July 27, 2009

Social Media is Great, but Face to Face Still Trumps All

The title tells the story, but I'll give you the back story of why I thought about this post.

I recently returned from my organization's biennial Convention, a five-day event in which undergraduate and alumni members come together to do the business of the organization, learn new skills and have fun. This year's event was the largest in ten years, and it seems as though everyone had a great time.

We had many brothers taking advantage of our Twitter hashtag, reading our blog, and checking out our photos that we posted on Flickr to get a sense of what was happening. Our use of social media was pretty successful for our first try at it.

However, those who were tracking the event on social media tools were not getting the actual Convention experience. They were not involved in all of the one-on-one conversations that were happening in the lobby. They weren't able to network with some of the really outstanding brothers who were at the event who are looking for potential employees. They weren't making their voice heard in our business sessions. They weren't even able to celebrate with those who were presented with awards. Instead, they were getting very small blips of information from watching our social media presences.

To me, social media is great. I use a great deal of tools to enhance my experience on the web. However, when there is a chance to be in person for something, THAT is where the real value lies. That's why I don't necessarily agree that associations will be doing all of their meetings in the future online, as some people have suggested. There is an experience being AT the event that you just don't get through social media.

As always, if you think I'm wrong, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!!


Maddie Grant said...

Agreed - we say this all the time, that building community online means building community offline. The face to face and the digital are very much tied together and feed each other (both ways). People sometimes assume that expanding your association's online reach is to the detriment of actual events in real life, but we find the opposite is true. Having said that, many associations faced with the down economy's impact on travel budgets etc are experimenting with offering pieces of their face to face events via webcast, but it will never replace the experience of congregating together in person.

Jeff Hurt said...

I agree with Maddie and believe that the online experience augments the face-to-face experience. I also believe that used correctly, the online virtual community and virtual meetings can extend the face-to-face conference before, during and after the event.

The challenge is as Maddie pointed out is that in this economy, many have cut their travel and conference budgets. While people want to attend a face-to-face experience, they often cannont afford to do it unless it's coming out of their own pocket. Then the value of that meeting becomes personal and competes with family vactaions, bills, budgets, etc.

I do not think virtual meetings will ever replace face-to-face experiences. I do believe that within a couple years most events and conferences will have a virtual component.

Bruce Hammond said...

Thanks for both of the above comments. I think we're all on the same page here. I have heard @maddie talk often about how building community online is really a way to enhance the community offline. I agree with @jeff also that before, during and after the event, there are ways to utilize technology to enhance the community. I'm looking forward to congregating with everyone in Toronto later on in August, so see you then!

David M. Patt, CAE said...

Great observations, Bruce. With face-to-face, you can use all of your senses to connect with other people. If online communication could provide that, it would go a long way toward filling the gap left by people and groups who can't always meet in person.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

I'll be the slight contrarian here to what Maddy and Jeff have shared. F2F and online can feed each other obviously, but that doesn't mean that participants in one or the other necessarily want to feast at the table of both ... for a particular community, for a particular event, etc.

If I'm at a F2F event, I don't want to have to follow the Twitter feed, the blog, and everything else in order to maximize the on-site experience. I spent my hard -earned money as Jeff H. notes to connect with people real-time. I'm a bit amazed that people come to a learning event and then spend most of their time interfacing with technology instead of human beings. That may work for some, but we better be careful thinking it works for everyone.

Just for arguments sake, I think it is worth considering that the more we introduce technology into the fabric of a F2F experience that is happening, the more we may be taking away some of the value of the F2F gathering. I think we have to be careful to not cannibalize ourselves.

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