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How I Attended My 25th High School Reunion on Facebook

August 2, 2012

Introduction

Connecting with old friends. Thinking they looked the same as 25 years ago. A sumptuous meal, followed by fun on the dance floor. Memories to last a lifetime. It was my 25th high school reunion. But I wasn’t there.

I considered flying back to New York for the reunion, but a scheduling conflict came up. So instead, I experienced the reunion 2,900 miles away. On Facebook.

Like many other high school alumni groups, mine created a Facebook Group a number of years ago. It’s a great way to stay connected and keep up to date with classmates. And better yet, it’s a fantastic destination for news, updates, photos and comments about reunions. And as I discovered, it’s particularly useful to those unable to attend.

High School Years: A Special Time

While some look back on their high school years in horror, I consider it a very special time. In high school, we find ourselves in the early stages of transition into adulthood. We discover a bit about ourselves, including some definition of what we want to be when we grow up.

To me, it’s this transition that makes our high school years special – after all, who goes to middle school or elementary school reunions? And, high school, for most people, is associated with “home,” which means that a high school reunion (unlike, say, a college reunion) is a return to your roots – the community in which you grew up.

At the same time, high schools are comprised of well-defined social groups, who interact with each other only when necessary: jocks, geeks, band members, greasers (remember them?) and so on. Twenty five years later, our graduating class is simply one cohesive social group.

Jocks catch up with geeks and vice versa. In fact, the labels are completely gone – today, the jock from high school is a 40-something dad, husband or business person, just like every other classmate.

Facebook as the Online Platform for the Reunion

Why was Facebook such an effective platform to “host” the reunion? Well, just about everyone is on it. We were a graduating class of 296 and the Facebook Group has 160 members (54% of the entire class). That’s a significant percentage, when you consider the fact that some classmates have little desire to connect with us, while others may not be aware of the group’s existence.

As the reunion prepares to rock and roll, this photo is shared with the Facebook Group.

With the Facebook Group, “remote” classmates were able to catch a glimpse of the reunion venue before our attending classmates arrived. Others could post messages and tributes, wishing classmates a good time. Here’s a good example:

Facebook: It’s Real-time and Mobile, Too

Twitter gets the accolades for being that dial tone of the real-time web. But I think Facebook is just as real-time (and mobile) as Twitter. The main difference is that Facebook sharing tends to be “With Friends” as opposed to 100% public (on Twitter).

For many of my friends, being online equates to being “on Facebook.” Whether they’re surfing the web or at work, they’re constantly checking their Newsfeed, as well as the Notifications area (for new comments, Likes, Group postings, etc.). I’ll often post an update on Facebook and as the page refreshes to reflect my post, see an immediate “Like” from a Friend. That’s real-time.

On the evening of the reunion, I had forgotten it was happening. I was in Napa, CA and getting ready for dinner. I checked my phone and noticed a number of new notifications on Facebook. Classmates were posting pictures from the reunion. Neat!

Even though I was 2,900 miles away and 3 hours behind, in some sense, I felt like I was there. Some classmates I recognized right away, while others required me to explore the not-so-deep recesses of my memory. Later, at dinner, I’d see new notifications and view new pictures that were posted.

Facebook as the Online Platform for Our Graduating Class

The Facebook Group allows the conversation to continue year-round. In that sense, the reunion was simply an event, along a continuum of interactions and gatherings among our class. And it’s the Facebook Group that ties it all together.

This week, in fact, a classmate uploaded 60 photos from the reunion. Facebook’s Notifications area alerted me to new activity in the Group. The new photos provided more reasons to continue the conversation, as numerous Likes and comments surfaced. And of course, comments beget further comments.

Facebook as a Proxy for the Reunion

Of course, nothing beats face-to-face interactions, especially with classmates you haven’t seen in 10-20+ years. But for those of us unable to make it in person, Facebook was our only available outlet. Not only could I witness elements of the reunion (in semi-real-time), but I’d see the “presence” of other classmates by way of their Likes and comments.

I’d see a “Like” from a classmate, then click on his profile to see what he’s been up to. I might see pictures of his kids, where he’s worked recently and where he currently lives. I found this similar to the manner in which you “catch up” at an actual reunion.

As reunion attendees met, hugged and exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, some of us “Facebook attendees” sent Friend requests to one another. There was certainly an online element to this 25th Reunion.

Conclusion

On Sunday evening, I returned home from Napa. This time, I turned to my tablet to check out the Facebook Group. There, I was able to view 30+ additional photos from the reunion and skim through all of the Likes and comments left by classmates. Because many of the reunion attendees were busy traveling back home, the most active members of the Facebook Group were those who were not even there (in person).

It was amazing how viewing photos, reading comments and checking out classmates’ Facebook profiles triggered deep and meaningful emotions. When I was done, I truly felt as if I just attended the reunion. And while I’ll try my best to attend the next one in person, the Facebook experience was the next best thing.

In closing, I’d like to share a classmate’s comment, who sums it up perfectly:

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

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2011 Predictions For Virtual Events

October 30, 2010

As we head into the final 2 months of 2010, it’s time for another round of predictions.  First, let’s review my 2010 predictions:

  1. The 2010 Predictions for Virtual Events
  2. The Mid-Year Report Card on the 2010 predictions
  3. A posting on the Future of Virtual Events

I assigned myself a mid-year grade of B.  And now, I’m designating a final grade of B-.  I hope to improve in this year’s predictions.  To assist with my predictions, I invited a few experts from the community to chime in, so I’ll be including their predictions with my own.

Market Expansion

To date, “market expansion” has meant a growing number of “pure play” virtual event platform providers.  In the US, we started with a handful of major vendors and we’ve seen new entrants into the market in 2009 and 2010.  We also saw the emergence of platforms outside the US, notably in Europe – and in 2009, in Asia Pacific as well.

For a large Requests For Proposal (RFP) in 2009 and 2010, the virtual event platforms knew whom they were competing against (each other).  Starting in 2011, it gets cloudier (pun intended), as the blending of virtual, social and Enterprise 2.0 means that a wider set of vendors are vying for the same business that virtual platforms got in 2010.

Consider the following vendors, each of whom has offerings that (in part) look, feel and smell like virtual events or virtual business communities:

Jive Software, Yammer, Pathable, Facebook Groups, Socialtext, SharePoint (Microsoft) and Lotus (IBM).

Virtual event platforms can expect to sell against some of these players in 2011 and some platforms may go the partnership route, to build a combined offering as a competitive advantage.

Service Level Agreements (SLA)

The virtual events industry is at a point in its growth where Service Level Agreements (SLA) make a lot of sense.  With a growing number of vendors, SLA’s help separate the contenders from the pretenders – if you’re offering money back (or a credit) if an event fails, then only the strong will survive.

I predict that one vendor will lead the way and proactively hit the market with an SLA – forcing others to follow suit later in 2011.  Expect SLA’s around availability and simultaneous users.

Later in 2011 (or perhaps in 2012), SLA’s will be defined around “quality”, such as response time.  This development helps the market – the assurance provided behind an event allows the market to expand, attracting new customer growth that exceeds 2010’s figures.

Market Upheaval

Market expansion and SLA’s mean the strong get stronger. But lesser platforms have a challenging year ahead. According to Cece Salomon-Lee, Principal at PR Meets Marketing, “some players will be bought by larger organizations, merging to bring together complimentary strengths or even some disappearing from the industry all together. No matter how, we will begin to see some consolidation within the industry.”

Meanwhile, Miguel Arias of IMASTE believes that US platforms will look abroad for acquisitions.  To “gain presence, customers and market knowledge” in Europe, Latin America and Asia, Arias believes US platforms will look to partner or acquire in-country platforms in those same regions.

In my mind, there is an enormous, (largely) untapped market within the US, which means that US-based platforms will continue to focus domestically in 2011.  Global expansion will occur in 2012 or beyond.  In addition, due to the “strong get stronger” phenomenon, I predict that one of the prominent US-based platforms will cease operations in 2011 – or, be sold at a below-market price.

Technology A La Carte


Today, virtual event platforms are “monolithic” – you enter an event and all of the functionality provided by the platform sits within that event.  You can’t experience the platform’s features outside of an “event”.  In my futures column, I predicted that virtual events “move closer to the end user”.

Driven by market demand, platforms will “break out” pieces of their technology platform in a la carte fashion. Customers who do not need a five course meal may opt just for an appetizer and coffee.  This may surface in a number of ways, including:

Thin desktop clients, mobile apps, browser toolbars, virtual booths embedded in banner ads, group chat embedded on a web page, etc.

Hybrid Innovation & The Year of the Hybrid

In 2009, some INXPO colleagues and I predicted that 2010 would be The Year of the Hybrid.  This was partially true – in fact, Cisco received the 2010 Grand Ex Award for their hybrid approach to Cisco Live and Networkers. However, the mass adoption of hybrid events (that we predicted) did not ring true.  But that’s OK, it’s always better to be a year early than a year late.

Event and experience marketing agencies have adopted virtual in varying degrees – 2011 is the year where they demonstrate the most aggressive push to date.  You’ll see strong adoption from the “big brands” in 2011 and it will come by way of these channel partners to the virtual event platforms.  2011 will set the foundation for growth – with “hockey stick growth” coming in 2012.

Another major adopter in 2011 will be associations. They’ve done a number of virtual events to date – in 2011, you’ll see 200%+ growth.  Local chapter meetings will continue to occur at physical locations, while the annual, national chapter meeting of the association will move to a hybrid event, with the virtual component serving those members who were not able to make it to the physical gathering.

More generally, 2011 will see innovative technologies that blend the virtual/online world with the real world.  And these same technologies will be integrated into hybrid event experiences, blurring the lines between physical and virtual.  I’m referring to location based services (LBS), mobile, augmented reality and QR codes.  Expect to see a lot of hybrid events innovation, which benefits everyone.

Miscellaneous Predictions

From Miguel Arias, “After some virtual events vendors, marketers and event organisers have shown in 2010 with successful case studies what are the benefits of virtual events we will see much more events and movements in Europe and South America specially.  I expect a 250-300% growth of the total market size in those regions.”

From Cece Salomon-Lee, “I believe the players that will remain on the landscape will begin building out an ecosystem of services to plug-and-play on the platforms.”

From Miguel on vendor specialization, “With more vendors in the space and more clients asking for more tailored solutions we will probably see a leader in the corporate events environment, a leader in the generic trade show market, other for hybrid events, for virtual career fairs, etc.”

Conclusion

I’ll sum up this piece by using a number of nouns to describe what I expect to see in 2011: innovation, shake-out, growth, change, adaptation, expansion, excitement.  Check back here in 6-8 months for my mid-year report card!


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