Social Networking Sites for Conferences

A few days ago, I was asked if I had any thoughts about event-specific social networking services. After responding to the email, I thought that I would turn it into a blog post to see whether people agree or disagree with my views.

I went to a few conferences this year that set up event-specific social networks for the conference. Some I joined and then neglected without contributing anything, and others I never bothered to join at all. I didn’t stay engaged with any of the services.

I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of social networking sites specifically for conferences. There are a couple of reasons:

  • Most of us already belong to more social networks and communities than we can effectively manage. Joining one more social network and maintaining information and contacts in one more place is not something that most people will spend time doing.
  • Conferences and events are bound by time; we attend them for a few hours or a few days a year. We learn new things and meet new people during the event, but few of us will spend time trying to extend this networking time online for any significant period of time before or after the event.
  • There are so many better ways to keep up with people after an event that fit more easily into our everyday lives (Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc.)

I like the goal of making it easy for people to connect before, during and after an event, but there are better ways to do this:

  • Engage with people on an existing social network that is already heavily used by your audience. Facebook groups, for example, are a good way for a conference to encourage information sharing and networking among 20-30 year olds or people working in technology.
  • Provide a way for members to find each other with an online member directory linking to contact information, Twitter handles, blogs, etc.

Here are my questions for you:

  • Have you ever found an event specific social network useful to you over any extended period of time?
  • If so, how did you use it?
  • If not, why do you think it wasn’t useful?

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14 thoughts on “Social Networking Sites for Conferences”

  1. I agree that is usually makes more sense for conferences to use existing networks. But they could do so a lot more effectively by telling people which tags to use — and linking to them on twitter, flickr etc, from their conference front page, for example.

    Slideshare also has a cool events thing (they get featured on the front page as they are happening), which definitely all conferences should use. just encouraging people to publish their slides for a start would be useful.

  2. I agree with you Dawn that groups or social networks designed specifically for events have a set life frame. I think going into them, usually people understand this and I think it can be beneficial leading up to the event, but after it slowly dies off. People lose interest and have so many other things going on in their lives that they move onto the next network. Where it can lead to though is you take the contacts you’ve established through that event or through the events social network, and then add them to Facebook, Twitter, etc. I think the smaller networks are branches to your overall larger (tree) network.


  3. Amen to using existing social networks. I thought of this last night after watching the presidential debate (on the local broadcast NBC affiliate). There was a commercial, immediately after the debate, by some politician that said basically “OK, now that the debate’s over, let’s keep talking about healthcare. We’ve set up a site, over at Come on over and join the conversation.” (I can’t remember the actual name/URL). Talk about a purpose built social network? Why on earth would I go to, sign up, learn, and use a completely new social network, instead of the one(s) I’m already using (I was chatting with a few hundred of my closest friends during the debate on Twitter and FriendFeed, the same way I was during the last big conference I went to).

    Be social where you are. “Social gravity” – the pull of the number of people you know in a network” – tends to keep you where you friends are, and to me, that’s the most important factor in deciding which networks to participate in.

  4. Another thought: just like your first day at a new school, your first login to a new social network means that everyone is a stranger – no one is a “friend” until you expend the effort over and over to either look for and connect with people you know, or get to know and become friends with the new people. Why would you want to start over all the time? What’s the benefit, the return on that investment of effort, to use a new-to-you conference (or any other purpose) specific social network?

  5. Glad I caught your tweet about this post. It’s an interesting topic to put more thought into as we are looking into creating a social network around our annual conference – Nonprofit Technology Conference. We’ve been looking for a better way to facilitate impromptu social activities around the conference, which is one of the major benefits of our (and perhaps any) conference – personal connections made. We have been excited about the possibilities there. I totally see your point about another social network but recognizing that it will be a limited network for a given time period, do you think it could be beneficial? Less of a pain if we can integrate it with our CRM so that folks will be able to use a login they already have created with us, as well. The hope would be that we would still be linking to Flickr, using Twitter, FriendFeed (for attendees who do this) but still allowing for one central place for folks to connect and message other people that have identified themselves with similar interests, etc.

    Of course, we want folks to continue to connect post-conference and recognize that this would go to wherever they are already using.

    Curious to know what other opinions are as I have not had the experience of using a social network around a conference.

  6. I think it’s easier to connect with people you met afterward with Twitter, email, Facebook, etc. Keeping up with another social network that won’t get much activity post-event has little value.

  7. pfctdayelise, great points. organizers should always be publishing the tag to use well before the event and during the event to make it easier for the rest of us to find relevant content, information, and connect with others.

    Craig, when they are used, they definitely seem to have a defined life time. I would still rather see a group created on an existing, popular social network (Facebook, for example) where I could interact with existing contacts leading up to an event while also connecting with new people.

    Josh, excellent points (as always!) I especially like the reference to social gravity and the idea of not wanted to always start over.

    Anna, I actually think it might make sense for you 🙂 Not a new social network, but a new way for people to engage within your existing NTEN community for your annual event. If you use the existing community somehow (new group, etc.) and make sure you integrate the event portion with the rest of your community, you will be extending something that people already use. I would love to have coffee with you to chat about this (as chair of Legion of Tech, I’d also love to better understand NTEN anyway).

    Tim, True. Keeping up with people after an event via Twitter and Facebook has worked really well for me in the past.

  8. Dawn–great topic. I agree to some extent. We’re getting dangerously close to network overload (I think I might be there already). But I do think a network that essentially acts as a dashboard for the existing networks (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc.) can be useful, especially with a group that is not already all over social media. It acts as a primer. And it might bring them into the fray–even if only for the duration of the conference.

  9. Alli,

    I’m curious if you think that people who aren’t already all over social media would join and participate in a social network specifically for an event. I tend to think that they wouldn’t, but I’d be curious to learn if people who don’t already use social networks would have a different behavior.

  10. I haven’t seen a social network on a specific event that was successful, but I’d be willing to change my mind if anyone has some examples to share. But I think that for a network to gain traction the focus needs to be people-based as opposed to event-based. Reaching your members where they already live makes more sense.

    Having contact directory is an especially good idea, which I think underscores the need to use different social media tools for different purposes. For example, I remember at the Online Community Unconference this year there was a wiki ( that attendees could update with their profile links. Overall that worked very well, but it was also an audience comfortable with using those tools.

  11. Scott,

    Thanks! I’ve seen wikis used successfully as a way for attendees to share links to their blogs, twitter, friendfeed, email, and other ways to keep up with each other. We’ve used them for some BarCamps and similar conferences.

    A wiki might not be the right technology for less technical audiences, but the idea is solid. A way for users to update information relevant for them and share with the rest of the conference attendees.

  12. Im going to agree with the majority, conferences need to use existing networks and not try to recreate the wheel. Oh and yes, wikis are the way t to share info. Its not fancy or glittery but it gets the job done.

  13. I agree we, the digerati, are close to reaching social network overload. For the vast majority of conference attendees (non-technology conferences), though, they’re WAAAY behind us, and hoping to use a network that they all already use is going to be tough. How many non-techies are really on Twitter? Facebook is probably your best bet, but do you really want your conference attendees seeing the Wall posts and pictures that foolish friends have posted?

    Instead, I think the idea of having a closed social network, where you know that everybody who is on it is someone you will actually have an opportunity to meet in person, is exactly what conferences need. You tailor your persona for that audience, and you scope your interactions to only those people who are relevant. AND, everybody, regardless whether they use Orkut or Facebook or LinkedIn, can play.

    That’s what we’ve tried to build at Pathable (, a social network just for conferences and events. To address the “overload” issue, we allow attendees to add a link to their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. persona, but also to create one that’s relevant to event itself.

  14. I do think that event-specific networks can be extremely beneficial for making new connections at conferences, tradeshows, etc. But, I want more than just a dashboard or wiki which makes me click a thousand links to people’s sites/blogs to learn who they are. I find this completely unusable.

    Let me say that I think that ANY new social network or community app should be moving toward a standard such as OpenID, OpenSocial, Facebook Connect, etc. I support the portable profile idea – which would allow users to jump in and engage in ad-hoc communities as long as it is relevant, without rebuilding a brand new profile again.

    I’m a proponent (no relationship, just like the service) of It sucks in as much profile info as possible from the event registration service and other SN’s like Facebook and Twitter. Then, it creates a title & company tag cloud to help you find potential network matches. It also aggregates blog posts and tweets in a section called Chatter. It allows me as a user to get an idea of not only who is attending, but a chance to get to know them a bit before the event. And, in my opinion, that is what Social Media is all about – fostering real life connections through online engagement.

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