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Friday, May 18, 2007

Conference Networking Tools - Do They Work?

I just saw a post by Mark Oehlert - Good for introNetworks! - in which he points to introNetworks Secures $2.7 Million in Series A Funding.

In case you've not seen introNetworks before, they provide tools that allow membership groups to network with each other based on common interests. You may have seen them before and will likely remember their scatter plot:



There are other applications aimed at helping you to network at conferences:CMC Central - Tradeshow Appointments, Eveni Meeting MatchingExpoMATCH, eXtreme Networking, Introplus, Leverage Software, NetworkingMatch, and PowerMingle.com. I've both used some of these tools with different membership groups I belong to and I've recently gone through an evaluation process for a customer who does a large trade show. All of these are based on a matching algorithm.

Based on my personal results, I've not found a lot of value in these tools. It could be that we simply lack the skills to do the right things after finding people with common interests - see Conference Preparation and Be an Insanely Great Professional Conference Attendee.

Or maybe it's me. What's your experience with these tools?

For more discussions on networking and LinkedIn see Networking Events in Los Angeles and Southern California, Secret for Networking at Events – Prenetworking, Pre-network with LinkedIn, Local Event Organizers Need to Adopt Social Media.

15 comments:

Ray Sims said...

Hi Tony,

I used introNetworks at Learning2006 and found that I got some reasonable value out of it by starting some conversations with people (that I didn't already know) based on shared interests determined via introNetworks weeks prior to the conference and then continuing the conversation in person during the conference. I also used the application a bit after the conference when I didn't get a person's business card but recalled (say) a first name and company that then was enough post-conference to via introNetworks make an email connection.

Ray

Tony Karrer said...

Ray - maybe you can provide a rough template of how you connected with the people prior to the conference? In other words, just because we are both "interested in topic X" doesn't tell us how to connect.

As I'm typing this, I realize that at eHarmony we had a very particular introductory path for folks who we thought were compatible. I wonder if that same kind of thing is missing here.

Anonymous said...

To add to your list of Networking Software, a2z's NetZone is being used by quite a few trade shows, including some of the Top200 shows for networking between exhibitors, attendees and conference speakers.

Mark Sylvester said...

Tony,

Thanks for kick-starting this conversation. I also want to thank you for the screenshot of our unique and proprietary method of visualizing the matches found within any Community.

I wanted to address your following statement:
"Based on my personal results, I've not found a lot of value in these tools. It could be that we simply lack the skills to do the right things after finding people with common interests."

Most of the sites you reference are simple scheduling systems for event attendees – allowing you to see who is going, try to figure out who you should connect with, send them an invitation and hope they accept.

However, I want to address the real issue here, which is two-fold; how do you determine who you should meet, and then once you have reached out, how do you take that connection to the next level?

The introNetwork system uses a proprietary Visual Matching Engine algorithm that uses up to 40 attributes of a Profile to determine your best matches, then visually shows you those matches (in a ranked order).

This approach, unlike the others you referenced, actually has the effect of showing users how they match with each other, and gives them additional layers of information that can be used to help filter those results to a select few resulting in first conversations that are more effective.

The secret of our high user opt-in and client renewal rates in the event, meeting and tradeshow market is that the experience of creating a Profile and discovering both recommended and naturally-occuring ”unintended” matches has been carefully orchestrated to be both fun and effective. (That's what our clients tell us that their attendees tell them, which is why they come back.)

We believe that the more you know about someone before that first meeting, the better chance you have of a more meaningful connection - and one that will last well beyond the event.

The last thing I will say is that the principle reason we stand out from this crowded field is because we focus on tailoring deployments that synchronize harmoniously with the business objectives of our event organizer clients and deliver a value-add to their attendees which profoundly improves their networking experience.

You might enjoy looking at http://www.intronetworks.com/eventnet.html to see what others are saying about our unique and versatile platform.

Cheers,
Mark

Tony Karrer said...

Mark - thanks for the detailed comment and thoughts.

I would tend to agree with your breakdown of the problem into those two parts -

1. Determine who you should meet, and
2. Figure out how you take the connection to the next level

However, my claim would be that most systems out there (including IntroNetworks) focuses on #1 and doesn't do a good job on #2.

I'm not sure I see how you believe that introNetworks really helps initiate a meaningful conversation between people based on interest areas, needs, etc. I'm sure you'll say that since you've found someone from the same industry who has a similar issue (e.g., compliance), then it will be pretty obvious that you (a) should connect, and (b) what to talk about.

I would tell you that sitting down at a table with people with the same interest areas does not tell you that you will get value.

And even with very detailed profiles (think LinkedIn), there's still a barrier.

I would claim there's a lot more involved to get the conversation really going. AND what you find is that there are lots of people who theoretically you should be interested in meeting according to your interest, but in practice you don't find much to talk about.

Or maybe I'm missing something here.

Mark Sylvester said...

Yes, I agree and am reminded of the old saying, 'You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.'

There is a reason behind our name, intro means introduction. We are trying to make the first connection a meaningful one. It is a simple premise. In the book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, you are taught how to walk into an office and through simple observation understand what is important to the person you are meeting. Using these visual clues you can have a chance at a successful first few minutes of conversation. Warming up the conversation and having a more personal back and forth is usually extremely effective in the beginning.

This is something we constantly work at improving.

However, this does not make an introverted person suddenly engaging, talkative and an effective communicator. That is beyond our ability - right? I think that what we do accomplish is giving shy people enough information that they can start an email conversationw with someone with something more compelling - which hopefully leads to a lowering of the recipients shield, and subsequently a deeper conversation ensues.

Yep, back to my original cliche, we can give them the information, but we can make them the life of the party.

Mark

Mark Sylvester said...

Typo in last post.

Last line: we CANT make them the life of the party...

Tony Karrer said...

Mark this is an interesting conversation - thanks for the thoughts and insights.

I think we are pretty much agreed on the need to help with that introduction to get the conversation going towards topics that will be interesting, valuable, etc.

In the blog world, this is pretty easy to do because you find people based on deeper, more interesting conversations in the first place.

In the case you are dealing with (large numbers of people who won't take the time to get into much detail about their interests), it's a lot harder. Just finding interest areas, industry, etc. isn't enough. Does your product actually help with the introductory dialog?

If not, I've got a suggestion.

Mark said...

Hey Tony (and Mark and Ray),

I'm piping in as someone who has used introNetworks (iN) both at conferences and inside a company. Based on those experiences, I'd say that that conference one is nice but man - did the internal corporate one ever fly. That was great. We have a globally dispersed team of close to 400 people and we started using iN and all of a sudden people were making connections based on clients, interests and experiences that they would never have been able to otherwise.
We also used iN as a skills database and the visual interface allowed us to rapidly drill down to specific skill sets.
If there is one failing with iN that I have found, its that Mark S. and crew stop too far short in telling people about the conference stuff...to me that is candy (although it may be a large chunk of revenue) compared to the value found in internal deployments.

Tony Karrer said...

Hi Mark O. - thanks for coming by for the comment. That's a really interesting point about it possibly being better for internal networking.

Curious if you found that you wanted/needed any help in conversation starting internally? Or was it obvious?

Stephen Nold said...

Tony,

I have had the privilege to focus on the design and execution of technology in the meetings industry over the last ten years. Social networking or business matchmaking tools have actually been around in a very simple form for 30+ years. From the demise of virtual trade shows, these tools have captured the attention of show organizers and corporate meeting planners.



I interpret "Figure out how you take the connection to the next level" - as describing some type of business opportunity. To support Mark Sylvester's point, I agree that different customer users of the tool will have different results. Hence, a smart exhibitor will recognize the value that an introduction provides to explore business opportunities. Vendors who perform poorly in a booth probably lack the same business acumen to generate new customers with these tools.



Yet community matching systems can generate valuable leads while still yielding control to user filtering through access boundaries. If I attend an event to purchase a registration system, I welcome introductions with registration vendors and speakers. I can reject any meetings with RFID vendors.



Another exciting aspect of these tools is the matching effect that can be created between content, speakers and suppliers. How refreshing would it be to utilize an algorithm that would deliver a recommendation on sessions, meetings and show floor visits based on my personal interests.



Your summary is correct: these tools are just a catalyst for introductions. Further work is required to close deals. But how many times have we heard the story of someone who met that one right opportunity on the floor that made the whole event worth the trip. This is the promise that has captured the attention of the tradeshow and event market.

Tony Karrer said...

Stephen - I appreciate your input and insights into this. Maybe these tools make more sense for the attendee to vendor networking.

I was thinking more of the attendee to attendee networking.

Mark Sylvester said...

Regarding the use of introNetworks in side the corporation and the comment that we don't really talk about things other than the event business.
You are right. We didn't until just recently. We relaunched our website www.intronetworks.com and now dive much deeper into the e2e (employee to employee) networking capabilities of the software.
Tony, what we have seen is that even in a small company, there is no easy place to get the kind of information that an intronetwork gives you in 3 clicks. And if your company is geographically dispersed, the system is even more effective.
We got our start doing events (The TED Conference in 2003), and over time have migrated out quite a bit. We are now in use by the Associations and Corporations for their members and employees and are beginning to build networks for more generalized communities of interest.

Ray Sims said...

Eight months later, as I get ready to link to this in a new post of my own, I see I missed replying to Tony's question: "maybe you can provide a rough template of how you connected with the people prior to the conference?"

For me, with introNetworks, successful pre-conferencing networking happened when I had specific questions in the sense of informal benchmarking. Something that went beyond "I see we are in the same industry and both us product xyz, we should meet up at the conference". Rather, "I see you also use product xyz. We are having a challenge with abc functionality and would like to compare notes on how others have solved. Would this be of interest to you?"

As far as the mechanics, I made the initial request for connection using the introNetworks brokered "email", along with suggesting we switch over to our own emails if there was interest. In a couple of cases at Learning2006 our pre-conference email threads went on for five or so exchanges then followed at the conference with an after sessions drink and occasional contact in the now 14 months since.

Drew said...

We use EventsLinked.com for our conferences in Australia. Its an online networking tool for conference attendees. Our delegates are very please with the system as it allows them to network amongst themselves prior to the conference.