A Super Nerdy Way to Think about Growing an Event Community

Posted on April 30th, 2012 by Michelle in Strategy

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.

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6 Comments on “A Super Nerdy Way to Think about Growing an Event Community”

  1. Tony Lorenz

    Spot on Michelle. As we have discussed together, the Industry Network under
    development at bXb Online, it is clear you have been listening and see the value.

    Thanks for putting even more light on a productive model for our industry going forward.

  2. Chris Heuer

    Just to be clear, I have paid for SxSW in the past and spoken there several times. I went badge less this year because the event has become, IMHO, difficult for participants to realize the value of the badge, with events of interest across town from one another and traffic very busy, it’s near impossible. Session quality has become even more uneven with some incredibly insightful sessions poorly attended and some with standing room only being very poor.

    Also to be clear, this year, I didn’t attend any official events other then one’s I was covering as a blogger/video podcaster for a couple corporatie supporters. This is in stark contrast to some people who tried to sneak into events with fake credentials, which I highly detest and do not advocate for.

    Badgeless

  3. Michelle

    Tony:
    Thanks for your comment. What I love about the Industry Network idea–a grouping of online content channels for major industries–is that it’s a very precise solution for addressing a huge deficit in our live event industry. Meanwhile, Chris Heuer’s idea about EPIs is another way to address the same problem on an organization by organization basis. It seems to me that we are all thinking about how to bring a traditional business model into the 21st century.
    Thanks,

    Michelle

  4. Michelle

    Chris:

    Thank you again for chiming in. I’m glad you clarified your motivations about being Badgeless because this type of phenomenon is of intense interest to those of us in the event organization industry. It speaks to the problem of offering content and experiences that appeal to senior members of our user communities and how organizations should deal with uber success. That said, thank you for your comments on the idea of an EPI. I hope that it sparks further conversation in our industry.
    Michelle

  5. Dennis Shiao

    Michelle: interesting term, ““frictionless customized engagement,” as your definition of face-to-face events’ unique value proposition. If we turn this into the acronym “FCE,” it would be interesting to review events based on their FCE index (or worthiness).

    Also interesting that you use the word “frictionless,” as Facebook has used it to describe their “frictionless sharing.” I wonder if there’s an appropriate model whereby attendees can opt in to have their activity (within the event) shared [frictionlessly, of course] to their social graph – and, among other attendees.

    Regarding the API concept, check out a company called Factual: http://www.factual.com/about. “We provide clean, structured data with complete source transparency to developers via both download and API access on liberal terms … Factual aggregates data from many sources including partners, user community, and the web, and applies a sophisticated machine-learning technology stack …”

    If the company were to build out a “Factual for Events” and exposed event data via an API, it could enable an ecosystem of app developers to create neat utilities across many events. What do you think?

  6. Michelle

    Nerds are in the house! Dennis, I guess you are on to me man :). There are no new ideas anymore, just new ways to interpret them. Actually, I stole the frictionless idea from a comment Julien Smith (Trust Agents) made once and it was reinforced by a trip last Sunday to the Apple Store to buy a new power cord. I was in and out in 10 minutes. The representative allowed me to pay right from the store floor (no waiting in line at the cash register), he emailed me my receipt AND he noticed that I was paying with a company credit card so he discussed with me the benefits of their Apple Business Training. Frictionless Customized Engagement.

    So the question for me is, why does our industry cling so mightily to outdated ways of doing business? We are sitting on a gold mine of data, customer preferences and business intelligence that we only want to offer to the highest (and fittest bidder)? Here’s a new term: Event Darwinism.

    A “Factual for Events” could be a huge boost to app developers, but it could also help people generate ideas, synergies and relationships that could grow the event audience and the industry.

    Thank you again for such beautiful insight.

    Michelle

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