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.

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Why events professionals use LinkedIn

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This month the Who’s who in events community has been running its annual survey and there has been a great response from every aspect of our vibrant industry.

One of the primary purposes of the survey was to discover more about our members to ensure that decisions taken about group management and other such matters are based on consensus.

Crucial to this latter point is understanding what event professionals use LinkedIn for in the first place.  Consequently a question was included in the study.  Respondents were asked to rank six activities in terms of their primary reason for using Who’s who in events on LinkedIn.

In first and second place were ‘Seeking information about the industry’ and ‘Networking’, illustrating the importance members place on being able to identify and connect with like-minded professionals.  In third and fourth place were ‘News’ and ‘Asking for advice/assistance’, though statistically these were not too far behind in terms of popularity.  In fifth and sixth places were ‘Looking for suppliers’ and ‘Job-hunting’.

You can draw a number of conclusions from these results, but primarily it illustrates the vital importance that is still placed on making individual connections upon which a relationship can be built.  It also shows that if you are active in your social networks you will attract fellow professionals and create links that could, in the long-term, be both beneficial and lucrative.

 

Social Media – just a way of killing time

Killing-timeA couple of years ago the following question was posted on the Who’s Who in Events LinkedIn group.

Is Social Media just used to kill time and find out what old colleagues are up to or does anyone, other than social media consultants, get business out of it?

While social media, and technology in general are now fully embedded in the event marketing mix, it is worth remembering that there are still a significant number of people who view it with a degree of scepticism. Following numerous stories (given much larger audiences thanks to online and social media) of data leakages and inappropriate sharing, many are much more cautious about what they put into the public domain.

Social media is a great enabler of the creation of a continuous dialogue between like-minded people which can be capitalised on to create really great live events that the attendees truly value. When many people think of social media they are just considering Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, but these are really just the juggernauts that are educating the masses in the capabilities of what social media can do.

Technology now exists that enables you to take the capabilities and structure of social media and use it to create your own network, drawing in your current attendees, other interested individuals and partner organisations. By providing them with an open and collaborative environment you can understand what it is that motivates and concerns them, and then you can deliver business services and events that match these needs.

The organisations that are currently doing this successfully are incredibly diverse: from Cancer Centers who want to know how their patients select care at their center and what they want to receive in return; to AFOLs (adult followers of Lego); and then on to large technology organisations who were creating an event for their users based on what they thought were the issues but when they stopped and listened they discovered that there were other more pressing topics that needed to be addressed.

Social media is no longer just a useful part of an event or business marketing campaign, it is the linchpin of an event or business marketing campaign. Organisers and organisations that stop shouting and interrupting (outbound marketing) and start listening and responding (inbound marketing) will be the winners in a world that has been transformed.

The answer, therefore, to our original sceptics question is:

If you are just an observer within Social Media then all you will ever be able to do is kill time and find out what old colleagues are up.  But if you use it effectively and professionally you will definitely get business out of it.

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

Better service and cost reduction are not mutually exclusive…

Sometimes, if you say something often enough you can convince yourself it is the truth.  Like accepting there is only one way of doing things, and it costs X.

Ingrained in a workforce or population’s psyche, these points of view become corrosive, strangling innovation and stifling original though. It takes a brave person to become the tall poppy and disrupt the status quo.

It shouldn’t be this difficult.  Cultures change, needs evolve and skills develop.  Humanity’s greatest asset is its ability to adapt to challenges and circumstances, to create something new and build an exciting future.

But knocking your house down with the goal of constructing a brand new habitat is hugely unsettling, not least because for a time you are displaced from your home environment, surrounded by strange things and feeling anchorless.  Your plans get buffetted from all sides: critiqued by other individuals; slowed by delivery days; and affected by the great unknown – the weather. 

Some people don’t stay the course, moving back to something more familiar, throw in the towel in a fit of pique or simply become exhausted by the effort of dragging so many others with them on their epic adventure. However, if no one had ever taken the plunge, we would probably all still be living in tree-houses. 

And so it is with our current working practises. We already have the technology to deliver collaborative, two-way communication between large and small workforces.  We can deliver cost-effective, instantaneous training to government organisations that will reduce travel and accommodation budgets to practically nothing.  This budget cut will do nothing to affect service delivery, in fact the efficient dissemination of information and intelligence and the network of collaboration could make it better than ever.

It’s time we got connected.

Sense of location will no longer be important in business

It’s a concept that is of no surprise to consumers.  Buying goods from eBAY or Amazon is commonplace and unless the purchase is bulky enough to be collection only then the location of the seller is of no concern.

In business, there are some forerunners who eulogise on the benefits of teleworking and have a network of customer service representatives using leading edge technology to answer queries; and in the respond and repair sector every customer-facing representative is, quite literally, out on their own.

The quote in the title comes from a paper written by O’Brien et al in 1992 and shows that nearly 20 years ago, someone writing an academic paper had already recognised that where you conducted your business was going to be the least of your worries.  Not having read all of the paper, it’s difficult to know exactly what aspect of business the authors were talking about.  You would hazard a guess, given the timing, that maybe outsourcing was involved, or even the beginnings of the teleworking revolution since the Internet didn’t really start to take off until 1996/97.

But their words now look very prescient.  A business in Delhi may have the same issues as one in Dallas, a clinician in Sydney will share issues with one in Stockholm.  Until now, unless they happen to have met one another at an international conference, exhibition, training course or something similar, they would be unable to connect, compare notes and find solutions that transcend national boundaries. 

Social media networks have already shown that business people like to connect with other business people.  Why do they do it?  Because there is safety in numbers.  Just as we talked about yesterday in the post on Consensus of Subjectivity. What businesses need to do is to understand how to harness the power of this desire for connectivity and sharing, while embracing an individual’s need, or desire, to work somewhere else other than Head Office, and that by building a relationship with someone on the other side of the world may just be the answer they need to deliver impeccable results locally.

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.