Improved tech platforms give conferences and events the opportunity to reshape networking into something more productive.

coffee break at conference

In digital marketing, there was perhaps always a degree of irony in the inefficiency of a ‘networking break’ during a conference. Delegates might emerge from a talk on personalisation or programmatic targeting only to stand anonymously in the corner and pick at a croissant.

Networking was always a difficult art to master. Though the joy was in putting yourself out there, the chance of finding somebody like minded sometimes felt minimal, unless you happened to be speaking at the conference beforehand.

Too often, networking was where differing agendas rather awkwardly collided – some people in the room were junior, some senior; some were looking for leads, others for a new role or just to find out whether there was an after party. Rarely did networking seem like a quick way to learn something about, say, which ecommerce platform is right for you, or how best to recruit a data scientist.

And, of course – the elephant in the room – who wants to network in an airless hotel function room any more?

As some businesses only return to the office for part of the week, and business travel continues to be an area of cost-saving, it’s only natural that there will be fewer in-person industry events. Delegates will choose wisely and only attend the truly promising ones.

However, that gives many conferences the opportunity to reshape networking into something altogether more productive but no less serendipitous. Why aimlessly network when you can take part in collaborative learning?

Event tech platforms like Braindate bring collaborative learning to networking

Collaborative learning is the reason that roundtable events have been particularly popular in the digital marketing industry in the past, because attendees can match their interests to a table and sit down to discuss their challenges knowing those sat across from them have also bought into the format and the topic.

Of course, the penetration of virtual meeting tech and online events platforms creates the possibility of an altogether more seamless experience. Delegates should be able to make it known what they are interested in talking about, to whom and at what time, even if that happens to be whatever, whoever and whenever, respectively.

This is what platforms like Braindate allow.  Participants attending an event can post topics they’d like to discuss on the Braindate platform. Others with similar interests and challenges can then schedule them for one-on-one or group knowledge-sharing discussions.  Users can create a profile to give other learners some useful background, and can shop for relevant discussions in the topic market.

In this way, Braindate enables participants to build connections based on mutual interests, shared learning goals, bringing a welcome collaborative learning twist to traditional networking.

The shift to virtual across industries

The context for this post-pandemic shift in the world of events is fairly obvious. Consumer behaviour is evolving in many sectors, with the effects set to last long term.

In healthcare, figures from the ASPE show nearly half (43.5%) of Medicare primary care visits were provided via telehealth in April 2020, compared with less than one percent in February (0.1%). This rise in healthcare provided via a mobile device will surely be boosted further by the rollout of Amazon Care in the US this summer.

A corollary to the telehealth boom can be seen in medical sales reps moving from face-to-face interactions to video conferencing. A survey by IQVIA in July 2020 found 54% of US physicians wholly or partially agree that remote rep interaction will be sufficient in the future.

In banking, Bank of America added nearly 1 million active digital customers in Q1 2021, with some 70% of the bank’s consumer households now using some part of its digital platform. In the UK, TSB’s website states that “67% of all our customers are now using mobile, online or telephone banking, and in some branches we now see an average of just 20 customers regularly visiting us each week.”

In travel, Accor recently announced the first hotel in Northern Europe offering a “100% digital experience”, on Gloucester Road, from mid-May. The service includes online and mobile check-in complete with digital room keys, customer service via WhatsApp, and Click-Pay-Collect tech to order food via smartphone.

In retail, innovative omnichannel retailers are making use of store associate expertise with live commerce and video chat, allowing customers to ‘stream in’ rather than walk in. Furtermore, a 2021 Bazaarvoice study found that 54% of respondents enjoy browsing online more than in store, 61% do it more frequently and 64% find it easier.

Was networking ever that easy?

That last point about ease of use in online retail is an important one. Though many of us missed face-to-face interaction during the pandemic, it’s clear that virtual solutions aren’t simply a pale imitation, and they offer advantages beyond avoiding connection for connection’s sake. Meeting virtually can help to reduce feelings of anxiety amongst participants, creating a positive support system and an atmosphere of cooperation. Virtual collaborative learning can be human-centric, with tech no longer a barrier to meaningful interaction.

As the meaning of work and workplaces is being redefined, learning from others should be a constructive experience, done on your terms, without the uncertainty of networking.

Braindate is the leading online and in-person experiential learning tool that provides attendees with a curated, content-driven alternative to traditional networking tools. Since 2013, Braindate has brought experiential peer learning to events, companies, and communities, and have since transformed nearly 1 million users and hundreds of world-class events into vibrant experiential learning hubs with partners like Tableau, Airbnb, TED, Paris Peace Forum and Salesforce.