Part 2: Greater Than the Sum of the Parts
There’s a tremendous opportunity brewing for meeting professionals and the organizations they serve. Some parts of it trace back to recent U.S. election campaigns that have become a proving ground for an unprecedented mix of live and online learning, persuasion, and mobilization.
It’ll be a while before we understand the size and shape and contours of this combined body of practice, before we can fully grasp all its uses. But if we can get past the idea that live and virtual interactions are an either-or proposition, we will vastly improve the participant experience, extending it for weeks or months after a face-to-face meeting ends.
We’ll realize that online communication can enhance a live meeting, rather than replacing it. And we may even find that the wisdom and content of a live conference can make the Web a smarter, more effective tool.
In the aftermath of the U.S. election November 4, daily media carried a number of stories about the online wizardry that put President-elect Barack Obama over the top. One article in the New York Times traced the techniques back to the microtargeting that delivered precisely tailored messages to the different demographics that supported George Bush in the 2000 campaign.
The 2004 Howard Dean organization brought the Bush strategy to the Internet, and the Obama campaign refined it to an art. Key elements included
- An e-distribution list of 10 million donors and supporters that was most recently mobilized to support survivors of the latest California wildfires
- Twitter and text messages that went out to participants while live rallies were under way
- Routine requests to all participants in live events to text their contact information to the campaign before they left the hall
- Extensive use of YouTube, a mass portal that did not exist during the 2004 presidential campaign
- A relentless link between live and virtual networks, powered by a grassroot campaign training program that began about 15 to 18 months before the election
“They were Apollo 11, and we were the Wright Brothers,” said Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi.
I’m convinced Obama cemented his claim on Colorado’s eight electoral college votes on the last night of the Democratic National Convention, when about 2.5 percent of the state’s eligible voters converged on the local stadium for his acceptance speech. But it’s one thing to draw a crowd. It’s something else to draw that crowd in and turn an initial contact into a continuing dialogue.
By such methods, an unstoppable marketing machine is built, whether the object of that campaign is a candidate or a political agenda, a major meeting or the wider purpose the meeting was supposed to serve.
And that’s where the lineage of the techniques and the associated bragging rights are secondary to the lessons we can learn from a campaign that mastered the connections from live to virtual, and from a specific, major event to the future it aims to influence.
Our VP and Chief Operating Officer, Woody Huizenga, likes to talk about the future that begins the morning after participants go home. It’s a connection that is front and centre in any election campaign, but only rarely shows up in the planning for a major conference.
And that’s when our meetings are at risk: of falling prey to shiny, new technologies that deliver little real value onsite, or of failing to integrate those technologies with the essential human connections that are the real cornerstone of a successful event.
If we don’t know why the meeting matters, we’ll also be more likely to replace it with a 100% virtual event, rather than combining the benefits of both. On the other hand, once we’re clear about our purpose and objectives when we go onsite, virtual meeting technologies become a great opportunity to multiply our audience and continue the dialogue in the days and weeks after the live experience ends.