Conceptually, I understand this so-called phenomenon of social networking—at least I think I do. But I have to admit to you, here and now, that motivation to get into the mix of it all has largely remained a stranger to me. Like some old dinosaur snoozing in warm, golden sunshine I honestly have simply not been roused to "Link In" in this way, at least until now. By way of personal revelation, I probably have—no… most assuredly have—more fondness for dogs than for most people; at least, I find myself smiling at and saying "hello" more often to dogs, including those I have never actually met before.
And my foot dragging received some unexpected positive reinforcement when I read a news article reporting that a significant number of the early adopters of the practice of social networking, and subscribers to the various popular platforms, are beginning to question the value of their involvement and second guessing whether their time is well spent in continuing.
So, it came as a bit of a personal challenge to me a while back when we became involved in a brand new initiative in collaboration with i365Tech in launching a totally online green building conference and trade show called GreenExpo365
Right from the beginning I was enchanted with the idea of being able to visit a virtual show floor, meandering from booth to booth at any time of the day or night, seven days a week, all year long. I mean, if I want to find out the latest news from Energy Star or indulge in a really close, leisurely look at the most recent offerings from any number of top tier green product manufacturers, all I have to do is point and click. And I could immediately see how it would be cool to participate in live conversations in the networking lounge while enjoying my first morning cup of coffee, still in my PJs and slippers.
I could definitely understand how this concept would make sense to exhibitors. For a financial and human resource commitment that is a tiny fraction of what a company would invest in a single, annual three or four day live trade show they can welcome visitors to their virtual booth any time day or night, including weekends and holidays, for an entire year … the main difference being that the exhibit hall doors are always open. There is a certain novel appeal in being able to "man" your booth in the morning, coach your kid's game in the afternoon, and then still sleep in your own bed that night.
If you are someone who works in the marketing department, you (and your colleagues in accounting) are going to like this idea a lot, and, as anybody who has ever worked a show booth knows, your feet are going to love it!
Besides, I had already dipped my "technophobe" toes into the pool of live webinars a few times, both as a presenter and as an attendee, so I had a first-hand appreciation for the convenience and economies they have to offer. But this was different. I was going to actually have to go onto www.greenexpo365.com and register. Oh, there is no charge, it's totally free to sign up and attend as often as you like, but it does require a person to declare a certain level of interest and participation. That did take some getting used to, at least for me.
Now fast forward…the first live events and booth tours at the expo have just been concluded. The turnout certainly surpassed my expectations and people genuinely seem to be impressed with the quality of the technology and appreciative of the opportunities to meet and connect with other folks who share their interests, their values, and their concerns.
Our lineup of live presenters—renowned green building experts and architects—drew eager, engaged industry professionals into fascinating presentations and interactive discussions. Folks from all sectors of the industry roamed the resource center, the exhibit hall, and the networking lounge, and engaged in conversations much like those at a live show.
One big difference is illustrated ingeniously on the home page. A meter continuously displays the ever increasing estimated savings that are by-products of a virtual event. In the very first week, the economic savings for visitors is about $4.5 million and the offset in carbon emissions from air travel alone has totaled more than 4.6 million pounds (23,000 tons), not to mention the savings in other precious resources like energy, water, paper, and waste.
GreenExpo365is a marvelously successful idea whose time has surely come, but it is even more than that. It is a bellwether that times are changing, and that the old models are becoming irreversibly out of date. I'm not suggesting for a minute that the live conferences and trade shows are dead—far from it. Live interaction, a warm smile, and a firm handshake will hopefully never be completely replaced by convenience and expediency. But the old, sleepy institutions are like that old dinosaur I described earlier, their best days have come and gone. Now we have alternatives.
I realized long ago that organizations like NAHB and USGBC no longer represent my core beliefs or my core interests, if they ever did. They are at best vestiges of another time and promote sets of values that never really did mesh with my own, and apparently with those of many others who are looking for balance, transparency, and simple truth.
There are countless industry professionals and concerned consumers out there who have never felt like they had representation, like they were being listened to. The sleeping giant is being awakened and those who have always felt that they were on the outside looking in, those who have never been quite at ease with the party line, are in discovery of a common voice.
I'm still not entirely plugged into the new social networking paradigm, perhaps it has passed me by, but I am finding an acceptable level of comfort that I wasn't sure I would ever experience. Only time and the actual events will give us the real results, but I am sure enjoying watching the numbers on that meter increase by the minute.