Web 2.0 is all about the attendees. They generate the content, they rate the content, and they recommend the content to peers. Most meetings and events lack those very qualities; people are treated like cattle and cargo. They don’t have a voice, and they don’t have their trusted peers’ recommendations to help decide what to see and do.

This often-disappointing dynamic can be changed with Web 2.0 concepts and tools. When used correctly they can create lasting, meaningful experiences that extend beyond traditional online interactions to foster and build human connections.

Web 2.0 Empowers Users

Almost everyone has heard of YouTube and MySpace. The main concept of Web 2.0 is that these tools empower users by giving them a central role in how content is produced, managed, and delivered. In the old Web paradigm, content was created and delivered by designated providers. Now, through the use of wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds, blogs, social networks, and a host of other Web 2.0 devices, users not only have the power to provide content, they can decide what is shared, how and when it is shared, and who sees it. The overall result is that news, information, and updates are tailored to the unique requirements of individual audience members. Event planners benefit from this model by providing tools for attendees to share their experiences and opinions and help highlight the most relevant content, which proves useful for planning future events.

Trust: a Web 2.0 Fundamental

Social networks establish relationships among peers, who share their preferences and recommendations to create content that is meaningful to the group. Peer-suggested and rated content is highly trusted compared to that which is “pushed” by marketers or event or site owners.

Blogs provide a communication path through which there is an inherent expectation of honesty. Many blogs are written, in some cases anonymously, by employees of a company, with the intended social network being other employees of that company. This can provided a source of trusted and timely information. The same idea can be replicated with a blog for attendees or potential attendees of an event.

A peer-focused approach to content delivery can help users sift through the blitz of information sent to them before, during, and after an event. Web 2.0 technologies not only present compelling user-generated content, they also provide a more inclusive experience that encourages people to participate by both absorbing and disseminating information.

By communicating openly and honestly with attendees before an event, speakers and organizers can align their content with the attendees’ needs and prepare them to have deeper and more meaningful experiences at the event. After the event, the attendee-supplied content, comments, and ratings are the most trusted information, not only for that meeting but often future ones as well.

Using Web 2.0 to Drive In-Person Attendance

To embrace Web 2.0, event organizers can first communicate event experiences in more traditional ways--videos, session webcasts, photos, and so on--for potential attendees to review. Then, by allowing them to give ratings of this “official” event content, event organizers draw them in, get them talking to one another, and give them a platform to begin shaping the content of the event to suit their needs. All of this makes them much more likely to want to experience the event first-hand.

Any fears that making too much content available online are unwarranted. A good online experience ultimately results in higher brand value and greater onsite attendance.

Steps to Building Events 2.0

You can start small. Try a frequently updated event blog that you monitor closely, and respond quickly to comments and feedback. You can go a step further by providing a social network of people who are enthusiastic about your event. Or you can take a more holistic approach and transform the entire Web experience into a permanent part of the event experience, treating the attendees as a key part of the event’s content-generation process.

There are plenty of tools and techniques at your disposal:

Pre-Event:

  • Social Networking
  • Blogging
  • Peer ratings of sessions, speakers, and exhibits

During the Event:

  • Live blogging
  • Live webcasting
  • On-demand video archives with user ratings and comments
  • Mobile voting, SMS text message “shout-outs,” and moblogging

Post-Event:

  • User-supplied images and videos
  • Continued peer ratings of content

Taking advantage of Web 2.0 tools can help provide compelling content and experiences to online visitors while shaping the in-person event experience as well. It also can provide unprecedented access into the minds of your audience. Understanding how content is shared, developed, and seen will shape your events to provide the strongest and most meaningful brand experiences possible.

Rob Everton is the creative technology director of Cramer, a digital marketing and events solutions agency based in Norwood, MA. He can be reached at reverton@crameronline.com.