By Denise Capello, Head of Business Development, RAI Amsterdam.
Every modern event has an online segment which offers a huge potential reach in its own right. But how can you achieve a perfect synergy between the physical event and the wealth of technical options available via its virtual extension? Everything revolves around the fundamental issue of added value.
The value of differences
There is a great deal of interest in new event technologies. And rightfully so. However, while being both exciting and innovative, you can be tempted to make a basic error in this dynamic field: ignoring the differences between the physical and the online experience. The strength of physical meetings mainly lies in personal contact and the sensory experience. It (still!) revolves around good conversations over drinks, or an automotive show where you can smell the scent of leather, experience the level of comfort and hear the silence when you close the doors. Use too many technological tricks or game elements during such an event and you can disrupt the physical experience. I recommend facilitating personal contacts and sensory experiences at events in particular. Understandably, you will also want to give enthusiastic visitors the option to compose their own car online after the event. Synergy is achieved by combining both elements.
Online events are boring… Or are they?
The reverse is also true: do not assume that people will be as enthralled by an online environment as a ‘captive audience’ in a space with light and sound. Blindly streaming an event online is very boring to viewers. Try to liven things up; not by imitating physical experiences but by making the best use of online options: facilitate easy contact between viewers, add extra information, or enable viewers to ask questions online via a moderator.
Another characteristic of a good online event is its potential lifespan. A great example is the recent PCMA event Convening Leaders. This had organised a virtual ‘follow-up day’ after several weeks, featuring the best sessions in a well-organized show. For some of the sessions, the speakers involved were also online to answer questions. Viewers had the possibility to contact each other as well, which turned out to be a very popular option.
So what else can the integration of a physical event and (online) technology mean for your event?
Strengthening the physical experience
The experience of physical events can be strengthened through technology. A good example is the Messukeskus exhibition & conference centre in Helsinki, where technology is being used to help visitors find their way and provide active information. The latest addition is augmented reality, in which guests aim their phone or tablet on an item to receive extra information. In the future, it will even be possible to link this information to the interests of the visitors. Balance is crucial, though: augmented reality should strengthen the sensory experience of the exhibition, not disrupt it.
To remain relevant, it is vital that organizations facilitate contact with and between participants all year round. The event is a highlight to celebrate these contacts, but the community is the foundation which needs attention throughout the year. My colleague Hendrik Jan Griffioen recently wrote an interesting article in which he explains how these communities are built and kept alive.
Remember the needs of visitors and exhibitors alike. Good videos at a stand can create an extra dynamic. Professionally facilitating this for exhibitors means they benefit from added value while you generate extra returns… And obtain content that will be interesting to all parties involved at a later stage.
Broaden your audience
As recently as a couple of years ago, the largest antique exhibition in the Netherlands still had signs saying ‘do not take photographs’ – obviously, this has changed since. Everyone now has a smartphone and can share their images or opinions anywhere and at any time – good or bad – and will certainly do so. It is not a matter of if you should use this as an organizer. It is a question of how.
In addition to official event content, personal expressions are an important addition to your publicity. It is direct, personal and credible. Use it. On the other hand, personal expression is an excellent way to provide service. A good start in this framework is offering webcare during the event. Make sure that there are people monitoring what is posted about the event on social media. Share compliments, respond, and provide service where necessary. An organisation like KLM is a frontrunner in this regard. Alert and entertaining posts may even go viral.
At RAI Amsterdam, we provide our own webcare team during large events, consisting of employees who are good spokespersons familiar with the topic at hand. By actively participating on social media, we stay informed of the current status, can respond to situations as they occur, and extend the reach of our events.
You can also take things a step further by establishing a platform for combining and sharing all official and user-generated content, regardless of medium or source. The required technologies to do so are readily available.
Bloggers and vloggers are uniquely able to generate a personal relationship with an audience and increasingly a part of the media mix of events. This is well-illustrated by the International Beauty Show, the trade exhibition for professionals in the beauty and fashion industry. Bloggers reach an extra audience, produce useable content, and add an experience dimension to the products and services presented.
The paradox of exclusivity
And remember this: in a time of streaming and sharing, there is a fundamental need that is increasingly important: exclusivity. Don’t be afraid to keep parts of an event offline; this strengthens the experience and creates a stronger bond between participants. Their experience is unique, one-off and exclusively for them. Not everything has to be available to everyone. Scarcity creates value. Although you reach fewer people, the experience itself is more intense.
What you can do today
My main advice for event organizers is to make the online possibilities a fundamental part of your plan. Rather than being led by what is technically feasible, be guided by what your audience needs. Technology is a facilitator for physical events and online; it is a tool that helps you do what you do as well as possible. As long as you maintain this principle, it will be easy to choose between the countless technical possibilities. Have fun!
Denise Capello is Head of Business Development at RAI Amsterdam. Opinions are her own. She can be reached at D.Capello@rai.nl.
RAI Amsterdam combines more trends and developments in the event industry in the annual RAI Insights, which can be downloaded for free via the website.