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The Interactivity Debate

The Interactivity Debate

hands-350As someone who spends a lot of time talking about webinars and virtual events as valuable tools for marketers, I am perplexed by the central argument against them…lack of interactivity. The talking point goes something like this: “Physical events are important to us because we want the chance to engage directly with our attendees.” The idea is that at physical events, from large trade shows to small seminars, you are having deep and meaningful conversations with each and every one of your visitors, a level of interactivity that you simply wouldn’t get in the virtual world.

Really?

Let me ask you this: when was the last time that you went to a live seminar, in a local hotel ballroom, and at the end of the presentation the speaker asked for questions and a sea of hands shot up from the audience? Rarely, if ever. In every room full of people there are a handful of type A personalities who don’t have a problem speaking up in front of a crowd. This is a good thing, but what about the rest of the audience? What are you learning from them? What are you learning about them?

Let’s talk about lead scoring. How much information do you really get from your attendees at a live physical event? At a typical user conference, you know who registered and if they attended. You don’t know what sessions they attended. You don’t know if they asked a question and what questions they asked. Booth visits are captured only if someone lingers long enough to get a badge scanned. You don’t know what literature they took or what videos or demos they might have experienced. Hopefully you had some meaningful conversations and exchanged some business cards and took some notes, but for a majority of the attendees, you really don’t know much at all. So much for the interactivity argument.

Now, let’s talk about the virtual event or webinar experience. The way we communicate today is changing dramatically. We are now talking to a generation of people that are habituated to communicating online. This is their comfort zone. While many people may not feel comfortable raising their hand in front of 200 people in a hotel ballroom, they will have no problem submitting a question through an online interface…or conversing in a chat room…or tweeting about your event…or joining an online forum discussion.

From a large-scale virtual user conference to a 30-minute webinar, the level of engagement that you have with your audience is unlimited. Think about the information that you get from a single webinar: yes, you know who registered and who attended, but with the webinar, you also know how long they attended, what questions they asked, their responses to polls and surveys, what they tweeted, what they said in a chat room or forum and what content they downloaded. It’s a wealth of valuable information that helps you more accurately score a lead and arm your sales team with direct insight into the interests of your attendees.

I am not saying that live physical events don’t have their place. They certainly do. There is a certain buzz about large physical events. They provide a great opportunity to brand and position your products and services, and certainly you can connect with some of your customers and prospects. But if you are looking to have a high level of engagement with a large number of people, I would suggest you think about going virtual. This is where the real conversations are taking place.

By As Director of Content Marketing for ON24, Mark Bornstein manages content strategy and marketing communications to support webcasts and virtual events.

Mark Bornstein