Best of 2011: Jeff Hurt: Is Your Meeting Hot or Not?

Jeff Hurt
Illustration: Hal Lee for BizBash

If no one tweets about your event, did it really happen?

While you may think this question is absurd, research shows that we’ve moved from the “experience economy” to the “social economy.” Now, it’s not good enough to simply attend an event. We have to tell others about that event while it’s happening, or the event was worthless.

In other words: Pics or it didn’t happen. Tweets or it didn’t happen. Facebook posts or it didn’t happen.

If your event is hot—as in Twitter-hot, or tweet-worthy—people will be sharing their experiences while it’s occurring.

In the late 1990s, authors James Gilmore and Joe Pine released the book Welcome to the Experience Economy. Their position was that in economies of mass affluence, people are more interested in paying for an experience than paying to own something. The memory of the experience becomes the product.

Their book had a profound impact on events. Event designers started focusing on creating memorable experiences.

Research shows that today’s economy has moved into a new phase in which people define themselves not only by what they own or do, but primarily by their ability to connect, share, and broadcast that experience. The term social economy doesn’t imply that the experience economy has disappeared—it suggests that the experience economy needs to be viewed through the lens of sharing.

According to McCann Worldgroup Research, when given a list of options, more than half of young people (16 to 30 years old) would be willing to give up their sense of smell if it meant they could keep their personal technology (smartphone, tablet, or laptop). Their willingness to sacrifice one of their senses in exchange for social technology shows how important these media have become.

Why? Technology represents all the friends you could ever want, all the entertainment you could desire, and all the information you’ll ever need. For young people, technology is really the fifth sense.

In the social economy, your event attendees carry their friends in their pockets. They are always sharing experiences with those friends.

Create a boring event and they will text all their friends about it. Create an amazing, unusual experience and they will post pictures, tweets, and videos of that experience. Even better, if they have friends attending the event, they will post pictures and tag their friends in them.

Young people today rate communing—defined as the need for connection and community—as their number one motivation (McCann Worldgroup, “The Truth About Youth,” May 2011). It drives them more than fame, money, or security.

Technology shapes their attitudes toward community. It allows them to connect with their community instantly.

Young people will tell you that access to their online friends is critical. Have an event in a venue with spotty Wi-Fi or barriers to their 3G service and you’ll lose their loyalty. You’ve cut them off from their community.

Your event needs to not only entertain your attendees, it also needs to entertain their online friends. If your event is not worth sharing, it’s like it never happened.

Jeff Hurt (@JeffHurt) is director of education and engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting in Dallas.


More in Strategy