Social media is just a buzzword until you come up with a plan.
~ Zach Dunn
A recent blog post I read about mistakes event planners make with social media got me thinking about some of our success... and failures in the social space.
We're doing some amazing things at my company to bring social engagement to life at events. From QR codes for information (basic, and truthfully not always successful), to fully engaging mobile apps that are built in to the event strategy process.
You've often seen me type that "events are the original social media." I firmly believe this to be true. Even with social media online and in mobile, people make the most important connections face to face.
But let's look at some of the social engagements for events that I've seen succeed and fail at recent conferences:
QR Codes - We like to think these encourage interaction and engagement among our attendees. In reality, either very few people know how to scan them, or you have a bunch of people playing with their phone trying to figure out how to scan them, only to scan them and be taken to a URL that was built for a regular website and is pretty much useless on a mobile device. Bottom line: They make you look tech savvy, but I've rarely seen them offer real value.
Mobile Apps - Most of the mobile apps I've used at events act as a replacement to the traditional paper pocket guide. They have maps. They have session schedules. They have sponsor advertisements. They save trees. Bottom line: You really can't do an event without one and still look professional. If you don't have one, get one.
Gamification - pronounced "Game-if-ick-a-shun" - means offering rewards to the attendees who engage with your event in different ways. From Four Square badges to Facebook Places rewards, these activities can draw attendees toward an activity for either a physical prize or a "title" award (Mayor of booth #310!). Bottom line: Good for fun, but may not get the most qualified attendees to your booth for the right reasons. When used at your own branded event, gamification can be modified for your activity and can help you move the flow of traffic around for the attendees who are using their mobile devices to engage.
Augmented Reality - Using geolocation or the GPS in phones, you can overlay an augmented reality layer onto you event; for example, onto your show floor. This allows attendees to hold up their phone like they would using Google Street View and see content related to each area of your floor. You could put exhibitor information, cool facts, customer comments, ratings from participants, and so much more. Bottom line: Super cool to play with. Who has extra money just sitting around to throw at this? And is there anything valuable there other than the cool-factor?
I believe that the key for event marketers is to evaluate the technology for it's value to the attendees first, then its coolness factor second. If the event must showcase the latest and greatest just for the WOW effect, that's valid. If the event should be focusing on content and personal engagement, let the social engagement happen without the guided hand of the event gods.
The best social media engagements at events are the conversations about the event, not the conversations about the social media at the event.