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Geofencing Technology

Surrounded your venue with a virtual fence that can track attendees through their mobile phones and send them key messages based on their loca­tion

By Linda Dunlop

Here’s how to impress the tech-savvy crowd at your next conference: invest in an event app, place a few iBeacons around your show floor, and voila! You’ve surrounded your venue with a virtual fence that can track attendees through their mobile phones and send them key messages based on their loca­tion. Geofencing technology promises to add a slew of creative options to an event planner’s toolbox. Here’s what you need to know:

Consider the possibilities
Want to trigger a Vine video to welcome partici­pants as they enter your registration area? Or notify those in the vicinity that your keynote speaker is about to make a surprise appearance at the next booth? “Beacon technology can present the right information at exactly the right time, based on where you are,” says Jeff Sinclair, co-founder of Eventbase, a Vancouver-based premium apps pro­vider that deployed over 1,000 iBeacons at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas.

It’s not just the tradeshow crowd that’s embrac­ing this technology. “We’ve been very successful with just five beacons,” says Eric Francois, chief operating officer of Topi, a New York-based startup that offers low-cost beacon solutions for as little as $1,500 US per event ($1,250 for the mobile app and $250 for beacon rental and setup).

“From a planner’s perspective, beacon technol­ogy can be advantageous for attendance auditing, sponsor and tradeshow interactions and analytics,” says Marie-Louise Doyle, senior sales manager of MyEventApps and a veteran conference organizer based in Ottawa. You can also create scavenger hunts, confirm attendance for education credits and automatically display tickets on attendee’s smartphones when they enter your registration zone. Add a social component and you can make it even easier for attendees to network. “It’s like you know everybody in the room and you can connect with the people who are most important to you,” says Sinclair.

Proceed with caution
So far, beacons work solely on Apple devices and 80 per cent of Android platforms. That leaves BlackBerry and Windows users out of the mix. Attendees must download your event app to trigger beacons and those who’ve disabled their Bluetooth will not be connected at all—nor will participants who prefer to turn off their devices and enjoy your meeting the old-fashioned way.

There are also privacy concerns. “As a woman, I’m not interested in anyone being able to trace my steps without my knowing it,” says Doyle. Most app providers offer an opt-in option to alleviate user fears about Big Brother.

Are we there yet?
“It’s a brand-new sexy technology that will defi­nitely be a major part of conferences in the future, but only once we can ensure a quality experience for attendees,” says Jonah Wolfraim, manager of marketing at Toronto’s EventMobi. Until then, EventMobi and other Canadian app providers cau­tion against leaping in with both feet.

“I think planners need to realize: baby steps,” adds Doyle. Start with an event app and then talk to your provider about the pros and cons of adding proximity-based technology to the mix.

See geofencing in action in our digital version.

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