by Michael J. Shapiro | November 01, 2010

Location, location, location. The real-estate mantra is just as applicable in the world of social media, with the increasing popularity of applications like Foursquare, Goalla and, now, Facebook that note (and broadcast) their users' geographical location. This geo-location technology has many potential uses in the networking environment of a trade show, which is precisely why the social media team at the Association for Manufacturing Technology sought to include it in their approach to this past September's International Manufacturing Technology Show.  

Organizers ran into some obstacles along the way, however. First, the IMTS team found that their semi-annual, six-day event, which would attract more than 82,000 attendees, required a higher level of customer service than some geo-location applications could offer. Second, the entire show was to take place in Chicago's McCormick Place. "It's huge," points out the association's marketing communications manager, Monica Haley. "Most shows don't use the whole facility, and we do. We're 1.1 million-plus square feet. So, if you check in to McCormick [using a geo-location app], and I'm sitting up in the offices on level 400, that doesn't mean anything to me. It could be a quarter-mile walk for me to find you."

Determining a way for attendees to "check in" to different locations was a major challenge. Should they check in by booth? The show had more than 1,200 of them. Or by pavilion? There were nine pavilions at this year's IMTS. And any check-in location would first have to be registered with the geo-location service the team decided to use.

Ultimately, the IMTS team elected to use SCVNGR, an application through which the organizers could create scavenger hunt-like experiences called "treks." "It allowed us to push them to all these corners of the show, in a way we've never been able to do before, and have the user enjoy themselves," Haley explains. For instance, one challenge on the trek was designed so that attendees would check out some nanotechnology tools. Participants had to find what was sitting on top of a microscopic chess board in one exhibit, and look through a microscope lens to do so (the object in question was an ant). "By looking for all this stuff we've put into the treks, the attendees are basically checking in and experiencing the show in a completely different way than you would if you were just walking around," says Haley.

As a bonus, use of the SCVNGR app was paid for by the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, which is piloting the program for its own purposes as well -- primarily, to encourage visitors to engage more with the city and its businesses. The CCTB had created three city treks of its own this past summer. For the show, the bureau worked with organizers to select 24 different location points within McCormick Place to create their treks. Attendees who completed the treks received discounts at the IMTS store.

"The people who participated in it stopped to tell us that they really enjoyed it," Haley recounts. The number of participants was small -- only 25 to 30 -- but IMTS hadn't done any pre-show advertising for it. For the next event, says Haley, they're hoping for at least 10 times as many people to join the treks.