Platforms to Facilitate Connections May Be the Top Trend for 2021. All Aboard!

If 2020 was the year of the pivot in the media industry, then 2021 will be the time for facilitating connections. This week, Winsight, a large B2B media organization—they now run the National Restaurant Association Show—announced that they will launch a new platform called Restaurant Community later this month.


“The restaurant community consists of people who are exceptionally social and who are creative problem-solvers,” said Chris Keating, EVP of conferences for Winsight (and a speaker at our recent BIMS event). “And Restaurant Community is a place that enables them to connect with each other.”


This type of platform may become quite common in the first few months of 2021, as publishers and media organizations look for new ways to connect their audience. It’s actually a bit of a surprise that it has taken this long. In June, the United Fresh Produce Association may have crafted a blueprint by creating United Fresh LIVE! 365, a year-round online platform featuring a permanent expo, social gatherings, on-demand education, webinars, conference programming, and networking opportunities for the global produce industry.


“We basically built a year-round convention center,” John Toner, VP of convention and industry collaboration, of the United Fresh LIVE! 365 platform, said. “[The platform] serves as the connection point,” adding that exhibitors whose engagement strategy went beyond the show floor have reaped the best results.


For Winsight, restaurant operators and suppliers will have exclusive access to: interviews with industry influencers and restaurateurs from all titles and segments; presentations from Technomic (their data division) experts and Restaurant Business editors; interactive discussion boards; and more. At the heart of Restaurant Community are Share Groups, which provide for category specific conversations, product discovery and meetings directly between operators and suppliers.


Just this week, events company Emerald acquired PlumRiver, a leading international provider of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) technology. Here’s the biggest reason why. “The acquisition of PlumRiver is a natural extension of our live events business; we can now offer a complimentary, year-round interaction and transaction platform,” said Hervé Sedky, Emerald’s president and CEO, who just started Monday. So this was his first maneuver.


While not everyone can acquire a SaaS business, they can create new platforms. In an article on ASAE today titled, Three Ways Associations Can Make Events Year-Round Engagements, Christina Tomlinson writes:


“What if you could build on the pre-event momentum you create and keep the conversation going to engage, empower, educate, and inspire your membership 365 days a year? While virtual and hybrid events are a start, they too are typically limited in duration…


Adopt a conference mobile app and microsite or other tech-enabled community. Event technology is so pervasive your options are virtually limitless. Consider what year-round member engagement is worth… How much bandwidth and budget do you have, and how much could you save with this technology? Use your answers to inform the decision about how to approach adopting a new platform or tool.”


It makes sense. When I think of all the work that went into our virtual events last year, it seems a shame in this environment to just quickly move on from the learning community we created. That’s also a way to add more value—not only will you have access to this event, but you will become part of a year-long community of like-minded publishers.


At The Wall Street Journal, their Live Journalism team recently added a series of monthly events designed for professional women, taking on topics such as caregiving, the impact of racial reckoning on company culture and managing career pivots. These online gatherings included interviews and, yes, small group breakout sessions.


“As our live journalism moved into the virtual space, we saw a unique opportunity to reach a broader cohort of Journal readers who craved practical, tactical tips on navigating the current business and cultural climate, while looking for connection to one another,” said Kim Last, live journalism & special content editor. “We designed our monthly series with these readers in mind. Our annual forum was redesigned to not only highlight sharp, newsmaking interviews but also cater to the topics female professionals care about, with the hope to generate fodder for connection.”

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