more of a show’s content to be consumed. Some leading vendors: Autonomy; Google Search Appliance; FAST; Aggregate Knowledge; Loomia; and Directed Edge.
  • Emerging Audience Acquisition Tools: A broad sector that includes widgets and widget syndication, video e-mail, social sharing within e-mail, viral exhibitor invite e-mail, mobile social networks and post-show meet-ups. Some leading vendors: Gigya; Clearsprings; GoodMail; Silverpop Share To Social; Exhibitor Invites; Meebo; Peekamo; and Meetup.com.
  • New Web Analytics Capabilities: Social media analytics packages monitorsemantic hot spots (what people are talking about), sentiment (positive, neutral, negative), peer influence, and viral sharing on the white-label social network around your show. Landing page optimization analytics measure responses to various versions of a webpage design so organizers can standardize on the one that is driving the most conversions. Key vendors: Radian6; TNS Cymfony; Crimson Hexagon, Collective Intellect; Google Website Optimizer; Omniture Test; and Target.

Immersa Marketing is the strategic marketing arm of Champion Exposition Services and the George Fern Company.

Reach John Barber at (415) 655-2218 or john.barber@immersamarketing.com