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Everyone knows that social media’s changed something fundamental about the way we do business.  The event industry is no exception to that, naturally. The birth of the social network has forced an evolution event management – perhaps more so than in any other field.

With even a cursory look, it isn’t terribly difficult to understand why – and how – this happened.

“In the event industry, people have always been social by nature – whether establishing personal connections at live events, understanding a clients meeting objectives, or negotiating a business deal with vendors.” explains Cvent’s Eric Eden. “It’s an innate part of what we do.”

This, Eden continues, is precisely why the event industry has taken so well to social media. It’s pretty much the perfect medium for the industry, empowering attendees and event planners alike with networking opportunities, better knowledge and education, and an enhanced capacity to collaborate. Of course, that’s only scratching the surface of the role social media plays in the event industry – to fully understand how it’s changed event management, we’re going to need to go a little deeper.

We’ll start with one of the most obvious boons it offers – marketing.

Promotion, Marketing, and Demographic Knowledge

In the world of advertising, word of mouth has always been one of the most powerful means of fostering brand awareness and loyalty, trusted over every other breed. According to a 2013 study by Nielsen, more than 80% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know above all other forms of marketing.  Social media allows brands to directly tap into that loyalty, transforming every one of their customers into super-powered brand advocates who share thoughts, ideas, and content with hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of other users – each of which has the capacity to share the same stuff with their friends and contacts, and so on and so forth.

This means that attendees become brand advocates by announcing their intention to attend a conference or convention. Friends who share similar interests might end up purchasing tickets simply by virtue of a guest’s attendance.  This means that simply by virtue of integrating it with Facebook or Twitter, you’re exponentially increasing your event’s exposure.

I should explain in a bit more detail.

See, social media has completely shifted how consumers and brands relate to one another. Marketing is more personal than it’s ever been, and consumers are increasingly expected to be given a direct line of communication with their brand of choice, in much the same way that they talk to their friends.

Savvy event planners can quite easily use social media to connect with attendees, and engage more deeply with attendees than ever before.

We’ll discuss that engagement in a bit more detail in just a moment.

By establishing a rapport with their guests, event planners can ensure that their updates, highlights, and announcements reach a larger audience than ever before; creating a level of hype for their events that previously required a full marketing team, all without paying a cent. This rapport, naturally, requires a great deal of knowledge to pull off successfully – more specifically, knowledge of the target audience. Thankfully, social media once again delivers in that respect; social networks are extremely formidable tools for demographic research.

Again, though – this is only the bare minimum of what social event management involves – and what it can do in the hands of someone knowledgeable. I’m speaking, of course, about user empowerment. Let’s talk about that next.

The Power of Engagement through Social Media

As I’ve already mentioned, today’s consumer is empowered. Social media has given them a platform on which their voice can be heard; they expect that whatever brand they direct it at will listen. When this expectation isn’t met, anger is the usual response; people don’t appreciate feeling as though they’re little more than sales numbers.

That’s the bad news about the whole empowerment deal. The good news is that, by meeting these expectations; by tapping into that empowerment, event planners can get their guests more deeply and directly involved in their events, from start to finish. This will, in turn, cause them to become significantly more engaged, and remember with much greater fondness their time at whatever convention, conference, or trade show they attended.

“Social media has become more influential in our personal lives, but it has also had a unique influence on event planning,” reads the Managing Matters Blog. “Individuals utilize these technologies for both business and pleasure; people are often seen roaming the streets, glued to their screens.”

“Event planners,” it continues, “have identified this unique opportunity to engage their audience at all stages of the event life cycle: before, during, and after the event. This ubiquitous trend allows even those not present at the actual event to feel included.”

It’s even better than it sounds in practice. The blog post quoted above goes on to point to an event run by Nissan last year at the Geneva Motor Show, where the company made use of seven social media tools to show just how deeply a brand could engage with its consumers if it tried. Through a unique blend of social networking kiosks, RFID chips, and a promotional campaign run through Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, and Instagram; Nissan allowed its attendees to become something more.

“You need to think not just about the technology but about the creativity you can use to bring it to life. We create a lot of content prior to, during, and after the show,” explained Nissan Africa’s social and digital engagement manager Rick Rust, speaking to Biz Bash about the event.  “[You then need to] think through the user journey to make it as simple and easy as possible and as shareable as possible. As a brand, it’s great to tell your story, but you also need to be very cognizant of the people who are actually on site.”

That’s actually a perfect byway into our final talking point – and perhaps the most valuable aspect of social media’s role in event management: socially-integrated events.

The New Frontier Of Event Management: Social Integration

The simple truth is that we’re living in a society where people absolutely love to share their experiences with anyone who will listen. There’s a reason sites like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest are so popular; they allow people to show their lives to the world.

By tapping into that inherent need to communicate and making use of that inborn desire to share, event management professionals can give their users an experience unlike any other, one where they feel like empowered, active consumers rather than passive participants.

“There is so much more available to planners than just Facebook Events,” says Mashable’s Stephanie Marcus, “This becomes quite clear as more planners really understand the value of social media and realize that they are only bound by their imaginations when it comes to using it.”

“What we’re seeing is more integration of social media into their lives as a way to promote their services, plan and promote events, and bring the conversation full-circle from the virtual world to real life,” she continues.

That conversation can take many forms – and it takes place at every stage of an event’s life-cycle.

Users can be given tailored advice and information based on geo-location data using Foursquare (or a similar service). Attendees can share their real-time thoughts, ideas, and concerns and see those posts side-by-side with official event updates through a tool like Tweetwall. Event planners can use technology like iBeacons to gamify their events, offering an integrated, game-like experience designed to keep their guests entertained. Data gathered from mobile applications and social networking can be used to further tailor and personalize the experience of each and every guest, offering them a unique perspective based on who they are.

I could go on and on; I could probably write an entire piece exclusively about the different ways one can integrate social media into their events. The potential here is quite nearly limitless, and I’d estimate we’ve not even seen half of the ways in which event planners can empower, engage, and involve their guests. This is especially true if you consider the implications of looming trends such as the Internet of Things.

In Closing

It’s fairly common knowledge that social media has brought about a fundamental change in how we do business – both online and off. In few industries is this change clearer and more pronounced than event management.  It’s not terribly shocking or impressive that a field which is by its nature social has taken to websites like Facebook and Twitter with such gusto.

What is impressive is what’s being done with these tools.

This goes beyond simple event marketing and promotion. The best event management professionals are putting their skills as natural storytellers to good use with each and every event they run. Through both social networks and tools like Tweetwall, event planners are co-operating with their guests to weave an involved, engaging tale from start to finish, one in which every attendee is an active participant. As more and more professionals clue in to the value inherent in social integration, this trend is only going to become more and more pronounced.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – it does nothing but enrich the experience for everyone involved. Not only that, social media is by this point an integral part of our daily lives. It’s becoming so deeply ingrained that attendees at an event where it’s not present might well feel that there’s something missing.