By Anthony Miller, Director of Strategy, Active Network.
Most event managers would be able to list the benefits of using technology. High on that list would likely be 'productivity gains' and 'achieving greater cost efficiencies'.
More recently, event managers would extend that list to include 'gain increased insight into attendees' and 'create new ways to communicate with the attendees'. We'd like to add a further set of benefits that we think will, over time, replace some of the more commonly quoted benefits.
These centre around using digital media strategies to extend an event's lifecycle and so heighten and lengthen 'engagement' with the audience. Let's view each of these in more detail.
The advent of multiple digital media - and especially social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter - is the turbo-charge that the events industry was looking for.
These platforms, along with mobile, RSS Feeds, podcasts, video, and even email, all provide multiple means not only of communicating with the attendee, but also to deepen the relationship (or heighten the level of engagement; our preferred term).
By this we mean that a richer flow of information can move between the event delegate and organiser. This can include sending regularly refreshed information about the event and receiving feedback and comment in return.
It could also include hosting and participating in online discussion forums that have been developed as part of the event, but that have now created an online community made up of delegates with common interests, attitudes or even purchase requirements.
For instance, it's quite common for delegates to continue a discussion over coffee following a particularly interesting presentation from a speaker. Now those conversations can continue long after the event, and may include contributions from participants that didn't attend the original one!
Just how rich this information is, of course, is dependent on the content. But the event manager can play a major role here too. Perhaps we are seeing the emergence of 'discussion facilitators' as part of an event management team, ie, someone who is responsible for keeping discussion threads alive; adding new content to flagging debates and keeping all these communications channels open and full of informed content?
Time was that the first an event manager was aware of a delegate's existence was when he received the delegates' booking form. And he parted company with him or her soon after receiving their completed 'satisfaction form' post event. (The relationship ended even sooner if they didn't bother to complete this).
But as highlighted earlier, integrating multiple digital media channels as part of an overall event strategy, gives us an opportunity to maintain that relationship over a much longer time frame.
We can engage with the delegate sooner, (perhaps by hosting a facebook page as a precursor to putting up a formal event website?) and we can remain engaged with him/her personally for significantly longer after the event, particularly if he has participated in the various online debates outlined above – a sustained level of engagement.
Many event managers will, rightly, point to the increased cost involved in incorporating these new digital media into an event; (and the increased complexity).
However, this reinforces a point of view that is gaining traction in the event industry, namely, by what criteria do you judge how successful an event has been?
Technology is allowing us to consider 'relationship strength' as an important KPI. And on that basis, events with elongated lifecycles must score very highly.
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