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Conference Content Management, Engagement, and the Path to Digital Transformation

By Michelle Bruno
Originally published July 4, 2017 in EventTechBrief

Almost every minute of every day, content from a conference or trade show is wasted—created, delivered, and left to die on the meeting room floor. It’s a sad reality since content is the connective tissue of a conference and when deployed effectively, it can be one of the event organizer’s most valuable assets.

Over the years, Mary Ann Pierce contemplated the conference-content-death dilemma. More than two decades ago, her firm, MAP Digital, developed software to deploy digital conference content over a local area network. Its capabilities grew to also include webcasting, hosting, engagement monitoring, and other services.

Pierce believes that her MetaMeetings conference content management and engagement platform can alter the trajectory of the meetings industry.

First, control the content

In it most basic form, MetaMeetings is a conference content management platform. Speakers upload their presentations via a dedicated URL (which in most cases is also the conference website), and the MetaMeetings software makes it available on the correct laptop in the right room at the right time. It eliminates the pain and confusion around having the most updated and functional version of a presentation at the podium or getting it to play on a machine it only just met minutes before.

MAP Digital achieves this level of precision and security—the presentations are pre-approved and checked to see whether they will play, and the network is completely locked down and redundant—by establishing a dedicated digital network. And from a small room deep inside the venue, a team of MAP Digital engineers manages the network, the MetaMeetings platform, the presentations, and the laptops for an entire conference from one location.

Complete control over the network, whether it’s a local area network in the venue or a virtual private network on the Internet, translates into dominion over the content and its delivery. It allows MetaMeetings to webcast the presentations to any location (anywhere in the world) or any device and facilitates the provision of ancillary services such as programming digital signage and printing attendee badges.

Rethinking content, engagement, and users

Conference content takes many forms. MetaMeetings can archive a wide array of digital assets (including audio and video presentations, which MAP Digital converts into keyword searchable files). The assets can also include speaker bios, related articles and white papers, exhibitor and sponsor collateral, one-on-one PowerPoint presentations between exhibitors and attendees, responses from Q & A sessions and polling results.

The real value of what Pierce and her team have developed, she says, comes not from making content assets available to attendees, but tracking how delegates consume the assets. This engagement data can open the door to monetization. MetaMeetings' usage reports detail which individuals viewed, downloaded, emailed, or shared (on social media channels) specific content assets. The data can be leveraged internally or shared with exhibitors or sponsors.

Pierce explains the value of engagement analytics:

“Let’s say that an exhibitor sponsors a conference session. We can put the PowerPoint presentation on the session page and maybe a white paper, product information, and the webcast of the session. The event organizer can say to the exhibitor, ‘Mary Ann Pierce attended the session, emailed her colleagues that it was an excellent presentation, shared the webcast with them, and downloaded the PowerPoint and the brochure on your new device. Maybe you should call her.’”

When organizers choose to expand the pool of content consumers beyond in-person attendees, more opportunities present themselves. Making conference content available to a non-attendee audience through webcasting or social sharing, for instance, can expand its reach and impact. It can also yield data on the preferences of individuals who did not attend the conference.

Content, such as keynote presentations from industry thought leaders, and engagement analytics that reveal which topics are trending in an industry can also be instructive to an organization’s internal stakeholders. This combination of knowledge and data can be used for training new hires, fine-tuning corporate or association messaging, honing sales strategies, or developing new offerings.

The future: contextualizing content engagement

Downloading or sharing conference content demonstrates interest, but not necessarily intent. So, to be more confident about why an individual attendee chooses to consume a particular piece of content, event organizers need validation. To that end, Pierce has positioned MetaMeetings within a growing ecosystem of event technology providers. It is connected to Eventbrite, explori, and other software through a built.io flow integration that facilitates the exchange of data and functionality across complementary platforms. The firm is also working on a separate API integration with Grip.

While the purpose of the MetaMeetings’ integrations was initially to bolster its capabilities, it also opens the door to other possibilities. Pierce is looking beyond what attendees are consuming and attempting to understand why. External data about how and with whom attendees are connecting or moving through an exhibit space—data that comes from, for instance, the networking, appointment setting, or proximity-beacon software with which it’s integrated—can offer more context.

Pierce believes that experimentation is crucial for innovation. She has recently begun feeding unstructured data to IBM’s Watson in the form of presentation slides and webcasts from multiple related conferences held over several years. Her aim is to discover rankings on topic, tone, and visual recognition and to track keywords and trends per session. “It’s likely to be a long-term project as we have to teach the machine what to look for first,” she says.

Conclusion

MetaMeetings’ ability to draw a direct line between conference content and attendee preferences has important implications for events. “It empowers attendees to shape their own experiences,” Pierce says. It should also prompt organizers to be more proactive about “curating presenters, exhibitors, sponsors, technology providers, and smart venues to deliver content in the most effective and efficient ways,” she adds.

Mary Ann Pierce sees MetaMeetings as a digital lifeline for many event organizations struggling with digital transformation. Expressing content as searchable, transferable, and measurable digital units makes it easier for organizers to extract value from it. At a time when the growth of some events (exhibitions especially) is leveling out, and some organizers are struggling to meet the demands of digital consumers, MetaMeetings converts an “ephemeral” activity into a tangible and bankable product. When leveraged effectively, “content is the gift that keeps on giving,” she says.