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MTO Summit Addresses Value of Virtual Events, Future of Mobile Apps

Photo: BizBash

On Monday and Tuesday, the Meeting TechOnline Summit drew 110 guests—most of them buyers and suppliers of event-industry technology—to the InterContinental Chicago O'Hare. With the theme "A Taste of Technology," the conference explored the ways in which technology helps events, and how it will continue to bolster them in the future.

Experts agreed that adding a virtual component to events can enhance the value and impact of its programming, and that mobile apps will continue to make meetings and trade shows more manageable for attendees and more profitable for sponsors.

In a Tuesday morning panel called "How to Make Virtual Events Satisfy Customers and Deliver Profitability," panelists discussed whether virtual events have value in and of themselves, or whether they're best used as lead generators for face-to-face happenings. Michael Kushner, vice president of digital strategy at UBM, pointed out that communities aren't only forged in face-to-face circumstances, and that there's value to a virtual event that forms an online community. 

Panelists also discussed whether content for virtual events should be new, or whether it's effective to deliver repackaged material. The general consensus was that attendees will find it useful whether it's new or reused from a previously held live event, especially if that content is not especially newsy and has somewhat of a shelf life.

Plus, reusing content lets event organizers get more mileage out of programming that they spent time and resources to develop. "If you have great content at a show, it makes sense to recast it in a virtual format and deliver it to a broader demo," said panelist Kenji Haroutunian, group show director at Outdoor Nielsen Expositions Sports Group.

"When you work really hard on content, repurposing it is the low-hanging fruit," Kushner said. He added that repackaged content can have a live component, as speakers can post updates or be on hand for live Q&As with remote participants.

In an afternoon panel called "From Mobile Apps Now to Mobile Apps Next," participants discussed ways in which they would like to see mobile apps, and associated business models, evolve. David Weil, senior director of event services at SmithBucklin, said he and his team would like to develop ways to give more visual impact to mobile app sponsorships at trade shows. He also said he favors providers who work with his team step by step. "Make it easy for us," he advised suppliers. "Don't say, 'Here's our app, see you later.'"

Tara Dunion, senior director of communications at the Consumer Electronics Association, offered her observations on how mobile apps played into the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. She pointed out that, as the show is technology-oriented, many of its attendees are early adapters of new technology.

In 2010, she said, 33,000 guests downloaded a "Follow Me" app; in 2011, 66,000 guests adapted it. "Apps are here to stay, and will only grow more robust and sophisticated," she said. Dunion predicted that the apps will develop tools to provide real-time mapping and integrate social media functionality, and that sponsors will place more banner ads within the apps.

Michelle Bruno, president of Bruno Group Signature Events, ended the session by offering her predictions on the future of mobile apps. Among the ways in which she sees the technology changing, Bruno said that more apps will involve a gaming component—such as a scavenger hunt with a Foursquare-like method of checking in at various booths—to engage trade show attendees. She also predicted that the interface of the apps will become richer and more visually compelling.

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