Finding a way to cut through the noise in 2021…
Curating content, harvesting talent…
In a recent LinkedIn post, Tom Goodwin, author of Digital Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest in the Age of Business Disruption, argued: “The business model of newspapers was around curating enough good stuff to ensure you came back and bought again. The business model of the web is based around clicks and exploiting your brain chemistry for fear, outrage and despair. We now have a news culture where the internet has changed not just what journalists write about, but how they write about it to ensure they keep their job through the metrics of traffic.”
Curating good stuff so people keep coming back for your content – sounds familiar, right? But associations should seriously consider how the business model of online journalism – generating enough clicks so that someone else will pay for the content instead of the reader (advertisers, sponsors etc.) – applies to them, too.
Of course, associations are not in the business of generating ‘fear, outrage and despair’ and will never be as polarised as the news media. But in a world where content is ubiquitous and everyone is fighting for our attention, associations need to be very deliberate about packaging their content – deciding what should be free, exclusive to members, or premium or ‘paid-for’ content.
The same thinking will apply to differentiate quality or ‘serious’ educational event experiences (whether in person or online) from the ‘tradeshow model’ where content is tacked on but the main event and money maker is clearly the exhibit floor.
The trickiest part is that expert contributors are both a key strength and weakness of the association’s content strategy. Associations will need to stress their shared purpose, community spirit, and their outreach to elevate themselves to ‘publisher of choice’ – after all, they don’t ’employ’ those volunteering their expertise. Convincing experts to share their knowledge with them- as opposed to giving it to a commercial media/event company or just self-publishing and sharing it for free – should be top of mind for association content teams.
Finally, a special mention for a word I learned this year: skeuomorphism. From Wikipedia: “A skeuomorph is a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues from structures that were inherent to the original.” Some of the most visible are the envelope ‘new message’ icon or the save icon based on an old floppy disk.
I have to admit I am not a fan of what I have seen so far in the events world – in 2020 this mostly meant generic ‘conference centres’, cardboard cut out people (why are the same 4 people on every booth…?) and clunky navigation that contradicts pretty much all we like about good web design.
As I mentioned above, online/digital/virtual events deserve to be their own thing – not a poor imitation of something they are not intended to replace.
Will the technology improve? It definitely will – but should we be focused on investing in ‘virtual conference’ centres to walk through? Why not invest in the best interface to help us learn, network and source solutions on one screen? When we shop online, do we have to ‘wander the aisles’ to find a product?
The same goes for avatars – they might bring an element of fun for some settings but is this really a viable option for B2B networking? Would you suggest delegates come to an in-person networking reception wearing wigs or fake moustaches? Video discussions are far from perfect but with today’s tech, they are surely still way better for having meaningful, professional conversations with at least some of the benefits of being face to face.
So, as an association and event community let’s challenge the tech providers to make online event platforms that maximise the benefits of online events – not ones that reinforce the message ‘sorry we can’t meet in person’.
This article was published in AMI magazine in December 2020.
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