Brook Barnes’ piece (The New York Times, 2/2/10) on whether or not, with so many films being available on-demand at the same time they debut at Sundance and as buzz pops up in everybody’s email inbox instantaneously, is well worth reading.
But pulling back from the microcosm of the film industry and looking at the bigger picture, it’s worth considering whether or not physical, in-person attendance at any industry trade show or event is necessary.
Having run programs myself where contacts were tuned in to what was happening at an event without actually being there, I can say there are pluses and minuses to trying to be “virtual” and yet still get the most out of these events.
On the one hand saying that a team of people will not be in-person but still be following – and amplifying in whatever manner the program is set up to do – the messages coming out of the event seems pretty simple. You don’t have to pay for airfare, lodging or anything else that goes along with such attendance. And in some respects they’re able to follow the overall conversation more closely since they can be receiving inputs from a broader spectrum of people than they would be if they were limited to where in the physical space they are at any given moment.
On the other, though, there are downsides. Personal contact with important people is absolutely more valuable than an @ reply on Twitter or a comment on a blog post. And while the breadth of the conversation that can potentially be covered increases, it’s probably a wash in the end since the whole point of not attending is that the person doesn’t lose a day of their regular duties. It’s not like they can sit there hitting “refresh” on a Twitter hashtag search all day and do nothing else.
I’m not coming down on the idea of virtual attendance. It can be a valuable strategy for influencer relations and audience building. Social media allows for those who aren’t able to be in an actual location to still participate in the conversation and, potentially, add to the value attendees take away with them in the same was as if they were actually there. That’s huge.
What’s important to keep in mind is that, with social media broadcasting available either options carries with it the same substantial amount of research that must be done beforehand. Who’s going to be there that the attendees should try to connect with? What’s the official conference Twitter handle? What’s the agreed upon or recommended hashtag, category or other label? Attendees need to be armed with the answers to these questions whether they’re going to be on the ground or still in the office.
Even more important is the idea that, because virtual attendees are going to be expected to not drop everything else they would do in a day they need some filters…some assistance. That’s where agency partners, in-house specialists or someone else comes in and provides that “Here’s the wheat, here’s the chaff” perspective, allowing the point person – the one who’s supposed to be paying attention to the event’s goings-on – to be their best. That’s what we do.