Professional networking is now being transformed by the ubiquity of mobile technology and internet-connected devices. As the number of social media platforms and event apps is growing exponentially, the expectations of both event attendees and hosts have changed, but not always towards the same direction. American Express Meetings & Events report, titled “GREAT EXPECTATIONS: The Evolving Landscape of Technology in Meetings” shows that “there can be an ‘expectation gap’ between the technologies meeting planners believe should be incorporated into an event, and the solutions attendees expect to be part of their meeting experience. What they have in common is that as good as technology is, there is simply no substitute for “in-person meetings”.
The Online Social
As the title of the report suggests, the landscape of technologies in meetings is evolving, and mobile apps can be extremely powerful if designed accordingly. Indeed, smartphones and social media platforms are key actors in the current changes of the ways in which we interact with each other while building, maintaining or expanding our professional networks not only during events. This is because social media requires a constant involvement, and is facilitated by user-friendly interfaces on smart mobile devices. Involvement, in this context, refers to the building of relationships on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn by ‘friending,’ following, endorsing and connecting with others as well as ‘liking,’ sharing, and retweeting posts.
But is that enough? As mentioned above, the desire for real interaction and meaningful relationships cannot be justified by our social media activities. More precisely, the report reveals that 43 percent of planners value the use of social media in the meeting and event space as very important, while only 35 percent of attendees have the same opinion. From my perspective, this discrepancy lies in the ways in which mainstream social networking platforms promote and organize the online social experience. While planners can utilize the key features of such platforms in order to start an online buzz about their events, attendees often cannot build meaningful relationships because they use social networking sites as broadcasting devices to follow posts, read and write comments, and others by distance. Important but not empowering new connections between individuals at events.
Combining the Real with the Virtual
So what can we do? For one, we need to think more critically about the role of social media, so that the focus can move away from the updating and monitoring logic. Parallel to the idea of making knowledge accessible to a wider audience and expanding our reach (and influence), social networks should be a low barrier way for establishing new connections between professionals that can be continued face to face at events. We need multiple tools that promote lasting social and (potentially) professional relations. As a second issue, the crossing of online boundaries by encouraging attendees to spend good quality time with a few people implies the cleaning up of the background noise produced by mainstream social media. For many there is a benefit in growing their collection of virtual contacts. However, the number of friends or followers does not matter when you are standing with someone face-to-face. Rather it is the personal dialogue and connection you feel with the person that matters.