At Business Events, Shorter Lines and Less PrivacyMy Wrist Is Glowing: At Business Events, Shorter Lines and Less Privacy
Klik makes wristbands that glow the same color when event participants who have agreed to meet are near each other.
CreditCreditScott McIntyre for The New York Times
By Julie Weed
Sept. 10, 2018
The corporate event has gone digital. Paper tickets and itineraries have given way to badge swipes and electronic agendas. Chance meetings have been replaced by automatically curated networking. And there’s no need to take notes for colleagues who can’t be there — they can watch a live stream of the event and use their phones to submit questions.
Technology is changing corporate events, and the pace of change is accelerating, according to Brent Turner, a senior vice president at the event marketing agency Cramer. And for better or worse, tracking abilities are a significant part of that change.
Mr. Turner’s agency creates events for clients like IBM, the German industrial company Siemens and the investing giant Fidelity that host a few hundred to more than 10,000 people. Organizers, exhibitors and attendees use technology to wring more value out of the event, he said, whether that is finding new customers, making better professional connections or reaching people outside the event.
Event management software began as simple tools to register, view the agenda and find out who else was attending. But new features are continually being added, said Karen Shackman, whose company, Shackman Associates New York, produces about 150 corporate events a year. A variety of vendors offer organizers the ability to create a custom mobile app that includes ticketing, maps, connections to social media feeds and ways for attendees to connect with speakers.
A platform called Splash connects marketing and registration with a company’s customer information database so the sales force can follow up with attendees. Managers using the app can keep track of metrics, like how many attendee names have been added to the list of potential customers. (The New York Times is a client of Splash for subscriber events.)
DoubleDutch, an event management software company in San Francisco, has been introducing one or two new features a month, said Taylor McLoughlin, the company’s director of marketing. The company recently introduced a feature called Safety Check. In the event of a mass shooting or other emergency, organizers can send information to attendees, and attendees can mark themselves as “safe” or “not safe.”
Apps that can consolidate tasks like registration, messaging, security, data collection and follow-up have been a big efficiency boon to organizers, said Deanna Ting, who follows the hospitality industry for the travel industry news and research site Skift. At the same time, “rolling out new technology at a high-stakes event can be nerve-racking,” she said, so some planners are embracing the changes faster than others.
Shane Eastridge and Jessica Stancil tapped their Klik bracelets at the thINK conference in Boca Raton, Fla.CreditScott McIntyre for The New York Times
Rich Tong, director of strategy for the automotive software company Xevo, attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. So did 182,000 other people. The most important thing to do each day is plan, Mr. Tong said, because at such a large event, “you don’t just ‘run into’ people.” Using the mobile event app, Mr. Tong tagged the presentations he wanted to attend and the company booths he wanted to visit and searched the online directory for people he wanted to meet.
“The whole process has changed dramatically and for the better,” he said. “It used to be long lines and business cards.”
Susan Stark Schall, a real estate agent who works in the Bay Area for Venture Sotheby’s International Realty, attended a company event last year in Las Vegas with 2,400 others. She said she appreciated the ability to send messages and share photos with other agents there using a mobile app. If a client was looking for a property in another city, “you could post your need and you’d get a lot of responses,” she said. Ms. Schall said she also liked the ability in the app to see which classes were full and which ones still had space.
Ms. Shackman said technology offerings need to be intuitive. “Boomers, millennials, everyone needs to understand how to use it with a minimum of effort.”
Some organizers prefer to use social media rather than a special app. Jonathan Meyers, general manager of events at CNBC, said that asking people to download and figure out how to use a special phone app for a one-day conference could be a challenge, so he prefers to connect with attendees on the platforms they are already using, like LinkedIn and Facebook.
“We can invite attendees into social media groups to communicate with them and use hashtags for social posts,” he said.
Mr. Meyers said he had also found that event-specific apps were rarely opened after the event. “It’s easier to continue the conversation,” he said, through groups created using popular social media platforms.
Connections can be as important as content at an event, and networking tools are designed to help attendees find new customers, suppliers or partners. An app called Braindate lets participants share topics they would like to discuss and then meet in person at a Braindate Lounge, where facilitators act as hosts. A recommendation algorithm also offers suggestions of whom to meet. Eventgoers who are using the networking app Klik, and who have agreed to meet, will see their wristbands light up the same color when they are near each other.
Hiver, a start-up in London, is one of several companies offering a tracking beacon for event attendees. The Hiver beacons can be attached to a lanyard or placed in a badge holder and, when paired with a phone app, will track whom the wearer has interacted with at the event and for how long. Attendees can view the list of interactions they have had and the LinkedIn profiles of the people they have met.
Companies are offering event organizers the ability to build custom apps that include ticketing, maps, connections to social media feeds and other services.CreditScott McIntyre for The New York Times
Exhibitors can use attendee beacon data to see who stopped by their booth, how long visitors stayed on average and the busiest times. That information can help companies adjust plans for that conference or other events. Other crowd-measuring devices include tracking mats that count how many people step on them and cameras at charging stations.
Organizers can also use beacon data to produce heat maps showing crowd flow through the day. That data helps organizers factor in foot traffic when they price future booth location space.
There could be a downside to such uses, though, said Mr. Tong of Xevo. Privacy and security are issues, he said, “because you don’t want your competitors seeing who you are meeting with.”
At lectures and panels, audience members can sometimes submit questions electronically. The moderator can choose which ones to answer and in what order.
“Long gone are the days where you have staff running around a big audience with microphones,” said Mr. Meyers of CNBC. At some events, people listening in from outside can tune in to a live stream and ask questions as well.
Technology is used to engage attendees in other ways. Answers to quick electronic polls can be displayed in graphs and charts on screens throughout the day. Mr. Meyers said that attendees found it interesting to see what their peers were thinking and that the graphs offered fodder for conversations.
Text messages can invite people to “hot spots” where eventgoers with similar interests can meet. “That, in turn, leads to off-site engagement and networking at convention-sponsored events or at other off-hours venues,” Ms. Shackman said.
Ben Hindman, chief executive of Splash, said that the industry had begun to attract more technical people in addition to event managers and party planners.
“They want to deliver the right experience to the right person at the right time,” he said.
It takes time and money to create or attend events, and, Mr. Hindman said, “companies want to understand if that investment is paying off.”
A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 10, 2018, on Page B4 of the New York edition with the headline: Making Old-Fashioned Connections the Newfangled Way.