Private social networking sites for matchmaking conference attendees are nothing new. Pathable has owned the technology for several years. But for the first time, its online community-building platform — which lets attendees schedule their own meetings with event exhibitors, sponsors and each other — comes with a mobile experience that is browsable with or without an on-site Internet connection.
When attendees step on-site at a Pathable-powered event, their appointments, archived private messages and chat room discussions are accessible via a mobile device. The conference organizer needs only send a URL, and attendees can click on it to experience an HTML 5-based digital event platform that mimics a native-app experience that comes with a personalized conference agenda, speaker handouts, interactive trade-show floor plans and dynamic exhibitor profiles without having to download anything to their handheld devices. If an attendee doesn’t have a smartphone, they can link their online profile to a phone number and receive text message alerts while on-site. (Like many apps, however, no real-time communication is possible without Internet access.)
The online community doesn’t end when your event does. “We leave it up for a full year after it launches so your customers can continue to use it,” says Pathable CEO Jordan Schwartz. Organizers with thriving communities can opt to license the technology for an annual fee.
A former lead program manager for Microsoft, Schwartz developed the idea for Pathable while attending technology conferences. “It was a disappointing experience because you were in a huge room, there were thousands of people, and you didn’t know who to talk to so you ended up talking to the person you were next to in the buffet line,” he says. With Facebook and LinkedIn providing databases of people connected to each other, he figured there had to be an easier way to network with people before you arrived at an event.
So about six years ago, he built one.
Here’s the way it works: When someone registers for your event, they receive an invitation to customize their online profile. The Pathable-powered community is designed to look and feel just like your event website. Once online, attendees can search social networks for friends who might be going, share the event with social networks and link their profiles to Twitter feeds, weblinks, interests and other data that could spark interest from potential clients or business contacts.
Attendee, speaker, sponsor and exhibitor profiles are all searchable by keywords and other parameters. Once you find someone with whom you’d like to start a conversation or schedule a meeting, it’s as easy as hitting a button and filling in the blanks.
Exhibitor and sponsor profile pages provide another revenue stream for event organizers as well as a valuable lead-generation service for participants. All sponsor and exhibitor pages are linked to an interactive trade-show or facility map and can be populated with downloadable PDFs, videos and other hyperlinked materials. For an additional fee, sponsors and exhibitors can see who’s viewing their page and what content they engaged with, so those leads can be tracked and followed up.
By focusing on Pathable’s core function — to help attendees network and schedule meetings — Schwartz and his team were led to develop other features.
“In order to set up the time to meet, you have to know what other things you’re doing at the conference,” Schwartz says. That’s why his design team added an interactive conference agenda and searchable facility and trade-show maps. By the time they finished addressing client needs, Pathable had become a content management and conference platform that does a lot more than connect people. But that was always part of the plan.
The long-term goal was to build a total event experience around networking, he says. And now it’s mobile, too.
The mobile site can be accessed through a hyperlink that can be saved to the phone home screen like a native app. Personal profiles are integrated with LinkedIn and Twitter and let attendees search their social networks. Exhibitors and sponsors can upload videos and PDFs and, for a small upcharge, see engagement and traffic metrics on their profile pages.
Exhibitor and attendee profiles are searchable, and participants can interact with each other in chat rooms, via private messaging and by scheduling appointments. Additional features include a conference agenda with sessions that can be bookmarked and added to private calendars, trade-show floor plans, and special pages for sponsors and exhibitors.
Conference organizers can set time restrictions for one-on-one meetings (handy if appointments with multiple attendees is part of the event) and even provide a list of spaces that can be reserved for the meetings. With mobile integration, organizers can now provide a link to where all this data is stored, so attendees can access their conference agenda, interactive trade-show maps, session handouts, exhibitor and sponsor info, and discussion history on-site.