More than 1,400 attendees logged on to experience the free virtual companion to the paid Software Testing Analysis & Review Conference East, a weeklong event that engages a global audience of software managers, developers, test professionals and quality engineers. Educational services provider Software Quality Engineering employed a content strategy designed not only to engage virtual attendees but also to market the four face-to-face events that the company organizes each year.
“We want to reach a larger audience and hopefully drive them to our physical conferences,” said Kim Bryant, events manager at SQE.
The Orange Park, Fla., company organized two days of online content, streaming keynotes and a selection of live presentations that gave attendees a taste of the action at the in-person event. Online attendees could chat in a network lounge, visit vendor booths and download brochures and white papers. More important, they could drop in on impromptu interview sessions with the experts taking part in the popular lab portion of the event, a face-to-face component not made available online.
The interviews helped conference organizers maintain engagement throughout the event, evening out participation that peaked during keynotes and other informational sessions. “The important moment becomes the time between the sessions,” Bryant said.
The SQE strategy employed more than one tactic to move attendees through the environment. A trivia game prompted participants to take specific actions, visiting sponsors, for example, or taking part in a moderated question-and-answer session. More than a quarter of virtual attendees played the game, working to earn enough points to be eligible for a gift card drawing.
A notification system alerted attendees to unscheduled events, including the popular interview series, and a feature allowed organizers to push an audience to a booth following a sponsor presentation. The environment also included links to a registration page for future conferences.
Organizers marketed features of the online event in promotional materials and email blasts, and also worked to ensure that sponsor-driven content focused on information rather than sales.
The strategy delivered. The majority of attendees were active in the environment throughout the two-day period. In an online poll, most of those attendees expressed an interest in converting to in-person attendance in the future—something SQE plans to begin tracking.
Virtual events often achieve that conversion, said Dennis Shiao, director-product marketing at virtual platform provider InXpo Inc., which worked with SQE to produce the conference. “Many of our clients are augmenting the audience reach, but also using the digital extension as a marketing tool,” he said. “You need to drive attendance.”