Bringing social media into the ballroom
As publishers look for innovative ways to host events in the digital space, they’re also exploring ways to utilize digital technology to make their live events more interactive. One promising trend: bringing social media into the ballroom.
Think of it as giving conference attendees a way to share the stage with presenters. After all, audiences already provide a running commentary of live events via Twitter and other social media sites. These days, once the lights go down and the speaker takes the stage, attendees whip out their Blackberries and iPhones and begin tweeting away.
Why not capture that feedback and present it back to attendees in real time? That’s one way to turn passive attendees into active participants, leveraging digital technology and the popularity of smart phones to create a more compelling and engaging live event.
“The un-conference attitude is, let’s hear from the crowd,” says David Cutler, CMO of Aerva, a Cambridge, Mass., software developer. “We need to be more flexible. We need to ask what people want. What direction should we take this conversation in?”
Aerva sells software that lets companies deliver social media and other content to digital displays installed at any venue. The software enables a company hosting an event, for example, to manage and distribute simultaneous streams of content from Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and RSS feeds, along with their own rich media content, to onsite attendees. The software also provides support for mobile phone functions such as polling, picture-to-screen and text-to-screen posting of content, creating a platform for real-time interactions.
The end result? Picture an on-stage presentation in which the speaker’s slides are accompanied by a steady stream of audience commentary on Twitter. Or a poll asking attendees to vote via their smart phones on a question relevant to the conference or session topic, with the answers appearing in real time onscreen.
“We want content to go both ways,” says Aerva CEO Sanjay Manandhar. “Most of it is coming at the viewer, but the viewer can also deliver content back to the platform.”
Aerva demonstrated its interactive digital display solution at Ogilvy & Mather’s Outernet event in September. During the event sessions, Aerva’s software displayed Twitter messages, questions for speakers, poll results and other content uploaded by attendees.
This type of user-generated show content can also be packaged and published on the event host's website, giving non-attendees a sense of the interaction that’s happening at the live event.
And it’s trackable as well.
“It’s hard to measure what the audience is doing at an event if you’re just sending stuff out to them,” says Manandhar. Tracking user comments and other transactions can give event planners new insights into which sessions are engaging attendees the most. “You can get a lot of macro data out of these micro transactions,” he adds.