Is Facebook Live The Future Of Events? Why It Probably Is And What It Means For Associations

In November, we attended an education session put on by the Trillium Chapter of the Canadian Society of Association Executives. The structure of the session saw groups of seven to nine attendees rotate between five tables. At each table, there was an expert in a different area (such as technology or communication) who would facilitate a half hour discussion around relevant issues before attendees would rotate once again.

While discussing association events and conferences at one table, the talk centred around webcasting. Someone asked the facilitator, an expert in event planning, webinar development and video conferencing, this question, “Have you ever used Facebook Live as a way to reach an association’s offsite members during a conference?” Her answer was brief, but very telling, “I haven’t yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes a huge factor in the next year and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m out of business in three years because of it.”

It’s never good to hear that technology might put someone out of a job, but here was an expert in her field, a top-flight event planner with decades of experience in the association industry, predicting the rise of Facebook Live’s influence on conferences and with such certainly.

It’s obvious that we might just be on the brink of a total shift in the way association’s engage their members online and plan their events. Facebook Live, the free streaming tool offered by the social media platform that allows organizations to set up live video feeds that can be watched on the Social Network, is only growing in popularity as people realize its potential.

With that lead in, here are five ways Facebook Live could change the way associations conduct their events and what impact this could have.

Economies Of Scale Kick In

Facebook is free and therefore, Facebook Live is free. If an association uses Facebook Live, an open, accessible and free tool, to allow people to take in its events, it could have a huge domino effect on the way the organization views the financial investments and returns from the event.

If more people take in the event online, less people go to the event in person. This means less registration dollars flowing in, but also, less money spent on food, space, decor, swag and almost everything else. Yes, the association doesn’t make as much money on one, big event, but it could open the door to the association conducting multiple events across the city, province or country that rake in even more revenue and allow for even more creativity, meaningful networking and exclusive benefits for in person attendees.

Non-member Attendees Take Over

Again, Facebook Live is so widely accessible that it turns the usual attendee demographics on its head. While at a traditional association event, the room would contain 75%-85% members, an event streamed on Facebook Live may have an even 50-50 split or perhaps more non-member attendees.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean associations will need to get creative with the presentation of the event, the extras it offers members and the follow up it conducts after the event. If a larger number of non-members are watching your event on Facebook Live, it makes in-person networking even more of a priority and will force associations to think more about how they present the association’s brand and its benefits during the event and how it follows up with non-members in an effort to convert them to members. If done right, this could have a huge effect on member recruitment.

Head Event Planners Become Head Moderators 

While Facebook Live offers a chance for off-site attendees to experience an event, it also gives them an opportunity to connect with other off-site attendees, in person attendees and presenters like never before because of its commenting and chat feature. While this has many different consequences, potentially positive and negative, one of them is the role of an association’s staff.

Event planners and other association staff may be required to transform into expert moderators due to Facebook Live’s robust and established live chat feature. Sorting through comments and questions and presenting them to the in person audience and the speaker has the potential to become both an art and a crucial skill. With such a large audience watching and engaging online and another expectant audience in person, it will become essential to bridge the two worlds through a moderator and associations better have a strategy to cope with this reality.

The Freemium Model Becomes More Popular

One of the key words we use over and over again in regards to Facebook Live is “free” and that’s because using it for an association event shatters the business-as-usual game plan of association conferences where everything is paid for, but everything is top quality. Navigating this new normal will require some fancy footwork and a focus on mastering the Freemium model.

The Freemium model, if you’re not familiar with it, is a strategy wherein an association provides multiple levels of benefits and engagement with multiple price points to access them. The most widely available benefits are free and often basic and as each benefit increases in value and exclusivity, its price rises as well. This model must be adapted to fit into the Facebook Live event experience in order for associations to be sustainable and generate sufficient non-dues revenue. This may require associations to provide extra benefits to in person attendees like extraordinary networking opportunities, special access to event speakers, discounts on other association services, access to replays of the event sessions or other perks that make the cost of admission viable, valuable and attractive.

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