Facebook’s IPO last Saturday caused plenty of media buzz, but the IPO isn’t the real news for those interested in how people interact (as opposed to how people can make money). The real story is the way that online tools are affecting real-life interactions, and possibly even precluding the need for such interactions.
Established and emerging social tools theoretically make it possible for us to interact only online, making deals and sharing information in a way that could preclude the necessity of in-person events. Yet, as we uncovered in last week’s event branding overview, the in-person event is as necessary and sought after as ever. In an age dominated by online social exchanges, why are real-life events so necessary?
Nir Eyal recently posted an insightful analysis of the human social needs that give social-based companies such lasting appeal. He describes how emotional needs drive us to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where we can receive instant validation that we have friends and are up-to-date with current information.
But just as we have an innate drive to seek out social interaction, our innate insecurities can keep us from actually realizing it. A recent Financial Times article examines how insecurities and worries about awkward interactions can drive us to prefer online interactions where we can control what we post and potentially even edit what others post about us, at least as far as it appears on our own “wall” or other curated online spaces. One young man interviewed by the FT said, “You’re a real person in real life, but you can manipulate that Facebook world.”
The illusion of control over your online presence can build a self-perpetuating cycle: “The more we retreat to our computers, the more we train ourselves out of confronting difficulty, and we actually start to lose our ability to deal with it,” as the Financial Times puts it. Events, in this sense, are a great way to snap us out of the online-only cycle. Here are some Facebook-esque advantages that corporate events have over unmediated real-life interactions:
1. Things in common: “Friends of friends”
Events are usually predicated on a certain topic. Everyone attending an event is likely to be working in the same space, giving them a common ground for discussion. Whether it’s industry topics or “who do you know,” such conversation at a meeting of automotive experts is likely to be very different from such conversation at a group of magazine publishers. That’s as it should be–and that’s why each group has its own events.
2. Topics of conversation: “Top posts”
The schedule gives you an automatic topic of conversation at an event. Whether you’re asking folks what sessions they’re going to or what they thought of the opening keynote, you have a built-in list of things to talk about. This is another element that makes Facebook so successful: you can see what everyone else is doing, instantly, all the time. Imagine how boring Facebook would be if you saw only your wall posts, or only those of someone else. It’s bringing all the updates together that makes Facebook–or a real-life event–so interesting.
Can you think of other Facebook corollaries at real-life events?
Facebook for business image by Sean McEntee used with Creative Commons license.