Humans, Machines And The Hard Work of Relationship-Building

Event Tech Brief

Humans, Machines And The Hard Work of Relationship-Building

09-Dec-2016

 

By Michelle Bruno

On paper, face-to-face events are fantastic opportunities to develop new relationships. In reality, many fail miserably. Why? Because it’s mathematically impossible for most people, unaided, to build meaningful new relationships—discover complementary interests, have a fulfilling conversation, and commit to pursuing common goals—with more than a small group of people inside of three days. One software company is doing something about the difficulties of event networking by staying true to the ideas it has had all along about social, community, and experience.

Event Networking Is Hard For Everyone
Companies exhibit and host private events for lots of reasons: to nurture existing relationships, build brand awareness, or keep up with the competition. But, the majority also wants new business—the kind that comes from meeting with new prospects. Pre-event marketing and advertising campaigns get bodies in the door. From there, exhibitors and sales reps are often left to their own devices to wait for prospects to come to them or work the crowd looking for itches that need to be scratched.

Attendees have a pain point associated with conferences and trade shows too. Many have to prove that the $4,000 spent by employers to send them to the meeting produces a return on investment. Most need help finding “birds of a feather,” potential partners, or potential customers in a giant sea of faces. As a result, conference-goers aren’t that jazzed about showing up to a crowded networking event, armed with nothing more than a couple of drink tickets and a long line to the bar.

The New Category Of Event Networking Software
Fortunately, relationship facilitation has gone digital. Matchmaking solutions have emerged to help exhibitors and event hosts discover and connect with attendees. Networking apps assist attendees with finding other attendees—people in their social networks who are in attendance, peers who share mutual and/or complementary interests, colleagues who are in the same physical proximity at the event. Appointment-setting applications allow users to set the time and place of an actual meeting between specific individuals.  

There are a number of mobile applications in the event networking category, including Presdo Match, Grip, and SummitSync. Another solution, Pathable, takes an approach that is different from other native mobile matchmaking or networking apps. In addition to an array of matchmaking, networking, and appointment-setting tools for the event, it also provides users with continuous desktop access to a social community. Onsite, the community and relationship tools are accessible via mobile devices.

Relationships Need Time And Tools
Pathable helps participants begin building relationships early in the event lifecycle. “Before the event, attendees can start looking for people they want to meet and start conversations with them. They can join in the public conversations to get a sense of who the leaders are in the community, people who are talking and getting questions answered, and pre-book meetings,” Pathable’s CEO, Jordan Schwartz, explains. Pathable integrates with all major event registration platforms. Registrants receive an invitation to begin networking as soon as they register.

Its devotion to helping people connect is rooted in Pathable’s beginnings as a social community platform for events, which Schwartz explained in 2009. At the time, he says, “there was no iPhone and there was no such thing as a mobile app.” When mobile devices became a game changer for events, Pathable expanded its capabilities to mobile, but rather than forgo the desktop, it opted instead to deliver a synchronized cross-device experience. “We regard the desktop as an essential part of the user experience, Schwartz says. For complex tasks, “using two thumbs and emoticons is a losing proposition,” he adds.

A Human-Machine Partnership
While many solutions that offer matchmaking apply algorithms or artificial intelligence to suggest matches, Pathable allows attendees to drive the discovery. For example, after the attendee completes a profile, he can augment it with tags (regions of focus, areas of networking interest, for example) that are then used along with other identifiers, such as title and participant category (speaker, attendee, exhibitor) to find others who have done the same. Once the list of matches is assembled, users take matches the last mile by qualifying and messaging people with whom they would like to meet.

Schwartz recognizes that matchmaking is “a hard problem to solve.” For that reason, he finds algorithms a poor choice for the job. “If I’m an app provider, I don’t want to meet other app providers. Algorithms often can’t distinguish between “I want versus I am,” Schwartz explains. He has found through focus groups and customer interviews that what users really want is for the platform to make the suggestion, be transparent about how the match was obtained, and then let the user refine the match and set up the meeting.

Surviving Google
In many ways, Pathable is a prisoner of keywords. Even though Schwartz thinks of the company’s solution as a “social, digital experience platform for events,” he knows that most people find Pathable while searching for a mobile event app. So, he rolls with it. “If you performed that search, you found all kinds of other mobile event app companies. But now that you’re here, we’re going to let you know how we’re different with meeting scheduling, event networking, matchmaking, and a year-round community platform,” he says.

Nevertheless, Pathable is a formidable competitor in the mobile event app space. It delivers a full complement of features, including a conference agenda, venue maps, floor plan, exhibitor directory, lead retrieval, polling, surveys, audience Q & A, personal agenda, session check-ins, attendee directory, in-app messaging, and analytics. Although it uses the mobile web, which caches data in a way that keeps the app functioning when Wi-Fi is intermittent, Pathable also offers a native app option.

The Path Forward
In the future, Pathable will be “doubling down on the strengths of the desktop, matchmaking, and social,” Schwartz says. “You’re seeing more and more events shifting from being a traditional trade show or conference to becoming hosted buyer events or structured appointment-scheduling events.” He’s not at all worried that the event space is being flooded with mobile event apps because the movement he sees is toward relationship-building. “What I see becoming more important in the event space is exactly where we already are and where we’re going more deeply,” he says.

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