Eventex: My Five Takeaways From Sofia

As always some fantastic thoughts from Michael Heipel taken from his own attendance at Eventex.

It is very easy as event organisers ourselves to be hyper-critical of the events which we go to, or to get stuck in a rut with what we are providing to our potential audiences. Michael describes a great meeting design seminar which looks like it will have provided some real food for thought and hopefully some action plans on how to rearrange our meeting environments to make them as good as they can be for our delegates.

Michael also touches on a topic which we covered a short while ago about technology – he comments “There is a thin line, though, between offering tools for enhanced audience engagement and networking – and asking too much both of the speakers and the delegates.”  Great technology really does enhance an event experience, but only where there is a defined need or identifiable improvement in service provision.

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They say, when you attend an event, and you take away at least five things that you learned – or five people that you met who will potentially play a role in your personal or professional life – then it was a good event for you.

Well, according to that yardstick, Eventex in Sofia was a fabulous event!

Not only have I met lots of great people (speakers, tech providers, attendees, all of them Eventprofs). There are at least five takeaways that will definitely influence the way I go about event management, and they will also have an impact on the way I do consulting and training for event organizers .

What were the most sticky learnings from my personal perspective?

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Will technology fuel a trend for ‘unplugged’ events?

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unplugged:  ʌnˈplʌɡd/  adjective

1.trademark (of pop or rock music) performed or recorded with acoustic rather than electrically amplified instruments.

2. (of an electrical device) disconnected.

recent study by the research group Flurry found that people with smartphones now spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes each day on mobile devices, some of that potentially fuelled by the multitude of messages, emails, tweets and other content event organisers are pushing out to them on a minute by minute basis.

We don’t leave them alone while they are at the event either.  If it isn’t asking them to contribute to a live Twitter feed we’ll be sending them reminders and directionals to ensure they know about every little aspect of the event whatever they are doing at the time.

A recent study by a U.K. psychologist, Sandi Mann, shows that all of this technological intrusion could in fact be reducing the benefits we spend so long creating for the audience, not least because we are preventing them from absorbing and thinking laterally about what’s on offer.  In her study, Mann asked subjects to do something really boring and then try a creative task.  What she discovered was that the more boring a task, the more creative their ideas were. Only by allowing our minds to wander, daydream and start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, is our ability to do autobiographical planning, or goal setting, working at its optimum level.

So should we be looking to ‘unplug’ our audiences from their devices once we have got them through the door?

The continuing popularity of consumer events like Eroica Britannia, Taste of London and a plethora of music festivals in all parts of the UK shows that those which thrive are those which give their audiences a real participatory experience.  The challenge for B2B events is much harder.  Having got into the rut of believing the only way to get people to the event is to justify their time out of the office with more and more content, and that you have to remind them of what’s on offer every single minute of the show’s opening hours, it’s going to be a hard habit to break.

But if we want our audiences to fully engage with speakers, exhibitors and other delegates, and develop great ideas while they are our guests then perhaps we need to stop our constant, and frankly rather needy, electronic chatter.

Using social media to market events

Once upon a time it was all so simple…

Providing you owned, could access or buy, good data and had the budget to hit your target universe five times on average with your message you could more or less guarantee an audience for your event.  For exhibition marketers, preregistration was a very clear indicator of footfall on the day, with conversion rates of between 60 and 75 per cent.  In the conference market a twelve week cycle of marketing would, possibly with the input of some telemarketing, produce enough registrations to cover costs and deliver that all important margin.

And then life got a whole lot more complicated…

The advent of online and email marketing brought with it a more instantateous way to talk to audiences. Unfortunately though, like a child gorging on the pick-and-mix, many marketers have abused the latter, flooding their database’s inboxes with messages on a far too regular basis. Others have treated their web presence as an online brochure, asking visitors to sign up for updates and news when in reality there would be none because noone factored in the time or resource for either the marketing or the main event team to curate such things.

Into this already crowded, and rowdy, room marches social media…

It’s like a toddlers tea-party.  You want to make yourself heard above the cacophony: so you shout louder; you run hither and thither until it seems you are everywhere at once; you wear the gaudiest outfit because you think it will make you stand out; and you try everything, briefly. But when you leave you are hoarse, tired and, if the truth be told, you didn’t actually get very much done or make much of an impression because you were just one of a group of over-excited, slightly out of control children in inappropriate clothing.

For event marketers, the biggest problem is that the promotional cycle for an exhibition, conference, awards etc. is actually very short; very rarely does the campaign last for more than four months. This really doesn’t lend itself very well to social media because relationships in places such as LinkedIn and Facebook, and long lists of followers in Twitter aren’t built overnight, and if you want to establish a well-read blog then there is no point starting it ten weeks out from your show. And if you stop talking to your audience, they lose interest and go somewhere else.

Let’s look at two examples, both expos with conferences and seminar programmes attached and a technology bias, though not IT events as such, and with similar attendance figures at their live days:

Our first event takes place annually in February.  They have a LinkedIn group which was established in January 2008 – a month before that year’s event.  It’s growth profile looks like this:

While the group shows a steady growth in membership over the last four years, it is interesting to note that there are identifiable spikes in the number of new memberships in February of each year., i.e. when the event happens.  Just three weeks later both increase in membership and activity, as shown in the chart below have fallen dramatically.

In contrast, the second team have created a LinkedIn group which began life based around their event (which takes place in March) but has been nurtured and developed to deliver to the expo’s existing and potential audience all year around.  The group was established in December 2007, four months before the event was scheduled and their growth and activity profiles look like this:

As with all statistics you can look at these two sets of information in a number of different ways, but at face value the contrast is clear.  One team started earlier and kept the momentum going whereas another only focusses their effort in the final push towards the event.  The groups have been around for approximately the same amount of time, yet one has nearly six times the number of members as the other and is showing a positive growth pattern.  One team is clearly putting the time and effort into creating a community that isn’t abandoned as soon as the last speaker has left the building…

Utilities like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. aren’t just another medium into which information can be lobbed out to the target audience in the same old way.  Think about it: you strive for coverage in relevant magazines and industry journals because you want your product to appear in an environment that has kudos and stature.  This is delivered by the editorial content created by the teams that manage those media.  If you want to do the same thing via LinkedIn etc. then you have to create an editorial and community environment that makes your potential audience want to interact with you.

To deliver real ROI and marketing with impact for your event you can’t just dip in and out of social media, ignoring your audience for 11 months of the year and then shouting at them for four weeks before you want them to attend.  You need to spend time getting to know them, finding out how to work with the community you have created via your exhibition, conference or roadshow.  Remember, they sought you out and it is up to you to make them stay.

missioncontrol @purerocketscience

p.s. If you want to find out more about creating social media strategies that work for events, our colleague Hellen Beveridge will be teaching a series of courses over the next few months.  Visit www.gallusevents.co.uk/our-events/ for more information.

So you think you own me?

The previous post You’ve got to deliver what the audience really  wants has provoked discussion in a number of forums and the responses have made for interesting reading, not least because of the seeming inability to move on from old arguments.

So let’s look at the topic from a different angle, by considering two industries closely related to producing live events; so closely related in fact that you would consider them siblings; i.e. publishing and broadcasting.

In both of these industries, the key players are referred to as Media Owners. Because they own the medium through which the content is broadcast. And for years this is exactly what they have done; decided when, where and what information and entertainment their audiences or readerships were going to consume.  They have made and broken many a star, politician or company profit, simply through the editorial decisions they have taken which have influenced the masses.

Conference and exhibition organisers, be they commercial operations, industry bodies or associations, continue to believe that they must operate in a similar way.  Developing programmes of content that they perceive the audience wants, choosing speakers and selecting participating exhibitors (via an economic filter it is true) and presenting a finished product to the visitors at a time, date and venue over which the latter has no control.

Then along came the Internet and social media and the shift in power from owner to audience was seismic.

Because the concept of expertise ownership by a few large corporations doesn’t fit any more.  You can’t tell me what I should be watching, what information I need, or who I should be networking with.  You can’t stop me finding organisations who can’t afford to exhibit at your event or who haven’t got a charismatic speaker, because if their Search and SM strategies are good I can do this on my own.  And, you can’t stop me telling people, a lot of people, about the experience your organisation offers me, within minutes if I so choose.

So let’s bin the argument about virtual not replacing face-to-face; because we all know it won’t.  Let’s stop finding fault with virtual technologies, because frankly some of them are pretty amazing.  And let’s stop pretending that we still own audiences and industries because of the events we produce because we don’t. Let’s embrace the new to enhance the old rather than dismissing it as a fad that has nothing to do with us.

What we need to be doing, with or without the help of virtual technologies, is to work out how we build and maintain relationships with our communities; how we facilitate communication and collaboration between individuals both through a single live day and an online presence; and how we use the unfettered enthusiasm of our audiences to create a profitable business model for the future.

hellen @missioncontrol

A Consensus of Subjectivity…

…which is another way of saying Birds of a feather flock together and goes some way to explaining why social networking is such a success, although only for some.

Jeremy Bullmore used the term in 1998 in the context of shared perception of brand personality; the premise being that each and every one of many millions of people gathers a set of feelings that are to some extent autonomous but which further research shows to be closely related, i.e. we like to think we are taking unique decisions for ourselves, but in actual fact we often make them in the context of wanting to be part of a group.  It isn’t much fun being out there on your own.

Back in the dark ages of videotape, why did VHS succeed when BetaMax did not when the latter was universally acknowledged to be the better platform?  When faced with a decision, the consumer went with the crowd.  Similarly, why has LinkedIn grown exponentially while other similar business networks haven’t been able to tap into the same groundswell?  And Facebook wasn’t the first social networking site, so how come it is now almost the biggest community on the planet?

There is, perhaps, a single defining factor.  The consensus on the examples above is that the winners took time to listen to their users and potential users. They created entry points which were attractive, laid out their wares, watched to see how their consumers behaved and tweaked their offering accordingly, and keep on tweaking it (although in VHS’s case a seismic shift in technology eventually put paid to their dominance) to make it less and less attractive to go elsewhere.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes should take note.  There isn’t a marketing text book, essay or lecture today that isn’t trying to hammer home the message of listening:

Listening+action=success

How you and your organisation do this is up to you.  But do it you must.  And the first step has to be that you engage your clients, customers, partners and potential audience in a conversation where you can hear what they are saying about you, your products, your competitors, your competitors products etc. etc.  You need to find where they are having these conversations and join in, you need to be part of the People-Driven Economy which exists in social networks because if you aren’t someone else who does what you do is.

The choice is no longer whether or not you and your organisation embrace social media, the choice is how successfully you do it.