This past May, software firm Citrix turned its conference into a global marketing event. Citrix Synergy 2017, held at Orlando's Orange County Convention Center, drew in more than 5,500 employees, customers, partners, and industry leaders for three days of training, roundtable discussions, and networking that explored "the workplace of the future" and how technology could help drive it forward. But some of the greatest value came from the connections the event created outside the conference itself.
Partnering with Sonic Foundry's Mediasite Event Services, Citrix captured more than 100 of its conference sessions across 10 different rooms. Together, they created a customized online experience complete with a registration portal, live chat, a custom video portal, and project management to power what it dubbed Citrix Synergy TV.
"Sessions were streamed live, and then updated to be available on demand, often the same day and by livestreaming the keynotes and breakout sessions," says Meri Summers, senior manager of corporate events at Citrix. "We turned the in-person event into an online, live, and on-demand destination that lives beyond the conference and generated more than 100,000 views."
Those who weren't at the three-day event in person, or who stumble on the Citrix Synergy 2017 page through a related web search, can still watch a high-quality Vision Keynote from Citrix President and CEO Kirill Tatarinov or the Technology Keynote, which included live demos and a discussion of workplace technology, as well as dozens of other speakers. The content helps to entice viewers considering signing up for Synergy 2018, taking place at the Anaheim Convention Center May 8--10 next year. But it also serves as a marketing tool for the Citrix brand, positioning the firm as a leader when it comes to workplace technology.
The way that Citrix Synergy is leveraging its conference to produce additional marketing value reflects how technology is allowing planners and brands to expand the footprint of their events. From using content as Citrix does to gathering more nuanced data about attendee and customer behavior, to engaging attendees before and after the event itself, meetings tech is allowing events to become more important than ever to organizations.
"Meetings have become central to an overall marketing scheme," says Corbin Ball, longtime meetings technology expert, speaker, and consultant. "They've always been important, but you haven't had the capabilities on site at an event to do it. Now you have this wealth of sensors essentially, where every touch is trackable."
Planners are using meetings tech tools to create greater impact with their events
In addition to expanding the reach of events, developments in meetings tech are also making it easier for planners to drill deeper into data and get more immediate feedback.
"I think people are realizing that anything in-the-moment is good -- asking them to fill out one survey at the end gets much less results and maybe not as accurate," says Liz King, founder of Liz King Events and event technology conference techystalk LIVE. "If you're polling after every session, you're getting higher results and more real-time."
She points to audience-response system Glisser as a tool she's found particularly useful, which not only lets you vote on sessions but vote individual slides up and down.
"Without having to ask your attendees if they like the session or not, you can see based on their engagement level as the event is happening," says King.
Ball points specifically to mobile apps that have become more sophisticated in their "interoperability," with the available technology able to capture data that can be used to help improve the event, to target the individual based on his or her expressed preferences, and to add that data into a brand's broader customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
"You have an unprecedented amount of detail that's being expressed in the attendee's journey," says Ball. "Now you have the capability to bring that back into a centralized source."
William MacDonald, vice president of analysis and insights for conference and event consultancy Velvet Chainsaw, agrees that one of the key developments in meetings technology right now is "the tech stack of integration of 'attendee data' with 'marketing data' -- the creation of a database that marries your marketing data with your attendee/member data." That means using on-site attendee engagement and interaction data to help drive ads, email, third-party, and other online marketing efforts that "will accelerate the personalization/customization of the attendee experience at events and increase attendee engagement considerably," as MacDonald puts it.
This integration and interoperability have moved at a rapid clip thanks in part to a number of recent mergers and acquisitions, allowing the technology solutions providers to service one another. In March of this year, live event service provider GES purchased cloud-based event management platform Poken. Two months after that, following the acquisition of venue booking provider Zentila, data analytics platform and wearable smart badge company Loopd, and several other properties, event tech platform etouches was acquired by equity firm HGGC. Last year, Vista Equity Partners acquired Cvent for about $1.65 billion and merged it with its meetings tech provider Lanyon -- then proceeded to purchase engagement marketing automation platform Marketo.
"When you pay those huge numbers, you are saying that events are really important," says Ball.
David Preiser, event producer and registration manager who oversees the deployment of the technology for full-service event production company P&V Enterprises, has seen these benefits firsthand. P&V uses Cvent's CrowdCompass app as well as On Arrival, which aims to streamline the check-in process, using QR codes on badges when attendees check in and out of sessions. These have proven valuable for events that P&V has helped plan, such as Working Mother Media conferences, and he's noticed an improvement in the interoperability more recently.
"As the platform expands and Cvent acquires more technology, more things have become possible," says Preiser. "The marketing, building engagement before the event, sending messages through the app during the event -- you get a lot more useful data."
Patricia Ahaesy, CMP, CSEP, president of P&V Enterprises, agrees.
"Everything works seamlessly and that is key," says Ahaesy. "Our clients are able to see how registration is going, and they love that all of these combined make it easy for my staff to check people in on site. No long lines."
Preiser describes how the improving technology has allowed P&V to more carefully target its messaging and appeal to different segments of its audience, whether based on demographics, attendee types, industry types, or otherwise.
He gives the example of the Center to Advance Palliative Care Conference, which was a three-day seminar when P&V began helping to plan it. The organization expanded it with a pre-conference "boot camp" that offered a more intensive, compressed day of programming aimed at those new to the industry looking to learn a lot in a short amount of time. Using Cvent's registration platform, they captured the organization types -- hospital system, home-care program, office clinic, or other -- status, and attendee disciplines during the registration process.
"It gave us the data showing the demographics of those interested in the content and helped make it a bigger success the following year, and probably this year as well," Preiser says of the pre-conference event. Now, about a third of the conference's more than 1,000 attendees take part in the boot camp and it's become one of the most popular offerings.
Some of the greatest value P&V has gotten is with extending events beyond the conference itself, with streamed and on-demand webcasts, using professional broadcast equipment and the platform Wirecast.
"It extends the reach of [our clients'] events globally, thus getting the information out," says Ahaesy. "We're able to give our clients statistics like that plus we can tell how long the viewers actually stayed online to watch. That's important."
For a recent event for the global sanitation initiative Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), more than 100 attendees gathered in New York City's Scandinavia House to discuss policies affecting young women's health throughout the world. But since the global focus of the sessions was key to its offerings, P&V made livestreaming and social media central to the event, conferencing in attendees from Bangladesh, Kenya, Germany, and beyond.
"We were answering questions in real time from attendees everywhere," says Preiser. "With the app, we could also track all kinds of participation and demographic information."
Thanks to a big push from Facebook Live and other platforms, livestreaming has become increasingly widespread and mainstream.
"Livestreaming on the various apps -- Facebook Live, Livestream.com, even Instagram -- is maybe the biggest thing I've seen taking off," says Liz King, founder of Liz King Events and event technology conference techystalk LIVE. "With social media, it's not just sharing the content from an event -- people are getting more interested in the set-up or behind-the-scenes of an event and they become more emotionally invested when they see the whole process."
She points to Hyperlapse, which allows planners to create fast-paced time-lapse videos -- say, of an empty room becoming filled with booths and banners -- as a tool that can do a lot to build anticipation on social media. Sharing on social media platforms like Facebook can also help serve as a brand-marketing opportunity, showing an interactive activity on the floor.
"It becomes a huge marketing tool for future events to reach a larger audience, and engage with people whose attention you might not otherwise have caught," says King.
MacDonald of Velvet Chainsaw agrees that "the livestreaming capabilities that Facebook and Twitter now offer make it even easier and a cost-effective way to engage an audience not physically at the event."
He adds that another good strategy for content capture and amplification is to livestream high-profile sessions during the event and then post them onto social media after that. While event apps remain "by far the front-runner in technology utilization by the vast majority of event organizers," as MacDonald puts it, he emphasizes that planners are still challenged with boosting attendee adoption of the tool.
"I saw a number somewhere that said the estimated average for downloads across events is just over 60 percent," he says. "I've seen the numbers as low as 30 to 40 percent with one association client of ours."
That was a challenge faced by Sports & Entertainment Alliance in Technology (SEAT), a forum for executives and professionals in the sports industry that holds an annual gathering of networking and panel discussions. Drawing more than 1,000 attendees to its SEAT Atlanta 2017 Conference in July, the organization sought to elevate its networking for attendees before and after the event, while also allowing members of the organization to easily and quickly add information, make speaker updates, and more.
"I wanted our SEAT community members to be more immersed in engaging together," says Christine Stoffel, founder of SEAT Consortium.
After exploring a number of tech options, they opted for Guidebook, which allows event planners to create their own white-label app that can be specially designed to speak to these needs. The organizers urged all attendees to download it, where up-to-the-minute agenda changes, speaker highlights and options to connect with industry peers and tech providers were all made available. Push notifications allowed the organizers to keep in touch with attendees during the event and encouraged them to post pictures and comments on its internal social platform. Even more important, the app allowed them to extend the impact of the conference beyond the event itself.
"This is not just a one-time, one-and-done event app," Stoffel explains. "Once people download it, it stays on their phone. We're educating them not to uninstall it. It's a forever app that they need on their mobile device to stay engaged with their SEAT peer community."
SEAT enjoyed 93 percent engagement from attendees, according to Stoffel, "a tremendous success" compared to previous efforts to use apps or similar technology at the event.
"We went from a flat, non-engaging mobile app environment several years prior to a totally immersive mobile experience with Guidebook," she says. "It's become the place where people can network and develop relationships that they didn't have before… directly through the app."
Now that she's pleased with the app, Stoffel is setting her sights on deepening its use for next year's conference.
"We are continually leveraging our partners' technology solutions to create unique experiences at our events as well as to showcase the value the technology providers can offer to the sports and entertainment industry," she says. "Our goal each year is to use and drive innovation through technology and continue to become better at showcasing unique technology solutions to our conference attendees."
Meeting and event planning company Bishop-McCann recently worked to leverage technology and social media to expand the marketing impact of a live event. Its client, Verizon, was piloting a series of experiential stores, or "Verizon Destination Stores," which aimed to create an experience like that in an Apple Store. Visitors could try out Verizon's technology -- from music and entertainment to health and fitness, with products like Bose speakers and Fitbits. For a store grand opening in Houston, Bishop-McCann was tasked with helping engage Millennials and showcasing Verizon not as a cell phone company, but as a technology company. Social media was the obvious way to do that.
"This generation's buying patterns and behavior are highly influenced by social media, so we strategically crafted a store opening event that involved engagement through social media," explains Hillary Bamont, sales director for Bishop-McCann.
Over a month-long campaign prior to the event, Bishop-McCann worked with several social media influencers with more than 1 million followers. Social media figures like Nash Grier, Lohanthony, Princess Lauren, and Jake Miller posted on their social media pages offering a chance to win tickets to concerts, meet-and-greets, and more to those who came to the opening and posted photos with the hashtag #vzwhouston.
"This created brand awareness and buzz since we provided step-and-repeats [banners for visitors to take photos in front of] with Verizon branding," says Bamont. "The event was immersed in Verizon branding through banners, digital signage, and step-and-repeats, along with T-shirts that were given out to every person who attended the grand opening."
The event was a huge social media success, resulting in more than 100 million social media, TV, and print media impressions. While the grand opening was targeted toward a consumer market more than a corporate one, the lessons it offered of the impact of social media, particularly for Millennial audiences, are valuable ones for planners of B2B events.
"Social media plays a big role in improving engagement [before and after an event]," says Liz King. "In particular, Facebook having a much bigger push on community building is going to be a platform to keep people engaged from event to event."
Though specifics have yet to be announced, King expects this to include a simplification of Facebook's Groups feature, how they're organized, the ease of adding people or sharing updates and news, privacy settings, and so on. Such a shift could be valuable for events that target members of specific industry segments or affinities.
Meri Summers of Citrix has certainly found the livestreaming to be a benefit for Citrix Synergy.
"A big reason for streaming is because we offer a lot of breakout sessions and you can only attend so many," she says. "Even if you're attending in person Citrix Synergy TV [allows you] to find all of the sessions your schedule didn't allow you to attend. Attendees find a lot of content they are interested in that they go back and watch."
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This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.