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January 28, 2019
Back in 2015, I introduced five trends I expected would have a major impact on making events stand out. But since four years is practically a generation in the world of technology, I wanted to revisit the initial predictions I made, as well as introduce the new trends I’m looking forward to as event management technology has continued to evolve. Did mobile event apps, iBeacons, event analytics, interactivity, or gamification have the impact I’d predicted they would? What new trends have eclipsed them in the event space? Let’s dive in together.
Back when I first wrote this article, I predicted that “it’s a good bet event apps will be the tool with the largest impact on the conference industry in 2015.” Not only do I believe this trend fully materialized, I believe it continues to grow in importance today, in 2019. As my colleague Julia Sousa noted recently, “It’s all about the attendee experience” – and when it comes to experience, event apps deliver.
On the floor of a major conference or event, apps make it possible to quickly preview schedules, uncover networking opportunities, identify priority exhibitors to visit, and find needed amenities around the venue. It should come as no surprise that the 2018 Event App Bible produced by Event Manager Blog reported that 91% of 1,000 survey respondents believe that event apps are still relevant, or that a study from Global Experience Specialists found that “91% of event planners who have incorporated an event app have experienced positive event ROI.”
Mobile event apps have their challenges. As the Event App Bible notes, GDPR compliance and Apple App Store updates relating to templated apps released in 2017 are both concerns for mobile app producers. But given that the same report predicts 26% potential growth for event apps over the next year, it seems safe to say that the impact of these considerations will be manageable.
The potential impact of beacons on event personalization remains indisputable. But have they taken off the way I predicted they would? The answer appears to be both yes and no.
Since I first published this article, a number of notable events have gone on to use beacon technology, including Mobile World Congress, the Detroit Auto Show, the Bonnaroo music festival and more. Additional types of beacons have been developed that are carried by attendees, such as in the form of lanyard beacons on event badges. This adoption shouldn’t be surprising, given that “proximity-aware event apps are found to be 235% more engaging than standard mobile apps at events,” according to Beaconstac’s Devika Girish.
However, there are worrying signs as well. Though Apple launched the first beacon technology – iBeacon – in 2013, it was quickly followed by Google’s hardware-agnostic Eddystone platform (part of its Physical Web initiative) and the Nearby app for Android and iOS in 2015. However, in October 2017, Google removed Physical Web support from its Android and iOS Chrome applications, and discontinued Nearby notifications entirely in December 2018, citing an increase in “locally irrelevant notifications.”
Of course, beacon usage at events is quite different than retail usage. But reading through event blogs, I’m still seeing a number of articles continuing to introduce the benefits of beacon usage – such as Event’s April 2018 article, “Is Proximity Beacon Technology the Missing Piece to Your Event?” This suggests to me that beacons aren’t yet fully understood and haven’t reached potential peak adoption in the event space in particular (perhaps due to privacy concerns on the part of users).
I’ll keep watching this one as we move into 2019, though I’m not as optimistic as I was in 2015.
No one would argue that analytics have diminished in importance since 2015, which is why I’m comfortable predicting this trend to continue through 2019 and beyond.
One interesting change from this article’s initial publication, however, is the way different apps have diverged in their approaches to analytics. The proliferation in the number of event apps out there means that each has a slightly different take on the data that’s gathered and how it’s interpreted.
If you’re shopping for an event app solution these days, it isn’t important to just ask whether or not it has analytics available. Now, you have to drill down to the core features that are most relevant to your company. Do you need real-time analytics? Do you need the ability to heat map your venue? Are you more concerned about measuring event ROI or sponsor engagement? Ask these and other questions of yourself before choosing a solution.
It’s also worth noting that analytics generation depends on app adoption. If you want to make event app analytics a higher priority in 2019, it’s just as important that you focus on ensuring as many attendees as possible are using your solution.
As with analytics adoption, the use of interactivity in conferences and events continues to expand as event app development grows. Google’s Demo Day program, for example, now uses its event app to facilitate voting for its Audience Choice awards. Audience keypad voting, polling and quizzing features are now commonplace at events.
One other area where I’ve noticed increased interactivity recently is through the use of real-time speaker feedback gathering. Rather than handing attendees paper forms after each session (and trusting that they’ll find their way to you, not the garbage can), event apps make it possible for session participants to quickly share feedback while it’s fresh in their minds.
Like beacons, gamification appears to have enjoyed more success outside of the events space than within it to this point. For instance, according to a MarketsandMarkets report, “the global gamification industry will be valued at $11.1 billion by 2020, up from $1.65 billion in 2015.” Yet, despite this potential growth, the team at MCI Experience notes that, “although gamification is a concept which has been around for a number of years now, it’s still an idea that is relatively unfamiliar to many people in the events industry.”
In part, I believe some of this disconnect lies in challenges differentiating gamification from interactivity. Interactive polling and quizzing, for example, can share elements of gamification, depending on how they’re deployed. But as Himani Sheth writes on Medium, gamification can be so much more, potentially encompassing activities such as scavenger hunts to orient participants to the layout of the venue, reward-driven networking games and more.
I’ll continue to watch this one as technology and adoption grow.
Since 2015, the use of chatbots – through Facebook Messenger and apps like Drift – has exploded in popularity. I can see tremendous potential for their usage within conferences and events, such as the ability to answer quick questions regarding ticket level access, session room assignments and the location of amenities within the venue.
Morgan Howard, a freelance customer experience manager, shares her experience working on a Facebook Messenger bot that answered fan queries at the Sound on Sound Fest music festival. “It was automated, and able to answer a lot of customer questions with a great success rate,” she says. “Fans got the instant gratification of receiving a response.”
However, I can also see them running into many of the same challenges faced by traditional event apps – namely, adoption. If no one knows the feature is there, it won’t get used. That chatbots can only answer simple questions that don’t require human intelligence may also limit their usefulness in the context of the events, but I can also see them providing conference organizers with valuable event data. If a significant volume of questions are asked at a certain time or on a particular topic, that could indicate that better education or additional human support is needed.
One emerging trend identified by the Event App Bible is the use of voice search features or “Siri-like responses” in event apps. This is understandable, given that “50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020, according to comScore.”
People have grown accustomed to asking questions of Siri, Alexa and other voice search-enabled technologies, rather than typing them into search engines. It’s reasonable to assume they’d expect to be able to translate this same behavior to their conference and event apps, which is why I expect we’ll see more event technology adopt this approach in 2019 and beyond.
One final trend I’m watching are the many potential applications of different virtual reality (VR) technologies at conferences and major events, growing out of the recent release of affordable, self-contained VR devices like the Oculus Go.
Not only could exhibitors and vendors use these technologies to give attendees the full experience of their products and services, speakers and presenters could use them in an educational context to make session materials more engaging than standard lecture-style delivery.
Given that the Oculus Go currently retails for $199 per unit, providing a headset for every conference or session attendee may not yet be practical. However, as the technology becomes more ubiquitous and prices come down, I expect we’ll see it used more and more at conferences and events.
What technologies have you used to make your events stand out? Any you’d add to this list? Share your thoughts below:
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