Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Universal Road Signs for Web Navigation

A talented boutique ad agency and design studio, EntirelyCreative run by our friends designer Jenette McEntire and photographer Paul McEntire came up with this tagline for Every time I used to put this image ("Business As Usual Has Left the Building") up on the big screen at presentations, it would bring a smile to many members of the audience.

Many cultural nuances can't be translated globally. It takes an Elvis fan to enjoy such tag lines.

Language Translation for a Global Audience

Which brings me to the topic of translations for a global audience. Today, I watched a very crisp webinar (and I am no fan of webinars because usually they are a cure for insomnia) in which the slides presented by Bryant Shea of Molecular were not only beautiful, but also right on - he let the pictures imprint into our minds the story that he was telling. The topic was about creating global websites. He touched upon cultural differences, language differences and time-zones.

In our business, we encounter global audieces all the time. This blog gets visitors from as far away as New Zealand and Australia. A trade show that we did for a telecom giant had exhibitors from 17 states in the USA and attendees from 6 different countries outside of the U.S.

To borrow from Seth Godin's post, is it a toothache?

Sometimes we wonder if it is worth the investment in making every virtual trade show booth speak a different language. A virtual trade show is almost like a collection of many websites. One virtual tradeshow can have visitors from several countries with several native languages. When will the market bear the cost of such translation? Is it a toothache that needs to be fixed immediately? I am not so sure.

Lingua Webnaviga

We got an inquiry from China about a virtual trade show and in the 4th or 5th round of discussions they asked about a translated version - seemed almost like an after-thought. Alibaba, the famous site for global trade uses English, to the best of my knowledge, even though the English you would encounter rewrites all rules of grammar and pronunciation. It gets the message across and it gets the job done. Sometimes it even makes one smile, because some of the foreign usage of English seems so logical, one begins to wonder if English should start changing itself to adapt to global needs.

For the most part, since a majority of the content in a virtual trade show or other virtual fair is user-generated and user-uploaded, our system renders the content in the language of submission and in the format of submission. As far as our platform itself goes, it is so intuitive that the language may not matter.

Universal Road Signs

Isn't there a better way to handle this challenge? With web traffic leaning towards audio and video, could the web rely on a system of symbols and signs made to some standards that are universal. Almost like road-signs? Incidentally, I chanced upon this interesting collection of U.S. road-signs. Going through the signs, it makes so much more sense to come up with a library of universal symbols for web-navigation.

I am not fully convinced that translation of the web into local languages is mission-critical for our business of virtual fairs. English is quite common even if it comes in various accents and if it morphs from country to country. Don't hold me to that view though. A few months from now, we might be buried in a project that necessitates extreme personalization across the globe. That would almost certainly include language translation even if in a limited fashion - or we just might start creating a set of symbols and see how global audiences in our virtual fairs react.

Can Virtual Trade Shows and Virtual Job Fairs Save Newspaper Classifieds?

This topic seems relevant, going by the number of newspaper companies that have been contacting us for virtual job fairs. My understanding is that the newspaper industry is trying to find out ways in which the virtual trade show or the virtual job fair can be bundled into their existing offerings, and sold as a package to their advertisers, thereby lending support to their classifieds business.

It would be pertinent here to recount a failed experiment with a virtual job fair that was used by a publisher, leaving us with valuable lessons that I want to share. Our technology worked flawlessly (of course!) and minor customization was done to accommodate their needs. However, the virtual job fair was continuously up on their site, making it difficult for the publisher to explain to their advertisers how it was different from the traditional classifieds. I also believe it was an issue of not being able to articulate the cost-benefit of doing virtual job fairs versus or alongside classifieds for their particular industry. Here is the case study in an itemized style:
  • Publisher approached us for virtual job fair
  • Specifications included a permanent virtual job fair, with the ability to purchase time-slots of virtual booth display-duration in monthly increments
  • Real time reporting (it is a built-in feature that we offer, but we also customize it for long-term clients)
  • A built-in payment system (it was already there)
  • Consultation on best-practices in virtual fairs
  • Online support
  • A early set-up fee and ongoing revenue-share
  • The ability to walk away if it is not embraced by their market (we allow customers the ability to walk away with their data, regardless).

The things that the publisher did successfully included:

  • Packaging the service in convenient bite-sizes for advertisers
  • Giving advertisers special bundled offerings and term-discounts should they book virtual booth space for extended durations
  • Sold booth spaces at a fairly low price, but much higher than the traditional classifieds.

The things that the publisher failed to do included:

  • Failed to slice the duration into meaningful events
  • Failed to distinguish between classifieds and virtual job fair.
  • Failed to set the right expectations with advertisers, and therefore did not meet them
  • Failed to set pricing at the basic level equivalent to the competing classifieds
  • Failed to offer differentiated levels of the virtual job fair service
  • Failed to understand its international potential (months after we shut down their virtual job fair, our support lines still used to get inquiries from Europe and Australia by job seekers and potential advertisers)
  • Failed to either follow-through on the connections made, or track success stories, or promote them, or failed to do all three of the preceding.
Citing the reason that the concept of virtual job fair was too early for their particular industry, the publisher eventually pulled out of the virtual job fair once they found a significantly diluted web-based classifieds solution, which they offered to their advertisers to display classifieds. We make it easy for customers to exit with their registration data should they choose to, so it was a smooth transition. I admired the publisher for being a trendsetter, but they had not really broken away from the 'classifieds' mindset.

How can Virtual Fairs Save Newspaper Classifieds? Here are a few possible answers.

  1. Offer audiences a branded experience from your advertisers: A virtual job fair is a powerful branding tool, even if it is not embraced by every job classified advertiser. Those who choose can not be stopped. That is just the way it is. However, if a hiring organization is serious about quality future hiring, then they would do what I have seen many companies do - use not only, but also consider other ways of nurturing an audience of followers who will be future employees. To attract such an audience, they need the help, not only of the Internet and social networks, but also of traditional newspapers.
  2. Experiment fearlessly outside the comfort zone of the 'Classifieds' mind-set: It is up to the newspaper companies to listen and experiment fearlessly with these new tools. I use the word 'fearlessly' because presently all I see them do is put a few logos and link them to special pages for the logoed advertisers listing job openings. That is what I have seen a classifieds technology provider offer their newspaper industry clients. They call it a virtual career fair, though. That again stems from the fact that virtual job fairs have no standards, and no definition. Over a period of time, I expect the market to settle and agree upon definitions.
  3. Stay at the wheel and keep your eyes on the road: The other problem I see festering is that virtual job fair users think that 3D-type immersive experiences maketh a virtual fair. Agreed, it needs to be fun, but do not forget the human element. It does not matter how you dress up your virtual fair. If it does not have real humans steering the experience from their individual locations, you are headed down a path of disillusionment for your advertisers, your audiences, and your classifieds. No matter what kind of virtual fair you use, make sure that it has real people behind it available for its live-duration.
  4. Qualify the traffic: One size will not fit all. A virtual fair may not be the cure for all ailments that afflict newspaper classifieds, but in our experience virtual fairs have worked really well in controlled environments because they do what nothing else can do - they allow for instant communication in a structured manner. They allow exhibitors and hiring managers to see who has come by their virtual booth. From the attendees' perspective, they allow exhibitors or advertisers, or hiring managers to hand-hold their audiences. They give audience members undivided attention. Making audiences register is one of the smallest necessary hurdles that are required to qualify an audience. I can not over-emphasize the importance of qualifying the attendees for a virtual fair. Sweeping and gathering eyeballs off the web don't make for a quality virtual trade fair or a virtual job fair.
  5. Give it time, promote it and nurture it: Newspapers have to learn to co-exist with the Internet. Virtual job fairs might be one way. I would strongly suggest that newspaper companies try virtual job fairs (or virtual trade fairs -- say a Used Car Virtual Trade Show) for 4 consecutive quarters. For kicks, advertise your virtual job fair or trade fair on CraigsList and Google. Promote it like there is no tomorrow for the current classifieds.
The debate has just begun. Virtual fairs are among the better kept secrets in the world of business. Those who use it successfully do not talk about it enough. They could be the answer that newspaper companies are looking for in learning how to make their classifieds coexist with the Internet. It would be interesting to see the results of the contest by and to learn about other ideas from the college-goers - always a valuable resource.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

3 Reasons why Virtual Trade Shows Can't Afford to Lose the Personal Touch

Virtual trade shows can't afford to lose the personal touch. Here are 3 reasons for this statement:
  1. Save your show, grow your brand: With email filters and spam fighting tools getting more and more aggressive, email invitations, automated responses, email alerts and notifiers sometimes do not reach the intended recipient. I am told they simply get vaporized. In a corporate trade show for a very large Fortune 100 company, we sometimes offer to follow up on their initial emails with one or two people on the phones. All that our people do is call the intended recipient, and ask them if they have received the invitation email or alert email, and if they have had a chance to read through it. We do it mainly for those who have been invited to exhibit but failed to register. The response on the phone usually is one of gratitude for the follow-up, and often goes as follows: "I have so many emails, I know I have seen it but would you mind re-sending it to me right now while you have me on the phone so that I can go over it with you." or "I am sure I did not receive your email. Let me get your domain white-listed so that I receive future emails from you". In most of these closed-corporate virtual trade shows that we do for our producer-clients, the exhibitors would do anything to get the opportunity to exhibit and get in front of those corporations. The personal touch does wonders for the trade show and more importantly, for our brand.
  2. Our natural craving for human contact and reassurance in unfamiliar surroundings: In two recent virtual trade shows as I monitored the support lines and the communication process, we learned that when an online exhibitor or attendee is not very familiar with how standard Internet experiences work, then it is best to have a member of the support team pick up the phone and call them. We had a situation where the online support was very responsive over an exchange of 4 emails, but what could have been resolved in a 5 minute call, later took an hour because the online exhibitor was pining to hear a reassuring human voice on the phone.
  3. Leveraging crowd-surf: Something that I have seen work wonderfully well is to have one dedicated live chat room for Customer Support during live online events. Put a few support folks on it from your side to listen in and answer questions. Let it be the place where people can come and publicly post messages for help. There is always a small percentage of visitors who are either rushed or not familiar with online environments. When they post a question, often other online attendees answer them to help them out. From a support-perspective, it is akin to addressing a crowd in a room and letting the crowd's own dynamics form an informal safety net that carries the event forward successfully. It gives you the opportunity to have your ears on the ground and look for areas of navigation that are not intuitive, and guide the crowd collectively or through a private chat message. It gives you the ability to know if there are technical problems in environments that your testing process did not factor in.

In virtual trade shows and other forms of virtual fairs even though it is common for people to not be surprised if their requests are not answered swiftly, if you want to distinguish your event-brand, then give it your personality. Keep it real, and keep it as personal as possible. The Internet is just an efficient medium that connects real humans seeking to interact with one another. Do not take away the human element.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

IM sorry

Yesterday, we had a live trade show held entirely online for a large group of businesses. It was attended by visitors from as far away as the United Kingdom. A virtual trade show is a combination of several elements, many features and web-based tools. They all have to work in unison; they have to flawlessly, predictably and simultaneously. Among the more prominent features is the instant messenger (IM) at the virtual booth. Many of our clients simply call it the Booth Chat. This allows a live interaction between the booth hosts and the attendees, one of the crucial elements of any event.

The booth chat requires no downloads. Which can sometimes be a problem, because we do not take control of the online visitor's browser and their computing environment. That is a choice we made, and we are trying to stay true to that choice. It allows for easier participation by any attendee without requiring special permissions from the Corporate IT staff for download of a plug-in etc.

For 3 exhibitors the chat feature did not function well (even if it were 1, that's unacceptable). This started happening right when the event went live. On the rare occasion, one learns of system incompatibilities in live environments - this was one such occasion - they are difficult to predict and difficult to recreate swiftly, especially with the Internet being as dynamic as it is, and amid the ticking clock of a live online event. The event was in live mode for 3 hours. Trouble-shooting during a live event environment is like trying to figure out why your parachute is not opening in the midst of a free-fall.

While although exhibitors and attendees have a variety of other tools to exchange meaningful information and leads, the Booth Chat happens to be the most popular and visible feature for instant gratification. When the UK visitor chatted online with US based exhibitors they all were delighted. So there is something special about the bond-building capability of the online chat, even though this may seem primitive to the modern web users who routinely play with a lot more interactive and immersive technologies than good old text-chat.

When a booth chat feature in a virtual booth hiccups, it is like a smooth flight interrupted by severe turbulence. Even after a safe landing, one tends to remember the turbulence when one's life flashed before one's eyes.

All 3 affected exhibitors were very gracious and understanding of the quirks of the Internet and our tireless efforts to get to the bottom of the issue to see if it was something specific to the user's system. One exhibitor did not mince words when expressing their frustration. We deserved it -- this morning we have been revisiting our processes. They are time-tested, but obviously not infallible.

Live Booth Chat is just one of many features, so its stalling does not render the virtual booth useless, but a live trade show is not a good time to explain that, lest it be misunderstood as an excuse for the malfunction.

We suggested a simple workaround, while we went back to investigating the issue, and finally resolved it by the end of the day. We kept the exhibitors and the event producer updated on the issue. Our client was very gracious with the reaction that "the good thing is people will still get the contacts and follow up in real time at another occasion.They are part of the technological future. At least we did not lose anyone in “space”... think of how the astronauts feel who put their life on the line."

This perhaps unintentional use of the space-mission metaphor is right on. No one gets lost in cyberspace with our system because even if the chat had a hiccup, their footprint is tracked and available to the exhibitor.

We have offered yet another live-day for the event at no cost. We are revisiting our event-rollout process. We appreciate every programmer's work that has gone into the making of our software, running it and resolving any technical issues. Keeping up with the changes in internet environments is no mean task. We appreciate the patience of the handful of exhibitors who faced Booth Chat issues, and know that we will find a way to make it up to them in the near future. Virtual trade shows are breaking new grounds, so we appreciate your taking this journey with us. To all, we extend our apology, and take this as yet another lesson learned as we continue to grow.

Feedback Button on the Forehead

While humans have their feedback buttons in the form of ears on either side of their face, that does not work for websites.

We always try to find an unobtrusive way to place a feedback button right on the forehead of our virtual fairs.

Nothing fancy, no forms to fill. Just a Feedback Button.

One click on the feedback button, and it launches an email from the user's email client. When sent, the email comes straight to our assigned support line for that particular virtual fair. It is the most used mechanism for feedback.

What is interesting is that even though we have a password retriever which shoots back the password in an email to users, they sometimes still prefer to use the Feedback Button to ask for their passcode. From their perspective, it is painless and there is no guesswork -- no wondering about what the next screen will show. The Feedback Button launches an email on their own client, which probably gives them a feeling of greater control. They will now have a proof of sending the request right in their Sent Box.

Simplicity rules.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Face2Facers, Virtual Trade Shows and Semantics

I originally began this post with the title 'How Language Lends Legitimacy to Virtual Fairs' and one of the tags I included was semantics. On second thoughts it seemed like a boring caption. So I have added a few more thoughts, changed the title to make it a little quirky, and re-posted it.

When we began doing virtual fairs almost a decade ago, the sales process began with educating the prospects on the definition of virtual fairs. My cofounder Professor Sharda is to be fully credited with figuring out the best mix of technologies and user-experiences in manifesting the virtual trade show online. To this day, we get rave reviews for a product that is "elegant in its simplicity" (in the words of a customer who represents a global pharma giant) from the front-end, hides its complex backend nicely, and works like a charm.

When I walked into the office of a trade show veteran a few years ago, he welcomed me with the words "There is no such thing as a virtual trade show".

I was invited to a speak at American Business Media's Trade Show Summit just a couple of years ago. To my surprise, right before I was introduced at the podium the audience was told categorically that ABM believes only in face to face trade shows. I was merely there to help them figure out what value our customers are finding in virtual trade shows. My hosts, having thus set the tone for my presentation, put me on the uphill task of talking to a skeptical audience. As a rule, I never make a sales pitch in such appearances. Besides, many of our top customers don't like to talk about their success because we are part of their competitive strategy through either an improved process or an improved brand. I did my best to present a generic case-study to the audience that was already primed that face to face events were the only real deal. [Incidentally, I still love ABM - unlike many other organizations that I have been exposed to, ABM's leadership and membership is extremely gracious and welcoming of rookies like me - I was a new member for a short duration - they were always good to me. Someday soon I hope to be active once again in that group. Hopefully by then they will be willing to step out of their comfort zones and really embrace virtual trade shows and other specialty fairs to tap its true potential. ]

Today I signed up to attend TS2 the trade show for the trade show industry (In 2000 we had actually spent a decent sum of money to exhibit in TS2 - which is ironical - exhibiting in a face-to-face trade show to sell a virtual trade show. We haven't done it since. That experience warrants a separate post because it had valuable lessons despite being ahead of its time) . The 2008 TS2 event actually has a special mention of Face2Face.

My point is, every time real-world event marketers describe their event as 'face-to-face', it dawns upon me that virtual meetings and virtual trade shows, virtual job fairs or any other kind of virtual fairs have entered the psyche of the trade show industry. Virtual fairs have gained (dare I say?) a foothold on the minds of the marketer. If there were no such thing as virtual trade shows, then the trade show industry's use of the label face2face would be a redundancy, wouldn't it?

What Webex did to seminars, will do to trade shows. We already get calls asking us about the next itradefair. I would hazard a guess that there are more businesses that do not (or can not) exhibit in trade shows, than there are on face-to-face trade show floors. That absentee population - absentee for whatever valid reason it might be - is hungry for an affordable channel to promote their business or themselves. That is a huge untapped opportunity in a parallel universe of business and consumer events. Virtual trade fairs and other specialty virtual fairs will act as a catalyst in converting many of these absentees into face2facers. It may start with regional gatherings, but the craving for social interaction in-person will push many of the virtual trade show participants into seeking ways to meet face-to-face. That is what I see happening in the foreseeable future.

What I know will happen soon is that virtual trade shows will enter the language of everyday business, and then they will enter the lexicon of company accountants and budget analysts. That means companies and their marketing departments will have a budget line-item and a budget for virtual trade shows or other virtual fairs.

The next phase that I foresee is virtual trade shows becoming a part of conversation. Then they become part of business and life. Someday soon I will not be surprised if I overhear a conversation (or a tweet) on how "I met my boss at a virtual trade show" or how "I first found my West Coast sales rep at a virtual trade show".

Friday, July 18, 2008

Uneasy Lies the Virtual Trade Show that Carries a Sponsorship

Why do sponsors align themselves with virtual trade shows? Let us see what we can infer from sponsors' approach in real-world events, and then see how it translates when it comes to the virtual trade shows.

I was talking to the tradeshow leadership at one of the nation's top manufacturers of outboard motors for the marine industry. The purpose of their participation in their industry's leading tradeshows was "to show how big we are, and to display our products". Lead-capture was not on their wish-list. I have heard this repeatedly from many sponsors - they show up as sponsors because historically they have been sponsors. To not be a sponsor after successive appearances at industry tradeshows is to risk creating the perception in the mind of the market, that all is not well in that particular year. Cutbacks sometimes begin with the advertising and promotions budget line-items. Sponsors, in a way, support the trade association or advocacy group that organizes these gatherings of industry-professionals, in return for visibility. Such support does serve an important purpose for the growth of an industry. However, from the sponsor's perspective, there is no need for creativity, no need for aggressive tactics to steer foot-traffic towards their booths on the show floor, and no need for too much marketing effort. Their brand does the talking for them. When visitors show up at their booth, they are often ignored by the booth staffers unless it is someone they already know personally, and it is generally a relaxed setting for the staffers. Visitors may come by their booth, pick up corporate giveaways and leave.

How does such a sponsor's commitment translate in a virtual trade show environment, and how does that affect the quality of the virtual trade show?

When a sponsor's logo is proudly displayed on a virtual trade show, it is often used by the event organizer to sell more virtual booth space. It also invariably helps in drawing a qualified online attendance. The hope for the other exhibitors is that the online traffic thus drawn will also stop by their own virtual booths. The expectation of the virtual attendees is to be able to interact instantly with someone knowledgeable at any virtual booth that they visit online. When the online attendees stop by at a sponsor's virtual booth the expectation is to at least be able to instantly connect online with a representative who can point them in the right direction.

I attend quite a few virtual tradeshows because there is always something new to learn in them. At a technology-related virtual trade show, I visited a sponsor's booth and asked to chat with a representative regarding a product on display. The booth staffer appeared online after a long wait, in a chat session that froze up my screen often, and to top it off this booth staffer seemed not just disinterested, but also uninformed about the product.

If organizations want to be sponsors at a virtual trade show, but do not want to work their virtual booth, then
  • it is perfectly okay for them to decline to have live booth chat operators or booth staffers via their virtual booths, instead sticking with providing for relevant and current information made available to the online attendees, or
  • perhaps they should consider opting for means of visiblity other than the virtual booth. If all they want in return for a sponsorship is the visiblity and the branding, then they perhaps stand to gain more by announcing an award to every 1,000th attendee who logs in live during the virtual fair. Or they could simply do nothing - just have their branding prominently placed at vantage points on the virtual trade show.
Having a virtual booth means a tacit promise by the booth-owners that they will actively participate in the virtual trade show's success by being a part of the live interaction. Unfortunately, in a virtual trade show, if there isn't sufficient many-to-many interaction, it could lose its momentum. Virtual trade shows and other forms of virtual fairs survive and thrive solely on the quality and the frequency of live interaction.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Designing an Effective Online Mentoring Program

In every organization there is a wealth of knowledge that is never documented. Sometimes such knowledge could be very valuable from a competitive standpoint. The manager of a key account might know about nuances in her or his interaction with the client, that could be critical to the successful management of that account. All such knowledge stays and moves with the people who gain it.

What if the organization could harness the Internet to create a chain of mentors that can be pulled in to train a new recruit? Just as they say that it is smart not to burn bridges with a former employer, I believe it is also smart for an organization not to burn bridges with a former employee.

The way some of the top business schools in the nation maintain and sustain their alumni networks is noteworthy. They start with assigning an email account for each alumnus. It is a permission list they have created even before the students leave campus to enter the workforce. From that starting point the school actively nurtures the alumni networks for a variety of purposes, right from fund raising to career services.

I have not heard of business organizations do this as well, with the exception of a few such as McKinsey & Company. The Internet makes it easy to do. All it needs is a visionary management that understands that an ex-employee can be their ambassador. The ex-employee can be a mentor to their future employees. There are simple cost-effective ways to connect the ex-employees with the future-employees, no matter where they are located physically.

This was the topic of a paper that I had presented at the annual seminar of an international wing of SHRM in 2001. The paper, then seemed ahead of its time based on the audience-reaction. Now social networking has become a buzzword. Companies are looking into building the social networking capability into their Intranets. LinkedIn is coming up with this capability although it faces the challenge of being an outside vendor. Regardless, the sheer convenience of being able to connect with a former employee who is familiar with a particular business situation, will open the floodgates. It will tempt the current or potential employee to 'click' and make that connection, and get a quick update or guidance on how to handle the situation, or how it was handled way back when it occurred. These are interesting times indeed!

There are several unanswered questions, of course. Questions on worldly things such as privacy, liability, intellectual property, and competitive intelligence. Questions on non-worldly things such as unhindered sharing of knowledge, brotherhood, and helping one another out. (See some of the lessons learned in an experiment by McKinsey & Company)

If you wish to read the paper that I had presented, here it is - titled "Learning through Online Mentoring: Harnessing the Internet to Create and Retain Intangible Assets".

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The making of a successful virtual job fair

This article attempts to address some of the questions that have been coming up among those interested in virtual job fairs and virtual career fairs. has deployed several successful virtual fairs including job fairs since 1999, in academia and Corporate America. In this article the writer highlights factors that make these early adopters want to come back and do the virtual job fairs over and over again.

The relevance of a virtual job fair today

With the widespread use of the Internet for job searches, recruiters and hiring managers have a larger pool of accessible job candidates. The consequent information overload is inevitable. A typical search within a job board gives a recruiter thousands of choices and not enough time in the day to review all of them. A virtual job fair serves as a levee to arrest the information deluge, capture a relevant, interested and manageable part of the database, invite them to a job fair, and fish for the best candidates. From the candidates’ perspective, they enjoy the ability to fish for the best opportunities. By creating manageable capsules of time, (web) space, and information, a virtual job fair creates a sheltered environment without the noise and clutter of the Internet for a recruiter or hiring manager to directly connect with a potential job candidate.

The other reason that a virtual job fair has become relevant is that hiring companies are trying their best to make their brand stand out amongst their competitors to attract the best talent that is out there. Many organizations are able to receive résumés of interested job candidates at their own career websites. Some even have a .jobs domain name to go with their overall web presence. With such elements they are trying to create an exclusive corner for their hiring needs and thus build some branding. To create an element of brand-loyalty even before they have become an employee of the company, many organizations prefer to have their own online event to invite and engage candidates who have expressed interest in working for that specific organization. The virtual job fair is an ideal way to maintain a pipeline of future employees that care about an organization’s brand

Three ‘C’s for a successful virtual job fair

There are several factors that make for a successful virtual job fair, but in our experience the most critical ones are making them Convenient, Crisp and Current.

  1. Convenient: If a job fair can be wrapped around the needs of the job candidate, it has a better chance of success. We conducted a job fair where the recruiters ‘staffed’ their virtual booth on a Sunday morning (from the comfort of their home via the Internet) just to make it convenient to working professionals who may not have time during the work week for a serious job search. Candidates were able to attend online, connect instantly via chat with the recruiter, schedule an interview or even have an initial phone interview with the recruiter that Sunday morning. Since the internet does not have any boundaries of time, it stands a better chance of success if it creates spells of interactivity aligned with the convenience of the job candidates in mind. Convenience is also important to the hiring manager. Should a hiring manager wish to involve an engineer in the hiring process, it can be accomplished without the engineer leaving her or his desk, and still be able to address technical questions and concerns of a job candidate instantaneously. Making it convenient is the biggest hallmark of the success of a virtual job fair. Taking this a little further, it also means that the virtual job fair must be easy to participate from behind firewalls in case a working professional chooses to attend from the office. It goes without saying that the virtual job fair then must enjoy timely customer support during any hour that has been chosen by the fair organizers. It is all about making it convenient for the job candidate and the recruiter in terms of getting the required customer support for an easy and seamless experience. Respecting the time of all participants is paramount. To assume that the job candidate, hiring managers or recruiters have a lot of time to spend on the Internet is a fallacy. That leads us to the next C – Crisp.
  2. Crisp: Time is a scarce resource. Let us not forget that the hiring manager, recruiter and the job candidate, each have a specific need – to be able to find one another, to find the right fit, and to connect as quickly as possible armed with as much information as possible. Virtual job fairs work best when they are used to facilitate and swiftly arrange for a phone conversation or an email follow-up leading to a phone conversation. Throwing too much technology at the users is inconsiderate and counter-productive. The second most important hallmark of a successful virtual job fair is to keep it simple and crisp, serving as a tool to establish an instant connection between the job giver and the job seeker. Anything else that interferes with this ultimate objective is a waste of time and therefore money. Keeping all the content in the virtual job fair concise, keeping the navigation consistent and predictable is very important. Of course, all of the convenience and conciseness you offer in a virtual job fair is meaningless if the content is not current, taking us to the next C -Current.
  3. Current: Even if your virtual job fair is being created out of an existing database of job candidates or an existing job listing pool, and even if it is easy to simply pull all of that data into a virtual job fair venue, I would urge to resist the temptation to serve old wine in a new bottle. My recommendation would be to leave certain pieces of information out of any automated data transfers, and mandate that the job fair participants – both employers and job candidates demonstrate their commitment by making current their job listings and résumés respectively, as well as their contact information. Employers will tell you how frustrating it is to find interesting résumés that are outdated, emails that bounce back and phones numbers that never ring. In the same vein, job candidates will tell you how exasperating it is to go through job listings, fill out an application form, click on the ‘apply’ button only to find that the job posting has ‘expired’ or is ‘not available any longer’. Keep all content in the virtual job fair current, and you will have a winner.

    The first steps towards building a brand

    To keep all content in a virtual job fair current, it is also important that the job fair has a specific start and an end. A virtual job fair with a defined time-frame is successful for the following few reasons. It is not reasonable to expect hiring managers to be online ‘staffing’ virtual booths for more than a few hours. Hiring processes have a life-cycle, and matters have to move beyond the initial screening that the virtual job fair painlessly allows. When a virtual job fair is closed, it is best to open pre-registration and pre-announce the next virtual job fair. A pre-announced calendar of job fairs helps sustain the momentum of the first fair. It gives job candidates something to look forward to. It gives recruiters a breather. Most of all, it helps the job fair organizer build a brand for the job fair. Based on our experience, if you deliver virtual job fairs in brief spells of time, and also use it in conjunction with face-to-face job fairs, you will experience measurable success. One must remember that the Internet works best when used as a tool to enhance human interaction.

The author, Ramesh Sambasivan is the co-founder of, Inc. Thanks to Grant Hartman, a virtual event manager and social networking evangelist at for valuable edits to this article.

P.S.: This article is getting picked up by many blogs so I figured, why not by this one :-)

Monday, July 14, 2008

What is the ideal duration for a virtual fair?

Here is an interesting question that we get asked often. "What duration would you recommend for our virtual fair?". The easy answer, of course is "Never overstay your welcome". Our most successful virtual fair was a venture capital event that ran for just 4 hours live, and shut down in 2 days. Visitors came from as far away as the Netherlands and Australia, not to mention various states in the nation. Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners was on a live keynote chat. So was Elaine St. James of 'Simplify your Life' . After the virtual fair was over, users were still contacting us asking us when the next one was going to be. I suppose we left them wanting more.

Let us explore various durations and evaluate them.

4-hour Live Duration: The live portion of the virtual fair is the length of time when you are guaranteeing that visitors will congregate online at the same time from different locations. If the participants are going to attend from the Americas, then choose a 4-hour period that starts in the afternoon for East Coast. That covers enough daytime hours for a fruitful visit to a virtual fair during the workday, whether the attendee comes online from New York or San Francisco. It is also does not drag on taking away a big part of the work-day. Our favorite duration for live online events is 12 noon to 4 p.m. Eastern Time.

8-hour Live Duration: If you want 8 hours of live instant interaction, then we recommend 2 live sessions of of 4-hours each even if it is held over a 2-day period. Having a day-long live-interaction virtual event would be overkill. Break it up into small sessions if you are covering international time zones.

2 days + 2 weeks: Often virtual fairs are held to accomodate the needs of those who can not travel. However, even with a virtual fair scheduling conflicts arise. In such cases even if there is no expectation of live interaction, people like to visit the virtual fair when they get a breather, after-hours. An on-demand period after the live portion is ideal. My favorite is the 2-day live and 2-week on-demand structure. 4 hours each for the first 2 days, and then 2 weeks thereafter works well in our experience.

2-weeks flex-live: Here is another very successful model. It has been used consistently in a virtual job fair. Keep your virtual fair online for 2 weeks, and allow your exhibitors to set their own hours. Announce those hours dynamically in your promotions. This works beautifully. In this virtual job fair, our client, a world famous University, had highly reputed employers setting long hours of live interactions broken down into hourly slots assigned to various recruiters available online to instantly answer questions from prospective job candidates.

1 day live + 1 month on-demand: Here is why this structure works really well for a Fortune 100 client of ours. Large groups of their employees from every part of the globe can really set aside their time and attention to the virtual fair for 4 hours on a selected day. If they miss that, no big deal. They have another 30 days to go online after that. What about the live interaction? Well, they are so big and powerful that they can send an email to an exhibitor and make them live and interact on their own schedule. Billions of dollars in purchasing power walk through the virtual exhibit hall during the 4 hour-period. Exhibitors can not stop raving about that. The event is short and sweet.

24 x 7 x 365 Virtual Shows: I would not classify these as virtual fairs. That would be an online interactive directory, or a virtual showcase. There are exceptions, though. You can create little spurts in activity even if you have a permanent showcase. In my experience, such permanent virtual showcases need more care and feed to keep them interesting. They have to constantly figure out ways of reinventing themselves.

The Interrupted Virtual Fair: We have a virtual trade show coming up next week for a large non-profit organization. It will be held in 2 phases. It will first open online for live interaction on one day, followed by 15 days on-demand. This is a pre-screening fair. It will be used by participants to decide which are the exhibitors they want to meet in person and to schedule some time with them. Once the first phase is over, the participants will travel to San Francisco where the annual conference is being held, and will network in person (cocktails, et al). Immediately after that Phase 2 begins with the virtual fair going live online again for a day, plus 15 days of on-demand presence. This time the participants can go back to their offices and bring their colleagues along to view virtual booths that were of most interest to them when they were in San Francisco based on the friendships and trust-building that can better happen with eye-contact and handshakes.

There is no one-size-fits-all. Find the one that works best for you based on your time-zone, industry, and face-to-face meeting opportunities.

Friday, July 11, 2008

With great love comes great responsibility

The day began in a pleasant way with a phone call from the CEO of a company that is going to exhibit in an upcoming virtual trade show. When a veteran marketer who spent several years in Corporate America and then started what is now a hugely successful marketing strategy and promotions firm comes out on her own and tells us how meaningful our product is, it makes our day. Without giving away details of the discussion, I am compelled to share her sentiments as she began describing our offering.

She said as she was watching it work, it "brought a smile to my face". She even labeled our product, among other things, "amazing", "easy" and "friendly". I believe she grasped the essence of our offerings, when she said that it helps one "segment" information.

The reason virtual trade shows will survive and thrive is because they bring a standardized experience for users. Plain and simple. All other arguments are weak -- whether we hear supposed value propositions such as no travel, no high gas prices no sore feet, better lead gathering, or the latest - low carbon footprint - none of them carry enough weight because humans are social beings and no number of virtual technologies will prevent them from wanting to meet other humans. However, because the Internet has become such a dominant source of business intelligence, a simple and engaging way to "segment" the information, and standardize the experience will go long way in making people smile.

When prospects and customers love a company or its products, the bar is suddenly raised. It is like being a teacher's favorite student. Now the student has a higher expectation to meet. The student will do everything in his or her power to not end up disappointing the teacher.

With such great love, comes great responsibility.

That literally keeps our team up at night. We want to make sure that we do everything in our power to keep surpassing our prospects' and customers' expectations. When we receive praises, the concern is that it may lull us into becoming complacent. The last thing we want to do when we hear positive comments is to relax and sit on our (might I call it) laurels. That is exactly the time to buckle up and work harder. The one thing that we have been blessed with is a passionate team.

Making life purposeful, making a living in a purposeful manner

This Monday, a dear friend and second cousin lost his father in India. For first-generation immigrants, decision-times regarding ageing parents prove to be very defining moments. The shift in roles that one assumes, of children being able to personally attend to and care for their ageing parents, can not be taken for granted by first-generation immigrants. Flying 8,000 miles for a family emergency is not always possible. The travel time itself could run into 24 or 36 gruelling hours. My friend happened to be there on a 3-week visit, and was able to be by his father's side, care for him through his hospitalization, and be by his bedside as he breathed his last. For a father, I suppose there must have been a sense of calm and peace to see all his children settled, and present in person. Any such experience of seeing someone breathe their last puts things back in perspective for those of us who are left behind. One tends to cherish life, good health, the laughter of loved ones, the change of seasons.

Until the phone rings, and then it is back to the business of chasing deadlines. When we keep busy, life and time pass by quickly. If we keep busy with a sense of purpose, it is more fulfilling. If that purpose touches many lives - or even one life - in a positive manner, then the reward at the very least, simply is the ability and the luxury to live that kind of a purposeful life.

I am hoping that through our work at, we are able to create prosperity for businesses by helping them make the right connections with buyers, or employers or any faraway customers or prospects. Or simply, that we are able to make someone smile (like the CEO of a marketing strategy firm who called me this morning to share her 'aha' moment when she saw our work. That story warrants a separate post.)

So here's to a purposeful existence. Here's to a purposeful way of life and purposeful way of making a living.

This is for my friend and his family - Heartfelt condolences! May your father's soul rest in everlasting peace.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The perfect virtual booth

Since the time we were born in early 1999, we have been in search of the perfect design for a virtual booth. There are two sides to this coin.

From the exhibitor's perspective, the booth should be flexible enough to accomodate their branding needs. Virtual booth designs are such a subjective matter that no answer is right and there are also no wrong answers. When we ask event organizers what they would like their virtual booth to be, the responses are replete with descriptions such as "photo-realistic", "business-like", "flexible in size", and "futuristic". We have had requests for booth designs that reflect various sizes of booths so that more or less of the screen space (real-estate) can be offered depending on the pricing packages.

The challenge always has been to tolerate the constraints experienced when taking a real-world space and squeezing it into a 1024 x 786 flat screen, without losing the flexibility and ease of navigation.

Case in point - the AMD virtual trade show which is a fascinating high-end visual rendering of a life-like convention center. From what I recall, it had a North view, a South view, an East view, and so on. Impressive for the student of multimedia digital art. Limited, however, in its utility. From AMD and its partners' perspective, it was perhaps a new kind of advertising opportunity. The online visits and downloads over a period of time were also impressive. I would safely bet that they could have accomplished the same thing with (a) a streamed video of the presentations, or a video of a real-life conference along with (b) a receptable to collect visitor information by making them fill out a form, and (c) a mechanism to gather or download brochures.

Let us look at it from the visitor's perspective. The visitors have limited time to browse the web for marketing literature or to watch a serious business presentation for an extended period of time. It is more fun to watch a viral video on YouTube. They are looking for information that they would otherwise not find on a corporate website. They are looking to make connections with key decision-makers. They are looking to be able to bump into professional peers and potential employers. They don't have time to guess what each icon on a booth means. Their network administrators usually throw a fit if they are asked to download any proprietary software for visiting at a virtual trade show booth. Visitors want to be able to switch from booth to booth and gather information swiftly - a standardized experience for efficient research and live interaction with decision makers is all that they care about. They do not want to get on spam lists, nor do they want to have to fill out lengthy forms. They want that giveaway. They want to be able to sign up for the lucky draw and win that free trip for 2 to Hawaii. They want to be entertained.

The perfect virtual booth strikes a perfect balance between the branding needs of the exhibitors and the utilitarian goals of the attendee. The perfect virtual booth strikes a perfect balance between the needs of an exhibitor to customize the booth and the needs of an attendee to enjoy a consistent, standardized and entertaining experience, with as short a learning curve as possible.

We have accomplished the near-perfect virtual exhibit hall to some extent. The perfect virtual booth has been elusive, but not for long. So stay tuned.


I chanced upon an interesting piece on mini-innovations. The reason this approach appeals to me is because of its simplicity. It does not need a massive dose of investment. It does not need re-training internally and externally. It just needs a lot of listening and some quiet time.

While on the topic of small changes that make a big positive impact, we are ramping up for a major virtual trade show now, and I just got off web conference that was basically a live version of a tutorial on how to register and set up a virtual booth. I like such sessions because they help us step in the shoes of the uninitiated. We see and do virtual events day in and day out, and we tend to get a false sense of security that we have perfected it. We assume that registration forms are simple to complete and intuitive.

It is only when we look at things from a fresher's perspective do we see how much difference a simple tweak in the navigation can make, how much more intuitive things can be with just changing a few words or dropping a few words, or moving things around a bit. It's like the joy of learning to tune a guitar.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Seven other (controllable) factors that impede the runaway success of virtual trade shows - Part 2 of my analysis

In a continuation of my analysis of why virtual trade shows have failed to realize their immense potential, here are seven controllable factors. On why I truly believe in the tremendous untapped potential of virtual events, I will save for another discussion. For now, I just want to address all the issues that are kind of stifling the promise of virtual trade shows.

  1. The process of launching a virtual trade show often gets disjointed. Virtual trade shows can certainly be delivered in a very turnkey fashion, with every step of the process flowing through seamlessly, with no strain or extra effort by the event sponsors. We have a process that moves like an automobile assembly line. The challenge is when that process is interrupted to accomodate the specific needs of event organizers or sponsors. Every organizer or brand worth its salt will choose to assume ownership of at least some parts of the experience. Take the simple example of contacting potential exhibitors. Organizers often like to have that extra touch-point with their customers and sponsors. I don't blame them. If you have spent years building a customer base, you need to be very sure before you allow a third-party vendor's call center to start dialing your customer list on your behalf. There are ways around it, which I will save for a later post.
  2. "Are you adding to my list of things-to-do?" is the first thought that crosses the minds of the operational team at the client's side. This is one of the biggest hurdles for virtual trade shows to go mainstream. The more automated the entire process becomes, the lesser the hassles.
  3. Divided attention. When run simultaneously with an in-person trade show, the virtual trade show initiative does not get sufficient care and feed. "Do I focus on my in-person trade show, or should I bother about this new untested thing that my management wants to put on my already full plate". Unless an event organizer is committed to its success, a virtual trade show will not really get off the ground. Without such a commitment, it is natural for a team to play it safe and focus on what has worked well before, rather than divide one's attention and have niether do well.
  4. Stuck at the initial wow. Social networks display a dynamic list of recent activities by members. It gives us a sense of how busy the network really is. When we do virtual trade shows, participants often ask us, "So what really goes on? Do I constantly see things happening on my screen? Do we get to see people approaching us? Do I get to 'fly like Superman' into a convention center and watch the speaker, raise my virtual hand, and ask a question? Almost, and subject to ideal conditions. What can be shown on a demo or a nicely edited promotional animated clip can be dramatically different from the actual experience at a virtual trade show. Which is why some kind of self-regulating mechanism is required among virtual trade show creators to not over-promise in a demo. The real experience is rarely like a video game virtual reality, and even if it could be, there are several variables beyond anybody's control right from the point a trade show is served via the Internet to the point where it is received and experienced, that the nascent industry is putting its virtual foot in its virtual mouth by overpromising in demos and under-delivering online.
  5. Absence of simplicity. The virtual events industry, if one may call it so, has failed consistently to simplify its messaging. I am myself guilty of needlessly spewing out jargon. In essense a virtual trade show is just a gathering of people and businesses that would be happy to get in touch with one another at the same time via the Internet, no matter where they are located. How this experience is best manifested does not matter. Its outcome could be several online connections made between real people, an in-person encounter or it could even be a flash mob. For a virtual trade show or a virtual event to become mainstream, it has to make its message simple and crisp. Business professionals that I talk to believe that it is a really 'cool' thing to have along with all other marketing initatives. It is only a matter of time before event organizers will heed these rumblings and catch the wave as it hits their industry.
  6. Absence of follow-through. In a real-world trade show, once the crates are shipped and people leave the convention center, nobody documents or traces the results of connections made on the show floor. Strangely, virtual trade shows are held so far apart from one another that virtual trade show organizers have not gone the extra mile to help users build some loyalty to their brand and make them want to come back and talk about how fruitful the connections really were. Even though it is easier to accomplish such follow-through in a virtual trade show as compared to the conventional kind.
  7. Not keeping it real. A virtual trade show is still a relatively unknown concept. Participants do not often know one another (that is the whole point of coming together). In such a situation, it is up to the virtual trade show producer to keep a constant line of communication with all parties concerned, so that there is a realization that real humans are running it, and that there is a team that cares about the outcome. When we expect users to spare time and money to be at a virtual trade show, the least we can do is be instantly accessible to answer any questions. Keeping it real is important to keep it virtual.

More to come in my next post.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A dozen reasons why virtual tradeshows fail to realize their potential

Hope you had a great holiday weekend! Quote from an almost-4-year-old, "I really like these holiday days, because they make me very happy!"

This will probably be a multi-part post because I want to spend some time analyzing why virtual trade shows, despite being such a powerful and compelling method of marketing, have failed to realize their true potential.

We do several virtual trade shows in closely monitored corporate environments, very successful, and very loved by participants, held entirely online - with no in-person counterpart. The definition of success of these virtual fairs however, is different from what the convention industry would consider to be the definition of a successful trade show. What I foresee happening is for every marketing department to be weaving in virtual trade shows as part of its marketing mix. This post may seem like introspection or a set of lessons learned. As is usually the case with any exercise in introspection, some good will come out of it. By understanding and confronting the reasons for the failure of virtual trade shows to realize their true potential - of being able to connect millions of businesses worldwide - I hope to facilitate some thinking about the right climate for virtual fairs to flourish.

It is just a matter of time before virtual fairs become as popular as social networks. Social networks are limited to people who know each other through a certain degree of separation. Virtual trade shows, on the other hand, make chance encounters possible. Therein lies their power and potential.

  1. Virtual tradeshows might connect businesses, but they fail to connect emotionally with business professionals. It is more interesting to hear of a real-life romance that grew out of an online dating site than to hear of a successful business deal through a lead found at a virtual trade show. Ever heard of two businesses falling in love with one another at an online matchmaker, and wanting to do business together? Even if we hear of them, there are perhaps very few scenarios in which they could become human-interest stories.
  2. Virtual tradeshow participants do not like to share their success stories. When we piloted a trade show for the promotional products industry way back in October 1999, I did some follow-up calls to find out if any real inquiries and orders were generated. An exhibitor actually had someone place an order directly after visiting his virtual booth. Here's the problem. For competitive reasons, he did not want me to publicize it. About a month ago I heard that a virtual exhibitor was talking about 2 contracts she won after online visits at her virtual booth from buyers of a large Fortune 100 corporation. Again, due to competitive reasons, she has avoided media attention. I heard that it took 15 years for sliced bread to become wildly popular. I believe virtual trade shows will have greater success once it is not such a well-kept secret.
  3. Virtual trade shows are too transparent. Every click of the mouse can be tracked in a virtual trade show. Trade show organizers are more easily held accountable for the return on tradeshow that they deliver to exhibitors. The return on investment in a virtual trade show is easy to identify and analyze in absolute terms. In a real-world trade show, there are several subjective aspects that factor into a participants' perception of whether they consider a trade show a success or not.
  4. Virtual trade show is an underdog with no cheerleaders. Without exception, whenever I have mentioned virtual trade shows to marketers and exhibitors they have always expressed tremendous enthusiasm for its value. However, when perceived as a replacement to in-person trade shows it has evoked strong mixed reactions. Often a trade show gig is an escape from the cubicle. It is the time when one can combine a trip to exotic locales along with the family and have a mini-vacation. Virtual trade shows are not merely fighting misconceptions about what they can do for a business, but they actually compete with a marketing executive's leisure time. Virtual trade shows shoot themselves in the foot when they try to position themselves as helping a business executive spend time with her or his family. Asking someone to give up in-person trade shows and do only virtual trade shows is like asking a connoisseur of chocolates to give up chocolate. Highly unlikely.
  5. "There is no such thing as a virtual trade show": This, quite literally was the welcoming remark of a veteran trade show industry executive whom I had gone to meet during our early years in business, as I was being ushered into his office. As he described the magic of bringing to life an in-person tradeshow, the magic of 'getting it right', the magic of bringing the right attendees in front of the right exhibitors year after year, the magic of seeing an empty convention center come alive over a 3-day period, the thrill of creating value and entertainment, I could see in his eyes the pride and joy of creation. He said it feels like a Hollywood movie maker. Virtual trade shows may very likely have to wait until they have learned to scale up in alternate untapped markets before they can earn the respect and the attention of veterans in the trade show and media industry. For now, it is like telling Formula One drivers that their races will be held in the video game arcade. In their present state, virtual trade shows can provide neither a comparable adrenalin-rush, nor the incremental financial incentive to get established trade show organizers excited about them.
  6. The tradeshow metaphor is being carried too far. When we began in the late 90's it made sense to borrow the trade show metaphor for these online events. Making a virtual booth look and feel like a real-world trade show booth helped users scale the learning curve rather well. However, the demographics of the workforce has changed significantly in the past decade. The new entrants to the workforce view the web as an extension of their universe. There is no need for a real-world metaphor to explain what one is trying to do with a virtual trade show. Why then should a virtual booth look like a real-world trade show booth. Why should one have virtual trade shows that have a panoramic 2-dimensional view of an exhibition hall with meaningless human-like figures gliding by aimlessly? Why are virtual trade shows not defining themselves to really provide an extra dimension to the entire marketing experience of a business. Why provide a metaphor when the virtual trade show can never replace the in-person trade show and is not designed to replace it?
  7. Absence of standards on what an ideal virtual trade show should do is a major obstacle. We get inquiries for different kinds of online environments. It is not possible to describe them accurately with the term virtual trade shows. They serve various purposes. They always have a business objective. They aim to solve one or more problems. They often have nothing to do with in-person trade shows. However, the absence of standards for virtual trade shows means that it is open to anybody's interpretation. When one looks at publicly accessible virtual trade shows, whether they be of HGTV or of the EPA, one never knows what to expect. The concept of same-time, different-place interaction as my co-founder aptly puts it, is missing most of the time. Making users go through meaningless convoluted pages of navigation only go to reveal that the virtual trade show suffered from lack of a clear direction, purpose or sense of ownership.
  8. Use of traditional media to pull audiences into a virtual trade show is known to fail. We have learned this from experience. If you send me a post card in the mail reminding me of a virtual trade show, or if you put an expensive ad in the nation's leading journal about a virtual career fair, I still can't click through to enter.
  9. Exhibitors and sponsors fail to take ownership of the virtual trade show experience being offered. Unfortunately, some of the virtual trade shows that I have experienced include cases where a media company goes through hoops to advertise the virtual trade show, pummels me with emails to stay on my radar screen, only to have no real human being available online during the live event, or have someone clueless and/or indifferent, who simply takes down an email address and phone number to pass on to the right person. Virtual trade shows fail when sponsors and exhibitors do not have sufficient skin in the game.
  10. The feeling that anything online ought to be free. There are two problems with giving access to a virtual trade show for free even when a sponsor is supporting it fully. One is that without sufficient skin in the game, the groups that are supposed to show up online to make the virtual trade show a success, will more than likely not show up. Secondly, when a virtual trade show is delivered for free, it can not be adequately supported. An improperly supported virtual trade show in turn is a disservice to the users and to the concept itself. Just like in-person trade shows, a virtual trade show distinguishes itself by the quality of the traffic and interaction it can produce.
  11. I danced even though I had sore feet. Trade shows usually are a lot of fun. Often they include a band and a dance floor. Virtual trade show producers then have a very poorly woven argument under which to take cover if they try to tell trade show participants that you can spare yourselves some sore feet at our virtual trade show. Sometimes, the 'no sore feet' argument sells, but it is not a sufficiently strong one to result in a sweeping acceptance of virtual trade shows.
  12. Neither the green movement nor soaring gas prices can help virtual fairs become mainstream. While getting on the green movement is great, I hesitate to anchor the value proposition for our virtual trade shows on that argument. It is the same about spiralling gas prices. The virtual fairs have been compelling in their value even when gas was selling at $0.95 a gallon. It should be no different even if gas hits $8 a gallon. Virtual fairs have been compelling in their value well before see-through screeners at airports force us to spend an extra 10 minutes at the gym. No free-gas coupons here. Riding the latest news headlines have never helped virtual trade shows.

In my next post, I will analyze some more aspects of virtual trade shows. Have a great week ahead!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Are we becoming (global) villagers?

[ This post is a slightly modified version of the original note that I posted upon joining American Business Media's social network, seeing how quickly it was being embraced by the leadership at some very traditional media companies. ]

I used to always be amazed at the concept of personal space in the tangible world. In a crowded subway one would not mind someone breathing down one's collar. We learn to tune out the noise of a crowd and be able to drown ourselves in a book or in personal music. In the suburbs however, a friendly neighbor can border on the nosy depending on the proximity and frequency of interaction.

I therefore ponder over the the concept of personal space on the web and what is considered an acceptable boundary of personal information. When individuals are open to having strangers online 'follow' them on twitter, I begin to wonder where one draws a line on dimming the lights on one's professional time and taking a break for some quiet time to be spent with one's family, with one's near and dear ones, and with oneself. Quiet time is essential for recharging the brain. It is essential for creative work. When everyone we know gets on LinkedIn or Facebook or other social media that can comb an addressbook and send an invitation to a whole group, it is hard to choose to be left behind, and it is hard not to rethink the concepts of personal space and privacy.

I have heard that keeping a journal, whether on a blog or in a book is considered therapeutic and beneficial to the writer's well-being. Perhaps social (and now business-social media) is helping the world become more accepting of friendly neighbors when they lower their guard collectively to share more and more personal information. Perhaps, as a society we are gently being steered into a place where we are not so hung up on privacy and learn to share thoughts and things to make the world a better place.

Some years ago, I took my parents on a visit to a village in southern India where my father had spent a part of his childhood. We stopped our car to ask for directions. A villager on a bicycle offered to help. I did something one would never do in a city. I swapped seats with him. I followed the car on his bicycle, and he sat in the car giving directions to the driver. Not only did he know the elderly aunt and cousins we were visiting in the village, but also shared a whole lot of details about every house in the village that would never have crossed our city-bred minds because it was none of our business. However, that is the essence of village life. Your life is everybody's business. They are always there to help the family in need. They clobber the store-owner who scalps a customer who often happens to be a neighbor or a friend of a neighbor. There are no pretences, no false images one can sustain, and the concept of privacy is very different from what we see in big cities.

Online social media, in my opinion is pushing us to make the world a smaller place, a cozier place, making it more like a village. Perhaps we are beginning to see a widespread manifestation of the term 'global village' only now. We are indeed becoming 'global villagers'.