Is your event worth the price of the ticket?

The other day I was discussing social reporting and other online activities for a £300-ticket, two-day event with the organiser, and he said: “Next year we are going to have to make it free”.

It really brought home to me how much the way that events are organised and priced is being changed by two influences, at least in the social media field: first, people can organise their own events much more easily by using online tools like Facebook, Meetup and Eventbrite. Secondly, it is relatively easy to extend your event by a mix of blogging, Twittering, video-streaming and networking as I’ve described in posts here.

So on the one hand it is more difficult to charge for the logistics, and on the other hand it is less easy to keep the content within the event. You have to work harder to provide value. That can be done – but it means organisers will have to be skilled on two fronts. They’ll have to be really good at the physical organising and also the briefing of speakers, facilitation, documentation and other content – not always the case. And in future they’ll have to blend online and offline activities. When this is done well – as I think it was for 2gether08, and will be this year – then it’s worth the price.

With all this in mind I put together a couple of pages for some clients to try and tease out what may be involved in bring online activities, including social reporting, to the face-to-face mix. It isn’t just an add-on, it potentially changes the event.

I took four event types and mapped them in to a simple model along dimensions of open-closed, and directed-collaborative. The types (keyed in to the diagram) are:

C. Traditional conference with closed access, brochure web site, no interaction online.
A. Limited interaction conference. Has a blog, maybe online networking and video.
D. Creative seminar, conference. The degree of openness and online interaction will be determined by the purpose of the event, and probably fairly limited in its reach in order to define the space.
B. Unconference, Barcamp or other fully interactive conference where participants create the programme and there’s lots of open online activity.

I’m not saying open, collaborative is always best. They can be done badly, and there are of course occasions when you may want a more closed environment. There’s other ways of modelling the differences. In doing the diagram and types, I was just trying to give my clients some starting points for discussion about what might be appropriate for them.

You can view the document on slideshare and download there.

Here’s the main text

Design and social reporting issues

  1. One person/organisation must co-ordinate the design and management of the event logistics, content and interactions, physically and virtually. They may engage more or less collaboratively with other stakeholders. They brief speakers, social reporters, tech support etc. They frame the offer to internal and external participants.
  2. On-the-day participants must have a clear offer on what they will get, what they can do, and how open or closed the event will be.
  3. Speakers and session leaders must know what interaction is expected of them, and how public their content will be.
  4. External participants must know whether they are passive viewers or active participants.
  5. Social reporters must be briefed clearly on the purpose of their activities: A. broadcast content plus some interaction. B. engage external as well as internal participants. C. collect archive material. D. support internal conversation.

The model above shows four typical types of event. Each has implications for the style of social reporting and the online tools likely to be appropriate. In practice, events probably won’t fall neatly into any one type, but the model should help discussion and decisions not only about social reporting but also the type of management and facilitation, ticket pricing, and expectations of all concerned.

C. Traditional conference. The event organisers will typically have a brochure web site, showing programme details, sponsorship, and booking arrangements. They may arrange photography and video on the day, but probably won’t stream it live or otherwise make it accessible to those who have not paid. Presentations and papers may be available online. There may be a networking site for participants behind a login. Contributions will probably be limited because the general ethos of the event is not interactive, and participants will not be encouraged to use Twitter. The format is defined by a belief that value to participants lies in high quality content delivered by speakers on the day, facilitated workshops, and only in part on informal conversation. Any external engagement or broadcast threatens that business model. Photos and video may be used later in marketing for the next event.
Social reporting: not really applicable. What’s wanted is a record, not interactive communication. Social reporters may provide this … but it isn’t really “social” reporting. Main value – to the organiser and sponsors.

A. Limited interaction conference. This type of event may be similar to C. with the addition of more interactive methods. There may be a blog before, at and after the event, with text, photos, video. Participants may be invited to an open networking site, with an option for others to join too. They may create their own content there, and use Twitter. Video may be streamed, but organisers may be concerned that this will affect ticket sales.
Social reporting: scope for the use of different media, before and at the event, and support for participants to create their own content. It is important that all concerned are clear about what type of blogging, video, Twittering etc is acceptable. In practice most content is likely to be created by social reporters, unless it is a social media event. Organisers will have plenty of content for their marketing, and because it is open, will be able to promote widely. Main value – to organiser, sponsors, external audiences. Additional value to participants, if they engage.

C. Creative seminar, conference. There may be more or less online facilities, depending on the purpose and who is attending. An open blog will not be appropriate for a closed event. Instead there may be online collaboration spaces where a range of different content can be posted, and interactions take place.
Social reporting: scope for working closely with the organiser/facilitator to blend online and face-to-face content and interactions. Participants may well be keen to use simple video cameras, for example, to create their own content.  Main value – to participants and through them to organisers and sponsors, though difficult to use content externally.

B. Fully interactive conference. The programme and content may have been created, in part, collaboratively online by participants, within a framework provided by the organisers. There may be a blog, wiki, Twitter account, and open social networking platform. While main participation may come from those attending, activity will spread through wider blogging and Twittering.
Social reporting: plenty of scope for a wide range of activities from creating content to supporting others, facilitating online interactions, and pulling out the main conversations and story lines. In  practice many people at the event may be acting as social reporters. The higher-level task is to facilitate and add to that buzz so that the high volume of content is accessible, navigable, and makes sense to as many people as possible. Main value – participants, and external participants. Also organisers and sponsors if they value the approach. Problems if not!

Key point: social reporting is not an add-on. It deepens and extends participation of people before, on and after the day. It changes the event, and has to be designed into the event.

On reflection, I should have added the new-style festival events like 2gether that are doing the mix well, and creating real value which it’s difficult to find other ways. Bearing that in mind, what do think of the model? What events really are worth the ticket price these days? South by Southwest certainly has people feeling it’s worth crossing the pond.


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  • March 17, 2009 - 8:27 am | Permalink


    I am conducting a real live experiment as we speak. Will let you know comparative statistics between free and not-so-free.


  • March 17, 2009 - 12:51 pm | Permalink

    David … as pointed out at 2gether08 in the ‘Social Entrepreneur Lanscape clip below, there’s a danger of a Fools Gold Rush here, where from time to time you get social entrepreneurs crowding in to do something which look goods at the time, but doesn’t turn out to exceed expectations.

    Perhaps this is true of social innovation events/get-togethers. I can’t help thinking that part of the problem here is that there are simply too many events that are really competing for the same audience and aren’t really that differentiated or adding much, if anything, in the way of additional value to each other.

    What will probably end up happening is that you will get some consolidation with some bigger events emerging at the top, and lots of smaller more specialised and fringe ones at the bottom. Those in the middle will probably get squeezed and find it hard to sustain themselves unless they target more lucrative markets like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), etc.

    I can’t help also thinking that all the ‘cranking’ in the social innovation space is just a euphemism?

    Social Innovation 2.0 (e.g where Web 2.0 meets Open Collaboration) has been a good hook to build some momentum and notice, and certainly captured the imagination of various funding bodies and institutions.

    However, there’s little in the way of any real social impact assessment to judge whether all the ‘cranking is a means to an end or end in itself.

    If events like 2gether want to become the social innovation equivalents of the Hay festival, then fair enough although Steve might need to start attracting some media friendly celebrities.

    However, if these events want to prove that they are more than just a social gathering where the bewildered and intrigued hope to get up to speed from the insiders who are too busy ‘cranking’ … then perhaps they need to think about how they are actually making a real difference.

    Strikes me that what’s required here is some agreed Social Impact Assessment Model of Methodology for Social Innovation 2.0 although arguably this should be no different from other social innovation.

    Sadly, I think NESTA’s Public Services Innovation Lab (The Lab) are failing to show leadership here particularly as far as providing guidance.

    It’s all very well blowing the trumpet of radical innovation but what appears to be missing is an agreed means of assessing social impact of Radical Social Innovation (2.0?) to help form the basis of any funding criteria and project evaluation … and you can’t manage what you can’t measure!

  • April 1, 2009 - 7:48 am | Permalink

    this is a great idea!
    Thanks so much for all the giveaways!

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