Smart Badges: Ready-To-Wear Networking

Event Tech Brief

Smart Badges: Ready-To-Wear Networking

by: Michelle Bruno 29-Jan-2018


By Michelle Bruno

Placing event attendees in a room with instructions to “network” is an inefficient way to produce meaningful interactions. Most people at conferences aren’t accomplished networkers. Even the pros still have to go through awkward introductions and questions only to discover that a conversation leads nowhere.

Even in exhibition booths, where it’s assumed that an approaching visitor is ordinarily open to discussing a topic that is of mutual interest to both parties, the “should we even be talking to each other” exchange requires time and skill. And there’s no guarantee that those who have a problem to solve will stop at the booth with the solution.

In recent years, matchmaking software on the desktop and mobile devices has played a role in ferreting out individuals at events likely to have complementary objectives—buyers matched with sellers, startups with investors, students with mentors, etc. But software alone can’t close the “meaningful interaction” gap.

Proposing matches with software facilitates networking. But the process can still break down post-match. Sometimes, the matches aren’t convincing enough to result in a meeting, user profiles or surveys are incomplete, or the matching algorithms are imperfect. Also, not everyone downloads the mobile app.

Even when software works well, “it’s hard to get people to break out of their silos and connect with others at in-person meetings,” says Christine Hutchison, co-founder of Proxfinity, a Chicago-based developer of a wearable smart badge that streamlines networking at meetings.

It’s especially challenging, Hutchison says, for new attendees at events “where 80% of the people already know each other.” She cites a Columbia University report finding that “despite the fact that 95% of networking attendees come to meet new people, they are much more likely to spend time with people they already know.”

Smart badges spark and track conversations

The Proxfinity (a word blend of proximity + affinity) smart badge visually connects people who have communicated their desire in advance to discuss one or more specific topics. All attendees receive the smart badge, which is loaded with their contact information and responses to a pre-event survey of topics, at check-in.

Smart badges “talk to each other.” When one badge wearer comes within proximity of another wearer who has indicated a mutual interest, the badges signal a match. The initials of one wearer appear on the badge of another and vice versa. A colored light in the same corner of both badges illuminates, identifying a common interest.

In addition to sparking a conversation between two attendees, the smart badge also records the locations of discussions (enabling a heat map) and dwell time. Because the devices exchange contact information (a post-event report of all connections made is available to wearers), participants can use them for lead tracking.

A “universal” smart badge is programmable for one-to-many communications. "If you're working a booth, your badge is getting matched to everyone walking by that wants to talk about a certain topic," Hutchison explains. Also, it can passively check attendees into a room and confirm dwell time for continuing-education credit.

Apart from learning with whom attendees engaged, where, and for how long, Proxfinity’s clients can view reports on the number of connections generated, average number of meaningful interactions delivered per person, connections by demographic, and topics that drove the conversations, as well as other metrics.

Proxfinity’s two-by-two inch devices are brandable. The company offers revenue sharing with event producers. The badges can be programmed with a topic that is of unique interest to a sponsor and thus both jumpstart and track conversations between sales reps and buyers, for example.

The role of smart badges in the quest for connections

Proxfinity’s smart badge is a good fit for events in which meaningful connections (sales leads, investors, mentors) are a stated priority, not just an offering (as with a cocktail party or networking reception). In the former, organizers facilitate and measure interactions. In the latter, they take a more hands-off approach.

The smart badge reduces the time and resources attendees spend on pursuing meaningful interactions—narrowing down topics of interest, finding others with similarly stated interests, locating individuals at the event, and breaking the ice before having a conversation. The result can be more and better connections.

Whether a participant’s goal is to have only “three great conversations” or connect meaningfully with as many people as possible, the process for effecting meaningful conversations is the same. So, it makes sense to automate the steps leading to a conversation, rather than limit the time devoted to the conversation itself.

The visual cue (user initials) from Proxfinity’s smart badge begs a commitment from wearers to participate actively in networking. No other proximity-based technologies work in this way. In a setting (live events) in which human connections are both prized and privileged, this is a crucial and differentiating capability.

Proxfinity’s metrics alert organizers to those specific individuals who engaged in conversations (dwell time is a key indicator) and those who didn’t. Either way, it’s the basis for further analysis (are attendees who network more efficiently or have multiple topics in common more likely to attend year after year?) and follow-up.

Matchmaking software and mobile apps, although highly effective, require (sometimes considerable) effort from users. The wearable smart badge is one of the few grab-and-go options available. “You just pick it up like you would your name badge, turn it on, and start using it, which is a lot of fun," Hutchison explains.

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