Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Social Media in Event Marketing – A Lesson Learned

I came across a bit of a flare-up around the upcoming ad:tech New York, one that resulted in Mike Flynn, the Event Director for ad:tech North America, issuing an apology on the company’s blog.

The blog was a mea culpa for an email sent out essentially incentivizing past attendees to post tweets, blog posts, and/or info on Facebook in exchange for a discount to attend the show. The email made its way to (at least) a couple of bloggers, hence the appearance of a “pay for play,” scenario ultimately leading to the apology.

I can imagine the storm that brewed, leading to this post. At the same time, I’ll go out on a ledge and ask: was an apology really necessary? My take:

  • The ‘offer’ itself was an offer for a discount to attend or a free exhibit hall pass (ostensibly a $35 value). In other words, this incentive, conceptually is the same as the legacy “register four attendees and a fifth attends for free” or “bring a colleague for ½ price” offer. It wasn’t offering to pay cash for an endorsement.
  • Anybody responding to the incentive had interest/intention of attending prior to this email. This communication was ostensibly sent to ‘hot‘ leads (past attendees). To that end, the person receiving this email and accepting its terms would not be fabricating by tweeting/posting; if they were to take action to gain a discount to attend the event, they must have gotten value from their prior attendance … why else re-register?
  • I’d take a guess that the strategy behind this was as much to re-engage past attendees to attend as it was to build buzz around the event.
  • Unless I’m missing something, typically qualified press & bloggers are be able to attain some sort of press access – again raising the question of whether this was a barter for editorial coverage.
If this effort was an incentive to have past attendees use Social Media to engage followers, friends, etc. about their past experience at the ad:tech show, this was nothing more than ad:tech using the medium for traditional tactics, adopting them to Social Media. [Note: The one aspect I would call into question is that the incentive/email was a strict in the requirements that a person posted “no less than three times;” this is old-school thinking that should have been avoided.] It seems (given bloggers and writers got a copy of the email) there may have been imperfections concerning the data; conceptually this incentive should have only gone to paid attendees. And if the data was an issue, its underpinnings of the issue are in an all together different vein.

If, on the other hand, this email did go out to bloggers and writers specifically to gain coverage – well, as a journalism major – I certainly do see where the issue lies; in that case the apology is certainly warranted.

But again this does not seem to be the case. The underlying issue seems to be the use of Social Media – that there is still sensitivity regarding the channel. So the real lesson is an old one: in new uses of Social Media, event marketing professionals need to take the time to ensure they think through strategies and tactics – especially from an external perspective – given the concerns concerning its use.

And whatever the scenario, I’d also like to offer kudos to ad:tech for quickly and decisively reacting to the situation as they saw fit.

Good luck!


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