Pushing the limits of virtual events with John Rocker, Director of Social Media at Dynatrace
As Director of Social Media at Dynatrace, an enterprise AI solution, John Rocker has mastered the art of B2B virtual event marketing. On this episode of the FINITE Podcast, John shares his experience, offers advice for areas of innovation, and gives his view on the state of B2B event marketing in 2022.
This episode covers:
- What is the virtual event space like at the moment in B2B marketing?
- How can you leverage social media for B2B virtual event marketing?
- How can virtual B2B events encourage employee advocacy?
- How should B2B marketers choose a virtual event platform?
- Can hybrid events work with a smaller budget and for smaller B2B companies?
- How is digital fatigue impacting virtual events?
Listen to the full episode here:
And check out more of the FINITE B2B marketing podcast here!
Hi, everyone. I'm happy to have you back for another FINITE Podcast episode. And today we'll be discussing the ins and outs of virtual events. More specifically, how much events come into play with social media, with employee advocacy, as well as the outlook of events as we head back into a more open face to face event reality. Joining us will be John Rocker, who is currently the Social Media Director at Dynatrace, an enterprise AI ops platform.
And this episode is very timely for us at FINITE this week, as we're getting ready for our one day virtual conference for B2B marketers in tech and SaaS. I'm sure you've got your ticket already, but if you haven't, head to finite.community/finitefest2022, or click the link in the description to find out more and register. You'll hear from over 25 B2B marketing leaders, as they seek to tackle the biggest challenges in B2B tech and SaaS marketing this year. You won't want to miss it!
The FINITE community is kindly supported by the marketing practice, a global integrated B2B marketing agency that brings together all the skills you need to design and run account based marketing, demand generation channel, and customer marketing programs. Head to themarketingpractice.com to learn more.
Hello, John, and welcome to the FINITE Podcast. Thank you for joining me.
Hey, great to be here, Alex. Thanks for having me.
Looking forward to talking. I know we've had the pleasure of your company at one of our previous FINITE events, which was great. And so we thought it would be great to get you on the podcast too. And we're gonna be talking all about the future of B2B events. Before we do that, I'll let you just tell us a little bit about yourself as we always do, and tell us a bit about your background and experience and we'll talk a bit about your current role and team.
Yeah, absolutely. So I've got quite a unique background. So, I went to university, got my degree in communications with a minor in journalism, figured I would be the next Spielberg or maybe the next Pulitzer prize winning reporter. But social media came along and took me on a different journey.
So I've been in the space for 10, 11 years now, and started off getting into the field with an internship in my last year at university for a startup that was called Voice Signal. Eventually they were acquired by nuanced communications. So I always like to think of them as the pre Siri. What they did there was provide voice recognition software that was built into the devices for phone manufacturers like Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, ones you don't hear about that much anymore, except for maybe one. But it was a really great experience there. I loved just being in the marketing aspect of things.
And that took me into my first career out of college working for a healthcare organisation, doing marketing, a little bit of social media there before I moved on to a gaming organisation called GSN games, working on their social gaming platform there when Facebook was really big into that. And then eventually moving on to working on their online gaming on.com.
I had a short stint at a higher education marketing firm doing social media for them there, and then moved on to manual life, John Hancock to help get social media started up for their innovation labs within the organisation there, also doing some building up of executive social media trainings and advisement for our business units who might be looking to start a social media presence. And then for about the last four and a half years, I have been here at Dynatrace as a manager of social media, and then most recently moving into a director of social media role.
Cool, awesome. And tell us a bit about Dynatrace and the marketing organisation overall within the business.
Absolutely. So, social media and my team sits under our corporate marketing structure at Dynatrace. So we're a B2B software company and there's a team of myself and one other individual that we work with to run and are focused on our organic social media presence and strategy, as well as running and operating our employee advocacy program, doing things with our executive social media programs, and event activations.
And of course the all important social media training. But besides us, I always like to think about it as were the main social media team, right? But then we have our annex of social media team members, from engineers, product, HR, sales, PR events across the gamut. They all come together and we collaborate with them very closely to be able to help bring our social media channels to life.
Cool. And how big Dynatrace as a business overall? Remind me of the overall size.
3,500 team members in the last count, consistently growing. So it's been really explosive growth for us over the last few years. Unfortunately in the times that have happened, it's been really helpful for our business as a lot of the companies that we're working with are going through that digital transformation process and with everything shifting online, the explosiveness of the need for optimisation of websites and apps that work in a time when everyone is at home, that that's the core of our business. So we've been very fortunate to be able to work with a lot of these organisations across the board globally, to be able to help those things work when people definitely need them to.
What is the virtual event space like at the moment in B2B marketing?
Awesome. Sounds exciting, quite the journey. So let's dive into the subject. I know we're talking all about events, obviously the worlds of social media and events overlap heavily. And we'll talk a bit about that in a sec, but I know there's a lot of debate in the industry at the moment around virtual events and hybrid events and getting back to physical events and everyone's got different perspectives.
We've seen some interesting times with some of the big events platforms growing explosively during COVID and then maybe slowing down a bit. And it's definitely, I feel like there's a lot of different perspectives out there and what the best approach is for now and moving forward. But maybe let's start by setting the scene and you can tell us a bit about your more recent experience with virtual events generally. Just as an open question.
Absolutely. So it seems like a lifetime ago now in February of 2020. At Dynatrace, we hold an annual customer conference every year in Las Vegas that's called Perform. So we had wrapped that up in February of 2020, everyone flew back home to the states, Latin America, Europe, wherever they may be.
And of course in March, as we all know, circumstances changed globally and everything shifted online. So that was a big pivot, not only for us, but I think every organisation globally has to figure out what they're going to do to be replacing these in-person events and experiences that a lot of us really rely on across the B2B space and driving leads, business opportunities, et cetera.
So in addition to Perform, we had been running smaller spores of regional conferences that were held in person as well. So that first one that we spun up was late in 2020, shifting online, doing it fully virtual instead of having these regional smaller events, it was more open globally. We would put a lot of insight and thought into that, and this was really our first go around with it.
So, we were in person in February, so when everything shut down and shifted virtually, we were getting a late run to things with our event happening in October. So we really took that as an opportunity for a learning experience, seeing what worked, what didn't work, what we liked. And we rolled that into 2021 when we held our first virtual event for a Perform that was online.
And one of the biggest takeaways that we had was we've gotta do things live as much as possible. That was one of our big takeaways from our first event, and then looking at what others were doing in the space, there wasn't anything that we really felt that we wanted to attend. Just recordings, people just trying to put something out there. So what can we do to make it a more interactive and engaging event and as much as possible, just make it seem like we're all together in this as one.
So we ran that, went very well, and duplicated some things again for the smaller scale event that we held later in the year. And then 2022 came around, we were all geared up to be back in person, have a hybrid experience with the event as well, and then December, January of last year, things started to take a dip again. And just for the safety of everyone involved, we nixed the hybrid aspect of the event and quickly had to pivot to once again, 100% all virtual.
So we just held that event again in February and lots of different logistics and planning had to go into that. And in my role as social media director, I had to figure out, for two years running, how do we create not only engaging experiences for all of our attendees with the event itself, but where does social media come into play with that? So really trying to just test so many new things and figure out different concepts and what's gonna work and how do we engage this audience, not when they're on the platform, but also what they're gonna be doing outside of it.
Yeah, makes sense. Quite the journey and I guess lots of ups and downs, lots of having to react quite quickly to a changing landscape. And I think that's the experience of probably most listeners as well. I think it's interesting, I feel like in the US too, you've almost state by state and in different locations had quite different perspectives on COVID and rules and masks, and there's just been very, from what I've seen anyway, different outlooks on that front. So even within one country, I know you're obviously a big country and it's pretty spread out, but different approaches are needed.
Yeah. It one of those things that you just wake up and say what's coming next? Monday, you could be all systems ready to go then by Wednesday, things change and you have to figure out how you're gonna pivot and move next. But I don't think that makes us any more unique than anyone else who has had to go through these different changes over the past two years. But you learn to just accept it, embrace it and figure out what you can do best and move on.
How can you leverage social media for B2B virtual event marketing?
Definitely. How does your social media work come into play with all the virtual events side of things? Obviously, social's a big part of everything and any virtual event has promotion and driving awareness of the event and people signing up and everything plays its role, no doubt. But maybe you can tell us a bit about how the two come into play and how social media comes into play with virtual events.
Yeah, absolutely. So generally, just like it would be in any onsite event, you're doing a lot of posting ahead of time to raise awareness, announcements of speakers, agenda items, and such of that nature, always looking to drive registrations, hopefully people getting ready to sign up, generating buzz around the event ahead of time.
And then the things that I've always really loved are actually the activations when you're on site, you're out there actually meeting people, having conversations, you're seeing what they're sharing across social media, you're doing the same from the accounts, et cetera.
That's where a lot of the fun happens and networking happens and where these events really come to life and seeing as how you shift that to do so virtually, that's what was definitely a challenge, but one you just tackle head on. I think that's one of the fun aspects about social media itself, right? It's always changing. And this is probably one of the ultimate changes that we've all had to go through.
So coming up with ways to take it past that, once you get the awareness, the registration, it's the day, week of the event, how do you utilise social media to, to help bring that to life? And there were a few things that we had done with trying to make things more engaging for the participants, right? They're gonna be sitting here over three, four days, a couple hours a day, what are they gonna be talking and sharing about?
So taking advantage of the live aspects of the events. So we spun up a couple of livestream after shows. We just called them to perform after shows, and very quickly, thrown together, just testing something else, seeing what the response is gonna be. I think the first ones that we did, we may have been in our pyjamas, but we did them for our North American audience, our European audience and our Asia Pacific audience.
So with each region that was hosting the event, we made sure that we did it live so we can capture them and bring them in. And it was very phenomenally received. Right. I think people appreciate the extra effort we're going through. And it was really something that helped extend things that were happening at Perform.
So it was a daily recap about what was announced, what was going on and previewing, what was happening next day, but then being able to engage with the participants in real time, who are there hearing about what they enjoyed about it, what they were most looking forward to.
And I think one of the highest compliments that always stands out on top of my head was, one of the live streams, someone who was there was saying they greatly appreciated what we were were doing and they had a cocktail in hand and it just felt like they were at some sort of a networking event there just catching up with everybody from the day. So stuff like that, if you're able to expand the event presence and do so on social media where people can come and connect and do that and have that type of response, that would be fantastic.
And one of the other things we also tried to do was social media gamification, get people tweeting, sharing across social media, and we did a lot of things with gaming and contests. So thankfully for us in social, our event happened in February around the time of the academy awards.
So we really tried to lean into that a bit, give away some things like best virtual background, best dress, best viewing experience, best supporting viewer, just things that we're all doing at home. So what are some ways we can make things fun and drum it up?
And again, across social media, that got people talking, sharing, engaging, not just about what they were seeing or hearing from all of our internal speakers, some of our keynote speakers, but just other aspects about that really kept them engaged, made the thing light, made them have fun.
One of the best things when you're in person at an event is always to share a photo of the big stage or you're out there networking with people. But when you're at home, in your office, wherever, maybe you're not really going to take a screenshot probably of your laptop screen or something that's going on there.
So what are some ways that we can create opportunities for people to do so, and those were some of the things that we had done, and one of the funnest ones that we had done. We got so much great feedback from hiding some things within the virtual aspects of the event. So in recordings or in some of the live shots, we hid something in the background and asked people to always keep their eyes out during certain things.
We created these limited edition bobbleheads that tied in with... so our platform has something that we call our Davis artificial intelligence. We've had a whole marketing campaign around it, filmed some videos for it. So what we did is, we used the likeness of the actress that was there to help us shoot those videos, created these limited edition bobbleheads, hid them in the background of these things and had people tweet at us, email us, share it out if you found them.
And they had the opportunity to win one of these very limited edition bobbleheads, and our community was very active, very engaged. They love a lot of these things that we do. So it was a pretty hot item. Two years later, I'll still even get some tweets coming at us or messages coming in saying 'hey, do you guys have any of those bobblehead that were happening there?'
So extending it, creating some of that buzz, some of those moments that really kept people watching for the content. But as well, what were some of the gamification or fun things that they can do that maybe just takes away from the day to day that we were in at that time?
Yeah. Makes sense. And I love that kind of gamification stuff. And sometimes it's tough to think about these more creative angles you can take, but it makes a lot of sense.
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How can virtual B2B events encourage employee advocacy?
I know the employee advocacy side of things is part of your remit and something that we've talked about before. Obviously, virtual event's are a great way of getting employees both attending, but also speaking and other things. How do virtual events encourage or work with the employee advocacy goals that you have?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it gives employees the opportunity to help us cast a wider net and reach as many unique eyes as possible. That's the biggest thing that I always talk about with individuals. "You're probably gonna have a bit more impact than I am coming from a brand persona, whatever you're doing across social media, you probably have more personalised connections are gonna be more apt to take a look at what you're sharing, wanting to engage in it."
And then with their audience as well, they know who they are a bit more until they can target their messaging, tailor what they're putting out there about the event, so that they're hammering home specific points. As much as a brand channel would like to be able to put out and dig into each specific aspect of a virtual, it's probably just not possible, and it's not gonna really catch a lot of the eyes for people to get them to want to click through.
But Alex, as someone who might be sharing something out, maybe there's something particular about the agenda that you're really enthusiastic about, you can hammer that more home, whether it's recording a quick video message to put on your social media, maybe using some of the content that we put out and repurposing that. It just really gives them a lot more ownership of being able to help raise awareness, drive eyes, be able to bring in the people that they want to be there and they just make it more personalised, which I think is always super helpful.
So it's not a mass message going out to everyone, they can take these pieces of content and put their own tone of voice on it, put their own spin on it and craft it in a way that's really gonna probably resonate with their followers or individuals and hopefully get them to want to attend the event. And then the other thing that I love about these type of things is there's conversations that are happening, not just across digital around social media, they're happening on WhatsApp, text message, all these other areas, right?
So you can kind of utilise that same content and pass that off. And these other areas where these conversations that are happening to help raise awareness, we definitely wouldn't be able to reach with just things that we might be doing with organic social or paid advertising or placements, other things like that.
Yeah, absolutely. One of the big challenges I know that we of right now at FINITE too, is thinking about our own events and virtual versus hybrid and trying to do, and we can talk a bit about budgets when we come onto that question, but doing physical events was one thing, you need some budget, you need to pay for a space, all the things that come with putting on a good event. Doing virtual events actually made it easier, right?
To begin with, a lot of companies just span up zoom and that was it. Like your event's budget was minimal. Suddenly this hybrid, potentially some people in person, some watching remotely live streaming, the mix makes things really complex, because you've got the challenges of a physical event, but then you've got the sound and the audio and the live streaming and the whole team of people needed just to stream stuff, record stuff.
What do you think about the whole cross platform approach? Different platforms, different tools, how are you guys approaching that?
How should B2B marketers choose a virtual event platform?
Yeah, absolutely. So we've been in a pretty fortunate circumstance where we've been able to test a number of out of the box platforms and even have some of our own customised platforms spun up. So speaking with our events team, I know they've really tackled this and it's still a constantly evolving process, but you know, the best advice that I can probably give is as you're thinking about planning a virtual event or cross streaming, really try to figure out what type of event you're looking to run and then ultimately what your goals are.
I think that's first and foremost, before you just really try to dive in without knowing exactly what your strategy is and what you're hoping to achieve. And, we're now two, three years going on with this. And I think what we've also seen over that timeframe is just an explosion of options that you have available.
I know you mentioned when we are all figuring out what to do, the easiest one was Zoom, and then just go from there and figure it out. But there's been a number of new platforms that have spun up and due to the usage and demand for these platforms being out there, we've also seen the technology quickly be able to evolve to just meet the needs or requirement that individuals and teams really need to be able to pull off these type of events.
So there's definitely gonna be a space for them. And as you think about what you're going to do moving forward, you have no shortage of options. And again, really just tailoring it and picking that platform that makes the most sense for your team. And as you think about cross streaming platforms, that's probably the way to go forward as well, right?
There's just lots of live video content coming out, video content, being produced and brands across all different channels, all different platforms. So being able to utilise tools like that are fantastic to be able to hit as wide an audience as possible. But again, before you dive into that, it's always about making sense, taking a step back, asking do we need to be doing it here? What is the audience there? Is it our target audience? Are we getting the right message out? Are we sending it the right way?
There's always just so many questions that you really want to be going through and taking off on the box before you dive in without a direction. Usually you're not gonna pull off the event that you want to, if you do it that way. But if you take a step back, breathe to calm down a little bit and evaluate your options and see what makes the most sense for you, you'll hopefully have some good luck with that because I don't see this going away any time soon in this new environment that we're in.
Can hybrid events work with a smaller budget and for smaller B2B companies?
Yeah. I agree. I guess these two questions are related in terms of, do you need a big budget for proper full scale virtual or mainly hybrid events? And I guess therefore are hybrid events actually realistic for smaller companies? Like, you guys are a certain size and scale and have a lot of internal resource and budgets that can go towards this type of thing.
If you're a 50 person, B2B tech startup/scale up, you're probably in a slightly different position in terms of how much you can afford to invest into events of this kind. So yeah, almost two questions in one in terms of do you need big budgets? And therefore if you do, are these types of big hybrid events actually doable for smaller companies?
Yeah. You do not necessarily need a tremendously large budget to be able to participate and pull these events off. Going back to that previous question and what we discussed, it's really about identifying what your goals are, what your priorities are and thinking about what your budget is and how you can best utilise that. So if you've got that strategy in place, there's really no reason why you shouldn't be able to participate in and pull off a successful event.
I think it's really about identifying right at the start, again, what the goals are, and then trying to not overextend yourself. Usually if you're running into that, that's where you're gonna probably think, this wasn't as big a success as we wanted.
But doing all that prep work ahead of time, and knowing what your limitations are and what you're looking to achieve, you should definitely be able to participate and pull something off that will be suitable to your needs and hopefully get the results that you want, but just being smart and strategic with what you're doing with hybrid events as well, it just opens up a broader net for you to be able to bring in participants, as opposed to just strictly being somewhere in person.
There's all types of logistics and things required for you being in person, not just from your side as the event planner, but individuals having to maybe do travel international travel hotels, whatever it kind of may be. So if you're eliminating that expense on their end and maybe eliminating some of that on your end as well, there's just hopefully more opportunity for you to put that more into a focused event.
And then also, without that restriction of individuals having to get company approval or use budget or whatever it may be, maybe to be able to travel to that event, it's hitting a landing page, selecting register, and then just having to tune in. So I think it creates more opportunity for individual tools to be able to keep participating in that hybrid event. And then if you're saving money for the in person aspect of that, figuring out how you balance that budget and where you put that and where it makes the most sense for you.
And then I think that again leads in probably to the next question that you had about the small to medium size tech companies. It should be possible whether you're a 50 person team or a 5,000 person team. It's, again, figuring out what your goals are, what the team is capable of, what you have in terms of your budget, and then being strategic and smart about how you're spending that.
But the hybrid events are definitely probably not anything that's going to be going away. So if you have a limited budget for being somewhere that that's on site, or maybe operating something on large scale on site, just figuring out again how you make best use of those budget dollars that you have and where it makes the most sense for you to be spending that.
And what experience you want to create for the individuals who are attending. Maybe some people just don't wanna really go to like in person events anymore. So does it make sense for you to be allotting X amount of money for those when your audience is maybe totally fine with being hybrid or not wanting to spend that on travel. So again, planning that ahead, maybe talking with your audience and figuring out ahead of time should definitely make that a bit more impactful for any organisation of any size.
How is digital fatigue impacting virtual events?
Definitely. I think the big question is this whole digital fatigue thing. It comes up a lot, people talk about it a lot. I think probably seeing webinar, virtual event stuff, numbers gradually declining probably since the start of COVID. I think there's maybe a bigger, almost like a cultural change of people being a little bit more fickle sometimes and feeling like they can sign up to something and if they don't wanna show up 10 minutes before they just don't show up.
I feel like as a society, we've maybe become a bit more relaxed about whether or not we feel like we should, or feel obliged to go to things. I don't know whether you've seen the same, but what do you think about the digital fatigue piece generally? Is that impacting things?
Absolutely. I mean, we've been in this for a very long time and with everything shifting online and people working at home, or maybe now some people are having that hybrid experience, whether they're at home or at office. And you've just spent more time probably in front of your screen over the last two years than you maybe had the previous 20 years of your life.
So thinking about out all the commitments that you have going on, all the other distractions where you may be at, can you really commit 30 minutes to an hour or two hours over X number of days to be attending some sort of event? So as people think about that they think I can watch this on demand. I can come back to this any time I can watch it on their YouTube channel, whatever it may be.
You really have to think and really step up your game. I think, as marketers, to make this appointment viewing now because they can easily tap out, there could be a slack message, zoom message that pops up and then they're lost for that day. But if you're planning your event in a way that is engaging, it's interactive, it actually gives them a reason to be there, and you're creating an experience, which is like, wow, I can't miss, then hopefully you overcome that fatigue because we know it's there, we know it's real.
We've probably been at these things where we can't sit through this anymore. It's just someone talking at me as opposed to talking to me. So it's really about getting together, how are you going to overcome that? And there's a lot of strategy that comes with your events team, your branding team, your marketing team, and really just trying to create events that are go to appointment of viewing now as opposed to, I'm not really going to take anything for being here live, so let me just duck out of here earlier or not turn up.
Yeah, I think we've definitely seen similar across the FINITE community. I guess I'm conscious of time and I'm probably gonna ask you just one last question and whether there's any learnings that you feel you can take from all of the last few years or more of virtual events.
If we are moving back towards hybrid and face to face, real life events, are there actually any learnings that you can take from virtual? I know we maybe position them as being a bit negative or digital fatigue, like there's downsides to virtual events, but I guess what are the pluses that you can carry forwards?
Yeah, definitely. One of the biggest takeaways I think that we found is knowing what content our audience wants. So we have that in real time with these virtual events. So we can see when people are logging on how long they're staying on for what they're attending.
So it's really great to get that feedback directly from the platforms that we're using. And then, also from the attendees themselves and hearing from them, I don't want something that's X amount of time, I can only be here for this. So thinking about that and taking all that feedback has really helped us start to tailor the later virtual events that we had done.
And then as we go to these hybrid and more in person experiences, again, just being a bit more in tune with what we know our audience wants and how it works. So they've been extremely helpful in helping us get more focused and create an agenda that's more streamlined and more tailored to what the audience wants to see as opposed to what we feel that they should see.
So that's hopefully one of the biggest takeaways that everyone who maybe has run these events will definitely take. You're getting real time feedback from your audience, from your target market, so don't ignore that, take that, work that into how you're crafting these events moving forward. And hopefully you're able to just create a more seamless and stronger event experience for everyone, that they'll enjoy and ultimately work with the results that you want.
Absolutely. I think that's great advice on which to end, I'm conscious of time. So as I say, I think we'll wrap up, but I will finish by just saying a big thank you, John. Thanks for sharing everything. I know you're a real expert in the space so I'm grateful for your thoughts and advice.
No, I appreciate the time. Really great to be here and to connect. Always wonderful to talk with you, Alex.
Thanks for listening. Before we go, just one final shout out to our FINITE partner, 93x, the digital agency working exclusively with ambitious fast growth, B2B tech and SaaS companies. Visit 93x.agency to find out how they partner with marketing teams to drive growth.
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