Networking is consistently cited as one of the main draws for people to attend meetings and conferences, so naturally planners search for the most effective ways to facilitate connections. For this year’s Social Media Marketing World, held in April in San Diego, organizers found success with the cloud-based collaboration tool Slack.
A few months before the conference, the event’s director of attendee engagement, Mike “Ambassador” Bruny, informed registrants that they could create online chat groups—known as “channels” in Slack—on any topic that had at least five interested participants. Groups quickly began to form. Some were industry-specific, such as channels for those working in education or banking, while others were location-based (attendees from Australia) or intended for content creators like bloggers and podcasters. Channels were also created for first-time attendees, for anyone attending alone, and for people staying at the satellite hotels.
By the time the conference began, more than 600 participants had joined 78 channels, meaning more than 20 percent of attendees used the tool. “We created these micro-communities, and people used them to find each other and to build real relationships,” Bruny said. “One of the biggest questions I had was, once we step on site will people stop using it? And the answer to that was no.”
The event’s networking strategy started before its adoption of Slack. Since the conference’s inception in 2013, organizers have surveyed attendees a few months beforehand to identify topics of interest for the lunchtime “Table Talks,” so guests can share the meal with others interested in discussing the same thing. Organizers pick one attendee per table to serve as the host, in charge of introducing guests to one another and keeping the conversation flowing.
Another technique at the conference is one-on-one networking assistance in a dedicated space known as the “Networking Embassy.” Attendees may ask for help meeting people from their city or industry, for instance, or staff can show them how to use the conference app to find those people themselves. Organizers also coordinate “Meet-Up and Eat-Up” dining opportunities for small groups of attendees at nearby restaurants.
“People have found that high-touch involvement to help them make connections is really important,” said Phil Mershon, director of events for Social Media Examiner, the conference producer.