I’ve admitted it before and I’ll do it again: I’m a social media and technology addict. So when I’m choosing conferences to attend, I look for technology use. Is there a hashtag? Will speakers engage with participants in real time – or afterward – via social media? If something comes up, will the organizer provide content virtually? Also, is there an app that can help me plan where to eat, where to stay and sights to see?
According to a report by American Express Meetings and Events, I’m not alone.
In the first half of 2014, American Express Global Business and Travel surveyed 336 meeting planners and 161 meeting and event attendees to learn more about the evolving landscape of technology in meetings.
Overall, the survey found smartphones and wireless data/streaming video have had the most influence on the meetings industry. In fact, according to the study, 77 percent of smartphone holders use their phones “always” or “often” for business during a meeting or conference.
And almost all attendees have computers, which makes virtual attendance a breeze. While virtual meetings are becoming more popular, they’re still far less common than on-the-ground events, the study found.
Survey respondents ranked less time away from the office and a reduced need to travel as the top reasons for attending virtual or hybrid events. But interestingly, most event planners reported they don’t offer virtual options. Among the top reasons: distraction. They seem to be worried that a virtual environment offers too many temptations to pay full attention.
From the report: “There is strong agreement that in-person attendance still provides the best overall experience. Seventy-four percent of attendees and 85% of planners feel that: ‘In-person meetings are more valuable to me because they allow more social interaction.’”
So, American Express Meetings and Events recommends event planners survey target audiences to gauge interest and need for virtual events. Once it’s determined virtual events are necessary, planners need to provide tailored content, specific for the web.
Now. Let’s talk social media. Event organizers use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about events and to track interest among users. But there seems to be a divide: The survey found social media is more important to planners than it is to attendees. (This surprised me!) Forty-three percent of planners said social media capabilities were important, while only 35 percent of attendees said the same. So it follows, then, that planners ranked hashtags as more important than attendees.
The report speculates that social media users are still a bit hesitant about posting things that aren’t relevant to their followers, i.e. a conference/event they aren’t attending. And, there’s still concern about privacy.
Like social media, meeting planners rank meeting apps as more useful than participants – 67 percent vs. 55 percent. Access to basic event information and scheduling features are important app features for both groups. (See page 13 of the report for a comprehensive chart of important features.)
Specifically, networking capabilities of an app are important to both groups, especially when it offers search functions so users can search by company. Meeting apps that provide the ability to schedule meetings with exhibitors and vendors are also valuable to both groups, according to the report.
Event planners also listed apps as the most effective measurement tools for success, followed by social media. That said, in-person monitoring and post-event surveys are still the most popular.
“Technology continues to change the landscape of meetings and events, presenting new opportunities to increase engagement, reach a broader audience and deliver value for attendees and meeting owners alike,” the report said. “Meeting planners and meeting owners bear the burden of incorporating these technologies into meetings and events in a way that drives value for meeting attendees. Understanding the expectations of your meeting attendees as it relates to technology is an important step in the meeting planning process.”