Salesforce has built the bulk of its marketing and community around major in-person events, including Dreamforce, TrailheaDX, World Tour events, partner summits, and more. Those corporate-owned events have inspired dozens of annual community-led Dreamin' events and thousands of ongoing user groups and Salesforce Saturday events. But now, we're facing a time when we just cannot do face-to-face, and nobody really knows when it will be safe to resume. Logistically, we'll figure out new precautions, but the viability of an event isn't just logistics; you can't put on an event unless you have enough people willing to attend to motivate sponsors to pay for it. That's going to take a while.
The reflexive reaction, for many companies, is to simply throw the word "virtual" before the name of their existing event. Scale up your video streaming, and zoomify your sessions. In contrast, thankfully, Salesforce is trying to innovate with a beginner's mind. Here are some thoughts on how that beginner's mind might help us optimize content sharing in a pandemic world.
The Logistics Have Changed
The logistics of managing a crowd have long dictated our learning paradigms, both for events and in schools. You have a large group of people in the same place at the same time, with a limited number of rooms, a limited number of media screens and options, and a limited number of presenters and facilitators. Prior to any consideration of the content, those logistics constrain or dictate the following:
- Number of sessions
- Size of audience for each session
- Location of the session
- Time and date for the session
- Presentation style (e.g., one-to-many lecture followed by linear Q&A with no means to filter or prioritize)
As a presenter/content owner, these are the constraints within which you develop your session content. Imagine starting that content creation with a different paradigm.
|Potential Audience||Those who can travel to the event location||Anyone with broadband access|
|Duration||Dictated by crowd logistics||Flexible; one-time or a series.|
|Schedule||Dictated by crowd logistics||Flexible, repeated sessions in different timezones, on-demand.|
|Topics||Which subjects can fill a room within our schedule?||Unlimited "rooms" and unlimited time slots|
What's really new here?
As you look through the New side of the table, you may have realized that none of this is really new. We already have content on YouTube, and interactive learning on Trailhead, and dozens of Salesforce webcasts, town halls, and office hours calls, plus dozens of great blogs, and specialized discussions happening asynchronously on the Success Community, Stack Exchange, Salesforce Developers Forum, and many more. Each of those content channels has iterated and evolved into the modes that suit the preferences, level, and style of the audiences they each attract.
Some ideas for Salesforce
- Bring more external content onto Salesforce internal platforms, as they have always done with Dreamforce sessions. I'm thinking something akin to a Call for Presentations, but for Trailhead.
- Add some discussion groups on Trailhead; not just async forums, but live discussions with some of the module creators.
- For webcasts, consider using on-demand webcast presentations, followed by live scheduled discussions of that content.
- For connecting the Ohana, I'd love to see more user groups collaborate on presentations. Big groups can adopt smaller ones, or groups can develop a buddy-system.
So what are the gaps?
Events have traditionally served as a forcing function; everybody knows months ahead of time that Dreamforce is happening on [insert date], so product announcements, marketing initiatives, brand communications and just about everything else in the Salesforce ecosystem is planned on a schedule that works back from Dreamforce or other events. We'll need to figure out other things on which to base our timelines. That also means that content can be more evenly distributed throughout the year, rather than a flood of new content at Dreamforce.
Obviously, the major function of events is to bring together the community—not just to learn, but to socialize and support each other, meeting people from distant places, other industries, and with vastly different perspectives. Now that user group meetings are virtual, I've been surfing the Ohana, making new friends across the country. Still, we're just not going to achieve that Dreamforce-level inspiration on a virtual happy hour.
As an AppExchange Partner, I used events as a major marketing opportunity—doing product demos, presenting sessions, competing in DemoJams, and generally networking. There's really nothing that will replace Dreamforce, but luckily, there are literally hundreds of user groups hungry for content that can be presented virtually. I have to say, this is a very cost-effective way to reach potential customers, and as a one-person company, I feel more able to compete with the big guys in this context.
There's always quite a bit of philanthropy around Dreamforce, and while I'm sure that Salesforce won't be lagging in their support of all those causes, we'll miss the communal aspect of contributing together. It would be great to see some kind of activities around Salesforce.org and Pledge 1% that can help us feel like we're part of something bigger.