In case you haven’t noticed, social networking is a movement, and where Tunisia and Egypt are concerned, it sparked an actual revolution. In the meetings industry, the experimentation with Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and LinkedIn is training our attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, media and nearly everyone in the event ecosystem to expect MORE—more content, more information, more engagement—before, during, after, online, and offline. In response, developers have come up with some interesting ideas to help event planners expand their notion of “social networking” beyond online platforms.
Why wait for the conference to begin before starting to network with other participants? A new service from developers in Denmark allows users to start getting to know each other in the airport and on the airplane. Planely asks users to sign up using Facebook or email addresses plus their first and last names. It then matches up travelers on the same flight to the same destination. “Why should the networking opportunity around an event start and finish at the venue? What a wasted opportunity before and after traveling,” says Nick Martin, Planely’s CEO and Founder.
Planely has touched on a pain point according to Martin. “Flying is a real time drain on busy professional people. Anything to make that moment more productive seems to be a real need,” he adds. For events, Martin’s firm has worked out a sponsorship opportunity that includes a custom landing page, timed sponsor messages, and metrics reporting. Event organizers get “the good feeling from their participants, some really interesting metrics to analyze after the event, an extra marketing channel for their sponsors, and that all important life juice of an event—buzz,” Martin says.
What began as green way for conference attendees to share rides (carpools, taxis) to/from an event has blossomed into an important social experience—an outcome that was not entirely an accident. “My personal motivation behind SpaceShare was primarily environmental, but I never saw that as more than one of a number of reasons why people would use it,” says Stephen Cataldo, SpaceShare’s Founder.
Today SpaceShare has become a practical, low-cost pre-conference networking experience as evidenced by the comments on their Website and a telling video of two women who met by sharing a cab to a conference, attended the conference together, and plan to attend the same conference “together” the following year. “Our feedback emails are full of connections, very often the most important connection someone makes at a conference is the person they share their travels with,” Cataldo says.
Everybody’s gotta eat, right? As the brainchild of restaurant software developer (Philip Tulin) and event industry entrepreneur (Jeff Nussdorf), GUMPstir is the first social dining network. Trade show attendees register with the service before they arrive in Las Vegas (the first city to launch the network). They play games to win points that translate into discounts and freebies at local area restaurants. The de facto community of visitors attending the same trade show can network online, “meetup” for dinner, share photos, challenge others in game play, and find out where other community members are dining.
An element of the GUMPstir platform allows trade show exhibitors to participate in the gaming by offering promotional codes (also good for dining points) to attendees who visit their booths. The entire program works like “Facebook meets Foursquare with a twist of SCVNGR,” using dinner, discounts and a chance to make new connections as the rewards for playing.
The Takeaway: There are nooks and crannies of every event that event organizers should pay attention to. Planners can facilitate the engagement that services like Planely, SpaceShare, GUMPstir, and others offer by bringing them into the light of day or even participating through sponsorships. When done well, attendees will see the subtle facilitation as a thoughtful way to enrich the experience of participants and take social networking beyond 140 characters.