Draw­ing a Crowd

In the In­ter­net age, launch­ing and pro­mot­ing an event starts long be­fore at­ten­dees show up on-site

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By John Buchanan

For cen­turies, meet­ings and events started when a host in­tro­duced him­self, wel­comed at­ten­dees, and pro­moted the ex­pe­ri­ence that was about to be shared. In the In­ter­net age, how­ever, where com­mu­ni­ca­tion is in­stan­ta­neous and con­stant, the process of launch­ing and pro­mot­ing a meet­ing or event starts long be­fore at­ten­dees show up on-site.

And how well tech­nol­ogy is used is of­ten the de­cid­ing fac­tor be­tween whether your meet­ing is a re­sound­ing suc­cess – or a flop.

In ad­di­tion, mod­ern tech­nol­ogy – and es­pe­cially so­cial me­dia – has shifted the em­pha­sis from an in­for­ma­tional mes­sage to an ex­pe­ri­en­tial mes­sage. That means us­ing all avail­able means to trig­ger an at­tendee’s goals, imag­i­na­tion and enthusiasm.

“As an ex­am­ple of what pro­gres­sive meet­ing hosts do to­day, we had a client that was tak­ing an in­cen­tive trip to Fiji,” says Gregorio Palomino, prin­ci­pal of San An­to­nio, TX-based meet­ing and event plan­ning com­pany CR8AD8.“And we were able to hype that trip not just with text, but also with pic­tures.”

Palomino and his client cre­ated a closedac­cess pri­vate web­site where only people go­ing on the trip could see it and in­ter­act. “And we posted new con­tent ev­ery day to re­ally get people ex­cited about the trip and the ex­pe­ri­ence they were go­ing to have,” Palomino says.“For ex­am­ple, a sky­div­ing out­ing was on the itin­er­ary, so we posted pho­tos of people sky­div­ing and asked our at­ten­dees,‘How ex­cited are you to soon be jump­ing out of a plane over Fiji?’”

So­cial Climb­ing

Al­though a 21st-century pro­mo­tional ar­se­nal con­tains a range of weapons, none is more pow­er­ful than so­cial me­dia when it comes to build­ing aware­ness of and cre­at­ing ex­cite­ment about an up­com­ing meet­ing or event.

Over the last few years, Face­book, Twit­ter and LinkedIn reigned as the big guns. But more re­cently, newer tools such asYouTube and Vine have gained in pop­u­lar­ity.Vine is a video-shar­ing plat­form that al­lows users to post mini-videos that are no longer than six sec­onds.

No mat­ter what tool is be­ing used, the es­sen­tial con­sid­er­a­tion is that all

A cur­rent best prac­tice is the pre-event cre­ation of “Twit­ter chats”

mes­sag­ing be fo­cused on the self-in­ter­ests of at­ten­dees, rather than the in­ter­ests of the meet­ing spon­sor.

“Your mes­sage can’t just be‘Reg­is­ter for the event,’”says Traci Browne, owner of Philadel­phia-based Red Cedar Mar­ket­ing and au­thor of The So­cial Trade Show. “It has to be about cre­at­ing some­thing that will show that you as the event or­ga­nizer are the source for the most up-to-date in­for­ma­tion in your in­dus­try.”

In other words, Browne says, the meet­ing or event must be per­ceived and un­der­stood by at­ten­dees in a larger con­text of“Why is this im­por­tant? What’s in it for me?”It can’t just be about ask­ing people – or or­der­ing them, if they’re in­ter­nal em­ploy­ees – to show up at the meet­ing.

The most ef­fec­tive in­for­ma­tion is al­ways at­tendee-fo­cused and not event-fo­cused, Browne stresses.

“And that’s where so many meet­ings and events fall down,” she says. “All they do when they start out is say, ‘Reg­is­ter now for an early bird dis­count.’ It’s all about, ‘Reg­is­ter, reg­is­ter, reg­is­ter.’ But if people don’t care about your event, if you don’t ex­plain to them why they should care and what’s in it for them, why would they reg­is­ter? Their real con­cerns are, “What am I go­ing to learn at the meet­ing? What kinds of people am I go­ing to meet? Why is the event worth my time and at­ten­tion?” So that’s the kind of in­for­ma­tion you should be us­ing in your day-to-day pro­mo­tion of the event. Other­wise, no mat­ter how much time people spend on your web­site, they’re not go­ing to have any idea why they should come to the meet­ing.”

Pick­ing Your Tool

An­other fac­tor to bear in mind is that each so­cial me­dia tool has a sin­gu­lar and in­her­ent ad­van­tage. There­fore, each brings a dif­fer­ent ca­pa­bil­ity into the pro­mo­tional process. “The big­gest ad­van­tage of Twit­ter is that it’s con­cise and to the point.” Palomino says.“And people can retweet things they get ex­cited about, which is an­other way to build buzz for a meet­ing or event.”

A cur­rent best prac­tice, Browne says, is the pre-event cre­ation of“Twit­ter chats, ” which cre­ates a com­mu­nity of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and shared in­ter­ests around the event.

“Be­fore the event, you can start twit­ter chats be­tween speak­ers and at­ten­dees,” Browne says.“That way, at­ten­dees get a taste of what will be pre­sented at the event. They also get to meet, via Twit­ter, other people who have the same in­ter­ests they do. And all of that builds buzz for the meet­ing.”

Scott Han­cock, the Fresno, CA-based mar­ket­ing man­ager at Growth Me­dia, Inc., a mar­ket­ing and brand­ing agency that helps clients pro­mote their meet­ings and events, is a big fan of Linked In. “We help clients build aware­ness about a meet­ing and en­gage at­ten­dees by cre­at­ing an event-spe­cific post on LinkedIn,” Han­cock says.“And we al­ways rec­om­mend mak­ing an of­fer, such as if you re­fer your LinkedIn

con­nec­tions to the meet­ing, you get some­thing in re­turn.”

One of the so­cial me­dia tools now gen­er­at­ing the most ex­cite­ment among meet­ing and event or­ga­niz­ers is Vine.

“I am a huge pro­po­nent of Vine, be­cause your video has to be no longer than six sec­onds,” Han­cock says.“That means you have to keep your mes­sage suc­cinct.You have to choose what you say very care­fully.” And, he adds, as a prac­ti­cal mat­ter it’s now very easy for meet­ing hosts or at­ten­dees to cre­ate high-qual­ity videos on their smart phones.

By the same to­ken, YouTube al­lows pri­vate broad­casts to a tar­geted au­di­ence. “And it is a very good way to give people a sam­ple of what they’ll see at the meet­ing, such as speak­ers or new prod­ucts,” Han­cock says.

“And,” adds Palomino, “if your videos are re­ally cool, they will go vi­ral within your uni­verse.”

The im­por­tant thing to un­der­stand, Browne says, is that “video is the most un­der­uti­lized tool out there for event pro­mo­tion. And I don’t un­der­stand that, be­cause events are all about vi­su­als. And so much of the In­ter­net is mov­ing to video in­stead of just pro­vid­ing text con­tent. But al­most ev­ery piece of in­for­ma­tion meet­ings and events pro­duce is text in­stead of video.”

The Tac­ti­cal Ad­van­tage

Al­though it has been done for years, an­other time-tested tool is an eventspe­cific web­site. Large com­pa­nies typ­i­cally cre­ate it within their In­tranet sys­tem, while smaller com­pa­nies cre­ate a sim­ple, stand­alone web­site.

“I’d like to be able to say that ev­ery com­pany does that now,” Palomino says. “But not ev­ery­body has the budget to be able to do that. But I def­i­nitely think it’s im­por­tant now to have a cus­tom web­site for ev­ery meet­ing.”

A key re­al­ity is that a smaller com­pany can typ­i­cally get that done more quickly and less ex­pen­sively than a large com­pany, Palomino says. “A small com­pany doesn’t have all the red tape that a large com­pany does, so it’s just sim­pler for them to get it done,” he says.“And in­stead of re­ly­ing on an IT depart­ment, they can just farm the project out to a lo­cal free­lance web de­signer that can get a web­site up and run­ning in a few days.”

How­ever, says Browne, the crit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion to­day is the surge in mo­bile tech­nol­ogy and the in­creas­ing ubiq­ui­tous use of mo­bile de­vices by at­ten­dees. There­fore, Browne says, all event web­sites to­day must be op­ti­mized for mo­bile de­vices such as smart phones and iPads.

“And with the younger gen­er­a­tion, you don’t even have to ask them to share in­for­ma­tion,” Browne says .“They just do it. They lit­er­ally share what they’re do­ing, ev­ery minute of the day.”

Avoid­ing Pit­falls

Just as there are new things that work, such as YouTube or Vine — or even Twit­ter — there are old things that have lost their abil­ity to deliver.

One of them is the once pop­u­lar e-mail blast. It is in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to reach people via a tra­di­tional e-mail cam­paign, Palomino says. For ex­am­ple, most bulk e-mails now go to Spam fold­ers. “That’s

“With the younger gen­er­a­tion, you don’t even have to ask them to share

in­for­ma­tion. They just do it”

why BCC mail­ings don’t work any­more,” Palomino says. “They get blocked.”

The key to suc­cess to­day is a sub­scrip­tion-based e-mail pro­gram that people opt into in or­der to re­ceive on­go­ing in­for­ma­tion and up­dates about the meet­ing or event. “But even do­ing it that way, the aver­age open-and-read ra­tio to­day is un­der 30 per­cent, ”Palomino says. “So you can’t re­ally rely on e-mail as a pri­mary tool. It’s a sec­ondary tool now.”

And if e-mail is go­ing to be used most ef­fec­tively, it must be used in its most mod­ern in­car­na­tion in the era of mo­bile tech­nol­ogy. In­stead of send­ing e-mails to a Ya­hoo or G-mail ad­dress, the state-ofthe-art is to use the var­i­ous text plat­forms cre­ated by cell phone providers, such as @ sprint­text. “The thing to do now is use text e-mail ad­dresses, so when you send it out, it goes as a text mes­sage to their smart phones or iPads, ”Palomino says.

How­ever, he says, rather than re­ly­ing on a par­tic­u­lar tech­nol­ogy or a set of tools, the most im­por­tant se­cret to suc­cess is to fo­cus on the old say­ing that knowl­edge is power.

“Do your home­work on your at­ten­dees,” he says.“And know your at­tendee de­mo­graph­ics. Know what you ex­cel in, in terms of tech­nol­ogy and so­cial me­dia, and fo­cus on your strengths. Be open to new ideas and new tech­nol­ogy tools. And be cre­ative. If you al­ways think that way, your meet­ings and events are bound to be suc­cess­ful.” BT

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