Networking at Conferences and Meetups Part III – Twitter

Michelle —  August 12, 2011 — 3 Comments

About this blog post series
Technology has had a huge impact in the conference and meetings industry in the last few years, with event management software, online ticketing systems and social networks making running and marketing events a lot more efficient and effective.

But when it comes to the most important part of any conference or meetup – the networking – we’re pretty much thrown back to the Stone Age. We spend hours shaking hands and talking to random strangers in the often vain hope that we’ll get lucky and find the right person to talk to.

In this blog post series, we look at the different ways conference organisers and attendees can use technology to make networking at conferences and meetups easier, quicker and more effective.

Articles in this series
Part I – The problem you’ve got that Shhmooze solves
Part II – Using Foursquare to network at conferences and meetups
Part III – Using Twitter to network at conferences and meetups (this article)

The power of Twitter at conferences and meetups

After its first big public outing at the 2007 SXSW Conference and Festival, Twitter gradually became an integral part of the conference experience for early adopters. As huge Twitter fans* and conference junkies we know exactly why.

Twitter is a real-time news-sharing tool that anyone can use. As such, it allows delegates to create a public ‘back channel’ discussion during an event. Hashtags allow anybody, whether they are present at the event or not, to follow what’s happening in real-time and to interact with each other.

This Twitter back-channel has become increasingly powerful at events attended by an early adopter crowd where Twitter usage is high.

For delegates this back-channel allows them to follow what’s happening in other parts of the event and voice their opinion of speakers, talks and workshops in public. Twitter turns delegates from passive listeners to active participants, making the conference a lot more useful and informative. It’s also occasionally used to host spontaneous and informal debates. However, the character-limit on tweets limits its usefulness for in-depth debates or discussions.

For event organizers Twitter is an amazing tool for monitoring the “pulse” of an event in real-time, to find out what’s working and what’s not. Organisers can engage with their delegates as they voice their opinions.

Since all tweets are public, Twitter can also be a very powerful marketing tool for organisers. If delegates rave about your event on Twitter, they provide free advertising for your next event to their hundreds or thousands of Twitter followers.

However, if delegates complain about your event on Twitter, these tweets may be seen by hundreds or thousands of people both in and outside of the venue. This is why it’s crucial for conference and meetup organisers to follow what’s happening on Twitter and engage with their delegates there on top of talking to them on the ground.

Leveraging Twitter effectively requires a lot of work – it’s not something an event organiser can just set up and forget. But getting it right can have huge benefits.

Using Twitter to network at conferences and meetups

Recently, people have started trying to use Twitter to network at conferences. Unfortunately, while Twitter is terrific for following what’s happening at an event, when it comes to networking, it falls short. That’s because it’s not been designed for networking. Here’s how Twitter can be used to network:

  • Before the event, attendees tweet about their attendance to the event, what they’re interested in and what they’re looking for.
  • Attendees then monitor the event’s hashtag stream to see if anybody tweeting looks useful or interesting.
  • Once they’ve found somebody that looks interesting, they use public @-replies to try and arrange a meeting.

These tactics occasionally work – we’ve certainly stumbled upon a few great people at conferences by following the event’s Twitter stream. However, networking through Twitter simply reproduces many of the key problems of face-to-face networking: it’s a lot of hard work and finding the right people to talk to often comes down to luck.

Successful face-to-face networking requires several key elements:

Successful Networking Requires You To Be Visible

Whenever you attend a conference or meetup, you want the other attendees to know that you’re there. Even more importantly, you need them to understand why you’re there.

Perhaps you’re looking for a web designer to join your team. Perhaps you’re an accountant looking for new clients. No matter why you’re attending the event, you want the other attendees to know your interests so that people who need you or who can help you can connect with you.

It’s hard to get people to notice you on Twitter. And it’s even harder to let people know what you’re looking for. Any tweet you send to advertise your presence will get lost in the sea of tweets within seconds  - meaning you have to keep tweeting to get noticed. Anyone tweeting only once in a while gets lost.

Successful Networking Requires You To Find The Right Person To Talk To

With traditional face-to-face networking, finding the right person to talk to often comes down to luck. Most people simply approach random strangers in the hope of getting lucky and ending up talking to someone useful or interesting.

The same problem arises when trying to find people on Twitter. Twitter doesn’t give you a way to search attendees of a given event for a specific skill or person.

If you’re determined enough to check out each individual profile, unfortunately for you the short Twitter profiles are more often than not very generic and vague – providing you with very little information to help you figure out a person’s professional experience or skills. And because Twitter profiles are public, general-purpose profiles, they don’t include the reason why the person is attending this particular event, or what they’re interested in.

Successful Networking Requires You To Arrange A Face-To-Face Chat

When networking, you wouldn’t dream of standing on a chair and shouting over to the person you want to meet ‘Hey Julie! It’s me, Tim Beam! I’d love to talk to you about a design project I’m working on!’

But because Twitter doesn’t provide an effective way to discreetly arrange a chat, you end up doing the digital equivalent of this. You have to clutter your public Twitter stream with personal messages to other attendees, which is at best irritating to your followers.

And often when you’re networking, you don’t want the whole world to know who you’re trying to meet, or why you need to meet them. But you’re forced into this type of disclosure when using Twitter.

Successful Networking Needs People To Recognize Each Other

So you’ve spent ages on Twitter only to discover you need to talk with @crazymunkee8752433 (AKA Mike Browne) who could be interested in investing in your start up. Only problem is, according to Mike’s Twitter profile pic, he’s a monkey in a space suit.

Twitter profile pics do not always help you identify real people face-to-face. Because Twitter is a very public, general purpose tool, many people don’t put up, real, recognizable pictures. Instead, many users post caricatures or logos, which are useless for identifying people face to face.

Twitter is a great broadcasting tool…

… but it’s not a great face-to-face networking tool. Twitter requires a lot of work and doesn’t provide effective ways to address the challenges of face-to-face networking. So why are early adopters using it for networking?

Sadly, because Twitter is better than nothing.

Despite the fact that most people attend conferences and meetups to network, at the average event, the main networking tool you’ll be offered is a name badge that’s only legible if you’re standing face-to-face with the person who’s wearing it. No wonder people turn to Twitter for help despite its flaws.

And unlike the white label social networks or bespoke mobile apps that a few high-profile conferences have started to setup in the last few years, Twitter works everywhere. You don’t need to create a new profile, download a new app or learn to use a new system for every single event you attend – things which are a major turn off for many people.

Early adopters don’t use a substandard technology if there’s something better there. The fact people are using Twitter as a networking tool despite its flaws shows that there’s an urgent and pressing need for an effective tool to help delegates network and connect at the events they attend.

Luckily for everyone, there is just such a tool: Shhmooze. In our next post in this series, we’ll go through how we’re tackling the issues highlighted above and how, far from replacing Twitter or trying to compete with it, Shhmooze embraces Twitter and works alongside it at every conference and meetup.

If you’re organizing a conference or meetup, contact us and we’ll be more than happy to setup Shhmooze for your next event – it only takes a few minutes to get started!

* Follow us on Twitter to get our latest rants and raves about conferences, meetups and networking. We love hearing about our users and industry professionals so we always follow back!

And follow the co-founders’ personal accounts, Michelle Gallen and Mehdi El Gueddari for thoughts and news on tech, startup life, smartphones, and, occasionally, good food.

Michelle

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Cofounder - shhmooze.com. Founder - talkirish.com. Adore tech, straight-talking and whiskey. Public Speaker. Geek. Author.

3 responses to Networking at Conferences and Meetups Part III – Twitter

  1. The following blog, “Networking at Conferences and Meetups Part III – Twitter | Blog” shows that u really fully understand just what you’re communicating about! I actually totally agree with your blog. Many thanks ,Chelsea

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  1. Blog » Networking at conferences and meetups – Part II – Foursquare - August 14, 2011

    [...] Blog Download our free app « Networking at conferences and meetups – the problem you’ve got that Shhmooze solves Networking at Conferences and Meetups Part III – Twitter » [...]

  2. Blog » Networking at conferences and meetups – the problem you’ve got that Shhmooze solves - August 14, 2011

    [...] Articles in this series Part I – The problem you’ve got that Shhmooze solves (this article) Part II – Using Foursquare to network at conferences and meetups Part III – Using Twitter to network at conferences and meetups [...]

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