Crowdshaping: How Big Data is Impacting the Events Industry


In 2006, a new (and now inescapable) term was coined in a WIRED magazine article. The gist of the article was how the internet facilitates gathering pools of people or resources and then these groups offer services at drastically reduced costs. The piece was titled, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.”

Today, crowdsourcing is ubiquitous. You use it if you want a lift to the airport, a place to stay while on vacation, and someone to replace all the pulls on your kitchen cabinets and drawers. As we’ve honed the technique and developed new technologies around it, the broader crowdsourcing concept has become more specialized. There’s crowdfunding where small amounts are collected to pay for an expensive service, crowdsearching to locate lost or missing items, crowdsolving to decipher complex problems, and, now, crowdshaping.

Crowdshaping is a revolutionary approach to managing crowds, and it directly affects event management. Crowdshaping utilizes a variety of technologies and data sources to give planners the ability to adjust their event and customize it in real time. It differs from crowdsourcing in that the participants are relatively passive (unlike crowdsourcing, where participants are inherently active).

Real-Time Modifications

What used to take event planners a year to accomplish (after perusing surveys and then making fixes to an upcoming event), can now take place within minutes.

For example, let’s say you notice that a booth or a specific area is getting less traffic than you anticipated. You can utilize real-time data to understand what is appealing to your attendees and why. Then, by making an adjustment through digital signage and your event app, you can alter signage, rewrite calls to action, and even shift around your schedule. 


Photo Credit: DoubleDutch Resources

Construct Customized Event Experiences

Thanks to wearable tech, geolocation software, proximity sensors, radio frequency identification (RFID), etc., attendees can have an event experience that is uniquely their own. Depending on a person’s location, he or she could be notified of a talk that’s about to start, a contest deadline that’s rapidly approaching, a special event that’s about to occur, or a special offer from a nearby vendor.

They could even have relevant material that’s tailored to their profile and relates to a nearby vendor, booth, or area pop up on their mobile device. Gamification elements can also be adapted to each consumer, again based on his or her profile.

This can be especially useful for experiential marketing activations. Experiential marketing is a campaign that tries to forge an emotional relationship between the customers and a brand by positioning a product or service in a memorable way. When executed correctly, this type of marketing delivers an experience to consumers that makes them want to participate instead of feeling like they are being pitched to. It has been described as advertising that is difficult to ignore but less intrusive than traditional efforts. Crowdshaping can further personalize these experiential marketing efforts.

Improved Crowd Control

In countries where people drive on the right side of the road, like America, pedestrians are more likely to turn right at the first opportunity. It’s ingrained as part of the natural flow of traffic. (The opposite is true in countries that drive on the left side of the road.)

There are also natural dead zones in any event layout because attendees tend to head from the entrance to the back of the exhibit and back in a triangular pattern that skips the front corners.

These are not-so-secret secrets of the trade that event planners and industry pros have known about for years. Yet, through crowdshaping, event planners can monitor foot traffic in real time and watch for dead areas and bottlenecks then adjust immediately. Gathering this data will likely impact the design and layout for future events.


Photo Credit: Power 104 FM

Real World Examples

SXSW Pepsi’s Bioreactive Concert

At the 2014 South by Southwest, Pepsi delivered one of the earliest crowdshaping events. Attendees of a dance party were given wristbands that measured their response to the stimulus around them. The wristbands had four sensors: an accelerometer to measure movement, a microphone to detect how loud someone was being, a device to determine both body and ambient temperature, and the ability to sense sweat and gauge physiological and psychological arousal.

The event was overseen by a DJ who could literally see the feedback for what songs were working and which ones weren’t. The revelers were also converted into avatars that mirrored their moves. There was even a gamification element because the crowd’s movement and enthusiasm would control lighting, smoke machines, CO2 cannons, and bubble machines.


Photo Credit: Track Marketing Group

North American International Auto Show

Nissan’s showcase at the North American International Auto Show allowed guests to personalize their experience by utilizing RFID technology and iBeacons. Attendees would receive specific information about vehicles as they approached them and were given the option to download even more info. There was also the possibility for them to interact through games.

In addition, Nissan was able to use the data they gathered to react in real time to cars that weren’t attracting a crowd by playing around with the call to action and digital signage.

Cisco Global Sales Experience

Cisco utilized several different crowdshaping techniques to ensure its Global Sales Experience in Las Vegas went smoothly. This event is a massive show with more than 18,000 people in attendance. As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare.

With that many people, just getting from place to place can be overwhelming. Because breakout sessions took place at both the MGM Grand Garden Arena and the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, a fleet of buses was employed to shuttle attendees back and forth. Each bus contained sensors so it could be monitored for location and rate of travel. If more busses were needed, it was known immediately, and new vehicles were sent into the field. Attendees were also given access to this information so they would know in real time when their ride would arrive.


Photo Credit: BizBash

Then attendee movement was consistently monitored where the breakout sessions were held in both the MGM Grand Garden Arena and in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center by utilizing beacons. Cameras were also placed in the actual breakout rooms, so event managers were able to adjust the schedule and seating to ensure there was enough room at high-demand sessions.

Lines at all food areas were also closely watched, and when they appeared to be getting too long, new lanes were opened.

C2 Montréal

The business conference C2 Montréal also utilized crowdshaping tech to monitor food areas (no one likes waiting in line when they are hungry). Attendees wore badges equipped with RIFD technology so organizers could instantly spot when large numbers of people were gathering in line. When that occurred, more staffers were sent to the area, and new food locations were opened.

Data gathering is changing the event industry every day. For more of our thoughts on the potential of crowdshaping and other groundbreaking technologies and how we can make them work for you at your next exhibition, give Event Architecture a call at 972-323-9433.