Younger generations love to use social networks at events. Social networks are in denial with subpar event products that do not gauge the power of live experiences. Are events and live interactions the future of social networks?
Marketers are investing more than events in live experiences. This push that started two years ago is predicted to continue in full swing through 2020. It’s undeniable that many within a new generation of attendees show up at events to get an Instagram opportunity, share a story or comment on social networks.
In fact, in a sea of dull quotes and food pictures, events are the perfect opportunity for many to capture more ‘likes’. However twisted that mentality may be for those of us getting older, we cannot disregard a trend that has essentially ensured the growth of the industry over the past few years.
The question is that, with such attraction between offline and online, why are social networks just watching?
I am comfortable saying that most social media platforms offer subpar event products that are more geared towards birthday parties than the trillion-dollar-a-year event industry.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn have all consistently missed the mark when it comes to business events, despite the immense potential they have to be powerful event planning tools with an innately enormous reach to new audiences.
Too harsh? Have a look.
Why Social Networks Don’t Get events: The Current State
Social networks don’t get events. Only someone with a gray beard like me can quickly point out why. Back in 2008, when Facebook and Twitter were the next big things, they were the alternatives to events.
Event professionals were so scared of them that some would ban hashtags at events for the fear of losing attendees.
Then things started to change. Eventprofs used social networks strategically to promote and engage. And the opportunity became very visible.
Yet social networks never changed. Their mission remained the same: suck people out real life to live a digital one. It is fair to say they won, but things are starting to change.
The fact is that Millennials and Gen Z (sorry for the buzzword use) are not using social media as much. They favor experiences.
This is a wake-up call for social networks. Are they then gearing up their platforms for the rise of live experiences?
Let’s have a look.
Of the major social platforms, Facebook currently has the most extensive event feature set with Facebook Events, but it's still a far cry from what an event professional would consider an effective tool. It hasn't been updated in years, and it shows. It's also becoming harder and harder to promote events/business pages without paid promotions.
Facebook's own business page describes Facebook Events as a way to
This should give you a pretty good idea right off the bat of what kinds of events it's prioritizing, completely overlooking the wider business events industry.
Moving on. LinkedIn recently relaunched its events platform – how effective/improved it is still largely remains to be seen. So far, it doesn't seem to offer much more than it did when it was originally introduced over a decade ago.
Meanwhile, Instagram and Twitter don't even have formal events platforms per se. Instagram allows you to create a business profile, which provides some additional analytics and a contact button, but doesn't do much for events.
Frankly, all of these offerings are awful at worst and insufficient at best when it comes to functionality for planners.
Room For Improvement
From clunky interfaces to limited capabilities, there's clearly not much thought given to how these platforms could be used strategically to plan events. Here are three of the main issues that stick out.
Ticketing and Registration Woes
Facebook and Instagram get points for allowing ticketing directly within their platforms, but that's where the benefits stop.
If you want to sell tickets directly from your Facebook event page or Instagram business page, you need to sign up for Eventbrite – there's no way around it. Certain other software allows for ticketing from your Facebook business page, but then what's the point of creating an event?
On LinkedIn events, the functions are similarly limited. You can't place restrictions on attendance (which you actually do have the option to do on Facebook), and you can't sell directly through the platform.
In most cases, you're forced to link out to an external platform. Instagram makes this especially inconvenient as it doesn't allow URLs in posts, forcing users into an extra step to access links posted there.
One of the biggest issues with these platforms is their lack of integration capabilities. The data collected from the event tools mostly lives in its respective platform and is not easily transferable to other tools such as CRM software for lead qualification, onsite event apps, or check-in tools. The most you can do is to export your guest list from a Facebook event to use how you please.
A few years ago, Facebook launched a standalone app called Local to replace its failed Events app (no surprise there). The new app focuses on finding local events or something to do with friends over the weekend, and once again completely misses the opportunity to be a fully-fledged event app that integrates with the rest of the platform and creates a consistent experience for attendees.
While Facebook Events is integrated with Groups, meaning that you can create an event for a certain Facebook Group, this feature is not yet available on LinkedIn (but hopefully will be in the future).
So, you can choose to either make your event public, meaning anyone can choose to attend, or private, meaning you have to individually invite or send links to those you wish to invite. Talk about automation.
Analytics guide all aspects of marketing, and events are no different. Planners and marketers need to be able to count on their platform to collect and generate data from their event to guide decisions.
While all these platforms allow you to view analytics on your posts, it's pretty basic.
Using Page Insights on Facebook, you can view how your event did, including how many people saw it and how many people clicked the "Get Tickets" button, if applicable. As a professional platform, LinkedIn also provides company and job information, which is relatively more interesting and relevant to planners.
But what about how many people actually showed up? Or what they engaged with most while they were there? Or countless other metrics that are important to eventprofs?
Simply put, if these platforms were better adapted to all phases of the planning process, we'd already be in much better shape.
A roadmap for the future: Disrupt or Be Disrupted
Is it a big waste of time to publish your event on the big 4? It probably is. The lack of organic marketing or an event product at all makes it worthless to publish information about your event.
Of course social media remains one of the biggest drivers for event marketing. Creating content, pictures, video for your event. Having hashtags. Engaging in live video. These continue to have enormous weight.
But the question still remains, what is the Silicon Valley thinking about? Why do social networks constantly miss the mark when it comes to live experiences? It’s mostly a rhetorical question at this stage, but there is very little we can do.
Or can we?
In the early 2010s, we witnessed the rise of platforms like Plancast and Lanyrd, which were able to leverage the eager need to connect before an event to motivate actual meetings offline where users would have meaningful interactions.
Such market myopia from tech giants represents a massive opportunity for disruption by new players. Creating a social network with the aim of live events in mind has a huge potential.
This is probably the hope I have behind the imminent acquisition of Meetup – the idea that someone bold enough would purchase the company to make it the real life social network we all want but nobody is giving us.
With the advent of countless event automation tools and software over the past few years, social media platforms have a ton of catching up to do if they ever hope to capitalize on the power of events – despite the fact that they are in an ideal position to do so. They still hold undeniable power when it comes to marketing, but they've failed to capitalize on the potential offered by strategic business events.