According to the New Media Trend Watch 2011, nine out of 10 Gen-Ys (people age 18-34) are online, and nearly as many are social network users. They’re ahead of the digital curve by almost any metric:

  • Internet use: 91 percent of population in 2011 (94 percent by 2015)
  • Social network use: 86 percent of Internet users in 2011 (89 percent by 2015)
  • Online-video viewing: 84 percent of Internet users in 2011 (90 percent by 2015)
  • Mobile Internet use: 62 percent of mobile-phone users by 2011 (76 percent by 2015)

And the rest of the population isn’t so far behind. Research shows that Gen-X and early boomers are increasing their use of tablets, such as iPads, to access the Internet and are integrating mobile Web browsing, though at a lower adoption rate than Gen-Ys.

So how can we use our meeting attendees’ connectedness to boost participation in our meetings? I’ve got five suggestions:

Make Your Own Social Network. You can build a proprietary social-network hub through Facebook or use a service such as iMeet. This can encourage attendees to connect with others within your industry, your organization, or those who will be attending a particular meeting.

Make a Game of It. A meeting planner I worked with recently created an “Amazing Race” type of game for participants. Clues were sent via text message and some of the tasks involved using smartphones to find out answers.

Enlist Speakers. Ask speakers use technology to increase participation in their sessions. Text-to-screen technology, such as Wiffitti or iwall, allows participants to engage with the content from the speaker, ask questions, and become part of the program. On a more basic level, you can simply set up a dedicated number to be used as a “request line,” allowing attendees to text specific questions for the presenter on stage.

Create a Contest. Every smartphone has a camera. Create a contest in which attendees send their best photos of conference activities by text to a central number. The photos can be uploaded and shared at the end of the conference, with prizes given to the best (funniest, most creative, whatever).

Create a Cell-Phone Directory. In addition to publishing e-mail contacts for your attendees, how about adding cell phone numbers? Whether or not you can do this depends on your organization’s privacy guidelines, but a cell-phone directory allows attendees to text one another on site and to follow up after the conference.

The key opportunity for the meetings industry is to capitalize on mobile adoption. Gone are the days where we ask people to turn off their phones. Now we want them to keep those phones on, connect, and participate. Let’s use those smartphones smartly!

Cheryl Cran, CSP, is an author and speaker in the field of integrating communication, technology, and human potential, who has done years of research on the habits and work styles of multiple generations. She is the author of 101 Ways to Make Generations X, Y and Zoomers Happy at Work. (What’s a Zoomer? It’s Cran’s term for “a boomer who refuses to age.”)