(2004), "Online conferences", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 53 No. 8. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijppm.2004.07953haf.002
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Online conferences do work, but only for “not-for-profit” use … and PR. That is the view of Dr Mark Smith, chief executive of Nemisys Enterprises (www.nemisys.uk.com), following two recent online conferences hosted by his company.
Smith was part of the original team responsible for the world’s first online conference in 1997. Having developed them for the private, government and charity sectors, he now feels that such events are best run in a not-for-profit manner. His comments are aimed at previous online conference models which have copied traditional conferences by bankrolling them – usually unsuccessfully – with online advertising, sponsorship and “exhibition stands”.
Qualifying “not-for-profit”, he explained: “We all know that the web is at its best when used as a vehicle for sharing information. Online conferences provide an effective and efficient device to engage various stakeholders in dialogue and are therefore ideal for governments and the not-for-profit sector, when their primary responsibility is information dissemination rather than profit.”
However, he is keen to point out that this does not mean that the commercial sector cannot benefit – in fact this is far from the truth. He added: “With increasing focus on CSR (corporate social responsibility) there is tremendous potential for companies and industry bodies to gain from promoting constructive discussion on sensitive or controversial issues. Aside from being able to gauge professional and public opinion on issues and helping to formulate policy, opening up debate and discussion has tremendous PR potential.”
Nemisys’s most recent conference came to its conclusion last month – although that’s not strictly true as by being online it stays open for review and comment for a further twelve months – a further benefit of the online format. The government-sponsored conference into evaluation of the Children’s Fund (www.ne-cf.org.uk/conferences) discussed the Fund’s work on the social exclusion of children. Even though it is such a specialist topic, the event still attracted 1,300 online delegates, from as far afield as New Zealand, to assess the impact of government policy. Smith added: “With so many registering for such a niche topic the potential for more mainstream topics is tremendous.”
Post-conference delegate feedback revealed that the majority of participants found the online format made it easier for them to attend and saved them considerable time and money when compared to physical conferences. And the free nature of the event made it possible for those who would have been precluded by high conference rates to join in. Smith added: “Whilst traditional conferences still have the benefits of face-to-face contact and the hotel bar, online conferences offer the opportunity to be much more inclusive in terms of removing cost barriers and simultaneously reaching a greater number of participants – all for the equivalent price of a single print advertisement.”