Social networking isn’t just for teenagers and young adults; a fact meeting planners are quickly coming to understand. In 2010, almost half of the American population was using online social networks, according to a Pew Research Study. And social networking is crossing generational divides, according to Dr. Sarah Harper, director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. “If you look over the next 20 years, everybody under 40 will be completely immersed in a very modern way of communicating, and those between 40 and 80 will have spent a lot of their lives in this kind of virtual world,” she says. Harper was one of the dozens of industry leaders interviewed for Meeting Professionals International’s white paper, “From the Outside In,” a study on current trends and the future of meetings.
With the emergence of online sharing comes data control and privacy concerns. Chris Sanderson, the co-founder of The Future Laboratory, says consumers will own and know how to use their data. “We’ll start to recognize and understand that our personal information has worth and a tradable value,” he says. The future will be the continuous collection and processing of personal data. Smartphones will enhance their location devices, allowing meeting professionals to track where delegates are at all times and analyze how much time they spend at different locations. And with devices such as smartphones and cameras capable of recording and disseminating information instantly, meeting professionals will need to increase responsiveness and vigilance on social networks.
Technology will also play a large part in evaluating and measuring attendees’ meeting experiences. Dr. Nick Cope, associate dean of research and enterprise at Leeds Metropolitan University, says future technologies “will enable more observational research of how people operate within venue spaces, and in physical dimensions.” Emotional response tracking, says Dr. Michael Chorost, a technology
theorist and author will be invaluable for meeting professionals to provide real-time responses for attendees.
As technologies advance and the world becomes more virtual, event formats will change, with an increasing number of events going digital. However, as many aspects of attendees’ lives go virtual, the need for face-to-face interaction will increase, says Jamie Sefton, a games industry specialist. “People will want to meet, so meeting planners need to look after people and create enjoyable social times for live connections.” Chorost adds, “Even with video conferencing, participants are still only getting a sliver of what they’d get during in-person communication. You miss that sense of being in a shared physical space. And there are many other subtle things that you miss as well, such as the common awareness of the background.” Robert Hopkins, associate director at architecture ﬁrm Aedas, says meetings are critical to creating intensity at the start of projects. “Face-to-face and physical contacts are important to getting the intensity you need to make things happen,” he says.