iBeacon and Events: Lessons from SXSW

Guest Column by Brian Duggan

Much has been written lately about iBeacon technology and how it will revolutionize retail. Now the attention seems to be shifting to its impact on larger public spaces and the events that take place in them.

While Apple itself has been the poster child for initial retail applications, the work MLB is doing in the event space is sure to get even more buzz as we head into Baseball’s Opening Day.

SXSW and its Mobile App Provider EventBase recently showcased some of the ways iBeacons will change event experiences going forward. A good general write up on their program can be read here on Mashable.

I am struck by the potential power of this technology to unleash what may ultimately evolve into an entirely new medium. It can bring our Mobile Apps to life just when they can be of use to us and unearth for us personalized content directly relevant to the iBeacon enabled event spaces around us, be they meeting rooms, trade show booths, concert stages, waiting lines or sponsor installations.

While still the top of the first inning (to keep the Baseball metaphor going)  here are just a few of the learnings we got from having a front row seat on this at SXSW:


Deciding how intrusive to be will be critical.  There have been some good warning pieces on how iBeacon as an industry needs to be careful not to inundate shoppers with messages, or risk their wrath and subsequent app deletion.

In my opinion, SXSW took too conservative an approach, and should have messaged people more.

I will give one example. I was in several Beacon enabled meeting rooms that had a relatively small number of attendees logged into the dedicated iBeacon powered discussion session for that room.

However, when we did our session,  an interactive conversation for the event community entitled Your #Hashtag is Your Event, we explicitly made the iBeacon installation part of the discussion. We featured it and talked about it, and invited folks to log into it, and nearly 40% of the audience of 140 in the room logged in to the discussion section. This number is even more impressive when you consider that for this round the capability was iPhone only.


Building your solutions with an eye towards security will be critical. Apparently, the test CES did back in January was marred in part by some spoofing of the Beacons on their scavenger hunt, so a secure layer is critical in any of these commercial implementations.

EventBase went with Qualcomm’s Gimbal technology for their implementation in large part because of an extra security layer they provide.

Peer to Peer capabilities

The ability to talk to one another (built into the EventBase App) and see one another’s profiles in this kind of setting (to in a sense create an instant and interest-based social network on the fly)  is potentially quite powerful, especially against the backdrop of the overwhelming stream of social media content flowing by at major events these days.

A new creative canvas in the world of experiential marketing

The above tests, along with the ways EventBase and SXSW linked the App’s iBeacon features to registration and their trade show booth experience, point towards additional ways this technology can unlock extra personalized value for event participants.

Ultimately, this is going to be crucial to get those participants to embrace this kind of new technology and the push notifications that come along with it.

As we stand at the frontier of this new medium, please let me know in the comments if you’ve seen other exciting initial uses for this technology in event settings, and I’ll look to compile as many best practices as I can for a future post.

Guest Author Bio: Brian Duggan

Brian DugganBrian Duggan is a Strategist working at the intersection of live events and new technologies. He is the Founder of Building Alliances, LLC, a firm which helps companies produce or sponsor events for maximum thought leadership, business development and content marketing benefit, while also supporting technology firms in achieving their goals through events.

His clients include Business Insider, Twitter, John Battelle and others.

He can be followed on Twitter at @briand or connected to on linkedin here , and he also posts his favorite quotes from the latest events at www.conferencebites.com, and on Twitter at @conferencebites.


2 thoughts on “iBeacon and Events: Lessons from SXSW

  1. Late last year we saw the same opportunity for Open Houses – much less intrusive. Started the business in January. The overall idea is here: Open Houses: How It Works. Universities, Colleges, School, New Business / Store Openings, Real Estate can be all be handled through the platform. We will soon start the Kickstarter campaign for the mobile platform development. (sorry for the plug, but the possibilities around iBeacon are endless)


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