For conference and event planners, many of whom plan meetings nine months or more in advance, getting early warning on what's coming is critical. Here are the major trends we'll see in the event technology space over the coming year.
The social revolution is not over; in fact, it hasn't even peaked. What has happened is that the first-generation experience has begun to calcify, and the next wave of social experiences is beginning to emerge. Increasing numbers of events are deploying private, branded social networks for their attendees, where they can meet and network with others who share their specific areas of interest. Additionally, these networks don't shut down when the event ends and can be used before, during and after by the communities, creating 365-day engagement.
Meanwhile, Facebook is approaching the saturation point, with 71 percent of online adults using it (up from 67 percent a year ago). Pinterest has surpassed Twitter, with 21 percent and 18 percent of online adults using each, respectively, according to the Pew Research Center. Snapchat, though growing quickly with the 23-and-under set, has not had much of an impact on the event space.
Attendees become participants
Engaging audiences has always been a critical goal for conferences, so watch for interactive software that allows speakers to share their presentations in real time, improving the overall attendee experience. Solutions like SlideKlowd allow speakers to monitor how many audience members are logged in, run polls and surveys, and receive direct feedback and questions.
Event and conference planners have long referred to the people who come to events as "attendees," but 2014 will see this begin to decline. The audience no longer sees themselves as quiet bystanders but as a part of the presentation, influencing sessions in real time and sharing their takeaways and experiences through social media.
Mobile event guides take center stage
Much to the dismay of printers, mobile event guides are quickly replacing large magazine-like conference brochures. Not only are they easily accessible and always available via the cloud, they can be updated instantly as changes occur. In 2014, these guides no longer will be considered as "nice to have." Mobile event apps include must-have features like personalized schedules, presenter listings, social media integration, interactive maps, news feeds and attendee responses. Organizers also can increase revenue selling sponsorships to a highly targeted community.
Wearable technology was the byword at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, but what takes the consumer world by storm this year may not hit events until next year. Don't expect to see iWatch or Google Glass except as a booth gimmick, but Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices that automate check-in, eliminating long lines and searching through printed attendee lists will continue to grow. RFID also can be used to enable cashless payments that, according to Intellitix, can increase attendee spending by 15 to 30 percent.
IT loses power
As more Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms continue to be used, IT departments will no longer have the stranglehold on data and reports they have long enjoyed. Whether it's accessing an association management system (AMS), a customer relationship management (CRM) system, or a data visualizaton and analytics tool, having access to multiple departments within an organization makes event management seamless and efficient. With just a few clicks, stakeholders can have a real-time view on all aspects of an event, such as registration, marketing, logistics and more.
API and integration across the cloud
Cloud-based services with robust application programming interfaces are allowing previously siloed experiences like registration, CRM, session selection, mobile access and exhibitor listings to come together in a single, integrated experience. This benefits attendees, who have one-stop access to all their personalized event information, as well as the organizer, whose work is made easier by having multiple systems integrated for cross-platform communication. For example, integrating a registration system with an attendee's online event profile encourages use, eliminates double entry and saves work, allowing for more time to plan who and what they want to see.
The event industry is in the midst of a sea change in how technology can be used to improve the overall experience. By digitizing the conference with social, mobile and cloud-based tools, event managers will increase the value they offer their attendees.
Jordan Schwartz is the CEO of Pathable, a digital experience platform and social networking service for conferences and events. He also leads a team of 60,000 bees in producing organic honey.