Friday, January 8, 2010

Events and Social Media 2010 — Changes Comin’ On

This article was my contribution to the recent Ebook, “Social Media For Events 2010:  7 Event Experts Weigh In On The Year Ahead Of Us,” created by Lara McCulloch-Carter.

In 1982 a Grammy Award winning country/southern rock band, called “Alabama,” released a new song that, when heard nowadays, seems almost prophetic.  Here’s a short snippet of the lyrics, summarizing the song’s message:  (Click Here to view a YouTube Video and hear the song)

I can feel changes comin’ on

People still are singin’ different songs

They’re searchin’ for the place where they belong

I can feel changes comin’ on

Well…. change has arrived to the events business!  Over the past 18 months, a tough economy, combined with the accelerated growth of technology, has altered the world of meetings and conferences.  What’s different?  Here are the realities of 2010:

  • Travel budgets cut — Businesses have less dollars available to spend on business travel.  Subsequently, they are more closely scrutinizing travel expense for employee education.
  • New Learning channels — Traditional Meeting Attendees, faced with less financial support for their continuing education needs, have been forced to consider alternative learning resources.
  • Convenient Learning — With increased availability, and sophistication of webcasting and webinar technology, organization employees now have the option to enjoy a quality adult learning experience, without leaving their office.
  • Affordable Education — Quality online education content is being offered at a very competitive price point, sometimes at no charge.  This is forcing associations and other organizations to re-think their conference business models.
  • Broader Connection Channels — Social media tools, such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have opened the door for business people to easily make new global connections with other like-minded professionals.
  • Information Superhighway — With Social Media tools, exchanging information, news, ideas and best practices is fast-paced, efficient  and painless.
  • Peer to Peer Interactions are top Priority — People are embracing collaborative interaction, due to its flexibility, and transparency.  Collaborative learning is less controlling and communication flow is more natural.

So how should you, as an event professional, respond to these factors?  What does the future look like for face-to-face meetings?

Many organizations are hitting the “social media panic button,” instructing their Event teams to immediately incorporate social media into their conference plans.  Unfortunately these directives, though well-intentioned, are off target.

Face-to-Face Meetings are social, by their nature.  Event professionals should be less concerned about socializing events, and become more focused on aligning event design with attendee expectations.

Are you confused about how to tackle this issue?  Here are some thoughts to consider:

Thought #1:  Involve Attendees in Event Design — Consult with customers to clearly understand their meeting needs.  One productive approach, is the use of a ”Customer Advisory Board.”  This group is typically comprised of a sampling of attendees, offering a variety of customer perspectives.

Another option is to schedule a series of town hall style meetings in strategic locations to solicit the advice and opinions of your event’s attendee-base.  Finally, there is a new social media tool, still in pre-release, called Google Wave.  This application has tremendous online collaboration potential, and may be a useful tool for event design, once fully released to the public.

Thought #2:  Create and Encourage Community — Ideally, an online community should be established to Engage attendees before, during and after the conference.  Its primary goals are to build excitement for the event, post critical event information and encourage attendee networking.
A  number of online tools  are available to assist event professionals in promoting their events.  Blogs, Twitter, Facebook “fan pages” and LinkedIn Groups are examples of communication channels used for this purpose.

More complex community building centers, such as Crowdvine, Pathable or Social Collective offer an even greater potential depth of connection for attendees and integrate the individual social media applications into their infrastructure.

Thought #3:  Add “Virtual” or “Hybrid” Components to Event — As discussed earlier, some attendees may not be able to attend a conference due to budget, or time constraints.  Webcasting technology now makes it possible to offer a virtual conference experience to these individuals.
Add a Twitter “Hashtag” channel to your conference and you have create a hybrid event.  A Hybrid event enables Virtual and live attendees, as well as speakers, to interact with one another in one place.  Placing video monitors in strategic locations, throughout the conference area, with a “Twitter Feed,” provides convenient access to the Tweets, and creates a stronger  attendee connection at the conference.

Thought #4:  Collaborative is key for Education Sessions — When scheduling education sessions pick topics and speakers that encourage interaction and collaboration.  You should offer only a Limited number of “lecture-style” sessions, if at all.  In 2010 most business people are not interested in “Talking heads” style presentations.  Instead, they prefer to participate in sessions providing them with an opportunity to contribute to the content.

Special Note:  It is acceptable to use a “lecture-style format for Keynote style sessions, assuming the selected speakers will be captivating, with a compelling story to tell.  Expect, however, that many attendees will probably be buried in their smartphones during sessions, either posting tweets, or other types of online social interaction.

There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach to event design.  The thoughts presented in this article are a starting point.  In reality, some ideas expressed may not meet your organization’s specific conference needs.

The rules for meetings and conferences have forever changed, and will continue to evolve.  The one universal truth, that applies to all events, is the “attendee is king.”  By remaining focused on understanding and addressing the needs of your customers, and frequently communicating with them, your organization will position itself for success.

If you have an alternative perspective you would like to share, I would love to hear from  you.  I look forward to meeting you out there in Social Media land!

Follow Michael McCurry on Twitter

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Traci Browne January 10, 2010 at 8:28 am

Great post as always Mike,

Early last year I spoke to an association meeting/convention manager who told me they were canceling their meeting that year due to a 50 percent decline in attendance. It was only 6 months before the event so all the speakers were lined up and deposits were made but their exhibit sales and sponsorship were also down.

I asked, couldn’t they add an online component for those unable to travel…or if need be switch the meeting to a virtual event only as a last resort?

She said it was impossible to do it online because most their sessions were panel discussions and that doesn’t work online. Really?!

Nothing would convince her (the real issue was they saw the meeting only as a revenue source) and I was left wondering…isn’t the meeting really to provide education for your members? By canceling the meeting doesn’t it mean you are no longer fulfilling your mission?

I wish they could have read this post back then…they missed the boat on all your points. I’ll send this to her now.

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP January 12, 2010 at 4:42 am

@Traci Browne,

Thanks for sharing this story with us.

It is surprising to hear an event “professional” have so little regard for their members/customers needs. Your comment wss right on that with a hybrid component they could have been serving their members in a very service-focused manner which could could have solidified a strong loyalty towards their organization.

Thanks for your contribution.

@michaelmccurry

Reply

Dennis Shiao January 10, 2010 at 10:47 am

Good stuff, Mike. With regard to hybrid events, there are virtual event platforms (such as InXpo) that can support the webcasting, Twitter integration and more.

For the virtual event industry, in fact, I believe 2010 will be the Year Of The Hybrid Event, whereby physical conferences will increasingly add a concurrent virtual component.

The concurrent hybrid typically includes live video streams of the conference/meeting’s presentations and sessions, along with virtual booths (for the exhibitors), a networking lounge (for text and video chat) and a resource center [where all conference content is aggregated].

Meeting planners who have run concurrent events tell us that the physical+virtual combination significantly augments the overall audience size.

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP January 12, 2010 at 4:47 am

@Dennis Shiao,

Dennis, you are so right!

Not only does a hybrid component augment audience size but it extends the reach of the event. In addition if building a community is an objective of the orgaznization then certainly the hybrid elements contribute to that process.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

@michaelmccurry

Reply

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