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Rules of engagement for virtual events

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Autodesk, a provider of 3-D design, engineering and entertainment software, introduced its first virtual event three years ago and now uses the platform to launch new products, educate existing customers and discover new prospects. The company will host at least five virtual events this year, including its 2012 product launch and Autodesk Virtual University. “We started to use virtual events to augment our in-person events, but it has really evolved to replace physical events,” said Clay Helm, senior PR manager for Autodesk's manufacturing sector. “People really like the flexibility to join for parts [of the event] and still get things done in the office. The company has developed an overarching engagement strategy that applies to all its events, and that has helped its virtual programming succeed in both North American and Latin American markets. “We've really polished our approach to drive online engagement with customers and prospects,” Helm said. A successful virtual events program relies on a clear engagement strategy, Helm said. Here are some tips to help plan an effective virtual event:
  • Be very targeted. Autodesk serves a variety of markets, from the film and gaming industries to manufacturing and architecture. The company develops umbrella launch events, but the landing pages allow visitors to follow industry tracts. Content needs to be focused on a specific segment, Helm said.
  • Resist the temptation to ask registrants a lot of questions. In the pursuit of detailed data, you could lose audience. “We found that making the online registration process clean and simple is important,” Helm said. Autodesk forms focus on the essentials: name, company, address, telephone number, industry and title.
  • Limit presentation time. “The online sessions need to be focused and brief, or you lose [the audience's] attention,” Helm said. The Autodesk audience responds well to 40-minute sessions.
  • Give attendees many chances to ask questions. Autodesk incorporates question-and-answer sessions into its presentations, hosts a chat room with moderators who facilitate conversation and offers in-booth opportunities to speak with experts.
  • Let attendees network. The virtual platform that marketers use needs to enable discussion, Helm said. Autodesk has developed a tight-knit community through its face-to-face events and online forums. “They are used to seeking out feedback from the community,” she said. Autodesk employs chat rooms and email capabilities to facilitate communication. In addition to such common metrics as number of attendees, the company keeps an eye on the number of emails its attendees send and the number of chat sessions that they join.
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