• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Live Events; Digital Signage; Networked Av Systems; Marketing And Sales;
  • Date: May 2014

By Dan Daley, Special to AVIXA

Social MediaLike peanut butter and chocolate before it, in retrospect it seems inevitable that social media and live-event AV technology would make for a cool mashup. Increasingly, we're seeing pictures and video from Facebook, and images and comments from Twitter and Instagram leaping from users' mobile devices onto 60-inch LCDs and 20-foot projection screens at corporate and other types of events. It's become a source of instant and (mostly) relevant content for event producers, with advantages such as instant engagement of attendees (everyone loves to see themselves on the big screen!) and low-cost positive reinforcement of event messaging. The pitfalls are the usual ones with social media, of course: the occasional ill-advised comment or questionable selfie getting through what can quickly become a torrent of under-curated content as attendees get into the spirit of interaction. What has scuttled more than one political campaign can just as rapidly cast a pall over an event (or worse: turn the unfortunate moment into a viral nightmare attached for Internet eternity to the event-sponsor's brand).

"Social media and meetings do the same thing: they bring people together — it is natural that they be used hand in hand," observes Corbin Ball, of Corbin Ball Associates, a Bellingham, WA-based meetings technology consulting firm. "There are many ways that [social media] can be used at events [to] increase participant engagement and broaden the footprint of the event. These can include moderated Twitter walls, Twitter-based Q&A (which can include remote audiences), all sorts of gamification technologies, leader boards, automated SM check-in using RFID, NFC or iBeacons, or picture walls. Ideally, several of these technologies are used simultaneously."

A Fluid Business

The convergence of social media and AV technology is still new enough that the universe of dedicated service providers is growing and fluid, with no one company dominating the market. Companies like Postano and Tint are making up the rules as they go along, though certain practices are becoming clear. Sean Stewart, a co-founder and lead developer at Snapcastr, a year-old South Carolina company chasing this market, says developing an event-centric hashtag for Twitter, the most widely used social media platform, and disseminating it well before the event is critical. "The hashtag is what starts the engagement process with people coming to and at the event," he says.

And while getting crowd-sourced pictures and comments up on big screens is the goal, he also says the idea is new enough that it can take a while for attendees to make the connection between your screen and theirs. "We've found that it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before they're making the connection, so it's a good idea for the event organizers of sponsors to have some predetermined content ready to roll," he says. "But once they do see the connection between their devices and the big screens, it picks up steam quickly."

Digital Signage

The ways that social media are finding their way onto screens at events are myriad, with digital signage being among the fastest growing of those. "Easily the biggest demand we're seeing with social media is integration with digital signage," says Brent Rogers, vice president of digital services for PSAV Presentation Services, a Scottsdale, AZ-based company that provides AV equipment and support to hundreds of hotels and other event spaces in the U.S.

"Signage is being used for typical things like wayfinding and posting event schedules, but what's new is the integration of social media content into that. The most popular form of that is Twitter, followed by Instagram, with people posting their comments about, for instance, the subject of an upcoming panel in there with the information about the panel, in real time. The trend has really taken off."

Rogers says PSAV has modified its digital signage operating software with widgets designed to pull Twitter and other social-media feeds into the scheduled signage content. Twitter is the simplest one to filter for, with the software looking for hashtags associated with the event, which also he says underscores the need for event producers and/or sponsors to generate their own relevant hashtags well before the event begins, including them in promotional materials sent out to attendees.

Curation is important. Snapcastr has developed software that lets users moderate the social media feed on site or remotely, and is developing the capability to algorithmically moderate content by looking for keywords. Software widgets can be programmed to filter out unwanted content but that's where the culture of the Internet has to be taken into account. Rogers says a basic tenet of social media is the unfettered flow of commentary and opinion, and hackles can be raised if people sense content is being artificially manipulated. "I actually caution clients against filtering," Rogers says, noting that redacting certain words or criticisms can provoke blowback. "It's as though you're challenging them." In other words, remember that on social media, you're still in high school.

One of the more practical uses of social media integrated into event AV is that the feed can follow users into breakout areas, such as panels and presentation rooms. Again using widgets for filtering, keywords and hashtags can be directed to specific areas of the event space via switchers. Social-media content can be integrated into projectors and keyed into the main visual or can be run on a separate screen, or just left to be seen on attendee's personal devices. That, however, runs the risk of distracting them from what's on stage. You don't want to set up a situation where social media becomes competition with the main event.

The Social Media Register

While Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are the three most often used social media platforms related to event production, they have a shifting hierarchy before, during and after the event itself. According to marketing consultants AIM Group International, LinkedIn is the most highly used platform to raise awareness before upcoming events and to discuss them afterwards. However, during the event Twitter takes the lead amongst social media platforms, along with dedicated conference apps developed specifically for that event, which suggests that brevity, speed and dedicated content are the values that attendees desire most.

What to Watch For

For all the things that you can control when incorporating social media onto AV displays, there are some things that most event planners and producers simply may have to endure, part of the culture and technology of the beast. For instance, those cute personal icons and Instagrammed sepia-toned photos that every social media account has may look great on an iPhone but when you blow up a 50-kb .jpg the pixilated result can look pretty ratty. Some filters might allow the feed to leave out the images. Then there's the fact that not everyone is social-media savvy; making Facebook the center of attention may ostracize or marginalize some attendees. Some event planners have even had onsite help for those who want to set up an account right there and then, and keeping someone approachable and enthusiastic circulating on the floor looking for the problem and ready to snap a picture of an accidental Luddite for inclusion on a big screen would be well worth the cost of one extra underemployed actor. Finally, the Internet connection itself is always subject to hiccups. Having alternate content ready to roll helps get over the (hopefully) momentary loss. The social media feeds themselves can also be capricious; for instance, in 2012 Twitter terminated its free RSS, XML and Atom feeds with barely any advance notice.


Interestingly, as a product, integrating social media into event AV is a kind of loss leader for the moment. It's still a novelty, an option that not everyone opts for, despite the fact that demand is increasing in double digits from PSaV's clients. Rogers says they keep it priced "affordably" now to stimulate interest but believe it can be priced up as demand increases. Sean Stewart says Snapcastr prices its services now at $599 per event day, adding that it's rare to see quotes above $1,000 per day and that prices may begin to come down as competition heats up. Furthermore, as the inevitable dynamics of what is a software-driven business model begin to take effect, the realization that nothing — not even social media — is immune from the vicissitudes of Moore's Law will likely become apparent. But whether it's on the iPad or on IMAG, social media is looking to become a regular component of event technology.