A recent panel by the federal government on youth entering the workforce discovered something that many people are already familiar with: sending hundreds of applications out into the online ether rarely gets results. It is the face-to-face connections that lead to jobs. “We are deluding ourselves if we think that by digitizing the job application process, we are making it more democratic,” panel chairwoman Vass Bednar said of the discovery. “Network effects are as strong as ever, and this hurts young people with less social capital.”
For many young people entering the job market, the ineffectiveness of social media for networking can come as a surprise. After all, social media attempts to digitize traditional networking by fostering communities and connecting like-minded individuals together. Plus, social media has become a top priority for businesses around the world.
Social media is an essential element of nearly every business and industry operating today. An estimated 93 per cent of businesses in North America use social media for marketing. According to online content amplification company Shareaholic, social media has eclipsed traditional search engines as the top driver of referral traffic to content on the web. Social media, in many ways, has become the word-of-mouth of the modern world and, by making the exchange of information as easy as possible, it can create more organic interactions that lead to better sales and higher exposure.
However, the corporate event remains an important aspect of modern networking and an excellent resource for companies as well. Shandra Ballard, communications specialist at Edmonton’s PCL Construction, says her company’s corporate events are used for “business development, employee engagement, or community engagement.” With the exception of employee engagement, the reasons look similar to the reasons for using social media.
Andrew Cook, a locomotive engineer for CN, has participated at events put on by CN, including community outreach programs that educate the public about the railway while feeding them free barbeque. The programs connect businesses that act more behind the scenes with regular people who may not understand what they do. “The barbeques that CN hosts are a lot of fun and a chance for families and residents to come enjoy some great food” he says. “Plus, it’s a great way to raise awareness about railroad safety and educate people on what we do in their communities. Plus, the kids are always excited to talk to a train conductor!”
While it has its place in today’s business world, social media can’t replace the corporate event.
It’s tempting to consider corporate events as either the precursor or end goal of social media precisely because they share so much in common with social media. In fact, many businesses attempted to make a switch to social media over corporate events not long after Facebook and Twitter began to dominate the Internet. According to research published by Special Events magazine, businesses have generally increased their budgets for corporate events steadily for the past 10 years, except during 2008 and 2009. For both those years, more businesses reported that they planned to hold fewer events and spend less money on those events than in any other year. In 2009, 38 per cent of businesses said they would stage less events, compared to 11 per cent the year before, and over a quarter said they would decrease their event budgets. By 2016, those statistics had each lowered to just 10 per cent. The corporate event, ignored for a moment, bounced back.
While 2008’s recession may be the most obvious explanation for those statistics, social media may have had a large impact as well. A tweet, after all, comes with a wide array of instantly measurable stats, including likes, retweets, link clicks, and bio clicks, all at a significantly lower cost than a Christmas party or networking event. But, just like corporate events, measuring the move from liking a tweet to spending money at the cash register can be tricky and abstract.
Fortunately, there are ways for modern businesses to track the success of their events. Ballard says one of the ways to do this is to outline the relevant statistics and consider them at every stage of an event, from the planning to the morning after. “Companies need to think about what the goals and objectives are for the event,” she says. “For example, PCL hosts an annual Christmas party to show appreciation for all of our Edmonton-area employees. After the event, we send out a survey so we can measure guests’ satisfaction with the event year over year.”
Mark Ryan, student events coordinator with the Students’ Union (SU), helps organize some of University of Alberta’s largest events, including orientation week. For the SU, hard numbers help to back up their post-event surveys. “Across all of our events, we look to increase student attendance year-by-year, and [ensure] that the students who attend are having a great time,” he says. “This year, we ran the biggest new student orientation ever with over 5,000 new students, and they were led around campus by 800 of our volunteers.”
By gathering data, even by something as simple as counting heads or a survey, businesses and organizations can adapt and change to become more effective. Plus, it can concretize that often ethereal gap between the event and the result.
Probably the most dangerous assumption about corporate events and social media, besides considering them to be the same thing, is ignoring how the event can actually lead to an increased presence online long past the event itself. Events naturally lead to a surge in online activity, especially if it is incorporating community activism or the company uses a hashtag; but to optimize this surge, strategizing before and after the event critical.
PCL, for example, use their Twitter feed predominantly to highlight their community engagement, and such events help them bridge the gap between everyday people and the work they do in Edmonton. They also raise awareness for events that they put on. CN, too, enjoys an immediate boost through other people posting about their events.
Pushing this idea one step further: advertising events before and after they take place has a demonstrable effect on search engine results, since much of a webpage’s ranking is dependent on its links, even in the modern age of Google’s algorithm. Businesses that create pages on their site for events and include their address in event listings help to boost their profile. Getting those event listings elsewhere online, and including a link to the event page on the main site, will drive those results up even further. To consider the two separate is to ignore the potential they hold together.
The power of the modern corporate event lies precisely in what it has done for decades: help people network in a face-to-face environment. But to truly understand corporate events in the world of Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, one has to understand that they are symbiotic. One does not lead to the other, and one is not a means to the other’s end. For the corporate event and social media, they are both important tools for modern businesses, especially when it comes to client interaction, employee engagement, and community-building.