This post originally appeared in an E-book, whats-next-in-events-free-ebook that was produced by Ready2Spark. Read the book if you have time. It has some great insight from some amazing thought leaders.
New Decade, New Rules of Engagement
The year 2010 marked the beginning of a new decade as well as the start of a new and different landscape for events and their planners. The use of social media was still fairly new to most planners in the beginning of 2010, but that changed incrementally over the twelve months that followed. As the year progressed, the hottest topics for workshops, webinars and conference sessions involved introductions to new forms of social media and how to use them. Planners were updated on the rules of engagement – new tools that were available to them and how to utilize them. In this context, the term “engagement” means fostering interaction between attendees, sponsors and speakers before, during and after events. Planners quickly learned that engagement through social media enabled them not only to engage with participants but to create a buzz and increase everyone’s excitement about attending.
One of the commonly used and widely accepted means of engaging participants was through the use of Twitter. Through something as simple as a hash tag, participants began interacting long before the event even began. Pre-event educational sessions were held during which participants were able to share knowledge bytes and comment on the subject matter which created peer interaction, even for those who were not able to attend a particular conference in person.
As planners became more facile with tools available to them, online communities were created for events, increasing the level of connection among attendees, speakers and sponsors. Many organizations used services like Pathable, Crowdvine or the Social Collective to host their online communities and to help to nurture the online relationships. An increasing number of online communities will likely crop up in 2011, particularly in the Association arena. Online communities will be adopted by Associations not only for specific events but throughout the calendar year, enabling their members to connect with each other on a regular basis.
A learning curve regarding how to properly implement and execute social media, of course, still exists for many organizations; they are still not quite up to speed on how best to use social tools to enhance the level of participant interaction. To remedy the situation, there will be a trend towards more planner-focused education extending beyond the basics of social media. While 2010 was the year of introduction of tools, 2011 will be the year when they are more fully integrated and mastery of them becomes the new normal.
It’s Not Just Technology
Engagement, of course, is limited to technology based tools; it touches upon every touch point an event organizer has with participants at every level including, but not limited to:
- Educational design;
- Room set-up;
- Speaker selection process;
- Event promotion;
- Networking; and
- Online communication
Planners will also need to hone in on how to properly conduct a hybrid event involving face-to-face and remote participants to ascertain that everyone is equally engaged. Hybrid events are not appropriate for everyone; planners that use them will face the special challenge of how to merge both groups of attendees as seamlessly as possible.
One Size Does Not Fit All
There is no single social technology system that is right for all planners. Since planners are still in the early stages of fully understanding how social technology and engagement can be integrated into their individual strategic plans, one size does not fit all. What is applicable to all, however, is that combining creativity with strategic technology is a powerful method for achieving their goals. Planners will likely become increasingly aware that the tools are far less important than the way they are utilized; they will also become more comfortable with the level of nurturing essential to engagement and begin to build strategies that will enhance activities that increase such nurturing.
Despite all that is available in terms of social media, some organizations are simply late adopters. If your industry has yet to embrace and integrate social technology, don’t be discouraged; you are not alone. Industry organizations and informal networking groups are ubiquitous and will provide systems of education and support to you to keep you informed of current and existing systems and methodologies. Planners and organizations that already understand the impact of social technology will, of course, have the advantage of being able to take event engagement to the next level, but late adopters will have a chance to catch up. In addition, many of the early “glitches” will already have been worked out, so there are some advantages to being a little behind the curve.
The Value Proposition for Associations
Associations are continually seeking ways to enhance the value of their membership, and tools such as online communities that connect members will add immediate value. These types of communities will allow members to get to know each other in a more in-depth fashion which will provide additional learning and networking opportunities. The responsibility of educating members on how to utilize available tools is, of course, to be addressed by the management of the particular association.
Corporate events might not have formal online communities, however, attendees will begin to become accustomed to – and therefore expect – higher levels of interaction. This will touch upon everyone involve with a particular event; one clear example of this is that sponsors will begin to demand better access to their “target” attendees. One advantage of social technology is that it will enable sponsors to connect with attendees far more unobtrusively than before; planners and sponsors will increasingly work together to develop creative means to adding value to the sponsorships while educating their target markets.
2011 promises a progressive landscape for events. Organizations are still getting up to speed on how to adopt social technology for events and general communication; however it will no longer appear to be out of the norm. The marketplace will begin to expect unique and interactive experiences and organizations will be able to deliver such experiences to attract attendees. Some planners still face resistance from “the powers that be” in their particular organization on integrating tools, acceptance will gradually increase. A natural by-product of that acceptance will be that organizations will begin to look for a return on their investment into the social media arena; planners will be responsible for creating metric and measuring results. The coming year will move the focus on strategy, measurement, engagement and overall acceptance of new and improved ways to conduct events, for the benefit of all participants.