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Using Tech to Connect

From bums in seats to a connected community in 22 steps

Randall CraigBy Randall Craig, CSP

Not so many years ago, meetings were the one time during the year when attendees could catch up with each other, learn from experts who speak and see the latest offerings from vendors at the trade show. Accordingly, meeting planners spent their time finding ways to market the meeting, improve the experience for attendees and, generally, put bums in seats. More seats meant a better meeting.

Today, this has changed. Mobile, social media, webinars, tight economic times and other factors have meant that to compete in the marketplace of ideas, meeting planners need to do more, and do it different. For many, that means technology, but chasing the latest shiny tech costs time and money, without guarantees.

A better approach is to invert the purpose and role of the meeting itself. Instead of the old model of driving attendees to the event using old-style marketing, consider the event itself as the driver/builder of an always-on community. Then, consider the community itself as the driver of the agenda (and the attendance) for the event.

Large events (an annual convention) add large amounts of energy into the community. Smaller events (including webinars) add smaller amounts of energy, yet still keep the conversation alive and relevant. Then, finally, the community is used to solicit speaker and topic ideas, generate buzz for upcoming events and solicit registrations. When this happens, the question of why people would want to connect can be answered. So, too, is the question of how technology can be used to make this happen. Here are the top-22 tech ways that meeting planners can help people connect.

Before an event:

  • Twitter conversations based on program streams;
  • Twitter conversations hosted by speakers;
  • Comments on the Event Blog (recast as “Community Blog”?);
  • Subgroup within LinkedIn;
  • Meetups immediately before the event;
  • Mobile Apps that help schedule on-site meetings; and,
  • User-generated content contest (e.g. videos with team voting).

At the event:

  • Add Twitter handles to nametags;
  • Create a social media zone to answer attendees’ social media questions and to showcase post-event online communities. The goal is to raise the social media IQ of attendees so they will feel more comfortable interacting online;
  • Facebook (Pinterest/Instagram/etc.) photo tagging; Contests (Best photo, most valuable idea, etc.);
  • Twitter walls in the registration area and in sessions;
  • Citizen reporter/user-generated content for the community blog;
  • LinkedIn group promotion by speakers during their session;
  • Automated SMS to allow attendees to register interest, vote and connect with others;
  • Create an “Event-TV” YouTube channel featuring interviews with speakers and veterans of the industry; and,
  • Collection of testimonial videos about the value of the event.

After the event:

  • Hosted Tweet-ups featuring speakers and luminaries;
  • Hosted/scheduled Google Hangouts;
  • Members-only discussion sites, using one of many tools (Discussion boards, LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages, Google groups, Yahoo boards, etc.);
  • Marketing automation (to deliver post-event value added content and to drive attendees to post-event venues); and,
  • Encourage people to pick up the phone (yes, the telephone is a technology).

Merely providing technology is no guarantee that people will use it, nor is it a guarantee that a post-event community will be sustainable. These four additional ingredients are critical:

  • Find a person (or a committee) to champion the year-long initiative of building the community, and have them use the event as their “kick-off”;
  • Don’t jump on the latest, shiniest technology or decide on a particular social media strategy just because it appears… shiny. You are too busy to be a technology vendor’s guinea pig;
  • Not everyone likes technology and not everyone can easily learn it. Plan for how you will “launch” the connection initiative, how it will be monitored, how it integrates with your existing web and social media initiatives, and how you will answer support questions. Because of these costs, think of any tech connection initiative as a multi-year commitment.
  • Prioritize. Helping people connect is important, but even more important is determining how the technology can improve the sustainability of the community.

Randall Craig, CSP, is the author of the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business and Online PR and Social Media. He helps organizations land their digital strategy airplane and rethink how marketing improves engagement.

Appeared in Speaking of IMPACT, Summer 2015 Edition

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