This is a tale of two conference-goers. One is part of the fastest growing segment in live events. The other is flatlining. One is connecting. The other siloed. One has transparent interests. The other opaque. One embraces brands. The other ignores them.
Unlike the Dickensian classic, this is not an either/or situation. You can have both. Fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la.
Before Twitter. Before LinkedIn. People attended conferences. They attended sessions. They visited some booths. They caught up with friends. They went home. Let’s call these conference-goers BS: Before Social.
BS conference attendance hasn’t grown in a decade. Look at the biggest conference in your sector. BS attendance is remarkably unremarkable. Average professional attendance at the top 16 healthcare conferences in 2013 edged up a scant 1.3%, so says the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association (HCEA). No more people and not much more life. Flatline. Still, brands fixate over where to place their ads.
To reach BS conference-goers, marketers plaster ads everywhere. Count the number of BSers who pass the ad. Pretend they all notice the ad and that they all matter to the brand. Bingo, a purported ROI for BS attendees.
The Fastest-growing and Most-connected Live Event Segment
The action today is with social clinicians. The number of clinicians who tweet about the conference during the actual conference is up 81% year-over-year. People active on social media for at least one year have 11 times more social connections than social neophytes. Our collaborative conference app, zen, gleaned these insights. That growth and those connections accelerate the spread of information and increase the brands attached to the dialogue.
Still, “conferences matter to brands—it’s like the Super Bowl,” says Paulette McCarron, SVP/Group Media Director at CMI. “As an industry, we need better tools to determine who actually interacted with our messages and if the engagement led to valuable and measurable behavior. The years of throwing away dollars are over, and it’s incumbent upon us to seek out or develop these tools ourselves.”
She nailed it.
Target Those With Transparent Interests
Integrated technology types, or ITs use myriad social tools to get the most from conferences. They message on Twitter. They check in on FourSquare. They connect on Linkedin. Clinicians who use new tools share their passions in exchange for a better experience.
Natasha Burgert, MD, pediatrician, blogger, mom, technofile and Twitter-maven with more than 10,000 followers, declared in a tweet, “Social media is as important to me… as my stethoscope.” There is so much content now, clinicians need new tools to curate it. Social media lets people curate their experience. It simplifies choices, aids discovery and enables collaboration.
Still, ITs want more. “Conferences can be navigational nightmares,” says radiation oncologist John Ian Pereira, MD.
The vice president of product strategy for one large neurological product told us, “The world is changing. An ad in a stale digital product may sound state-of-the-art, but it isn’t. We want to be where the action is. As a sophisticated brand, we want to be part of the dialogue. The best way to do that is to add value.”
ITs Embrace Brands Who Bring Value
ITs seek value. Brands that provide value can win. BIG. AstraZeneca offers a late-breaking news app. Brands that offer or support innovative tools will engage audiences, understand behavior and have more measurable outcomes.
We’d love to offer you more concrete examples of brand successes engaging ITs. There aren’t any. This is such a new space—few brands are here. Innovation doesn’t have to be scary. Look for products that make the experience personal or that inherently consider social elements.
One brand director offered this, “We could keep doing more of the same: Placing advertisements in the traditional space. Or we could do something that aligned our brand with evolving clinician needs. We went with the latter. Our media agency planned a tactic around a new type of product that offered conference attendees a more personalized experience as they choose which sessions to attend. Clinicians used it and our impressions exceeded expectations during one of our most important conferences.”
Listen to him. He won an award for bringing new ideas to ITs at conferences—no BS.