“Hashtag: How the digital transformation affects the events industry“
Interview with Sascha Lobo – author, blogger, microblogger and strategy consultant, focussing on the internet and brand communication
Which ones are the most important digital transformation trends that show the way forward for the events industry?
There are three things: First, the communication efforts of event organisers merge with what visitors themselves communicate because the image an event nowaday projects to the outside world is very much influenced by the people who’re there and attending. And those people react and communicate spontaneously, they’re emotional and sometimes not fair. At the same time, delegates and visitors have a wide range of means of communication at their disposal, which is something that organisers not only can but should take into consideration when planning their events.
The second point is how the selling and marketing of events changes, i.e. how visitors are made aware of an event and all the communication tools that are used around them. The choices to attend this event or another are increasingly "social“, meaning that social media serves as a recommendation tool and a guide for which events are worthwhile signing up for and which ones are not. This might be a given and sound trivial for some, however, reality shows that not everyone is yet aware of this change.
My third and last point focuses on how the digital transformation naturally also changes how people experience events. Trends such as augmented reality, virtual reality or 3D projections are just a few of the buzzwords that describe how the physical and the digital world merge. The meeting and events industry has for many years been at the forefront when it comes to using such technologies and by now, even smaller events can integrate them a lot better because their use has become financially viable for small-scale projects, too.
Facilitating live communication is the events industry’s core business, i.e. enabling personal contacts in the context of an event. Which current digital tools would you say are meaningful to use before, during and after an event in addition to this face-to-face interaction?
Based on my experience, this very much depends on each individual event and can hardly be generalised. However, recurring elements are not large and expensive software projects but much more than that cleverly deployed concepts and ideas. The most obvious one, even if not yet used by default, is working with event hashtags (that are not taken yet) for Facebook and Twitter. Also: Provide well lit opportunities for visitors to take images and make videos and create selfie occasions. With regards to interaction, I’ve seen many life survey tools where the audience was polled from the stage. However, only a few of them really worked well. Since I’m on stage 50 to 70 times per year, each time in front of 30 to 3000 people, I’d be very happy about suggestions and hear about efficient tools myself.
Interaction between an audience and the stage can also happen via screens where whoever is on stage can, for example, see the twitter stream for the corresponding event hashtag. The whole exercise is a bit pointless, however, if you then don’t react to what you see on this screen. Interestingly enough, there’s one aspect that many forget to consider as I’ve noticed: Is there good mobile coverage in your venue? You need to make sure that there’s decent reception, otherwise any net-based communication of your audience will obviously not work. Finally, with regards to marketing your event, I’m always surprised how well targeted email marketing works, before as well as after events.
Digital transformation also comes with gimmicks that might be nice to have in a professional context but are not necessary vital. In the context of events, which tools do you think are indispensable and which ones can be neglected?
I would not want to presume to be able to judge that. It’s rather a case of your target group having the ultimate say on that. And your target group will in many cases be an erratic bunch of people who sometimes behave in strange ways. Which means: Whatever your target group deems to be important, IS important. Using Snapchat to send out invitations for an Oculus Rift game that’s being broadcasted live on Twitch? Great and just the right thing if the target group likes it. And there are people like me, for example, for whom the tool "event registration via fax“ is such as no-go that I categorically don’t attend events that offer it. Out of spite, so to say.
For the Generation Y demographic and a younger audience, hybrid events that work with elaborate technologies are more or less taken for granted while older target groups often prefer other modes of communication. From your point of view, which digital mix appeals across all generations?
Regarding the communication with participants prior to an event – which is, by they way, for me an important part of the event because it’s where expectations are managed – Facebook, in conjunction with email, could be the best answer. The average age of Facebook users in Germany is just above 40. However, here as well, it’s the expectations and habits of the respective target group that are crucial, much more than my perception of how communication has changed in society.
During events, the most important device is and will continue to be something that delegates have in their pockets – their smartphone. And by that I don’t mean to say that every event necessarily needs its own app but rather that organisers should integrate the possibilities for interacting that exist anyway in their event concept.
Do you believe that events as a platform for face-to-face interaction will become less important because of digitisation and collaborative technologies such as video conferencing, holography, telepresence systems, etc? Or might events actually become all the more interesting because of the new digital tools that enable visualisation and interaction, such as augmented reality, wearables, digital networking platforms, drones and robotics?
There’s a very badly kept secret: Events and social media love each other. And this won’t change. "Social“ in social media always means exchange. And interestingly, all these technologies mentioned always seem to be a substitute in theory only and in reality then actually serve as an add-on that enriches what’s already there. In the 1990ies, for example, everyone thought that computer games would make people lonely. Ten years later we had LAN parties and today, whole arenas are filled with people that want to watch other gamers live while they’re playing – and all that despite live streaming or actually, because of that.
MEXCON talk: “Hashtag: How the digital transformation affects the events industry“
Sascha Lobo is keynote speaker at MEXCON (powered by IMEX)
When: 6 Juni 2016, 13:00-14:00
Where: Mercure Hotel MOA Berlin, Hall of Events
More about Sascha Lobo:
Since 2011 he publishes a weekly colum about the digital world in Spiegel Online which is one of the most widely read German-language news websites. Furthermore, he works as author and strategic consultant concerning media and brand communication for clients like Deutsche Messe, Frauenhofer Gesellschaft und Volkswagen.