Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 2013

Why Social Transmission Relies on Face-to-Face Interaction

By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief
will we have, how many breakout sessions, all those sorts of things. But the more we can get people fired up or active, the more likely they will be to share. So, how can you get them excited about this particular conference? How can you inspire them with all the information that they’re going to learn? And sometimes it is — rather than giving them tons of information — giving them one really awe-inspiring piece of information that stops them, makes them think, that wows them enough to decide to go. The more excited you can get them, whether that’s because of seeing their friends or seeing the content there, the more they’re going to share with others.

Tell us about some conferences that you have either attended or spoken at that you think have successfully created a buzz.

I’m actually doing something like the following: Imagine having some events that are limited in their attendees, not everyone can get access to it, but all you have to do to get access is be one of the first signups on the website and confirm that you’re going and it will post to your Facebook page. Now, that’s online word of mouth, but you can imagine people want to be the first to get it, it has some social currency, it’s exclusive, but also, when they sign up to do it, all their friends get to see that they’re going.

I go to psychology conferences every year, and at their events — educational events, talks, as well as parties — you see people registering to get information about them. And along the way, you get to see how many of your friends are going, which makes you much more likely to want to go, which makes you say, “Wow, if these other three people are going, I have to go, I haven’t seen them in a long time.”

Conferences are great ways to learn but also engage in that sort of offline social-capital building, creating network ties, meeting old friends, sharing information through those ways. Conferences are inherently social — people don’t just go there to spend time by themselves, but to spend time with others. The more the conference can harness that aspect, online or offline, the better off they’ll be.

How do you see the future of face-to-face going - more or fewer conferences?

I think there will be more online interaction. Just like there will be more online word of mouth. But the truth is, it’s still a very small percentage. Part of the reason people go to conferences is not just to suck up that information — if it was just that, I could download the PowerPoint files, and why even go? I could just watch videos. Part of the value there is the unexpected interaction — the running into a colleague that I didn’t know would be there. Having dinner and meeting someone through someone I already know, and getting access to new information or a new potential client that I wouldn’t have met otherwise without that happenstance interaction. And so part of it is that offline, face-to-face, social-capital building through network ties. It’s very hard to replicate that online.

Are there any other thoughts you have relevant to the meetings industry?

I think social currency again is really key for conferences. I just went to South by Southwest, [where there were] exclusive events that you had to be invited to or registered to [attend]. They were normal events, but many of them were exclusive. And it just made it more exciting; it makes you want to tell other people, because you feel special to have been able to go.

LinkedIn recently did something you probably saw where they sent out a note to a number of their subscribers say ing, “Hey, your profile is one of the top 10 or top 5 percent of profiles.” People felt really good about that, and they shared it with others, because it made them look good. But along the way, they were sharing about LinkedIn, they were spreading the word about LinkedIn. I think leveraging this social cur rency, enabling people to look good, will encourage them to talk about [your meeting] as well.

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