GreaterIBM: Turbocharging real-life social networking events

When Todd Waymon connected to me on the Greater IBM Connection, I remembered a story that he and his wife (Lynne Waymon, author of Make Your Contacts Count) would probably find interesting. I was looking for my blog post about it, but I must’ve forgotten to tell that story then. Well, here it is!

It was September 2006. I was a graduate student researching Enterprise 2.0, and my blog was one of the most popular ones in IBM. I heard about the Greater IBM Initiative’s planned launch party in New York, and I really wanted to go. When the organizers read on my blog that I was trying to figure out how to get there, they invited me to become one of their Core Connectors. Kevin Aires called me all the way from the UK to invite me personally. I was thrilled! What a great opportunity to see corporate social networking in action, and to learn more about social networking in the process of supporting real-life connections.

I asked my research supervisor if I could have travel funding. He said no; our budget had already been earmarked for the research conferences. I asked the IBM Center for Advanced Studies for travel funding, seeing as the trip was mainly for the benefit of IBM. They said no, because they didn’t want to set a precedent. I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity, though, so I searched and searched until I found a bus ride to New York for the round trip price of USD 100. My mom connected me with a family friend who let me stay on her couch. I was going to make it happen.

With the logistics out of the way, I focused on making the Greater IBM launch party the best possible event. I remembered how good introductions helped me bring together my mostly-introverted friends from different circles, and I wanted to create that same kind of friendly atmosphere at the event. We had been using Xing as our social networking platform, and all the attendees had profiles there. I browsed each profile, copying their details and their pictures into a document – a social networking dossier. Their profiles included their current positions, their former IBM positions, their interests, and what they were looking for. I sent this dossier to the organizers, who printed it out and inserted it into each attendee’s event bag.

To make the most of the 8-hour trip, I printed out a copy of my social networking dossier for myself. I also created flashcards, putting names on one side of the card and interesting details on the other site. I noted common interests, too. I couldn’t print pictures, but I had those in my main dossier. As we rattled along the highways in a small van, I thumbed through my flashcards, committing as much as I could to memory.

That totally rocked.

As guests filtered into the swanky NY venue, I greeted them and often helped them find interesting conversations. Some had written only their first name on their nametags, but after I asked them their last name, I could remember everything I’d learned about them. I really enjoyed being able to delight people by introducing them with a few choice details – their current positions, their previous positions, the interests they shared. For example, in one conversation, I revealed that both of the other participants liked skiing enough to put it on their profiles. I think everyone walked away feeling like a VIP!

There are so many interesting things we can do when we combine online and offline social networking. I can’t wait to see how we can make the experience even better. I’m looking forward to experimenting with this by organizing or helping host events!

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