Industrial age inventions, like the cotton gin, revolutionized the way people worked by replacing heavy labor with machines. Today’s digital age inventions don’t replace the heavy lifting as much as they allow multiple functions to be performed by one tool. In “Meeting technology 101,” I discussed some technologies that save meeting planners time. Now I’d like to look at some of the tools that can save you money.
Saving green by going green
A few years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to be handed a binder of one-sided conference materials and speaker handouts that weighed a ton and created a lot of waste. When the desire to “meet green” began to permeate the industry, getting rid of the paper was a natural first step. By digitizing conference materials, planners also can save a lot of money.
The simplest way to digitize the materials is to create PDFs of speaker handouts, brochures and other information and upload them to the conference website, where attendees can download them as needed. These files also can be preloaded onto a reusable USB drive and distributed at the event. Some conference organizers provide computers and printing stations on-site, where attendees can browse materials and print them out, if necessary. To offset the costs of providing the printing stations and USB drives, look for sponsors who want to get in front of your audience in an innovative way.
If you want to go a more sophisticated route, you can hire a company like Cadmium CD to create multimedia, paper-free conferences for you. Or get a freelance coder to create a mobile application that delivers conference materials and information to attendees’ mobile devices. On websites like vWorker.com (formerly rentacoder.com), you can name the price you’re willing to pay and accept bids from potential freelance workers who can put together a custom application for your conference, based on your needs and preferences. If you already manage your meetings using Certain software, the new Certain Meetings 6.0 platform features a mobile app that delivers real-time conference information, agendas, sponsor messages, Twitter feeds and alerts that planners can update from a central dashboard.
Getting strategic about the spend
One of the easiest ways companies can save money is by streamlining and standardizing event processes, and letting planners in different departments and cities communicate with each other. That way, they can share information about pricing, leverage their combined purchasing power and relationships, and alert other planners within the company if there are resources available that otherwise may go unused. An open line of communication also allows seasoned planners to share industry best practices and standards with the company’s part-time or new planners.
Free communication tools like Skype and FreeConferenceCall.com can help planners stay in touch. For a minimal monthly fee, video conference tools such as ooVoo.com and ViVu.tv can create multi-person video conferences (or webinars) that can be recorded and shared with others. And many CVBs and hotel properties now offer free virtual tours that allow you examine potential venues if you cannot be there in person to do a site tour. Because they’re hosted online, the tours are easy to share with all the meeting’s stakeholders, as well. Another tool planners can use to save money is found on Bing Travel. The Farecast technology embedded on the airline search engine allows planners to compare multiple dates and routes to find the lowest available air fares over a 30-day period and see historical rate patterns.
For a more comprehensive, professional meeting management platform, there are several paid solutions that allow planners to manage spend and share information internally, including Arcaneo Metron, Certain Meetings, Cvent, Lenos, Meeting Evolution and StarCite. Some of them also have integrated or additional digital marketing capabilities that allow planners to send targeted e-mail campaigns. Be sure to shop around, make sure your attendee’s information will remain private and try to avoid long-term contracts.
Spreading the word
Perhaps one of the biggest ways in which technology can help planners save money is in the area of event marketing. Social networks have made it easy to create viral word-of-mouth campaigns. The big three are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, so make sure that any website you create for your event has pages that can be e-mailed or shared on these three networks.
Most people who are uncomfortable with being on Facebook will still have a LinkedIn profile, because it’s useful for business. In addition to profiles, which you can search by name, keyword or company, there are LinkedIn groups that tend to be industry-centric and business pages that people can “like.” Once you’ve created a profile for yourself, you can create a page for your business or event and begin to join groups that serve your target audience. If there are particular people you’d like to be introduced to, do a search and see if you have any mutual connections.
Some people prefer using Facebook solely for social purposes, but more and more businesses are represented, sometimes as “individual” profiles, but most often by a group or fan page. Both groups and pages allow you to post links and images, start discussions and send messages to members. The big difference is that even non-members of Facebook can find and “like” your page, you can get this code to embed on your event website and you get metrics for page visitors and activity. Pages also allow you to create event invitations and keep track of who’s coming. Overall, pages are better for long-term relationship building, and groups are better for cultivating discussions.
Twitter has the lowest barrier to entry (you just choose a Twitter name and sign up), but it’s the most intimidating to use if you don’t have a strategy. Because messages are delivered 140 characters at a time, the tendency is to broadcast information. And this is a helpful way to get out last minute information or breaking news, but it’s not as useful as having conversations with people. One of the big advantages to Twitter is that you can have conversations and share information with people who aren’t following you. Find them by doing a search by name, keyword or hashtag on search.twitter.com. Adding hashtags (# plus a keyword) to your tweets is the best way to reach a broad audience of people who might respond to or retweet your message to others. The #eventprofs hashtag, for example, is a great conversation to follow if you want to communicate with other meeting professionals who are online. By creating a hashtag for your event, you drive awareness and allow potential attendees to communicate with each other.
Another way in which you can engage potential attendees and drum up excitement about your event is to create videos featuring speakers, staff, exhibitors and attendees talking about why they’re excited about your event, what will be happening with the next one and why people should come. You can create a free YouTube channel to host the videos, and use the videos’ embed codes to share them on your social network or event website pages. Getting users to generate content for you not only is a great promotional tool, it also creates great buzz. For example, PCMA has created a video entry contest. Potential attendees create dvideos, which are being voted on online; the winner will get free admission to the annual event. In the meantime, the people who made videos are using their Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to ask peers to vote for them, which is driving great traffic to the event’s website.
Don’t forget the power of blogs to communicate interesting and original ideas to your core audience. Creating a professional-looking (and free) website is very easy using blog software such as Tumblr, WordPress or Blogger. The best thing about these platforms is that they can be connected to your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, so that every time something posts, that information is delivered to your social networks. (For example, check out my Tumblr blog, which has links to my social networks — this was all automated by a drop box in my settings. When I post something, it goes out on Twitter and Facebook.) If you want to create photo galleries, create an account on Flickr or Picasa; images and slideshows there also can be embedded on your event website or social networks. Animoto.com is another free site you can use to make slideshows that look more like little movies.
Once you’ve started all these pages and profiles, they have to remain active. Develop a plan of how you will create content or drive discussion on each platform, on a daily basis. Start with five things you can do every day, and work your way up to 10, then 20 action items. If you are spending that much time promoting your event, it will go viral over time.
The best and most time-efficient way to manage these efforts is by using a dashboard like Hootsuite, SocialOomph or Ping.fm. These dashboards aggregate all your social network information and allows you to choose what will be distributed when on each platform; communicate with your followers in real time; and see how effectively the message is being spread (and by whom). Not only can you schedule a week’s worth of content in a few minutes, these dashboards also allow you to monitor what’s being said about your event over multiple platforms and allows you to reply to all of them simultaneously.
This can be overwhelming, so don’t feel as if you have to generate all the content yourself. Blog entries, links, videos and stories can come from speakers, key stakeholders and even attendees. Original is best, but you can do a quick google search and find several “free content” sources on a variety of topics. The social dashboards named above allow for multiple user logins, so don’t be shy about assigning out tasks to advisory board members or office interns. Just be sure that you are monitoring everything with some frequency, and that everyone who’s representing your brand is familiar with the message and “has drunk the Kool-Aid.”
In Meeting technology 103, I’ll share some technologies that engage and “wow” attendees.