The use of LinkedIn Groups, Facebook pages, Twitter streams, and other social media continues to increase in the world of meetings and events. We’ve all probably found a great tip, made a good connection, or had a chuckle or three from these sources. But just as often (possibly more often?) we’ve rolled our eyes at a blatant promotional post or stopped visiting a particular group or community when the ratio of selling to sharing gets out of balance.

Here’s the funny thing: That lack of authenticity may ultimately push social media users to join face-to-face communities (i.e., meetings!), according to the latest white paper to come from the Meeting Professionals International Foundation’s Future of Meetings project.

“There are still many companies looking for people who can write in a branded way (similar to advertising copy) on blogs, Twitter, and social media networks. As these opportunities become more apparent, the trust in these networks may decrease as users migrate away from ‘managed identities’ toward more genuine encounters. This could spark more interest in real-world encounters,” writes Dr.Emma Wood of the International Centre for Research in Events, Tourism and Hospitality at Leeds Metropolitan University, author of the paper, “The Value of Connection: A Review of Social Media Trends.” Leeds Metropolitan University, in the U.K., is MPI’s research partner in the Future of Meetings project.


The Original Social Media

In fact, Dr. Wood concludes, “meetings are the original social media.” And to succeed in the social media world, meeting professionals need only emulate the strategies they use for live events—that is, creating “networks of partners, suppliers, and customers, ensuring that customers perceive greater value in being part of the network than being out of it.”

The new challenge, however, is to manage that network without appearing to try to control it. As Clay Shirky, an Internet technology expert interviewed for the white paper, points out, “what was once audience has become producer”—a shift in power that meeting professionals will need to respond to. You are no longer creating content for consumption by your attendees; you are collaborating with them in a two-way environment.

According to Dr. Wood, this means moving “beyond creating messages and into creating an environment for convening and supporting groups—something the meeting industry excels at, but must now do online as well as in the conference room.” One way to do this is to think less about how you can market to your community through social media and more about how you can simply become a trusted and valued member of that community.

Other ideas from the paper:

1. Because using social media is cheap and easy, some companies have made the mistake of jumping in without a strategy. You might want to lurk a bit first, and always keep in mind “who you can help rather than what you can gain.”

2. If passionate delegates create pre-meeting discussions or blogs that lead to conference attendance, find ways to reward them.

3. Know that people use different social media platforms differently. Have appropriate strategies for each.

4. Online communities of shared interest are new market segments. Identify, join, nurture, and serve.

5. Humanize your organization’s voice. Participate as a contributor and not a marketer.

6. Use features as they become the norm. Don’t rush into each new development, but do recognize the new normal when it lands.

The full paper is available free for members ($99 for nonmembers) at the MPI Web site. Find out more about the Future of Meetings project at the FOM Portal.