Enhance Live Events With Virtual Ones

dscn0141I’ve talked about live blogging events as a way to enhance and promote a real world event, literally as it is happening. But lately, I’ve been asked to host virtual world events simultaneous to real world events. Mike Gunderloy and I also included planning and hosting virtual events in our 10 More New Ways to Make Money back in August. The virtual events I hosted recently were both held in Second Life. Clearly, Second Life is not dead.

So how do you host simultaneous online/virtual events? Very carefully, of course, but here are a few tips to help you straddle both worlds and pull off both events without a hitch.

1. Get Virtual Help

Before you delve into virtual world event planning, make sure you have established a talented team who are active in the virtual world, but also who you know and trust. I work mostly with people who I have met not only virtually but also in the real world, because there is an added accountability aspect to contacts you’ve met face to face. That said, I also have worked extensively with folks who I only know through the virtual world – in this case, Second Life. I don’t even know their real names and pay them either with Linden (Second Life’s currency) or on PayPal. My virtual world team includes designer Liadona Rau (whom I met in person after we had met in Second Life), multimedia developer KrisBott Gears (who used to work for me at Cybergrrl, Inc. in real life back in the 90s), and designer Chepooka Laval (whom I work with in real life in Alaska and whom I encouraged to get “inworld”).

2. Know the Lay of the Land

Not only am I personally familiar with the ins and outs of Second Life, just from rolling up my sleeves and trying things out, but I also co-own a virtual island so have a sandbox in which to develop things. This also means that I have a location to hold events when clients don’t have their own land. Because I’m so familiar with the potential of Second Life, the minute I’m approached to do a virtual event to complement a live event, I immediately know at least a dozen things that we can and should do for the Second Life version.

inauguration_0373. Think 3-D and Interactive

While it is a given that there should be branded and information-oriented posters at your virtual world event, you can easily go beyond the flat billboard-style signage. For my virtual events, some of the posters are also “notecard givers”,  meaning that avatars can obtain a notecard with background information about the company, organization or event, just by clicking on them. Other posters immediately launch a browser window, which opens on the web site of the party host. Notecard givers can also be set up to automatically email you the name of each avatar clicking on your object to receive items.

inauguration_0474. Think Promo Items (Freebies)

Nothing makes an avatar happier than receiving free gifts. I learned early on how to make t-shirts in Second Life and have a side virtual business making branded, promotional t-shirts for events, companies and organizations. For a recent event I held on Athena Island (the one I co-own) for Quaker Oatmeal, I turned to a virtual friend, MincedMedia Clip, to make an enormous virtual steaming bowl of oatmeal, complete with a spoon. To top it off, if an avatar clicked on the big bowl, they received an individual, small bowl of oatmeal with a virtual spoon that had an “eat” animation in it to animate the avatar scooping out oatmeal and eating it.

dscn01395. Show the Virtual Event in Real Life

At the Quaker Oatmeal live event, we had several laptops logged into Second Life, and some of us participated both in the real world and the virtual event at the same time. We were able to let others who were not familiar with Second Life look over our shoulders to demonstrate what was happening. At a previous event for Rasmuson Foundation in Anchorage, Alaska, the simultaneous Second Life event was projected onto a big screen in a performing arts center theatre. Having the virtual world component during a real-world event can build excitement and leave a lasting impression on the attendees.

6. Stay on Message Virtually

Because the Second Life aspect of a real world event can easily become the “main attraction,” make sure what you do virtually is in line with what is happening in the real world. Make sure the messaging is clear, the branding consistent, and the discussion relevant. It is too easy to get sidetracked in a virtual world, however, having “hosts” at events can keep the conversations running smoothly and key messages communicated frequently.

7. Hire Security

While your real world event probably doesn’t need a security detail, in Second Life, for example, security at events is smart. It is so easy to build and create objects in Second Life, and it is just as easy for a troublemaker – or “griefer” – to do the same at your event. There are folks in Second Life who make good Linden as security guards. Give them the permissions they need to boot out (eject) any pesky griefers and to remove obnoxious objects from your land. Before I started hiring security, I had several great events disrupted by griefers,  but now that I have them, not a single event has been attacked.

8. Spread the Virtual Word

Holding an event in Second Life doesn’t only enhance the real world event itself, but it also enhances the promotions and buzz factor of your event. There is an entire strata of Second Life bloggers, Second Life Facebookers, Second Lifers on MySpace, Twitter, Plurk, and more. Almost everyone who blogs their Second Life does so exclusively, so they will only write about things they experience or hear about inworld. When you provide interesting events in Second Life that add value to the world and provide value to the avatar, chances are you’ll get a good deal of extra ink and mentions in the social mediasphere because of your Second Life initiatives.

Overall, holding a virtual event at the same time as a real world event takes careful coordination and strategic attention to detail. Don’t skimp on your Second Life event or treat it as an afterthought. Virtual world events are valuable to, and attended by, people from  all over the world. You can expand your reach quickly and exponentially when you hold a virtual world event.

Have you organized real world/virtual world events? What has worked for you? What hasn’t?