by Deanna Ting | July 31, 2014

On the last day of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) convention in Los Angeles, American Express Meetings & Events presented a few of the findings from its latest study examining trends in virtual meetings and social media use for meetings. Milton Rivera, vice president of global business development for American Express Meetings & Events, led a panel that included Lawrence Coburn, CEO and co-founder of mobile event apps company DoubleDutch, and Nikkole Couture, head of multimedia solutions commercial, EMEA, for Nasdaq OMX.

Among the findings from the report, which will be released in full next month, were the following:

- Sixty-three percent of attendees surveyed by American Express Meeting & Events would attend more virtual meetings if they were available; 48 percent of planners would do the same.

- Key drivers for the use of virtual meetings, according to planners and attendees, include reductions in travel and time spent away from the office; better return on investment; and schedules. Only 14 percent of those surveyed chose budget as a top three factor.

- More than half of planners and attendees surveyed feel it can be difficult to participate in a meeting when attending one virtually.

- According to those surveyed, meeting and event owners are the most unwilling to change from a traditional meeting format to a virtual one.

- Forty-five percent of attendees believe that virtual technology should be available for all meetings.

- Most attendees and planners find dedicated meeting hashtags to be "somewhat important"

- Planners are concerned as to whether social media serves as a distraction or a tool for engagement

Don't Be Afraid of Virtual Meetings
Couture, who manages more than 25,000 events for 5,000 customers worldwide, says that hybrid or virtual technology shouldn't be seen as different or intimidating. "Hybrid technology is just about being all connected and having a holistic connection with different technologies," she said. "But virtual meetings don't necessarily work for every meeting. You need to know when to use the right tool for the right job."

To make sure that virtual technology works well for your meeting, Couture advised that planners make sure to develop a "multi-screen experience with UX [user experience] design in mind" whereby the technology can work on multiple platforms -- smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc.

"Be bold," Couture added. "Virtual meetings are measureable and highly interactive and they can be just as engaging as a traditional meeting. It just comes down to the right tool for the job; it's not one size fits all."

Social Media and Mobile Event Apps: Distraction of Engagement Tool?

All three panelists agreed that it can sometimes be difficult to determine when an app or social media tool is more of a distraction. Even so, it's crucial to use social media and apps. "Social can help all groups of all sizes," said Coburn. "Attendees truly care about learning and connecting with people."

Best Practices for Meeting Apps

Coburn noted that his company, DoubleDutch, has found that activity feeds on mobile event apps are the most valued and participated in feature for its apps. Other desirable mobile event app features, he noted, include access to meeting schedule, updates from the organizer and access to personal meeting schedules.

Whatever a planner decides to do with an event app, optimization of attendees' needs makes or breaks the success of the app, Coburn said. He added that using an app template provides cost benefits and can also help to develop methods for collecting data and setting benchmarks for future meetings.

"Meetings and events are the best petri dish for trying out new stuff," Coburn added. "That's the fun thing about meetings and events. You can continually try to measure and reiterate new things. It doesn't even have to be an app. Just trying something new can be enough."