Does a digital network reduce organiser control?

In what way does providing a digital component to an event improve or inhibit the user experience? Is it possible that in providing an audience with an online event forum, website and variety of social media platforms on which to interact, organisers have less control of the customer journey? Is it possible that organisers are placing their show’s fortunes in the hands of the audience they wish to activate, before the show has even taken place?

Freedom vs control

Inter-attendee communication enables visitors and exhibitors to affect a show’s reputation with positive – or negative – feedback. While an organiser wants to provide attendees free forum for discourse, they still want to have as much control as possible over matters such as their brand and the direction of the event content.

The ways in which we exchange information with our attendees has evolved in such a way that everything is eminently shareable and modern digital communication involves so much more than the exchange of emails, viewed instead through large forums and instantaneously via personal devices.

Speaking from the audience at the recent UFI Congress in Verona, Gleanin CEO Tamar Beck made the point that for an increasing number of visitors, social media apps are now the only way to reach them.

“My daughters only have an email address in order to get a social media account. If you try to market to them over email, you would never ever get through. It’s all about the device,” she explained. “That’s how our future audience communicates, and it’s all private, so a mobile number is something that you take with you everywhere.”

The consequence of engaging with your audience this way is that all communication is more easily shared among groups able to bring their own creativity to the event. Visitors and exhibitors can, to a greater extent than before, create different forums for interaction around the event, and organisers quickly lose control of an exchange they previously directed.

“The loss of control is annoying for organisers, but customers love it as they have more say over their experience,” says Ailis McKernan, AMR’s Head of Digital. “Very few companies realise the impact a digital component has on their customer journey, and many fail to see how the technology they select will impact it. Some will implement it without understanding how it will affect the existing journey –  and retroactively need to spend an inordinate amount of time and resource adapting or rewriting it.

“Sometimes technology can lessen a relationship if not used properly. Systems that don’t direct people well enough can create a barrier where one didn’t exist before. The aim is to provide a personalised experience, that builds on the existing one rather than detracts from it.”

Artificial Intelligence tools

The wide variety of media platforms through which we can interact with our audience means that keeping a year-round dialogue going can be a laborious task. Organisers must attribute a significant amount of resource, time and effort to truly engage the markets they cater for.

This could be where we see AI playing a significant role. We are already seeing innovation in this field, such as US event media company BizBash, using chatbots to keep a dialogue going – essentially a data silo attached to an automated dialogue programme. Attendees can ask questions and the chatbot, located on the company website or mobile app, will provide the answers.

Easyfairs CTO Stephan Forseilles, speaking at the recent UFI European Conference in Verona, indicated that this use of AI directed by human strategy is likely to help deal with cases such as building event buzz.

“When we talk about audience creation, we are talking about something that we do already. Automated marketing and artificial intelligence may be able to create something better and more efficiently than we humans can do”, he explained. “The result will therefore be better quality shows.”

Forseilles depicts the partnership as a centaur, the mythical beast with a human head and the body of a horse. Only in this case, the body will be AI, directed by a human head.

To ensure the digital customer journey is optimal for a show’s audience, make sure the customer has a voice at the planning table. The Chief Marketing Officer who aims to implement the digital component will often pick what they think is the most cost-effective approach, but few will explore how this will impact the customer on a personal level. Look to appoint a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) for this purpose.

Extending communication beyond the event

Some companies don’t really entertain the idea of extending an event beyond its real-world lifespan, instead opting to close the wider communication loop once the satisfaction survey has been distributed.

“A lot of organisers don’t think about the time between events enough,” explains McKernan. “They see an event as occurring only up to a couple of weeks after the doors close, when the satisfaction survey goes out.

“But the most important bit is precisely after the satisfaction survey has been sent. By interacting with the audience in that gap between events, they will feel more engaged, which moves them towards signing up for the event, and once signed up, continued relevant communication makes them more likely to turn up. It can save you a whole lot of effort in the run up to the next event in terms of leads.” It also aids loyalty, she says.

It’s hard to measure the value an attendee is getting out of an event. Giving them a voice at the table is important and it’s something that can be achieved with social media. These days it is counter-intuitive that someone else should advocate on an attendee’s behalf.

One need look no further than the US President for an example of the effect this can have. He uses his Twitter account to totally circumvent the press – in a departure from the practice of previous presidents – speaking to his electorate and the wider world directly, whether his administration likes it or not.