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Extending Events from "Virtual" to "Perpetual"

I've lately met with several vendors in the virtual events business, and one trend seems pretty clear: That makes sense--why not take advantage of technology to help create persistent communities of interest long after a given session, presentation or full-on conference has ended? You can't really do that in the live world, or at least not easily; doing it virtually actually creates added value at lower costs, every vendor's Holy Grail.And's not that simple. The problem with communities is that they require input and investment. It's one thing to host an event, with scheduled sessions and clear content, and quite another to have to deliver insightful and valuable information on an ongoing basis. That requires time, effort and money, as well as the resources of the experts in the organization who need to actually deliver the content.

Furthermore, if you're intent on creating a community of interest, you have to go all in. That means identifying and signing up a large enough group of people (the network effect needs a critical mass to take effect); posting relevant content on a daily or even hourly basis; engaging people in discussions, so that they start to do at least some of the work for you; and generally making it worth members' time to stop by the site and contribute more than once a year-when they are reminded of its existence thanks to the annual conference that brought them there in the first place.

And then there's the question of whether virtual events technology is really the best vehicle for ongoing community development. That kind of activity would seem to be best served by a slew of communications technologies, including conferencing and web events, certainly, but also presence information, chat, conferencing and web 2.0 capabilities such as wikis, micro-blogging and social networking. The vendors I spoke with do say they are looking at ways to include those kinds of tools in their software, as well as 3-D that promises the benefits of a virtual reality environment.

In the meantime, companies looking to go beyond conferences to communities would be wise to think seriously about just how engaged and interactive they are prepared to be. Just having a corporate presence on Twitter and Facebook requires the dedicated attention of at least one employee, and communities of interest are built on much more than that.

If you're intent on going this route (and it's a good one if you nail it), first locate the thought leaders within your organization and tap their brains for what's hot, happening and relevant to the industry. Then ask them if they'd be willing to lead the effort to make the company the place to go for insight and discussion, networking with peers and potential partners and customers, and ongoing special events.

If they're smart, they'll ask for a raise.