The meeting industry’s biggest dirty secret

There are some things that the meeting industry doesn’t like to talk about in public. For example:

But our biggest dirty secret is so embarrassing, we don’t even talk about it in private.

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The value of maximizing social connection at events

edACCESS 2014 break

Recently I wrote about my joy in the simple moments of connection that take place during my morning walks in Anguilla. Why do moments like this bring us joy?

Because, as social neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman explains, human beings are wired to be social:

“The message is clear; our brain is profoundly social, with some of the oldest social wiring dating back more than 100 million years. Our wiring motivates us to stay connected.” —Matthew Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect

There are significant practical benefits that arise from being social. Lieberman documents the measurable increase in well-being from such social activities as volunteering, (equivalent to moving from a $20K/year to a $75K/year salary), giving to charity (equivalent to doubling one’s salary), or having a good friend (equivalent to making an extra $100K/year). He notes that colleges have found that it makes sense to design their dorms for social connection, with modern dorms devoting about 20% of their expensive floor space to places for social connection. (Compare that to the amount of social space available in a modern apartment!) And he references the work of economist Arent Greve, who found that in the companies he studied, social capital, as opposed to human capital, accounted for most of the increased benefits in productivity.

I don’t know of anyone who’s done quantitative research on the value of making new friends, peers, colleagues, and business associates—as well as strengthening existing relationships—at meetings. But most of us would, I think, agree that maximizing social connection at events is well worth significant effort. Doing so helps prepare workers for the new economy, supports the way that adults learn 90% of what they need to know, and can drive community-building at the event.

How do we maximize social connection at events? Well, don’t rely on traditional socials to do a good job. Instead of filling our sessions with content, we need to make connection an integral component of every session. Carefully interspersing content (short bursts, twenty minutes max) with time for connection (reinforcing and reflecting on the content, and developing ideas with others) increases the quality of learning that takes place while strengthening personal connections around relevant content and consequently building engagement and community. When we maximize social connection around relevant content we maximize the event’s value to participants.

I’m lucky. Facilitating productive event process like this for tens or hundreds of people is one more thing that brings me joy.

Dear Adrian: Answers to participant-led event questions asked at a MeetingsNet webinar

innovativeportalbannerCurtiss Reed and I enjoyed presenting our thirty-minute MeetingsNet webinar Participant-Led Meetings: A Case Study on February 4, 2014, and I’m happy to announce that the webinar is now available free on demand (until February 4, 2015). Just go to the registration link and complete the short sign-up to receive a link to the webinar.

We received a good number of good questions during the webinar, and were not able to answer them all in the time available. So I’ve listed them here, together with my answers. I hope you find them useful!

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Are your meeting evaluations reliable?

evaluation 4175299981_7752cbe323_o

Can the way we evaluate meetings change how participants view their experience? Possibly, given the findings of research reported in the June 2013 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The study indicates that when we ask people for their reasons to justify their choices they focus on aspects that are easy to verbalize, and this can distort their overall judgement. Here’s Tom Stafford‘s description of the experiment:

Participants were asked to evaluate five posters of the kind that students might put up in their bedrooms. Two of the posters were of art – one was Monet’s water lilies, the other Van Gogh’s irises. The other three posters were a cartoon of animals in a balloon and two posters of photographs of cats with funny captions.

All the students had to evaluate the posters, but half the participants were asked to provide reasons for liking or disliking them. (The other half were asked why they chose their degree subject as a control condition.) After they had provided their evaluations the participants were allowed to choose a poster to take home.

So what happened? The control group rated the art posters positively (an average score of around 7 out of 9) and they felt pretty neutral about the humorous posters (an average score of around 4 out of 9). When given a choice of one poster to take home, 95% of them chose one of the art posters. No surprises there, the experimenters had already established that in general most students preferred the art posters.

But the group of students who had to give reasons for their feelings acted differently. This “reasons” group liked the art posters less (averaging about 6 out of 9) and the humorous posters more (about 5 to 6 out of 9). Most of them still chose an art poster to take home, but it was a far lower proportion – 64% – than the control group. That means people in this group were about seven times more likely to take a humorous poster home compared with the control group.

Here’s the twist. Some time after the tests, at the end of the semester, the researchers rang each of the participants and asked them questions about the poster they’d chosen: Had they put it up in their room? Did they still have it? How did they feel about it? How much would they be willing to sell it for? The “reasons” group were less likely to have put their poster up, less likely to have kept it up, less satisfied with it on average and were willing to part with it for a smaller average amount than the control group. Over time their reasons and feelings had shifted back in line with those of the control group – they didn’t like the humorous posters they had taken home, and so were less happy about their choice.
—Tom Stafford, When giving reasons leads to worse decisions

What might this imply for event evaluations? If we’re asked to give our reasons why we evaluated an event a certain way, this research indicates that we’re likely to focus on reasons that are easy to express. Ever noticed in your event evaluations that attendees’ opinions about food and accommodations are often far more detailed than what they write about specific sessions or the event as a whole? It’s much easier to express an opinion about the former than the latter, and that’s OK in itself. What should concern us, though, is that evaluations themselves, by focusing on the easily quantifiable, may bias how participants perceive our event’s value.

Perceived value is an important component of event Return On Investment (ROI). I’ve mused about Return On Investment (ROI) for social media (I’m skeptical about measuring it) and participant driven events (I believe they improve ROI). How might this research affect the calculation of meeting ROI?

Conversations => Relationships => Value (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post I introduced a core component of Conference 2.0.

Conversations => Relationships => Value

Here’s why this sequence is an important consideration for modern meeting design, and how it’s enhanced by Conference 2.0 designs.

Why should customers buy from you?
Sometimes, business value grows out of the barrel of a gun. When you have a monopoly on a product or service, you can charge as much as the market will bear. But when competition exists, you must use different strategies. For example, you can play race-to-the-bottom: squeezing your suppliers for rock bottom costs that, hopefully, are lower than your competitors. Or, you can differentiate what you offer in many other ways: better service, more options, faster delivery, longer warranties, superior customer support, etc. Thousands of books have been written about how to profitably and consistently market and sell. And, except perhaps for the most cutthroat commodity markets, the ability to build and maintain good relationships with your customers is a key component of most techniques.

This ability is even more crucial in today’s markets, because of four factors:

  • The increased complexity of products and services.
  • The increased variety of products and services.
  • The increased speed of product and service development.
  • The increased transparency in many marketplaces caused by online customer reviews and feedback.

The first three factors make it harder for potential customers to evaluate whether a specific product or service is a desirable fit for their needs. The last amplifies any deficiencies (perceived or otherwise) that may exist, any of which could prove fatal to sales.

In this new business environment, creating and maintaining good, trustworthy relationships with your customers becomes crucial.

Relationships are the new impressions
In the good old days, the more people heard about your product through broadcast marketing (impressions), the greater your sales. Today, business value, especially for non-commodity products and services, is becoming increasingly linked to the strength and quality of buyer-seller relationships. Relationships can’t be manufactured by traditional marketing; they are built through conversations between you and potential customers. Some of your conversations will turn into relationships, and some of those relationships will lead to value for your business.

Not all meetings are alike
Meetings provide wonderful opportunities for conversations. But, for two reasons, some meeting environments provide better opportunities than others.

First, for all but very small meetings, the number of conversations doesn’t scale with event size. For example, at a one-day, two hundred attendee event you can’t have more ten-minute conversations than you can with a hundred in attendance. In fact, at a large conference it’s often harder to find the people you really want to talk to than at a smaller, more focused event.

Second, Conference 1.0 sessions are not designed to foster conversations. Conversations are relegated to breaks and socials. Compare this with Conference 2.0 designs, which excel at providing opportunities for relevant conversations

How Conference 2.0 designs support conversations
I’ve quoted Howard Givner before and I’ll quote him again. (Why? Because this is a highly positive remark he made about one of my conferences :-).)

I easily established triple the number of new contacts, and formed stronger relationships with them, than at any other conference I’ve been to.

Why is Howard’s experience a common one at Conference 2.0? Let’s take Conferences That Work as an example. This conference design starts with initial roundtables that not only provide a structured forum for attendees to meet and learn about each other’s affiliations, interests, experience, and expertise but also effectively uncover the topics that people want to discuss and share. Within a couple of hours, every attendee has the initial introductions and information necessary to go out and start the right conversations about the right topics with the right people. Other Conference 2.0 designs encourage fruitful conversations by giving attendees the ability to meet around topics that they choose during the event.

The bottom line: Conference 2.0 formats routinely lead to more meaningful conversations, which in turn lead to more relationships, which in turn lead to more business value.

Does Conversations => Relationships => Value make sense to you?

Conversations => Relationships => Value (Part 1)

I admit it
I do not have a good reaction when someone talks about the return on investment (ROI) from attending an event.

My initial internal response is a rant:

Do we ask for the ROI when we buy tickets to a concert?

How can you evaluate the ROI for learning something new or seeing something in a new way?

And my favorite: So, what is the ROI on a wedding? (Please don’t respond with an analysis of the average value of wedding gifts versus the cost of the wedding. I’d probably argue diminished responsibility at the subsequent trial.)

priceless 2254991225_8fc4e2967e_oIn some ways, my reaction is alarmingly similar to the message of the brilliant formula for the MasterCard advertisement:

[List of mundane items with $ assigned]
[Intangible item – Priceless!]

The delicious subtext: Forget the money, whip out the credit card, and go to the event anyway!

The morning after
OK, it’s strong black coffee time. Whether the benefits are intangible or concrete, we all know that there is some kind of calculation that goes on when a potential attendee decides whether to attend an event. I’ve written about how existing event ROI methodologies are a noble attempt to quantify this calculation and give it as much respectability and logic as we can. So, enough on ROI; here’s a core component of Conference 2.0.

Conversations => Relationships => Value

In Part 2 of this post, I explain why this sequence is now an important driver of modern meeting design, and how it’s enhanced by Conference 2.0 designs.

Photo attribution: Flickr user alanchan

How participant-driven events can improve event ROI

skeptical 2402001517_fab6e95cdb_o“Why do you want to go to this conference?” is a question that you’ve probably been asked at one time or another. The real Question being asked (usually by our boss) is, of course, Is it worth the money and time invested in having you attend? It can be a hard question to answer, especially when the event in question has no or few predetermined sessions, like the peer conferences I design and facilitate.

Probably the most exhaustive methodology of planning and evaluating event ROI has been developed by Jack Phillips and Elling Hamso. It’s long and comprehensive, and here’s a summary of it.

According to this methodology, one of the components involved in evaluating Event ROI is the degree of Relationship Learning, which Elling defines as follows:

Relationship learning refers to the building of affinity between people, getting to know others, trust and liking. All forms of peer learning benefit from the strength of personal relationships, it is the foundation for subsequent information, skills and attitude learning in the peer relationship. Relationship learning may be measured in much the same manner as other forms of learning. At the most detailed level, individual relationships of trust and liking, for example, may be scored on a scale from very low to very high, or more general reports of relationship learning may be collected.

Well, this is exactly this kind of learning experience at which peer conference designs like Conferences That Work excel! Here’s how Howard Givner described a recent peer conference:

…one of the most innovative and eye-opening professional experiences I’ve had. Aside from coming back with lots of new tips and ideas, I easily established triple the number of new contacts, and formed stronger relationships with them, than at any other conference I’ve been to.
—Howard Givner article: The Un-Conference: Participant-Driven Agenda + Mashup Networking = Relationship Building on Steroids

Conversations, and the subsequent relationships that are formed, are very important. Doc Searls, co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto, wrote a great article about their pivotal role: Building a Relationship Economy. Well-designed peer conferences provide an environment that encourages and supports a rich abundance of the initial components of the following sequence (on which I’ll write more soon):

Conversations => Relationships => Value

“Value” here means the kind of business worth your boss is thinking about: more prospects, new sales, increased customer satisfaction, etc. All the things that translate into funding for your paycheck, profit for your company, and a happy boss.

So, when your boss next asks you The Question about the participant-driven conference you want to attend, take a deep breath and tell her you expect to make many more business relationships at this event than you would at a conventional conference—relationships that will turn into solid business value for your organization. Communicate exactly why you want to go, and explain that participant-driven conferences are much better than traditional events at building sessions around the content that attendees really want. Good luck!

Photo attribution: Flickr user andyi

Can we measure ROI in social media? – Part 2

ROI in SM part 1-4193339222_b6c7e45098_bIn my last post Can we measure the ROI in social media? – Part 1 I argued that it’s pointless to try and calculate ROI in social media. If convinced you might ask, “In that case, how can I justify the allocation of resources towards social media marketing?”

Perhaps the following will help.

As I previously explained, the problem with applying classic ROI to SM marketing is we can’t quantify the Return monetarily. This is because we can’t tie increases in sales or profits directly to specific social media actions or programs. This inability blocks us from talking about ROI at all.

But wait—surely what we really want to do is to make decisions about allocating resources amongst different marketing channels? Since we need to market our products and services, the real question is how and where do we spend our marketing budget? Here’s David Meerman Scott again, emphasizing this point in his usual forthright fashion.

So why not use a slightly different metric, one that allows us to compare the effectiveness of different marketing channels in ways we can measure. Let’s call it the Relative Return On Investment (RROI). RROI sidesteps the problem of assigning a monetary value to Return. Instead it concentrates on providing a practical comparison between investments allocated to specific marketing channels and our desirable and measurable marketing outcomes. (For example: increasing traffic to websites, new product suggestions, time spent on sites, active memberships, or brand mentions.) In effect, we’re replacing Return with the changes in concrete metrics that we believe are important to our marketing objectives. The units of RROI are then [change in metric] per unit of currency invested, e.g. increase in daily page views per dollar, or decrease in weekly customer support calls per euro.

Using RROI we can do experiments and make decisions about where we want to allocate marketing resources. Our experiments won’t be as precise as those possible in the past, when only targeted audiences saw broadcast marketing. But by using tagged indicators of traffic origins and existing analytics we can probably get a good sense of the relative effectiveness of alternative marketing strategies. That’s useful.

Be aware that using RROI in this way won’t tell you how much you should invest in marketing. That can be answered by ROI analysis performed across potential profit opportunities available to a business. But if measuring ROI in social media is a fantasy, perhaps using RROI in its place is an honest reflection of what’s practically possible.

Is RROI a useful, relevant way to think about investments in social media? Or am I just blowing smoke? As always, your comments are welcome!

Can we measure ROI in social media? – Part 1

ROI in SM part 1-4193339222_b6c7e45098_b

Last month Samuel J Smith moved back to the U.S. from Switzerland and, needing to buy some insurance, asked for a recommendation on Twitter. Having had car insurance with Progressive Insurance for a number of years, and liking the ease of accessing my policy and payments online as well as the competent Vermont representatives I worked with when dealing with several claims, I tweeted Sam this information.

Five minutes later I was pleasantly surprised to see the following tweet from @Progressive:

@ASegar Saw your tweet – we appreciate you spreading the word ; ) Glad you’ve had such a positive experience.

What can we say about the Return On Investment (ROI) for this little social media interaction?

A quick Google search finds this article which explains how Progressive has monitored mentions on Twitter and other social media channels since 2008 and has a dedicated team in its call center that responds to reported customer service issues. Obviously this initiative costs Progressive money, and the company surely knows how much. So the Investment part of ROI is known in cold, hard cash.

But what about the Return? I was tickled to receive the tweet, and it increased my positive feelings about the company and the likelihood that I would recommend it to more friends and acquaintances. In addition, anyone looking at Progressive’s Twitter stream (which has ~5,000 followers) might see that I made a positive comment. But wait, there’s more! Now I’ve written a favorable blog post that will be read by more people (including you!), possibly influencing more purchases from the company in the future.

Clearly a small but classic social media success story for Progressive.

But can Progressive quantify the value of their tweet in dollars?

I don’t think so.

ROI was originally a financial term, but it’s become common to see it used in areas where there is no simple way to connect what happens with a financial value. We have no idea of how much more likely I am to recommend Progressive as a result of their unexpected tweet, or how many other people will ever see or be influenced by the tweet, or how many people will be influenced by reading this blog post.

And yet, there are plenty of people writing about measuring ROI in social media.

For example, in February Brian Solis posted ROI: How to Measure Return on Investment in Social Media. This sounds like a how-to article, but Brian’s article just contains a lot of statistics that businesses have reported about their experiences, beliefs, and predictions about their use of social media, plus one (in my view, see below) weak example from Dell about its claims of increased sales through connecting with customers on Twitter. There’s no how-to, though Brian states that “2010 is the year that social media graduates from experimentation to strategic implementation with direct ties to specific measurable performance indicators.”

I’m not convinced. And I’ve got David Meerman Scott on my side. He once said “When someone asks me the ROI of social media, I respond with, ‘What’s the ROI of putting on your pants?'”

The problem, as exemplified by Progressive story above, is that the monetary Return on social media marketing cannot be tied directly to the efforts that are made. Now this is not true for many older forms of marketing. For example, it’s possible to test the effectiveness of mail campaigns by sending different coded promotions to randomly chosen subsets of a mailing list and analyzing the response rate. But because social media is, well, social we can’t do this kind of segmented marketing experiment!

If I want to buy a computer from Dell, once I’ve decided what I want I go online and look for a good deal. And that includes checking Dell’s Twitter stream. I do not follow Dell and get convinced to buy; I buy from them when I’m ready. Dell counting a sale to me through a Twitter promo as a Return on their investment in Twitter is not a justification for their investment in social media, because I would have bought from them anyway after finding a satisfactory deal on their website or over the phone. So for Dell to say, as quoted in Brian’s article, that “Dell’s global reach on Twitter has resulted in more than $6.5 million in revenue” is disingenuous at best—there’s no way the company can claim that a sale would not have occurred if it hadn’t been featured on Twitter.

So should we throw out the idea of calculating ROI in social media? No, not entirely. I think there’s a better way to think about what we are trying to do when attempting to decide where and how we expend time, effort, and resources on social media marketing. I’ll explain further in my next post.

Do you think you can measure the ROI in social media? I’d love to hear what you think!