Changing the Game Forever

January 12, 2010

Note: This post originally appeared in a free eBook published by Ready2Spark. Download the book here.

Companies and associations spend a lot of time, money and effort planning events. Back in the day, the tremendous amount of planning that went into an event was all to ensure that when an attendee arrived at the meeting, conference, seminar, or party that they had the perfect experience. Hundreds and thousands of dollars were spent printing invitations trying to convince prospective attendees to show up.

With the infusion of email and the internet into our lives, we were able to reach attendees with email blasts sending them to our websites with registration information. However, all of the communication was one-way. Event organizers pushed their message out. People had to wait to communicate with fellow conference goers and chatting with scheduled speakers was unheard of. Social media has changed all of this. Events now begin long before “show time” and
communication is not only controlled by the event hosts, but by many parties.

Social media is the answer to the prayers of planners that are looking for unique and creative way to enhance engagement. It is the solution to “talking-head syndrome” that has long plagued the meetings profession. It gives a new voice to participants and allows for new dimensions of communication. It enhances learning and knowledge retention. It creates new relationships – connections that are enabled long before someone steps foot on a plane or even completes the registration process. Social media gives new meaning to the term: live

Three categories help to articulate the impact that social media can have on
event. These are: promotion, engagement and legacy.

Promotion. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or even a blog, social media helps to spread our message. More important, it has given us the ability to empower others to spread the word on our behalf. We are no longer reliant on our own databases for marketing communications, but we now have exponential networks working to promote events. Not only can online tools help in initial communication, but can be valuable in sharing information about things such as registration deadlines, onsite tips such as where meals are being held and what time shuttle buses are running. While there is still progress to be made to get everyone on every social network, many people are embracing a least one of the major tools.

Being a first-time attendee and walking into a room of people that you don’t know can be traumatic. However, introducing yourself on a social media site, like Twitter, for example, is much less scary. The ability for people to connect with each other online, prior to an event, can eliminate the awkward scene of walking into a cocktail reception without a friend in the room.

With the pre-event connection, attendees now have the ability to create relationships that are strengthened through face-to-face meetings. Of course, connections that are made with an event as a catalyst do not necessarily have to be between two people that are both attending the function. A Twitter hashtag, for example, can connect people that are both
interested in the content of an event, even if one or both of the people cannot attend. This platform enables the individuals to discuss relevant content and share information before, during and after the event – even if they never meet inperson. Whether they are commenting the content, debating a talking point or sharing their own expertise, using social media as a tool connected to an event has the ability to create a greater learning experience and enhanced level of engagement for anyone that is participating in a virtual discussion. Engagement does not have to be limited to attendees. We now have the ability to connect with speakers, read their blogs, ask questions and help refine the information that they will be sharing during their scheduled presentation. With large audiences, it can be difficult to ask speakers questions and get solid, detailed responses. Using social media, attendees can now ask questions by texting or through Twitter. Speakers may choose to respond during a session or perhaps on a follow-up blog post. Social media creates an environment for experts to share their expertise long after their presentation ends.

Technology has also given us another gift. We now have the ability to create both virtual and hybrid events providing the opportunity for people that could attend in person to participate. Through back-channels and chat features, those at home are no longer attending in silence. Today, someone can attend a session with both live and virtual attendees and they can comment and interact with all attendees through an online platform. This creates an entirely new dynamic for planners, speakers and attendees.

Legacy. In the old days, attendees packed their bags and flew home or got in their cars and drove back to their offices. Once they left, they went back to work, to busy schedules, often remembering only tidbits of what was discussed at the educational sessions that they just attended. Social media has changed that. Now, an attendee can continue a conversation on their Blackberry at the airport, participate in a post-event chat and have a more interactive follow-up relationship with people that they met during the event. Whether it is as simple as adding a new contact to LinkedIn or writing a blog post about a session that they attended, social media has created platforms for continued learning and has made it easier to stay in touch.

Social media in events is not without challenges. Many people still resist new technology and new and different ways of learning. Some things to consider:
‣ Buy-in from management to use new technology is critical to success.
‣ Strategic planning of all social media tools is a must. Your strategy should align with the goals and objectives of the event.
‣ Educating attendees on how to optimize the new resources that are available helps increase participation and engagement.