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Big data is not so much about the number crunching as it is about asking the right questions. There is plenty of unstructured data available, and there is plenty of computing power around and there are talented, algorithm-savvy programmers who are happy to put their knowledge to work. Often what is missing is the right questions.

Asking the right questions can be likened to playing a dozen moves ahead of your opponent in a chess game or, as Wayne Gretzky, put it, “Skating to where the puck will be.”

Unfortunately, in either of these metaphoric scenarios, asking the right question doesn’t mean predicting outcomes accurately. A lot of different and unexpected outcomes can happen in twelve moves of a chess game or in a few seconds of a fast-moving hockey game.Asking the right questions, especially when the future is dependent on the behavior of human beings, is more about finding ways to respond to patterns and emerging trends with a range of actions that have the potential to produce outcomes that are desirable.

For event planners, the emphasis is often less on the event and more on the planning process. This isn’t to say that unexpected things don’t happen during an event, but getting the event started on time with a schedule that everyone knows about is the real event for planners.

It’s still all about the customer

For participants and attendees, the event itself is the experience, and the better their experience, the more successful the event and the more likely it is to be repeated, grow, and be profitable. Marathons are popular events around the world, many of them limiting participation and selling out within minutes of opening sales. Marathon attendees are also participants; they are part of the show. They are not simply passive attendees. Not only are attendees at other types of events clamoring for opportunities to move beyond the experience of passively sitting in a room listening to a talking head drone on in a death by Powerpoint experience, but event planners are looking for ways to move beyond this model as well. Big data will be the key to event planners making this transition successfully.

To that end, one of the major uses of big data for event planners might well be the data created by participants at the event itself.

Event technology

According to a Forbes article, mobile technologies are major players for the change happening in the event industry. WIFI, for example, is a fundamental requirement for almost any event, these days, indoor or outdoor. More events are providing mobile apps to participants with a range of capabilities from registration and schedule viewing to chat and other interactive functionalities. iBeacons an BLE (bluetooth low energy) will be increasingly used to monitor behaviors and crowd patterns.

All this technology will provide a wealth of data that can allow event planners to respond on the spot to emerging trends and patterns to enhance event experiences for participants.

Are event participants walking out of a session in great numbers before it is over? Is this speaker scheduled to speak again or conduct a breakout session? What is really going on? Are there meetings or speeches where no one showed up? Are there empty rooms that could be used for some other purpose right now?

Social influencers

Many events adopt and publicize hashtags for users who want to engage on existing social networks during an event. But have the event organizers used this data to enhance the event on the fly? By analyzing hashtag use, significant conversation threads could identified, and more importantly, social influencers who are not speakers can be identified. Their public messages, tweets, instagrams, microblogs and other outgoing communications could reflect moods and other behavioral variables in real time for event planners. Who are the influencers using the hashtags the most? Are other, impromptu hashtags emerging?

Hashtags are also often associated with photos taken live at an event. What do these photos say about what participants are interested in? Can the photos be reused or retweeted by event organizers to help achieve an objective?

The first step in tapping big data is for planners taking the time to identify their real objectives and metrics for success. Once these have been agreed upon, planners need to make sure they are asking the right questions so they can either collect the right data to get the answers they are looking for.
This is a guest post by Ivan Serrano, a social media, business and technology journalist living in Northern California.

“Image source – Flickr , usage under Creative Commons license (”

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