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June 14, 2013

Top Tech Tips for Meetings and Events

At AIBTM in Chicago, Jim Spellos of Meeting-U.com offered some top tech tips for event and meeting planners. 

First, ditch the computer. “We are officially in a post-PC era,” Spellos said. “Laptops are old-school.” Portability is key, and all businesses need to be ready to take advantage of tablets and smartphones. Likewise, cloud services like Google Docs/Drive, Dropbox and Evernote make computers with hard drives largely unnecessary. 

Next, ditch the wallet. Mobile payment programs—generally through smartphones--are already ubiquitous in Europe and are picking up steam in the United States. Several businesses already accept Google Wallet, and the trend seems to be spreading. Planners can even accept credit cards remotely with products like Square. 

Then look to social media, and let people promote your business for you. If a business representative can interact with interested parties on Twitter and Facebook, the likelihood of guest satisfaction is significantly increased. Twitter is a huge news source when followed properly, Spellos noted. Hashtags make it easy to follow certain trends, and many industry professionals use certain tags to keep information in one feed. “#eventprofs is one of the most content-rich hashtags for the event industry,” Spellos said, and also praised #eventtech and #hybridmeetings as feeds to follow. (Websites like TweetDeck let readers see multiple feeds in one window.) Certain industry professionals also provide informative content: Spellos recommends following @jeffhurt @jenisefryatt and @asegar.

Social Curation is a fairly new combination of social media and classic media: Stories and posts can be gathered (curated) into a virtual newspaper on any topic. “You’re all content curators,” Spellos told the meeting planners at AIBTM. “You have to be. That’s the whole reason you’re in an association or corporation.”

Best tools for curation are Paper.li and Sccop.it, but other sites curate information in less conventional ways. Pinterest, for example, lets people share photos that they find online in virtual “boards” that others can follow. If meeting attendees post pictures from events that can be shared, all of that marketing becomes free. RebelMouse lets people or businesses create a homepage that brings all of their social media content into one feed. The sites can then be embedded into other sites (for example, a conference or event site) so that posts or photos referencing the event appear live on the site in real time.  “These tools are out there for you to share content with attendees,” Spellos said.

A YouTube channel is also a must: “If you don’t have videos to get people excited and promote your next event, nobody will care,” Spellos said. 

Other online start-ups are also worth noting. Roomer, for one, is like StubHub for hotels: When guests can’t use their hotel rooms or get a refund, they can post the room on the site, name a price and see if anyone bites. Conversely, HotelTonight lets guests find last-minute rooms wherever they are, and often at a significant discount. “Does it really pay to book ahead anymore?” Spellos wondered.

Other apps can aid in site inspections: Speedtest.net, for example, lets a meeting planner see what kind of bandwidth a venue offers. In order to stream video, 1 megabyte per second is a bare minimum, and more is preferable. “That is a basic test for events,” Spellos noted. “Digital density is the limit of devices that can access the web at once…Talk to hotels about the bandwidth you’ve used at previous events, and what you might need next.” (The ongoing debate about free Wi-Fi vs. paid bandwidth has yet to be resolved, he added.) 

TechSpec, which Spellos created with Corbin Ball, is an iOS/Android app that lets meeting planners gather all the relevant information about a venue (square footage, nearby hotel rooms, bandwidth, etc.) in one page.

Google, of course, has hotel finding and booking capability, and thanks to the purchase of the Zagat guide, the site can also find top restaurants around hotels. 

Any business needs a website, of course, but a large number of people now access the internet on devices rather than computers. Planners need to decide if they want a proper mobile site or a dedicated app for their property…or both. If they go for an app, would it be a native app or web-based? Whatever the hotelier chooses, Spellos advises against designing the app just for iPads. “Apple may lead tablets, but Android leads phones,” he noted, and optimizing an app for one platform would exclude a significant percentage of potential visitors. 



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About the Author: Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox





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