Media companies, and especially those in the b-to-b space, are increasingly reliant on events as a vital way to diversify a portfolio. Yet, as reported by FOLIO: today, even growth in the events sector seems to be slowing.
However, harnessing the power of social media is one way that media companies can hold the attention of customers and consumers beyond the week or month a magazine is on sale–or an event is in session. That was one takeaway provided by Eric Ly, the co-founder of LinkedIn and keynote speaker at the International Association of Exhibitions and Events’ annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. on Wednesday.
“We weren’t cool enough to create Facebook,” said Ly. “So we tried to create something useful instead.”
Ly, joined onstage by Rick Calvert, moderator of the address and head of New Media Expo, was speaking to a crowd of about 400 professionals as the CEO of another startup now—matchmaking provider Presdo. Ly discussed the role of social media in the face-to-face industry.
“I used to go to a lot of tech events,” he said. “People want to get together, they want to socialize and have really important business relationships and friendships come out of that experience. I would go to those events and—I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing this—you walk in and see a room full of people really not knowing who you should meet.”
“In face-to-face, and especially events, it’s really about connecting people,” he added. “That actually turns out to be really hard to do.”
Ly noted several times that he sees social as a compliment to face-to-face interaction however—not a replacement. While it can be a useful tool in matchmaking and extending relationships beyond the time and space limitations of an event, social is not an answer in itself.
“I think that face-to-face is never going to go away,” he said. “We are humans, we want to be in contact with other people, we want to develop trust—and those kinds of things are really hard to do online.”
Calvert also broached LinkedIn’s own potential as an event provider. Despite shuttering it’s proprietary events app in late-November, the social mega-site could still be poised for a head-on collision with the industry.
Admittedly theorizing, Ly suggested the move could simply have been the closing of an unsuccessful product, or perhaps, a hint that LinkedIn was going to get into the events business itself.
While that prospect may be daunting for many in the event industry, Ly doesn’t think it would work.
“There’s so much value in face-to-face interaction, it’s an industry of $200 billion,” he said. “Those kinds of abilities, skills and talents I don’t think are going to be replaced any time soon by a Silicon Valley company.”
Michael Rondon is an associate editor at FOLIO: magazine.