A new class of powerful, inclusive, popular and engaging events liberated from the straitjacket of space-time by the convergence of usable new media technologies is ushering at your door: X-events are next.
Photo credit: XLucas
But let me explain myself better: Online (and offline) events should not be confined anymore by physical the space-time boundaries of when and where the event actually occurs.
The convergence of new media communication and collaboration technologies like RSS, wikis, blogs, podcasts, discussion forums, as well as social media outlets with more traditional information delivery channels like newsletters or mailing lists offers an opportunity for extremely rich, engaged and dynamic communities to be built around the core track topics and themes of any conference or event.
The best way to explain X-events is to start simple.
Consider for example a physical conference for which a community site is built beforehand and in which participants, lecturers and sponsors start interacting and actively engaging with each other way before the physical event starts.
Think also of an event that while takes place in physical space it is also re-broadcast and made accessible in multiple ways, providing access and different levels of interaction to those attending live as well as to those at a distance.
Imagine the breadth and richness of content options that can be skillfully created out of the many interactions the virtual event communities have been able to generate.
Or the many possible compilations, playlists, and collections of user filtered and edited multimedia content that could be created after the event was over.
It is in the ability to merge and synergize the tremendous potential of new media communication, collaboration and community creation technologies with the attraction and interest generated by a live event guests and key issues that revolutionary communication and marketing potential of X-events really lies.
Live events are a great opportunity to market, showcase, demo, present and introduce new ideas, as well as products. But, if you have ever been behind one, you will have realized how complex is the organization of the logistics, and how swift, skilled and prompt the team running the show must be.
Given all this investment in organization, and stuff, how significant would be the additional cost of extending the event fully into virtual space by leveraging, in a synergistic, organic and well planned out fashion all of the most relevant new media technologies to enable a community and an extended conversation to form online around the event.
Consider the infinite number of revenue options that can be born out of commoditizing the conference and creating a hot passionate and lively community that generates all kinds of relevant content around any given theme.
Imagine how fantastic it would be if you could engage your favorite speakers before the actual conference and with your questions and contributions shape the topic and discussions for the live event.
I have played with this idea for the first time back in January 2005, when I wrote this article, "Events Break Out Of The Physical Space-Time Prison. Time-Extended Conversations Are Coming: X-Events".
Some years have passed but my feelings have not changed.
Actually, I am much more convinced now than I was then of the tremendous benefits and advantages that extended-events could bring to all parties involved.
X-events or "extended events" are a yet-to-be-realized form of conference that extends well beyond the physical event boundaries, into time (before, during and after the event) and through multiple media formats.
X-Events are events which are planned and carried out in a continuous experience that merges offline physical events and online conversations.
In other words: X-Events are typical conferences, social events or physical gatherings of some kind that extend their lifetime, reach and value by extending their active engagement potential with their participants by intelligently integrating community tools, content delivery and distribution channels, social media marketing, live and asynchronous collaboration tools much before, during and long after the actual event has taken place.
Say you have an international event focusing on "web publishing" taking place a few months from now. Say you have a large international audience of interested participants that will come to the event and a good selected group of speakers who will showcase their know-how at the event.
How could you transform your traditional 2-day conference in an "extended-event" that provides greater engagement and value to participants and presenters as well as providing you with broader and longer visibility, extra opportunities for sponsorship and sales as well as greater opportunities for quality business networking among all stakeholders?
How can a physical conference take best advantage of all the new media communication, collaboration and social media tools to extend its lifespan and engagement reach well beyond the physical event itself while generating an engaged and passionate community around itself?
Here some starting ideas to consider :
1) Before the Event
- Open a blog and a RSS feed for the event and start providing, value-rich information about the event in a periodic, consistent and systematic way.
- Create a story around the preparation for the event and around the people involved in this. Find a key character to narrate the story and keep audience on top the latest happenings.
- Open a forum or a Ning-style interactive community where discussion and relevant issues for the event can take off right now.
- Complement forum topics with a distribute video commenting platform like Seesmic which can allow a forum like experience which is not text-based but video based. Video commenting can be very good for engaging in lively, passionate discussions as well as in brainstorming sessions or analysis/focus groups.
- Inject some social media components allowing the community to contaminate and cross-fertilize itself. Let people discover each other profiles and interests, provide feedback on the most followed discussion items and provide ways for users to contribute relevant pointers and links.
- Integrate a presentation publishing platform like Slideshare for all participants to use, and promote relevant and related presentations to the topics of the event.
- Create a set of manually edited newsradars (topic specific hand-edited news channels gathering best news and stories from all sources out there), generated by moderators or community members and focusing on the very specific themes of the conference itself.
- Market the event by using a mailing list and by developing a meaningful story that builds up momentum up to the X-event launch.
2) During the Event
- Enable a live reporting platform for any qualified participant or media representative who wants to use to report about specific sessions. Tools like CoverItLive provide all of the features an in-session reporter may ever need. Consider opening up a limited number of seats for voluntary official reporters for each session and monetize the sponsorship opportunity they create.
- Support and make it easy for all participants to access live audio and video streaming tools to enable as wide and comprehensive real-time capture of all of the event happenings from as many different viewpoints as possible. From the live sessions to the informal networking in the allies.
- Let participants engage among themselves and with presenters and among themselves during live sessions by creating dedicated Twitter channels and groups for real-time discussion and feedback.
- Utilize also more traditional and well established real-time communication tools like like text chat and IRC channels. These technologies can still go a long way in providing effective real-time conversation back channels for each live presentation in the event.
- Offer the opportunity to premium (paying) participants and/or to the press to sit down and video interview, alongside other prominent news reporters and bloggers the key personalities presenting at the conference.
- Leverage Friendfeed social aggregation capabilities to provide a parallel information distribution channel for key event related personalities and events.
- Create thematic newsradars (topic specific news channels) on the specific topics the conference covers. Newsradars can provide immediate value to an extended event by providing a comprehensive digest of the most relevant news and issues on any topic.
- Provide conferencing spaces for live events to have a parallel venues available to presenters and participants before and after the live session. Also consider modelling live event sessions around the opportunity to be both live and at a distance by engaging and responding appropriately to both audiences. Allow participants to promote and deliver complementary keynotes, panels and sessions in a barcamp-like spirit on a set of virtual stages dedicated to them.
- Hire editors and moderators to create and maintain key wiki guides on every key session / track taking place at the event. Parallel events, other contributions and related sessions, live discussions, related resources and user contributed materials should all be easily reached by maintaining a well organized and always up-to-date set of wiki pages.
3) After the Event
- Keep the conversation going. Maintain open the key most active forums, discussion and conversational areas and aggregate all of the related content into highly focused content channels. Look at it this way: any event, when transformed to an X-event is an opportunity to put in movement a series of mechanisms that can create / generate a number of highly valuable content channels. These shouldn't be seen as useless and expensive-to-maintain content marketing channels but as ultimate revenue-generating community-driven dynamic communities bonded together by one of the themes / personalities / issues the event has brought forward.
- Develop and design with your most loyal community participants your next year event, starting from the very discussions you have kept open. Let your newly developed communities design your next conference by participating in identifying topics, speakers, events and formats improvements that they want to see happen. What a great way to bond more with an event audience and to crowdsource its insight and desires to improve your offering.
- Showcase all of the event videos and key presentations. Make it easy and simple to access all of this content in a variety of formats: Streaming video, downloadable clip, MP3 audio, text transcription, premium option on DVD with special selected content. Consider utilizing more advanced presentation delivery tools like Instant Vcasmo to allow participants to create synched mashups of live video recordings with the actual slideshow presentations delivered.
- Integrate social conversational components to each content item. Make it easy for people to add comments, tags and to start new discussion threads under each show / presentation. Allow each one performance to become a smaller pivot point for social aggregation, communication and networking.
- Create visual navigable spaces by using tools like Google Maps or Microsoft Photosynth allowing the participants to enhance the discovery of the physical event physical surroundings, hotels, bar, cafes, nearby social venues.
- Facilitate the user-generated creation of image photo-albums about the event. Beyond the typical tag reference, used in these situations, allowing everyone uploading to public image sharing sites to make his pics associated with the event, reward individual participants to create multimedia photo-albums on specific themes and topics by using some of the many great visual story-telling tools like Scrapblog, Smilebox, VMix, OneTrueMedia, Mixercast, Vuvox, Flektor.
- Create user-generated video compilations of the most interesting sessions and topics by making it easy for participants to edit playlists of their video clips. From YouTube playlists to Magnify or Splashcast powerful features, there are a growing number of tools that do just this.
If my vision for X-events is correct, these are going to be outstandingly capable marketing, branding and advertising channels, giving extended life to any physical event while hugely increasing its potential audience interaction and profit potential.
Here are some of the immediately apparent benefits that X-events can bring to any company managing, organizing or designing the delivery of live events like typical conferences and seminars:
a) Larger audiences: As participants don't need to attend on a specific date/time, potential for participation is tremendously increased. Interested parties can access event recordings after the event at their leisure. For physical events this provides a significant extension of the reach and the possibility of scaling the number of participants to at least an order of magnitude.
b) Extension of communication and marketing reach. As a very significantly larger number people can attend, participate, subscribe, listen and attend asynchronously to extended events so does the reach for your message, brand, sponsorship, or product(s). All of the extended channels offer huge opportunities for highly targeted, contextual, non-intrusive marketing opportunities.
c) Greater opportunity for engagement and individual interaction: Participants both in the live event as well as in the extended post-event conversations have more opportunities to engage panelists, experts, speakers and companies/products being mentioned or showcased. Through the use of RSS newsfeeds, wikis, blogs and discussion forums, event tracks can be kept alive for an indefinite time before the event starts and long after the actual event is over. Multiple "vertical-communities" are created offering valuable high profile demographic with specific interests and characteristics.
d) Participatory design and delivery. Yes, grassroots X-event design is here. Who's going to grab it first? Participants can now become co-creators, contributors, editors, individual re-sellers and publishing houses for any event. If only we allowed them to! Who is to say that events need to designed by a non-transparently elected group of vested-interests representatives? Couldn't emancipated participants do a better job of it? Sure they could. Who better then them knows what they will want to buy, listen and attend to? Why take the risk of discovering all this at event time?
e) Great ROI, expanded profit, extended sales marketplace. X-events offer great opportunities to hugely increase event profit-margins by extending marketing and sales opportunities, without a need for expensive physical space and hugely expensive event-related logistical costs. The new X-event is grounded on an extended communication framework not on additional costs for physical infrastructures. The X-event enables major cost-savings matched by the potential for much higher quality output when the organizing team is able to fully realize the direct involvement of participants in the design and delivery of the X-event.
f) Greater opportunities for monetization: X-events generate lots of valuable participants attention on specific topics and issues. X-events can also generate huge quantities of valuable content which can be edited, compiled, annotated and packaged for digital delivery in an infinite number of formats. Such content can be monetized in multiple and overlapping ways by, for example:
X-events are as great an opportunity for engagement, interaction, social and business networking, user-generated content and more as they are challenging and very complex to plan, organize and maintain.
The key issue with X-events is that traditional event organizer are not too familiar with the new conversational marketing philosophy and do not have at their disposal the human resources and skills required to manage such an event.
X-events require many talented individuals with real experience in managing user-generated content, in moderating forums and in motivating communities of interest to engage with the selected issues, and in particular:
1. Having a talented X-event communication strategist. Someone who can aptly envision, plan and coordinate the unfolding of the X-event as an integrated whole.
2. Employing a skilled and experienced editorial team. Creating ongoing discussion topics, news radars, webcasts, interviews and podcasts, blogs, wikis and live chats requires skilled individuals who live and breathe the online world.
3. Selecting tools and technologies that are accessible to everyone. Having communication, presentation and collaboration tools that are both easy-to-use and accessible by all types of Internet users is a critical, essential requirement.
Yes, you read it right. A typical X-event setup is likely going to require a fully dedicated newsroom working to support this many, diverse tasks.
Also for X-events, planning from the very beginning where to go as well as defining well ahead of time they key objectives is, as in most other fields, a safe recipe for probable success.
Traditional events are going to transform themselves into ongoing conversations streams, as popular and successful as the topics and people participating and moderating them, and as credible and authoritative as the depth and value of the conversations they are able to generate.
X-events are a natural, spontaneous evolution of traditional physical events and they are characterized by the effective integration of communication and collaboration media with social community technologies to create an extended and ongoing multiplicity of news as well as lively conversation channels, which can start long before the actual physical event takes place and which can go on indefinitely after it.
X-events offer great benefits in terms of community creation, content generation, engagement and interaction, social and business networking, online visibility, marketing and monetization opportunities, by extending the topics and focus of the physical event into virtual space-time with the use of social, conversational and information-distribution technologies (RSS).
X-events represent the new "engagement marketing" frontier and those who will first master how to design, manage and deliver such rich multimedia experiences will likely be the remembered as the pioneers of a whole new of creating and delivering live events.
Even though most of the tools that would be needed to set-up an effective X-event have been out there for a while now, the true challenge is not only in integrating these into a coherent whole but having individuals who can see this vision and bring it to a plan that is certainly more challenging and complex than bringing together the typical tech conference. But so would be the success and rewards, I believe.
What it takes to make x-events happen, is greater appreciation of such an approach by those who organize and finance events. X-events require organizers to first understand what it takes to start and maintain multiple conversation channels open and alive. They must appreciate the value of creating topic-focused communities that are highly engaged. These are not easy tasks but this is what I set out here for myself to do.
Whether X-events will become more of a reality in 2009 it is hard to say, but given the visibility, engagement and opportunities for monetization that this new extended conferences can bring, it should not be long before we start seeing one we are interested in.
In my next article about X-Events I will look at all of the technologies needed to enable an effective extended event.
Photo credit: Originally re-written, edited, updated and mashed up from previous writings by Robin Good for Master New Media and first published on September 16th 2008 as "Live Events Strategy: Mashing Up Physical Conferences With Online Extended Events - Live Events Become X-Events"