Chris Heuer of the Social Media Club and a member of the SXSW Badgeless movement closed our recent Twitter conversation about attendees that attend, but don’t pay at SXSW with the following comment:
@michellebruno make it easier for the related communities the event serves to participate, maybe #EPI not #API, Event Programming Interface
Heuer’s tweet made me think about the parallels between organizations in the live event industry and device manufacturers (among others) that use application programming interfaces (API) to grow a community of users—one that can be monetized.
In simple terms, an API is the gateway, tools and implicit permission that hardware manufacturers make available to enable third-party application developers to create products and services around its products. Think about the Apple iPhone and all of the independent companies that develop apps for it. More applications = more reasons for people to own iPhones.
The concept of an API isn’t limited to hardware manufacturers. Oren Michels of API management firm, Mashery, told Mashable that, “Ultimately, the API is a means for growing your business — and I use the term ‘business’ to include whatever your mission is, be it traffic or commerce or a nonprofit improving the world or a government entity serving its constituents — faster and larger by virtue of engaging with others. Understand how and why your API can do that and you will be successful. ”
If what Michels says is true, live event organizers (nonprofit associations and for-profit companies) have to re-think their mission and their modus operandi. In my Twitter exchange with Chris Heuer, we discussed the need for SXSW organizers to find ways to include even the non-paying attendees, especially those like Heuer who have contributed to the wellbeing of the festival by blogging and paying in the past and are legitimate members of the broader interactive community that SXSW aims to serve. If SXSW’s mission is reach and retain a larger community, they will have to develop some type of outreach—not unlike an API—to accomplish that goal.
All face-to-face event organizers share a common mission: to grow revenue opportunities by growing their communities. This goal exists at a time when the live event industry—trade shows and conferences in particular—is under pressure. Event organizers can only access a fraction of the community of potential users. New research indicates that the potential of face-to-face events is limited because total visitor time at events is decreasing. At the same time, corporate budgets are being overtaken by digital marketing expenditures, digital channels can be as productive for the discovery of new product information as face-to-face events and live event participation is fraught with friction for participants.
An API model could be the gateway for live event organizers to expand the revenue, retention and reach of their unique value proposition (UVP), which is NOT, by the way, the ability to bring buyers and sellers together face-to-face. Since the UVP of b-to-b event organizers in the digital age is, I believe, “frictionless customized engagement,” an API from a live event organization should facilitate access to two classes of information and draw two types of net new community members:
On the event level: attendee feedback, demographic information, customer preferences, audit data, organizational challenges, task force findings, sponsor/exhibitor case studies, exhibitor advisory committee discussions and other information allows application developers—mobile, virtual, social and other technology suppliers—to derive solutions. More technology solutions = less friction for event participants = more attendee/exhibitor/sponsor participation.
On the industry level: research (free or low cost), education (free webinars), digital events, data, news, industry challenges, demographics, statistics, thought leadership, think tank discussions, case studies, white papers, content and other information makes it easier for new companies and individuals to offer solutions around it. More solutions = a growing industry = an expanded event community.
Of course, the use of an API-like outreach model requires work. The care and feeding of the solution developers and new community members is no small feat. However, it just makes sense that in the Information Age, live event organizers should use information to improve their events and grow their communities of potential participants.