Finding Online Networking Solutions — and Is It Even Worth It?

Respondents to the most recent COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard shared how they are connecting virtual and in-person attendees and working toward safe in-person networking.

Author: Curt Wagner       


Smaller cohort groups and interactive video screens were among the suggestions planners made for connecting virtual and in-person event attendees.

For our April COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard, Convene asked planner respondents about one of the big challenges facing event organizers: Are you planning to do networking differently to encourage interaction at your in-person or hybrid event(s)?

Connecting face-to-face and virtual attendees to each other is something planners have been talking about a lot over the past year. The topic recently was raised in PCMA’s Catalyst community and came up in the Response Room, an open innovation platform for events professionals.

For all the talk, some planner responses suggested attendees are tiring of online networking attempts. “People are getting tired of trivia and bingo and cooking demos or virtual tours. Virtual Happy Hours are not valuable to most,” a respondent wrote. “The true value of online meetings is the education that is being streamed by us to our constituency, and our sponsors help us fund this through being connected with participants during the virtual events.”

Another planner said their organization offers networking opportunities for online attendees, “but there hasn’t been a lot of interest so far.”

Yet another planner questioned the worth of networking altogether, writing, “We need to drive attendees and exhibitors together — that requires incentives beyond the promise of networking. There needs to be an offer in the mix that satisfies the issue of ‘what’s in it for me’ for both the attendees and exhibitors.” Perhaps another respondent’s idea could be expanded to include both attendees and exhibitors: “We are developing free online classes to stay in touch with our members, [getting] sponsors for revenue.”

Networking and catching up with colleagues always has been a part of the in-person meeting experience. And with the recovery underway, planners not only need to connect online and in-person attendees but must create safe networking for face-to-face attendees as well.

Below we’ve separated the Dashboard responses according to whether they speak to the idea of encouraging interaction between the in-person and online attendees at hybrid events, or suggestions for safe interactions among in-person attendees.

In-Person to Virtual Attendee Networking

  • “We are staging a live video wall where in-person attendees can see virtual attendees and they can interact.”
  • “Offering on-site computer stations to allow in-person attendees to have video appointments with virtual attendees and offering digital appointments between any type of attendees.”
  • “Subdividing the chat feed into more targeted audience groups so people can interact with more like-minded groups. Doing small groups since our event is so large, and the main chat can go too fast.”
  • “Find a platform where in-person and online audiences can chat together. Other than that — in-person attendees submit the questions to presenters on the same platform as virtual.”
  • “Using an app where [both in-person and online attendees] can all use chat or polls together.”
  • “Small networking ‘virtual’ tables that act like Zoom for three to four people.”
  • “Utilize platforms that have dynamic attendee-directed interaction during breakout sessions.”
  • “We’ve been testing Wonder and have received very positive feedback.”
  • “Encourage the in-person and online folks to meet via the mobile app. Shipping sponsored boxes with items so online participants can take part in activities. For example, sending ingredients for making a dessert for a chef class.”
  • “Online networking opportunity using ribbons to denote common interests, both professional and personal.”
  • “Hoping to utilize the digital platform plus mobile app to allow both the in-person and digital cohorts to communicate with each other.”

In-Person Interactions

  • “More outdoor functions, scattered break times, no registration desk badges at hotel check-in, multiple rooms for meals with different themes and entertainment.”
  • “Bubbles of attendees to assist with contact tracing throughout the event — seating at general session, dining times and table seating, gamification through the event app about your bubble. This will foster tighter networks.”
  • “Watch parties to allow for smaller in-person interaction within a larger virtual event.”
  • “Plan to have smaller group interactions and limit those. Before it was come one, come all.”
  • “Individualized connections. Promoting networking prior to the event.”
  • “Using outdoor venue. Pre-packaging food and adding more bars and spacing them out even more to avoid crowding.”
  • “More one-on-one meeting/speed dating or roundtable discussion groups to limit interactions and support social distancing.”
  • “Due to safe distancing and no intermingling, we plan to use games and the event app to make networking different and fun.”
  • “Larger rooms, plexiglass dividers as needed, tables set with only two chairs spaced apart.”
  • “Place a tag on badges that will identify whether attendees feel comfortable with close physical interactions.”

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