In statistics, the term “long tail” refers to a particular distribution pattern in which several high frequency items are followed by a much larger number of decreasingly low frequency items.
Long tail distribution has long been referenced when talking about internet searches. For example, for every person searching for the exact keyword “Lebron James”, there are many lower volume searches for long-tail keywords about Lebron such as: “Lebron James dog’s name”, “Lebron James sneakers”, “Lebron James best game”.
As it turns out, the sum of all of those those long-tail keywords about Lebron, often add up to a much higher overall search volume than the exact match phrase of his name. Hence why SEOs for years have aimed to go after “long tail” keyword rankings to maximize their brands visibility in search.
As it turns out, “the long tail of events” is also a pretty good description of the distribution of events within the largest and highest volume event programs.
If you look at a the typical Fortune 500 event program, you will see a handful of “tier 1” events (flagship customer days, employee offsites, large user conferences). At those tier 1 events attendees can number in the thousands to tens of thousands range.
This is followed by a larger number of “tier 2” mid-sized events that are often regional versions of the tier 1 events. These events may consist of hundreds of attendees each.
Followed yet again by thousands of smaller meetings and events which we’ll call “tier 3” events such as kick-offs, department meetings and trainings. These events tend to have fewer than 100 attendees each.
Where the dynamic gets interesting is as follows; if you add up all of the attendees of events in the long tail (“tier 2” and “tier 3” events), you usually get a number that is significantly larger than the attendees of just the tier one events at a company alone.
While “tier 1” events typically get the most attention, lower tier events shouldn’t be ignored as we are seeing they can account for 5x the volume. Meaning that there are frequently five times as many cumulative attendees at a company’s smaller events than those that attend their tier 1 events.
The implication of this distribution is obvious. If you are prioritizing attendee experience at your largest events only, and not considering the long tail of your event program, you may be doing it wrong, as counter intuitive as it may seem.
Your goal as a marketer, or an HR person, or a communications executive is to bring your message to the largest potential audience; in most cases, this likely means looking for scalable ways to reach the long tail of your event program.