Author Archive for Kristen Parker

14
Oct
14

Wi-Fi woes for Marriott

wifi-cellularLast year, I attended a conference at a venue that shall remain nameless. During the two-day event, similar to most professional events, live tweeting was encouraged.

So imagine my frustration when I couldn’t connect to Wi-Fi. Worse yet, imagine the frustration when no one in the room could connect. No one, that is, except for the person at the back of the room using his mobile hotspot.

After several minutes, a panicked IT crew finally resolved the issue and we were filling the Twittersphere with hashtags, comments and replies.

Crisis averted, but what if that hotel had blocked our access? What if my fellow conference attendee hadn’t been able to use his hotspot?

Connectivity is perhaps the most important amenity at conferences. Whether it’s using technology during a session or whether it’s working remotely, professionals expect speedy, affordable Internet connection.

So that’s why an angry conference participant filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission against Marriott in March 2013.

On Oct. 3, FCC released a statement announcing Marriott – which owns Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Conference Center, in Nashville – will pay $600,000 to resolve the FCC investigation. The FCC found that employees of the Opryland Hotel intentionally blocked access to guests’ personal Wi-Fi Internet connections. Yet, Opryland charged customers, exhibitors and others up to $1,000 to use Marriott’s Internet.

multiplemobile“Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”

The complainant alleged that Marriott employees intentionally “blocked” hotspots by manipulating technology, and as a result, forced conference goers to connect to Marriott’s spotty Internet.

Under the terms of the consent decree the FCC announced, Marriott must stop the use of Wi-Fi blocking technology and take significant steps to improve how it monitors and uses its Wi-Fi technology at the Gaylord Opryland. And Marriott must file compliance and usage reports with the FCC every three months for three years.

As you can imagine, Internet consultants are having a field day with this story. Not to mention ethicists. Marriott claims it was trying to protect customers from “rogue hotspots,” but that argument doesn’t seem to hold water with the general public.

Some travel analysts predict that soon the issue might be moot, as customers grow more insistent on 24-7 access. In fact, they say, in the near future, Internet access may very well be free for all hotel guests.

But for now, industry professionals agree that Marriott was in the wrong.

“Of course, convention venues have every right to charge reasonable rates to support exhibitor access to the hotel’s broadband network and to secure that network against hackers, but when it comes to jamming, we’d draw the line where the FCC drew it,” Travel Weekly argued in a recent editorial about the investigation.

While this may not be common practice at hotels, I’ll be anxious to watch this unfold. How will other venues react to the investigation? Will we start to see “customers’ bill of rights” pop up?

A little public relations tip for hotels and conference centers: You’d be wise to jump on the bandwagon. If you’ve got an opinion on the ruling, make it known. Write an op-ed. Advertise your Wi-Fi policy.

Stay tuned for more on this, as I’ll be writing follow up posts. I’d like to hear from hotel professionals and/or lawyers. Did Marriott violate customers’ rights?

In the meantime, tell us. Do you review a venue’s Wi-Fi protocols before booking?

30
Sep
14

Bonus content: Event Garde e-news – October edition

Jeannette Slawski

Jeannette Stawski, CAE, executive director, AORE

Q & A with Jeannette Stawski, CAE, executive director of Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education

Q: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
A: Je parle Francais. Well, I used to know how! I really enjoyed studying and speaking French, and I would love to live in a French-speaking country in the future with my family.

Q: When you’re not working, what are you most likely doing?
A: I would be spending time with my kids, Gretel, 9, and Thor, 6, and my husband, Justin. Right now, life is full of elementary school events and after-school sports and activities. Personally, I spend my time training or doing open water swims in the summer, and attempting to learn how to skate ski in the winter.

Q: What book best describes your life, and why?
A: I don’t know if I’ve read a book that describes my life, but the book “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay is a favorite. I was fascinated by the story of a little boy with all odds against him finding his voice and moving a vision forward. It is set in Africa and I have always wanted to travel there. Another book I find especially moving is Gretel Ehlich’s “The Solace of Open Spaces.” I love this book for the rugged individualism of a woman in the west on a ranch and the piercing beauty of the prose she captures in the landscapes and lives she comes across.

Q: If you could be anyone in the world but you, who would you be, and why?
A: I’m pretty excited about being me, actually. But if I could be anyone else, I would say an improved version of myself that I’m working toward becoming. This future Jeannette is someone who has confidence, is less insecure, lets the little things go, has balance in work and life and sees the big and little things that I’m accomplishing along the way. I’m a tough critic on myself and I think that is a strong (positive) trait, but I could also use a bit more perspective in times where I feel I’ve missed the mark.

Q: What’s one thing you hope to accomplish this year?
A: My goal this year was to swim across the Chesapeake Bay, which I did in June. It was a 4.4 mile open water swim. So that means I have other goals to accomplish before the end of the year. I hope to get out Christmas cards this year; I let those go off the radar in 2013. One more goal would be to create a photo book of last year’s family trip to Glacier National Park.

30
Sep
14

Tips for improving trade show participation in 2015

Mariama Holman

Mariama Holman, content marketing specialist for MultiView.

This month’s guest blog post is by Mariama Holman, content marketing specialist for MultiView, a digital marketing company for associations.

It’s never too early (or too late) to start fine-tuning your organization’s participation in a trade show. The time is now; the fourth quarter of 2014 is filled with a myriad of seasonal events. Additionally, there are plenty of major events on the horizon for early next year, such as the Springtime Expo hosted by ASAE. This event hails as the most significant one-day show for association meeting professionals, attracting leaders from across the nation.

Headed to a trade show soon? Heed these helpful hints:

Develop a strategy

The association should be like a tactician competing on the battlefield – vying for new members and the continuing loyalty of old ones.

Lee Ali, managing director and founder of Expo Stars Interactive Ltd., states that 65 percent of exhibitors do not have a clear strategy or plan of action for trade show participation. Given these events are often costly, it is important to put time into thinking through trade show involvement and determining a worthwhile ROI.

Set and track goals

What are the goals for participation? How did the association perform?

Answers to these questions are necessary for assessing performance and creating a strategy to improve. Unfortunately, 97.5 percent of exhibitors do not keep track of any quantifiable results from their events. It is a best practice to always outline what “success looks like” for trade show participation and keep track of performance.

Train for success

Olympic sprinters train to win medals. Artists rehearse to perform concerts. Entrepreneurs practice their pitches to gain funding. Why shouldn’t associations train for success as well?

According to Ali, 74 percent of exhibitors do not train their staff for trade shows and events. There is a certain set of skills unique to trade shows. These skills are a hybrid of marketing and sales – knowing how to not only “sell” visitors once they enter a booth, but appropriately attract them in the first place. It is important to prepare staff by teaching best practices, running through set-up/tear down time frames and developing a familiarity with the hustle and bustle of a trade show.

Optimize

People, events and organizations are not perfect and never will be. However, organizations can always strive to improve – getting better, faster and smarter year after year.

An association is bound to make some mistakes at a trade show, whether it is falling behind schedule or not securing the amount of X, Y or Z it hoped. Utilize these moments as opportunities to learn and improve your organization’s involvement in the future.

23
Sep
14

The benefits of educating about benefits

surveyAs a follow up to my Aug. 19 post about associations offering voluntary benefits to their members, I thought it would be wise think about benefits for association employees.

I’ll mention it again: With extensive media coverage of the Affordable Care Act, benefits are on everyone’s mind. In fact, just the other day while I was grocery shopping, two women were discussing their benefits while they compared the price of cheese.

It’s true that larger organizations can generally provide better – and more comprehensive – health care benefits. But according to a rather surprising Unum survey conducted recently, most employees don’t know or understand the benefits they have.

And employers are at fault, the study found. Surveying 1,521 working adults, it revealed that employee satisfaction with their workplaces and benefits is at its lowest since 2008.

Conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Unum, an insurance provider, only 49 percent of workers indicated their places of employment are good places to work, while only 47 percent ranked their benefits as good.

But here’s the kicker: The research also showed that employees don’t feel they’re getting adequate information about their benefits. In the survey, only 33 percent of employees rated the benefits education they received as excellent or very good – a drop from 2012 and a reversal to the upward trend in ratings since 2009.

So why does this matter? Associations generally operate with small staffs, so it’s important that your employees are happy, and the survey found a correlation between good benefits education and employee happiness. In other words, an informed employee is a productive employee.

In addition, according to the survey, 79 percent of workers who reviewed benefits in the past year and rated their education as excellent or very good also rate their employer as excellent or very good – compared to only 30 percent of those who said the education they received was fair or poor.

“This research underscores the value of an effective benefits education plan because when an employee understands their benefits, they tend to value them more and in turn may then value their employers more for providing access to them,” said Bill Dalicandro, vice president of the consumer solutions group at Unum.

educationBottom line: Employers need to do a better job educating their staffs about benefits. But how?

It doesn’t matter how large or small your organization is, chances are, a dedicated staff person handles human resources. That person should be responsible for providing such an education.

How? Rapid Learning Institute shared some tips in a recent blog post. It suggests offering materials for various learning types: printed materials and videos for visual learners; podcasts and audio conferences for auditory learners; and interactive online tools or worksheets for tactile learners.

The most common way to educate continues to be printed materials, the institute said, but emails, social media and internal messaging systems also work well.

Or consider hosting educational benefit sessions throughout the year. Have a little-known perk? A tax tip? Communicate with your employees on a regular basis.

16
Sep
14

Fun and games for associations

Chase-Bank-Gamification-Example-CaseStudy-IGamifyJust about everyone I know is addicted to Candy Crush. (Not me. I tried and was terrible.) And I have quite a few friends who thrive on becoming king of a location on FourSquare.

Me? I get excited when I get a new badge on my hotels reward program and can share it on Facebook.

Ah, Facebook. Its gamification genius has taken social media by storm. In fact, it seems companies of all sizes are joining the gamification bandwagon.

But what is it?

According to Clickipedia, “Gamification is used by brands to motivate employees, create healthy competition among teams, generate buzz or social proof and encourage customer loyalty, among other benefits. With a variety of techniques – some easy to implement, some requiring advanced planning, coding, or technical expertise – any business can use gamification to get better results, no matter what your goals.”

And this means associations.

For example, if your association operates a blog, consider ranking users – and commenters – to reward those who contribute the most to your blog. Create badge levels and then allow commenters to share the badge on Facebook. You can also do this on your website. Create reward programs for the materials your customers buy, the articles they read and the events they attend.

Or, if you’re unveiling a new education module, consider making the demo a game.

For more ideas, check out Clickpedia’s 25 Best Examples of Gamification.

According to EventMobi, there are five basics of gamification:

  • collect points
  • achieve new levels
  • earn achievements such as badges and prizes
  • participate in challenges
  • compare progress with others via leader boards.

g1But where to start? In June, Incentive Research Foundation released a whitepaper on gamification, listing some important dos and don’ts.

It suggests thinking of those you’re trying to entice as “gamers.” These gamers could be employees, customers, community members or meeting attendees. An app might be the best way to do it. For instance, if you’re hosting a conference, create an app. Think about doing a mobile scavenger hunt with the app to foster networking and creativity. Or, reward conference attendees with badges for taking short quizzes at the end of a session.

Gamification is mostly about psychology, not technology, the authors wrote. So it’s important to identify the behaviors you’re trying to engage.

But be careful. Games can be addicting and they can alienate a potential customer base. So make sure that your efforts are valuable.

“Gamification is hyped and often touted as a kind of magic bullet for getting consumers or employees to do what you want,” IRF said. “Yes, gamification can change human behavior, and it is effective, but your players aren’t stupid. Regardless of the experience you are gamifying, it must eventually generate some real value. Otherwise, your players will eventually realize that you’ve wasted a lot of their time playing, but provide no value what so ever. This leads to gamification backlash, where your players start to resist your future attempts at gamification.”

Has your association entered the gamification world? If so, tell us about it.

09
Sep
14

Hack attacks: Headed your way?

bigstock-Hacker-Typing-On-A-Laptop-44548564Home Depot. Apple Inc. (celebrity nude photos). Target (last Christmas). JP Morgan Chase.

The list goes on and on. It seems every day we hear about another cyber security attack.

While the attacks have targeted big businesses and corporations, associations, small businesses and nonprofits aren’t immune to security breaches, association experts have said.

So what if someone hacked into your system and stole your members’ credit card numbers?

In a June 1 Associations Now story, industry professionals linked data breach mistakes to employee error. For example, employees are lax with confidential information, and should change passwords every three months. But most don’t.

Malware attacks and phishing attempts are two of the biggest culprits, according to an Inc. Magazine story.

It’s scary just how quickly your business’ weak spots can become portals to your most protected information. But there’s help.

In October, the Department of Homeland Security will sponsor “National Cyber Security Awareness Month,” offering educational workshops, events and resources to combat cyber attacks. It may be wise to have your IT department check it out.

In the meantime, below are some other resources to explore:

  • In April, Zurich released a report on cyber security, which lists recommendations for organizations of all sizes. One of the recommendations: Organizations should employ the same cyber strategies as government agencies. Education is a must. And so is awareness. “Unfortunately, cybersecurity professionals often assume that the risk posed to the system as a whole is merely the sum of all the point risks,” the authors wrote. “They analyze cyber vulnerabilities looking at one technology, one organization or one nation at a time, paying little attention to how risk might emerge from the interaction of those organizations or technologies. Just as sound, internally-focused risk management failed to protect companies from the collapse of the financial system, strong internal computer security controls won’t shield even the best-protected companies from a ‘cyber sub-prime’ failure.”

Perhaps one day there will be a professional association dedicated to cyber security professionals. A new report by Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University advocates for such an organization, arguing a lack of skills and information is undermining efforts to improve cyber security.

Has your association fallen victim to hacking? If so, I’d like to hear about it – and how you resolved the situation. Email me at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

Until then, stay safe. Be smart.

02
Sep
14

Bonus content: Event Garde e-news – September edition

Aaron Wolowiec, president, Event Garde LLC

Aaron Wolowiec, president, Event Garde LLC

Q & A with Aaron Wolowiec, president of Event Garde, LLC

Q: If you could sit on a bench in a beautiful wooded area, next to whom would you likely be sitting on the bench, and why?
A: My partner, Selma, particularly if there was no WiFi or cell service. With our busy schedules, I appreciate the opportunity from time to time to just disconnect and enjoy one another’s company.

Q: If you were to create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
A: I’d borrow a page from the “Rent” manuscript: “No day but today.”

Q: Let’s say you had an imaginary friend. Describe him or her, and what makes you two click.
A: My imaginary friend would be an introverted homebody. While I’m often “on” at events and with clients, I derive my greatest energy from recharging in the comfort of my own home.

Q: It’s a gray, rainy, autumn day. What would we find you doing?
A: That’s easy! I love the rain. You’d find me curled up inside with a warm blanket, a cup of hot chocolate and my dog, Lillie, at my feet. I’d either be reading a good book or watching some marathon on TV. 

Q: If you were a sea creature, what would you be, and why?
A: I’d be a starfish. Much like the old man in “The Starfish Story,” I’d like to think I make a difference in the lives of others, one at a time.

 




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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