Social Media Stunts For Fun And…?

It’s tough to gain people’s attention these days. With so many entertainment opportunities available via computer, TV, tablet and smartphone, sometimes getting them out of their home or office and into town to an event is a feat in itself.

LOUD speaker

Make no mistake, most event planners (major sports certainly have this issue) aren’t competing with other entertainment options, they’re competing with high-speed internet, 42″+ TVs and DVRs. Many sports fans have recently realized that special TV packages provide better views, less hassle and cost less than season or even game tickets, so is it any surprise that the events world may soon tangle with this very problem?

The answer for years has been stunts. In the sports world, these are giveaway nights, after-game concerts, and, in the past, ‘flying’ records and cheap beer. While we’ll likely never forget such stunts, they didn’t do much to get more fans in seats. Promotional stunts, either via analog or digital means, need to be treated with a heckuva lot of care for them to be more successful than the previous ‘what not to dos’ aforementioned.

Is It Repeatable? Scalable?
Jay Baer of ConvinceandConvert.com relays a recent story about Doubletree sending a four year old birthday gifts during a recent stay. Yes, it was touching and yes, the video received millions of page views, but besides a few minutes of feeling good, what does something like that do for the brand?

Is it going to make me more likely to stay in a Doubletree? Likely not.
Does it make the Doubletree more event friendly? Only if they’re willing to seriously scale their offer.
Did it do any good? We doubt it.

Does it lead to industry betterment?
Ryan Holiday, media manipulator and American Apparel marketing guy, recently conducted a stunt of his own. In an effort to either drum up publicity for his new book Trust Me I’m Lying or simply an altruistic attempt to out lazy journalists, Holiday duped HARO reporters using a variety of stories.

While there was definitely a lesson to be learned from his actions, did the stunt itself help anyone but Holiday himself? Businesses need take this in mind whenever they think about planning a stunt, as fooling your audience by showing off how clever you are could backfire.

Will it hurt?
Peter Shankman’s recounting of kicking a soccer ball filled with concrete — that’s not a joke — brings to mind, as Shankman mentioned, Charlie Brown repeatedly whiffing attempts to kick a football. While cartoon violence can be funny, how hard are you going to laugh when a colleague has to wear a cast for weeks after kicking an immovable object?

Thank god the PR industry hasn’t gone this route…yet.

Have you seen any worthwhile stunts? Let us know!

QR Codes As Admittance Stamps?

We love QR codes. From checking in attendees to sharing information with vendors, QR codes and their cheap-to-create smartphone readers has allowed companies like ours to save time, resources and a whole lot of lost business cards.

While we’ve all seen QR codes used somewhat inappropriately on billboards, campaign signs and other places where it’s near impossible to whip out a smartphone and scan, this simple technology can’t be beat when used effectively.

QRandom 256

Because QR codes can be customized quickly and cheaply, there’s no limit on what they can be used to do. The following is a list of usage ideas we’ve either seen or implemented ourselves.

Time-Sensitive QR Codes
Sometimes boring hand stamps are just that: boring. We’ve seen far too many events and bars choose the plainest of stamps with apparently no thought about tying that image into marketing or advertising campaigns. But New Delhi bar Turquoise Cottage sees them as far more useful.

During the evening, scanning the QR codes took patrons to specific landing pages for special deals for that night, tips on after parties, and cab companies.

During the day, patrons could use the QR codes for hangover remedies and reminders for the next night’s party schedule.

Check-In/Print Badge
We’re particularly fond of using a QR code to quickly check attendees in and have their badges ready for them at the registration table. Instead of waiting in line for minutes and hours to check people in one at a time (or more, if you have the tables and space), we grab an iOS or Android device with attached camera and walk down the line, scanning QR codes that we’ve sent attendees ahead of time.

Whether they’ve printed their tickets or left them on their smartphone, our QR code readers work quickly to send their information to our servers and back to a registration laptop connected to one of up to four label printers. If it sounds like magic, we’ll admit it does feel a bit like that at times.

Contact Information Swap
For years huge trade shows made a killing renting out handheld scanners that could read attendee information from badges, saving both sides the hassle of transporting and storing business cards. While we don’t fault the companies making a living doing this, the proprietary software and expensive hardware made too many people shy away — especially small businesses, who likely spent most of their budget reserving the booth for the show.

We’ve solved that. Available on iOS and Android, the same basic software we use to check in attendees via QR codes can be used to scan and record attendee data for vendors. No renting special equipment, just any iOS or Android device, a quick scan of a special QR code and some codes to enter.

Long live QR codes!

9th Annual AZ Groups Offers Intimate Look At Tech

If there’s one thing geeks can agree on, it’s that free events sponsored by tech companies are worth attending. Whether it’s for the networking, the client deals, or even the swag, showing up at AZ Groups means one thing: you’re ready to get some tech learnin’ on.

We certainly finished some testing, too. Both EventDay and LoopLogic were on hand to lend their specific services to the event, beginning with EventDay at the registration table. 720 guests checked in throughout the day, the majority of them during the 40 minutes before our 8am start.

But with five minute or less wait in line, we were pretty happy at the effectiveness of the EventDay software. Most attendees brought their QR codes either printed out or on their smartphones, which speeded registration up considerably.

The content didn’t disappoint. From Scott Guthrie to Brady Gaster and Scott Hanselman to LoopLogic’s Stephane Legay, the Scottsdale Center For Performing Arts stage was buzzing from 8am until lunch at Blue Moose at noon, then again all afternoon until 5pm.

We had an iPad giveaway (thanks Pluralsight!), free lunch, complimentary beer and wine after the show, and 10 fantastic sponsors offering business solutions to attendees.

Cate and company are looking forward to next year’s event. Any ideas on how to make a splash celebrating a decade of great tech gatherings?

Want more pictures? Check out the EventDay Facebook album.

Our Take On Event Marketing Lies

Famed marketing guru Seth Godin will tell you that All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories, but you probably already knew that. It isn’t often that the general public can’t see through flimsy stories and contrived responses when it comes to what we’d think would be simple, straightforward answers to our questions.

But lying is a strong word. Just like advertising tries to convince you to take action by focusing on either a) what the product/service can improve for you or b) how far you’re behind and how the product/service can keep you from losing it all, event marketing professionals tell a variety of tales to whet consumer appetites.

We’re fans of the Event Manager Blog, and wanted to share our take on their top 10 event marketing lies. You ready? Read on!

Space Is Never Limited
No, really, it’s not. Marketers know that scarcity drives people to action, so we say this to drum up interest. While I’m sure most marketers would love not to employ this obvious lie, it works far too well to not.

Tickets Will Sell Out Soon!
Again, people are drawn to scarcity. If tickets are selling fast, it must mean a ton of people want to go, which means they should want to go, which means they should buy their ticket because space is limited. Not usually true, but again, this works well.

run easy - evento a milano

Early Bird Pricing
We love limited time deals like early bird pricing, but are also infuriated when tickets drop below that discounted price right before the event date. All this does is convince attendees to wait until the last minute next year, which presents serious staffing and resource issues.

Add value. Market more. Advertise, too. But don’t screw over the early birds first adopters. They like you too much.

Only On InsertSocialNetworkHere
If it’s only on Facebook, I’d better not see it on a newsletter, Google+ page or in a tweet. Seriously. Exclusivity is fun and makes people feel special, but when it’s a lie it hurts.

Our Event Reaches Eleventy Kajillion Industry Experts!
Suuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrre it does. For this trick to work, it’s best to showcase a few prominent people, along with bios and company information. Attendees are better able to connect with one or two faces than eleventy kajillion mysterious strangers on a list.

PICNIC08 presentation PLANETART

Featuring Interactive Sessions!
Q&A time is barely interactive, so please stop counting it as such. When attendees think of interactive, they think hands on, moving around the room, we’re going to be able to take something away from this and show our people, not that they had 30 second answer to a specific question that no one else in the room wanted to know about.

Biggest Event In/On the Industry/Country/Planet/Universe!
Here’s a secret that no one has yet told the event planners of the Miss Universe Pageant: we know you didn’t search the entire universe! Sure the name is just a marketing ploy, but why not be specific about your event and work on under promising while over delivering?

That or we’d better see some trips to planets besides Mars here soon.

Members-Only Event
Exclusivity isn’t a bad thing, but a members only event should mean a members only event. That means no surcharge for non-members and even a limited number of +1s. If you’re going to write an event marketing script, stick to it please.

All Attendees To Become Experts!
Pretty heady promise there, no? While educating attendees is a good thing, promising to make them experts in at the most a few days seems irresponsible at best. Let’s focus on improvement and forgo the buzz words.

Connect With Potential Employers/Colleagues/Clients/Professionals
Networking is good, but unless your event has some sort of planned activity that encourages and facilitates networking opportunities besides exchanging business cards, let’s save obvious attempts to sway attendees for the real stuff, like famous keynote speakers.

Please let us know if you see these phrases on any events we work with. We’ll do our best to set marketers straight.

Are Your Geeks Shunning Technophobes?

For years, we assumed the meek shall inherit the Earth. Problem is, they waited so long that the geeks did it first. As nearly every conference goer is at the very least aware of the versatility of smartphones and tablets, it’s time for event planners to cater to the audience we think will soon matter most:

Tablet users.

You see, many tablet users aren’t geeks, they’re your coworkers, your parents, boss, traveling salesperson and community organizer. No longer do touch-based device require a geek to operate, but they’ve moved on to premium use status as a near-commodity item.

Also…
Technophobes love iPads, and we bet they’re a love more savvy than anything thinks. But even if they’re not, wouldn’t developing tools for them to use via tablet be a smart business move?

Users first
Our QR-code based check-in system was built with users like this in mind. Not everyone understands how their smartphone or tablet devices work, so a code that works just was well on a touchscreen as it does on a printed ticket is an integral piece of our app strategy.

Wow them
Besides, how cool is it to show technophobes how simple and useful technology can be without burdening them with complicated links, ticket instructions that have more than one step and/or non-transferable or replaceable check-in procedures?

Free your mind
We believe technophobes are no longer the luddites we may be used to, but are simply learning about tech a slower, more comfortable pace. And even though the geeks of the world may find this simplicity less fancy than laser-equipped, NFC-based, self-service check-in programs that require eyeball recognition, we know that the technophobes of today will be the biggest user base tomorrow.

Inclusivity
Don’t shun those slightly behind the tech curve. They’re not slow or dumb, they just have different priorities. As tech becomes simpler and more human, we’ll be able to streamline so, so many more processes that right now take too long.

The future belongs to everyone, not just the geeks helping create it.

Public Conference, Private Content?

Rustic Railroad Tracks

Rustic Railroad Tracks BlogPic from WinePress of Words.

Many public and a few private organizations would do well to be transparent in their business dealings. Whether it’s sharing public data, exposing the steps used in building lasting relationships, or simply allowing their source code (or company secret sauce) to be tinkered with and improved, transparency can do wonders.

But Adrian Segar of Conferences That Work thinks that this may not be a good thing. Our oversharing, always on, and broadcast everything approach using digital tools has certainly increased exposure for conference presenters, but has it decreased value?

A recent edAccess conference seems to think that DECREASING information shared with the masses is a better tactic than the opposite. With numerous privacy concerns — students they serve and their co-workers, faculty, and assorted staff — it’s a wonder that more conferences haven’t gone this route.

While we’re not condemning social media and sharing/collaborative cultures, there are plenty of topics that just aren’t suited for a wide audience, as no amount of digital security will ease the worries of presenters that show up to discuss sensitive topics.

Best to not record at all, right? What better security could there be if there’s no one live tweeting, live streaming, or furiously taking notes to share with the world?

But for conference organizers, this greatly diminishes the resale value of content produced at these kind of events. No longer can they make any of their money back selling recorded conference sessions, which could lead to higher attendee prices and increased sponsorship needs.

From an attendee’s perspective, this approach seems perfectly in line with the goals of academic-oriented conferences, but without enough assets to sponsor or advertise with, potential sponsors may shy away from the higher prices.

If you’re an attendee, would this matter to you? Would you pay more knowing the experience you’d get would be unavailable anywhere else at any time?

Is exclusivity back in vogue for pragmatic reasons?

Every Professional Should Be Blogging

There are so few reasons why every professional SHOULDN’T blog.

Maybe they don’t like their audience, maybe they don’t want success and maybe they like working far harder and more inefficiently than they’d like to. Whatever those reasons are, we don’t agree. Blogging, and its cousin content marketing, is one of the most effective ways to gain permission from your audience, help clients that don’t realize they need it and showcase exactly what you bring to the table.

imagining links

Permission Marketing
“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”Seth Godin

Most people want to buy our products and services, they just don’t want to feel like they’re being forced to. By staying in constant contact and sharing ideas with clients, customers, colleagues and even competitors, we’re forced to stay on the top of our game and have a cool ability to build off others’ attempts.

A steady stream of admissions, ideas, and opportunities will keep the permission spigot turned on.

Solve Unforeseen Problems
In Mission Impossible III, the bad guys hoped to profit from selling Bellerophon, the cure to deadly virus Chimera. Problem was, the bad guys also created Chimera. As get-rich-quick schemes go, this seemed like it had a good chance of success, but we don’t think problems need to be manufactured or even identified before they can be solved.

By regularly blogging about what you’re working on, what you think about it and what’s next for your company and industry, blogging professionals can likely see small issues that either can be fixed readily or can be applied to re-tool existing, inefficient processes. There’s a reason Silicon Valley companies are so successful; the lack of non-compete clauses allow ideas to flow and people to share (in real life, not just blogs, of course).

Expert Status
No one really knows what it means to be an expert. Is it a certain percentage of total knowledge about a particular subject? Is it knowing even a little bit more than everyone else? Does it require that you’ve done and shown your work?

Life is good for experts. People listen to their answers, invite them to speak and often pay them tidy sums of money for their insight. But how do experts let it be known that they are such?

We suggest talking about it. Perhaps they should try blogging.

Geek Events Need WiFi And Power

Whether you’re planning a conference for a few hundred execs, a few thousand salespeople or tens of developers/programmers, there is one commonality most venues don’t seem to have addressed. It’s not seating, stage tech, microphones or sight lines.

It’s not just one thing, either. It’s two: WiFi and power.

With so, so many smartphones and a plethora of netbooks and iPads carried by nearly everyone, WiFi access and power are paramount to busy attendees that never seem to remember to fully charge their devices before showing up.

One of these problems has an easy solution. The other requires expertise, equipment and money. Let’s start with the easy one, power.

Power Strips
There are never enough outlets to charge attendee laptops, smartphones and tablets. If you’re a lucky event organizer, attendees will show up with, at most, two of the three aforementioned items. But if you’re hosting a geek or tech focused event, be prepared to deal with all three.

This solution need not cost a ton of money, but there are plenty of ways to do it wrong, including:

-Using power strips with in-line outlets
-Clustering outlets in one place
-Not having a drop-off station for charging
-Not knowing where the outlets are at all

Don’t do the above things! Instead, work with your venue manager to either rent power strips (we’ve seen up to $10 each, which is pricey), ask attendees to bring their own, or go spend $100 on a bunch of nice strips with perpendicular outlets.

Even better are the octopus-like models that prevent any power adapters from covering any others.

WiFi
WiFi is a whole ‘nother issue. With so many facilities seemingly built in Faraday Cages, internet access through the facility becomes very important. And because so many attendees seem to need to connect multiple devices, access points become a problem.

I’ll say that again: access points are the problem. Seldom is the bandwidth the bottleneck, as most commercial pipes can easily handle typical email and web browsing. But if your network can’t dish out IPs and handle the fluctuating traffic, it doesn’t matter if your pipe is five or 50 megs.

Solution
Don’t try to fix this yourself. If the venue manager isn’t able to make the necessary improvements, we suggest hiring companies that specialize in event WiFi. For less time and money that it will take to buy access points or routers, set them up and manage them during the day, you’ll be able to hire a team to take care of all that for you.

Get What You Pay For
Many event planners may balk at this cost, preferring to handle the networking problems in house or at least buy their own equipment so it can be used again. If you’re the type that loves to carry around a ton of extra stuff and spend hours tinkering with network settings you likely don’t understand (trial and error is fine for home and small office networks, not so much for 500+ people), feel free.

Just let us know to bring our own hotspot.

Meet Windows Azure Event A Success

It can be tough to be a contractor or vendor at large company event run by many, many other contractors and vendors. While most professionals know what they’re doing, styles can clash, processes can grind on each other and personalities can plain not work together.

SOMA Party
Thankfully, our last event at Madrone Studios with Microsoft and a slew of other hard-working event professionals was not one of too-often-told nightmare scenarios. Sure, giveaways needed to be stuffed, tables had to be rearranged, layout changes were made more than once and there was even an improvised coat check, but save for a few hangnails and a box of red staff shirts that never made it, we’re happy to report Meet Windows Azure on June 6 a resounding success.

Invite Only
Tasked with designing an online registration system and event check-in service, co-founder Scott Cate worked closely with the Microsoft team to develop a solution that allowed them to invite specific guests and provide those guests with codes to share with their friends. The system Cate designed worked so well that we had nearly double capacity RSVPs before the doors opened, but thanks to some great planning by the Microsoft event team, we’d have had room even if they’d all shown up at once.

Urban Party
This Meet Windows Azure event was the biggest host Madrone Studios has produced so far. The small studio space in SOMA had its own quirks (one entrance, kitchen in the far back, scant parking) not unlike every other urban venue, but come event time, it didn’t matter much.

Block Party
Thanks to some proactive thinking, Microsoft had the street in front of Madrone Studios closed to accommodate overflow guests, lunch served from catering stations, food trucks during dinner time and a huge DJ stage headlined by Steve Aoki of crowd-surfing-in-an-inflatable-raft and sheet-cake-throwing fame. While we saw more than a few hard-core networkers last from doors opening at 11:30am until Aoki’s closing set at 9:30pm, we know there’s no way anyone walked away bored.

But before we go on and on (and on) about the parties, let’s talk about why everyone was there in the first place, Windows Azure.

“Windows Azure enables you to quickly build, deploy and manage applications across a global network of Microsoft-managed datacenters. You can build applications using any operating system, language or tool.”

Azure is currently road tripping around the nation giving live-streamed chats about features, pricing, best practices, technology and a host of other community-minded topics, all in to showcase how powerful Azure really is. By the way, if you’ve watched the NFL or Olympics online, you’ve used Azure (it’s amazing).

We won’t go into the geeky details here, because Scott Guthrie and his group of Microsoft speakers can do a far better job.

We’re happy to have helped them introduce Windows Azure to the rest of the world. See you on the live streams!

How To Overcome 3 Types Event Planner Overload

There’s no such thing as a low-stress event planner position. With the frustrations of staying on budget, inevitable client changes, and the never-exciting fun of issues outside most human control, we feel confident saying that event planning should be left to only those willing to bear the brunt of life’s problems.

That’s really the key. Events aren’t just about logistics or venues or food or speakers, they’re about people. Attendees each have specific needs that all need to be met now, and offending them isn’t going to make an event planner’s job even easier.

And those logistics, venues, food and speakers we mentioned earlier? Yeah, they’ll have needs, too. Add sponsors, shareholders and client bosses into the mix and we’re surprised event planners stay on the job for months, let alone years.

We’ve identified three instances of overload and how to deal with them.

Digital Overload
You’d think advanced digital tools and fancy social media apps would make it easier, not harder, to manage millions and billions of bits and bytes that pass through our inbox/stream/wall daily. If you’re familiar with how to deal with massive amounts of email, we bet you’ll be able to transfer those lessons to any of your digital inboxes.

Quick tip…most messages you get can be read and deleted without worry. Trust us.

Attention Overload
No matter whether it’s analog or digital, boss or client, attendee or sponsor or even spouse or kid, we humans do a poor job of paying attention to more than one thing at a time. Sure, we all CALL it multitasking, but a better name would be DoingManyThingsPoorlyAllAtOnceTasking, which doesn’t roll off the tongue that well.

If you think it’s ADD or ADHD, think again. Attention deficit trait, or ADT, is a new, completely environmentally caused disorder that often prevents people from performing up to their abilities.

Because event planners are often the hub of communication, being able to ignore or absorb interruptions and properly delegate non-urgent, non-important notifications to someone else could work wonders.

We recommend turning off your phone in the evening. Stay away from email for a few hours. Let those tweets slide right on by. Establish open office hours to help mitigate interruptions during productive times.

Think you’ll get bored? Maybe at first, but you’ll produce far better work.

Information Overload
While digital and attention overload are bad enough, the real problem most people think they face is that there is just too much information out there to adequately process or ignore. The reasoning for this is simple: the more we know, the (usually) better.

We doubt that phrase ever took into account endless opportunities to garner information. It’s one thing to read three papers every morning, it’s entirely another thing to read everything on the web. We recommend pruning a bit.

Focus on three things. Just three topics. Find out everything you can about them, and then move on. It’s not impossible, but it sure isn’t easy.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m now going to read a book while surfing online in front of my monitor playing MLB.TV. I said three things, right?