The Sista Sphere Experience: A Geofenced Virtual Event

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Project Overview

The Sista Sphere Experience will be a “virtual event” having exclusive content and a vendors section geared towards the sistas. This virtual event is intended to be held at a specific location and time using a technology concept called geofencing. This project is being developed from scratch and have to be done in several weeks for the actual event to happen. This page will keep a journal of the steps taken to turn Sista Sphere experience project from a concept to reality and attempt.

Project Goal

The goal of this project is to help demonstrate to brothas and sistas applied geofencing to create new business models. For the Sista Sphere experience, the goal is to create an affordable and accessible marketing channel to target a high value demographic group of sistas who will be clustered in a specific location and time.

The Process

Our process to creating solutions is through a set of high level phases that are broken down into tasks. While our software development lifecycle is a parallel separate process from our marketing campaign strategy, we will combine both elements in this project documentation.

Brainstorming

During the brainstorming session, yellow sticky pads are posted on the wall of everything that can be thought of for the Sista Sphere Experience virtual event. A typical brainstorming session should initially be scheduled for one-hour with a pack of yellow sticky notes and a team willing to throw anything out there. Here is a raw list of things that came up:
  • Send coupon to them via email
  • Share coupon with friends on Facebook
  • Take picture of themselves on Facebook
  • Safety Notes using mobile tablet
  • Looking Up Location - Yes /No
  • Bid on Ad Space Premium
  • Divide by Categories
  • Allow People to Edit Their Page in real time
  • Then allow people to bid for placement
  • Linear List with price showing where they will be ranked
  • Each Pavilion will have a list price
  • Send them a copy of a pavilion to their email
  • Allow owner to see real-time feedback
  • Twitter feed at the top - live streaming
  • Facebook can see their Friends in the area
  • Flyers with QR codes - sistas helping scan QR code
  • Sistas can actually pass out coupons/samples with web site
  • Get @sistasphere twitter and @facebook page
  • Feature YouTube and Vimeo videos
  • Login for Paid Members
  • Facebook vendors can ask questions

Organization

To organize all of the good ideas from the brainstorming session, a mind mapping software like FreeMind is used to group similar ideas and concepts into sections. During the organization phase, strengths and weaknesses are usually identified in the mind map diagram and also the level of effort and complexity to accomplish certain sections or areas. ssmindmap (click to enlarge screenshot)

Establish Marketing Platform

After being confident the project has wings and feasible, begin establishing the marketing platform by coming up with the name of the operation/business. We came up with the name Sista Sphere after typing up a lot of domain searches (a lot of domains with the word "sista" are available, btw.) For the web site, we are using GoDaddy web hosting package and will be using the Windows version as this application will be developed in .NET framework. The UI design is coming from wrapbootstrap and we picked several designs that will be customized later on for Sista Sphere specific needs and requirements. For social media, we acquired "The Official Sista Sphere Experience" Facebook page to manage and also acquired @SistaSphere on Twitter. None of the pages are developed but will be as the project progress. Because this is a virtual event, we are using a web site and social networking as the primary communication medium.  Building a following and providing information up to the date of the event is the focus for success.

Intelligence

We decided to target September 13-15, 2013 in the Atlanta downtown convention center based on information that a huge concentration of Black women will be in the vicinity.  Our first tool for gathering intelligence is on the landscape and we used Google Maps: View Larger Map In the code Google provides to embed their map, the following code is provided "sll=33.758472,-84.395726" which is latitude and longitude data. This is the information we will use to create the geofencing feature. In the map, we saw a lot of green space and open areas for virtual event attendees to access the Sista Sphere Experience web site. From personal knowledge of the area, I know the Georgia World Congress Center has plenty of areas to sit down as this location once was used for the 1996 Olympics, making Atlanta a good candidate for hosting geofenced virtual events. iplaza (click to enlarge) During our "boots on the ground" analysis of the target area to host the Sista Sphere virtual event, we discovered the Georgia International Plaza area as a possible location. We got off the public subway and the station exit brought us to this area as well as other sitting areas to sit and use a mobile device. We went over to Centenial Olympic park and noticed a huge number of homeless males sleeping and congregating in the area and will not recommend this area for the virtual event. To verify if there are any compliance issues, we asked authorities where there any permit requirements for passing out fliers and was told there was no permits needed for such activity. However, while walking around, we noticed discarded flyers on the ground. In order to avoid printing cost of flyers and having them laying on the ground as trash, we will consider having a street marketing team help people access the virtual event using QR code on site. In terms of wireless access, we found the following snippet online: ATLANTA - (July 25, 2012) The Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) is pleased to announce that free wireless internet service will soon be available at no charge in the facility's public areas. In other words, our virtual event can be accessible with wi-fi only mobile devices in the provided area. We will have to test and research the free wi-fi capability and confirm later.

Features

Features are what we would want to offer to customers and we need to list them upfront. These are the talking points when we demonstrate the service or talk to others. Many entrepreneurs tend to build up their business but cannot talk about it to others because they just assume the customer will figure out the features. It is important to understand what features to add because features will be the core of the marketing material and message. Here is an unedited raw list of features I created that the Sista Sphere should have. Pre-Launch Marketing
    Facebook group setup Twitter Site Setup Instagram Setup Email Address Setup Logo Design Flyers to distribute Create banner ads for Facebook and Instagram Promote on blogs and other areas Create a video describing what will happen (hire a dude or lady to narrate the event) Spread word of mouth Highlight benefits of cheaper vendor stands/location.
Pre-Launch Web Design
    Create a web with a countdown list Vendors can create their own vendor spot Vendors can select a category to display Vendors can upload a video Vendors can upload photos Vendors can edit text Vendors can list their facebook, twitter, Instagram, pinterest site Vendors can list their contact information Vendors can offer a coupon they will redeem Vendors can display contact information Send out email that displays a map, name of business and a photo Vendors can bid on placement of their ad Create Groupon-style offers they can pay and order Can choose a nice background or load their own?
Actual Web Site
    Predictive search based on business name Must only work in the specified geolocation area Safe content on being careful with mobile in open area Twitter Feed scrolling at top Diagram of each pavilion Each Pavillion has feature sponsor For large sponsors to the side of main sponsor Description of pavilion at the top List of smaller sponsors below Vendor space will display pavilion color background Vendor space contain video Vendor space contain slideshow of images Vendor space show follow up and contact. Section for informational content and entertainment View offers and specials to call this weekend only Save contact information Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Staying Safe with Mobile
Marketing Efforts
    Show pictures on YouTube of the event Show videos of the event Hire help to pass out fliers Hire help to pass out samples and coupons

Concept Marketing

Concept marketing is pitching the features of the project to various people in the media to discuss the concept. This is called "leaking" and design to pitch an idea or feature or concept around the product for early press coverage. For example, an article like this will appear "Can a virtual conference draw in a crowd? One entrepreneur think so...." and I would proceed to discuss the possibilities of creating a virtual event and how I would think it work. The goal is to raise awareness. This kind of awareness will be targeted towards potential virtual vendors in the early phase to get the virtual vendors to setup their presence. So the goal is to find channels out there that target potential businesses that can be virtual vendors and look at how to publish towards them. In the early stage, the goal is to compile a list of potential Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags and bloggers who can spread the message and peak interest. We will do this by joining groups and looking at relationships of people we know as vendors and research what social network channels and blogs they use often. Marketing material has to be created to promote the concept and this is in progress.

Solutions

The first step in creating a solution is to identify entities and the attribute/tasks. By going through the stated features, look for nouns and adjectives. We were able to create a high level diagram showing the entities involved and this is what we gathered, using Microsoft Visio 2013 but this can be done on a sheet of paper or any drawing software: entity After we create the diagram, we make "associations" by stating how each entity will interact with the other entity in the solution. So here are our raw notes on each entity and how they will interact with each other: Virtual Vendor
    Publish Offers to Web Site Manage Virtual Booth on Web Site Travel to the Location to Do Direct Networking/Business with Virtual Attendee Market to Potential Virtual Attendees to Attend
Virtual Attendee
    Made aware of Virtual Event Show up at the Location Use Mobile Device to Access Web Site View Offers Contact Virtual Vendor about Offer Do Business with Virtual Vendor
Location
    Physical Location Where Web Site Can be Accessed Can Accommodate Multiple Virtual Attendees and Multiple Vendors Virtual Attendees will access web site at Location Virtual Vendors can follow up with Virtual Attendees at Location Virtual Attendees and Virtual Vendors Will Travel to Location
Web Site
    Only Accessible from Location for Virtual Attendees Virtual Vendors Has Account to Manage Virtual Booth Showcase Virtual Vendor Offers to Virtual Attendees Virtual Attendees Access Web Site With Touch-Enabled Mobile Device Contain Twitter Feed for Communication Between Virtual Attendees and Virtual Vendors Contain Articles/Content Organize Offers by Categories
Offers
    Contain Media such as Video and Images Contain Contact Information, Including Maps Contain Text Content to Review Content Virtual Attendees can Contact Virtual Vendor
After creating a high-level entity diagram, a more detail entity identification will need to occur. For example, the mobile device is an entity used by the virtual attendee and will need to have GPS capability for the geo-location feature and have HTML5 for the web browser. It is important to get to the details to understand all of the issues/features/opportunities that need to be address by first identifying all the entities and how they interact. For example, the mobile device interacts with the web site and we will need to create the content to help virtual attendees realize if their mobile device is compatible with the virtual event web site. Note: This is the most critical part of your whole business operation and your make/break moment. Is is very important you take the time to identify all entities and all of the associations and interactions as detailed as you can. The number one reason for project failure or being under expectation is because the entity model and associations were not fully defined. After defining the entities, the next step is to write down more detail about each entity and what is needed in terms of the entity role in the solution approach. Here is a image shot of the raw entity description: entity_description (click to enlarge) The next step afterwards is to create a table that highlight the entity description and describe the solution approach. This is a image shot of the entity solutions for each of the descriptions. entity_solution (click to enlarge) ***Please Note: Cannot stress enough that this is the important part of your business startup or any operation you pursue. If you miss an entity, miss a description then you are going to pay for it later during development and release and it will be expensive to do. That is why it is very important you hash out and be as detailed as possible in this part of your project.*** With the solution in place, the technical architecture phase kicks in for the solution. The following is a high level web site design: webdiagram After creating a high level web site design, this is important as this is where a lot of people go wrong. Most projects try to focus on creating the business objects or class library and others start trying to design the database. Our organization, Swagg-Scientific do not focus on "coding" at this time. Our next step will be prototyping and creating a working user interface demo. In our experience, we have spent too much time creating code that is excellent but the UI have usability issues or missing parts. We have learned the hard way the best way to proceed is to have a workable user interface that looks good, then build the backend code. The importance of getting a workable UI up and running is to demonstrate to the customer the concept and features to sign them up. If the user interface is not good, it does not matter how great the code and database is - no one will use it. So the next phase is start the planning schedule of creating the UI, creating the marketing and communication and once the UI is tight, apply the code and database parts.

Planning

Wrote the following blog article about the technology software to download and the plan of attack: http://dreamandhustle.com/2013/08/getting-ready-for-the-development-phase-of-the-geofenced-virtual-event/ The plan of attack is to establish a "Coming Soon" page and this is currently up and running at: http://www.sistasphere.com/comingsoon.aspx If you look at the source code of the "coming soon" page in your browser, you should notice the bootstrap code did all of the complete work and I mostly put in the customized content. Now, I did had to change some of the font in the custom.css file and also add a background-image CSS tag to show the picture in the background but these are small changes versus building this whole page from scratch. Keep in mind that I will be changing the coming soon page with additional content but for now, putting up something there is important so we can start early marketing the concept to the public. I will have a link up there about the location, how vendors can load their information and so on.

Prototyping

The first step is to create the user interface prototype. If the prototype do not look good, then we cannot sell this to our vendors and partners to jump aboard. Our first step is to take the bootstrap template and extract the code to make the header and footer section. Here is what we came up with: headerfooter We edited the logos by creating our own using the same color scheme or size and replace the same logo.png file that was already there. This code will go into a "master template" file in ASP.NET called site.master where the header and footer will remain the same. This master file will be referenced by all the other ASP.NET pages we create and all we have to do is fill the center section with the appropriate content. [more details coming soon...]

Pre-Marketing

A coming soon page was establish to allow people to know about the upcoming virtual event as we speak about in public. For early birds who visit the web site, we offer an email "notify" sign-up page where they enter their email address and we will notify them once the site has launched or near launch or updated information. comingsoon The notification page is actually the first ASP.NET code we written where we take the email address and place the value into a database. I will discuss the code so people new to ASP.NET and SQL Server learn how this feature works as the next content.

Development

For the development phase, there are two phases. The first phase is creating a detailed document that shows the functional specifications, the technical specifications and the layout of each web page or user interface. This task can take up to 18-20 hours to do and is very detailed. The typical document with have the following elements. Wireframe - this is a sketchup of the web page and how every element is laid out on the page. Buttons, photos, text are laid out. Workflow - what is expected to happen on the page. For example, a virtual vendor upload an image - how is that handled. We document to change the image file name to a unique name and reference in the database for later retrieval. Input Parameters - if the page is receiving information from a post/get, we want to know what those variables are. For example, in this example url http://sistapshere.com/exhibithall.aspx?hall=professional, we document "hall" as the key and the possible values is "professional" as well as "wellness" or "entertainment" and so on. Elements - every item on a web page is considered an element. The form field, the image, the text block, the header and we document all elements that are to appear on the page. Client-Side Scripting - this is Javascript and what functionality are there. For example, pressing one of the thumbnail photos will dynamically display a larger image. Server-Side Scripting - these are the actions that are supposed to be taken. For example, if the "Save" button is pressed, the first step would be to validate the input from the form fields, if those fields are valid, format and save the data to the database. This is documented in detail. It is extremely important these steps are documented first before writing any line of code and be able to visualize and describe the solution on paper. There is nothing worse in this world than sitting in front of a computer and have to "fiddle around" with code where something small unplanned can take 2 hours to do but if instructions and details document was there, it can be done in 5 minutes. The second phase is the actual coding. For development, we have used TFS Online and I shipped the development document out to my team overseas and they "check out and check in" code to the SistaSphere project. So I work on one section while other team members work on other sections and we all code according to the document. This is usually a smooth process if everything been detailed in advance. Most projects fail because people try to "freestyle" during the development phase and being experimental and wasting time on sideshows and distractions. Please note that between development and launch, the code will be constantly changing with fixes and enhancement. Once this project is launched live, we will release the final version of the code in this section for review. What we can say from our experience is the upfront documentation made coding straightforward and easy and we messed up only in areas we failed to document but we took those down as learning lessons.

Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance requires a full walk-through of the Sista Sphere service in an inspection format. Most software development firms use a "test script" to test the results. Our methodology for testing is to test the documented features through a demonstration among peers. And the way we test the documented features is to do a full demonstration as if we are presenting to the customer. So that means I need to create a walkthrough presentaiton with my team to show how Sista Sphere work. By doing a walkthrough instead of testing, not only can we fix the errors, but I can polish up my marketing presentation skills to show off the Sista Sphere features. The demonstration document has the entire walk through documented and this is how we determine test/fail outcome. Consumer Side
  • Demonstrate the Coming Soon Page and features
  • Demonstrate the Geolocation Feature
  • Demonstrate the Pavilion Section
  • Demonstrate the Hall Section
  • Demonstrate the Exhibit Section
  • Demonstrate the Showcase Section
  • Demonstrate the Session Section
Vendor Side
  • Demonstrate the Register/Login/Verify/Retrieve Account Features
  • Demonstrate the Profile Section
  • Demonstrate the Exhibit Management Section
  • Demonstrate the Showcase Management Section
  • Demonstrate the Session Management Section
  • Demonstrate the Performance Section
During demonstrations, errors occur and it is documented to be fixed. Then the next presentation, I show how the error were fixed and then do the demonstration again. The goal is to have as little sessions. Amazingly and due to having a detailed solution approach upfront and technical architecture, we only had one major issue - we copied/paste the phone number into all of the contacts for the exhibits but this was noticed and taken care of quickly.

Awareness Marketing

When it comes to marketing a virtual event, especially during social networks it is advisable to have a campaign that hits only a few days up to a week before the actual event. Online, attention spans are short and people tend to focus on the topic of the moment and will forget about an event. Marketing too far ahead will result in more money being spent on a target audience that may forget about the event or be turned off from the constant marketing by the time the event actually happen. It is best to market online 5-7 days before the event. In addition, our approach will be different in marketing. We could not find anybody to help with the flier distribution and realize this may be a waste of paper. We were actually going to buy a tablet for someone to promote the event and let them keep it but no one took up our offer locally. So we are just going to switch to social network marketing online and through other channels online. Our plans is to use Facebook to market first to build up a quick following and word of mouth. Then move to other networks like Twitter and other social networks to refer to the Facebook group and web page. So the order is (1) create the web site (2) create the facebook and twitter page (3) promote on Facebook (4) use other social networks to reference both the web and facebook up to the event launch date. sistasphere_info2 sistasphere_info1 sistasphere_vendor Update: Ok, don't like how the paid promotion option is turning out. We wasted $15 for "awareness marketing" but seeing no follow through action. Going to abandoned the paid option and try a different strategy which is the demonstration strategy. This marketing strategy involves creating a demo page, creating a demonstration of how it works and try to make that content go viral. That is our mistake in marketing to spend money on "awareness" but we ditching it early and use our $15 to buy a shirt from Old Navy instead. The demonstration marketing concept involves updating the web site with a demo of how the service should work. Then I'm going to reach out to my heavy social influencers and sell them on the idea and ask them to spread the word.

Operations

Due to the fact an existing event was already occurring that matched the target demographic of Sista Sphere, it made it easier approach and show others how to use Sista Sphere. So armed with a tablet, me and one other associate went around and demonstrated the virtual event at the geofenced site. The pitch was to show what we creating in the area, explain the benefit and how to use the service. But the problem is we should have paper fliers to pass out as a follow up. The sistas at the convention center were being bombarded with other vendors who followed up with a brochure or flier that they stuffed in their bag and probably went home and looked at later. We had no paper brochure and flier and it was a learning lesson to make sure we have something to pass out next time. The Georgia World Congress Center did have free wi-fi but we did not run into anybody with a tablet or free wi-fi device. Our free wi-fi device actually had trouble connecting to detect if the device was in the location and this was a concern to check the code to find out the problem. Vendors reported it was simple to setup but the problem they were experiencing most was not being able to view the site except their own exhibit. In addition, the social media sharing feature was only added 24 hours prior to the event and only used Twitter and Facebook. But overall, all we heard was positive comments about the potential and request to know more about Sista Sphere.

Active Marketing

Overall, marketing had too many teachable moments and something we are going to have to take to the lab and study more. The problem with marketing is we are not in control when asking others to spread the word about what we doing. We don't know if people hate us, jealous of us or whatever but when we announce what we doing, the people we communicate to do not spread the word on our behalf and it has become frustrating. Of course, we cut ties with those people and don't need that kind of people in our lives and yes, I do take stuff like that personal if I tell someone I know about my business and they act like so what in their response. I think our marketing efforts were extremely underwhelming and definitely was not good enough. We should had a database of at least 100 people to bring out and support the service and brought them in. We did not make follow up calls to have people show up and talk about the service. Did not have paper brochure and paper fliers to pass out even though we could have. We can talk and demonstrate but had nothing to follow up. In the future, marketing will be taken more seriously and done before the project even begin. Will create leads and then narrow the leads down to sponsors, advocates and influencers. Will lean on loyalists to help spread the word and champion the product. Will focus on bloggers and other information distributors to get the word out. This is the big learning lesson to carry forth on the next project. screen1 screen2 screen3 screen4

Source Code

We are cleaning up the source code and will provide instruction on how to get the code. To get the source code, the following steps will have to be taken: 1. Purchase BizStrap at https://wrapbootstrap.com/theme/bizstrap-6-in-1-business-admin-WB0025522. This code use Bizstrap and we cannot distribute copies of Bizstrap as it is a 3rd party product. 2. Create a TFS service at http://tfs.visualstudio.com/ and setup an account. TFS is a source control system that allow you to develop and maintain your code among a team of developers and contributors that can work worldwide. 3. Create a new code project in TFS for your project. You can name it whatever you like and suggest you do not name it Sista Sphere - name it anyway you name your project to learn how to use this service for your benefit. If you downloaded Visual Studio Express, you should be able to create the TFS project in Visual Studio Express and also connect to it later. 4. Upload your Bizstrap code to the TFS project. This can be done through the web or through Visual Studio Express by creating a new web site project, adding the bizstrap folders and files to the web site project and then checking it into TFS online. 5. Add Mr. Dunn of the 3rd Strategic Institute to your TFS project. This will help you learn how to add developers to your project. His email address is edunn05@hotmail.com and do not bother to email him any questions - he won't answer. He will only check to see if the TFS project is good and if it is good, he will add the code base and work on the TFS project to help get it up and running.

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