Conferences 3.0

by Braden Kelley

To get the latest thinking and network with their peers, managers used to jump on a plane and go to an industry trade show or conference. Now with the Internet and Social Networks, managers can do a lot of the same things right from their desk. Conferences and trade shows are facing disruption from blogs, webinars, and social media. The economic downturn hasn’t helped matters as companies have slashed education and travel budgets.

To survive, conferences will have to harness the power of the very tools that are threatening to kill them. This means the logistics requirements and characteristics of conference events are changing. In today’s digital world, conferences have the ability to spill beyond the four walls of the event and grow their platform at the same time.

TED, with good reason, is widely considered the leader when it comes to utilizing digital media into their approach to events (including their wide distribution of recorded video content from their events). Outside of TED, of the different approaches to integrating digital and social media into conferences that I’ve seen, HSM Americas has the most innovative approach.

HSM Americas really seems to understand the important role that digital and social media can play in not only augmenting the experience for attendees, but also in expanding public awareness of the event and increasing the desire of non-attendees to attend the next event in person.

I had the opportunity to sit down with George Levy and Becky Gee of HSM Americas to discuss the Bloggers Hub concept from the World Innovation Forum and asked them the following five questions:

  1. How did HSM Americas decide to do the Bloggers Hub at the World Innovation Forum?
    • We wanted to expand the wisdom being shared by the speakers beyond the four walls, to expand the reach and impact to those that would like to come to the live event, but for whatever reason were unable to.
  2. What were the key challenges to executing the Bloggers Hub concept?
    • The greatest challenge was building a process – inventing as we went. The selection of the bloggers was particularly challenging.
      We had to look at what the make up of the group might be, where the Bloggers Hub would sit in the event space, and other big questions.
  3. Do you feel that HSM Americas got a positive return on investment on the effort?
    • This was a very good play, both from an exposure standpoint but also from a satisfaction standpoint (sponsors and bloggers). The value that attendees received from the event went beyond the timing of the event – “Continues after the curtain goes down.”
  4. Do you plan on repeating the Bloggers Hub concept?
    • Yes, we will do it for the World Business Forum, although the organization will be more complicated because the conference will have more topics (more difficult to select the bloggers).
  5. What were the biggest learnings for next time?
    • We think that there are opportunities to better integrate the activities in the Bloggers Hub with what is happening on the stage. We will have to identify ways to expand the learning and interaction during and after the event.

The take-aways from my experiences and the conversation with HSM Americas, was that to put on a truly excellent conference today that is capable of extending beyond the four walls of the event, you should consider doing the following:

  1. Create a selection process for inclusion of the digital press into your press strategy. Organize your digital press corps in advance of the event and arm them with digital media, speaker bios, discount codes, etc. so they can help build awareness for the event.
  2. Make sure there are plenty of power plugins, WiFi, and suitable work surfaces
  3. Build one community for the press and another for attendees on LinkedIn, Ning, or another social network in advance of the event so they can start familiarizing themselves with each other. Use these communities to also solicit feedback from both groups to help the speakers evolve their talks to be as interesting as possible for attendees.
  4. Organize a face-to-face social event for all of the press you have invited to attend
  5. Publish a list of web sites covering the event in advance so people know where to find videos, articles, and podcasts from the event (both before and after)
  6. Create a Twitter strategy and a Twitter hashtag and begin using it in advance of the event. Announce the Twitter hashtag at the beginning of every event session, and display the Twitter feed on your event web site during the event, in public areas at the event and on the big screen during event breaks
  7. Encourage mixing between attendees and the press. This will enrich the coverage of the event.
  8. Consider working with the speaker to provide course-changing input based on audience sentiment from Twitter, but DO NOT put up a live Twitter feed up behind the speaker or let the speaker monitor the Twitter feed during the event – Too Distracting!

Can conference organizers avoid sharing the fate of COMDEX? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure – leveraging digital and social media are the only ways to avoid being disrupted by them.

What do you think?

Braden Kelley (@innovate on Twitter)

Leave a Reply