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"I strongly believe that consumption is less about reflecting who we are–even though that’s clearly a fundamental dimension of it–as much as it’s about who we wish to be." - Paul Mullins, The Archaeology Of Consumer Culture
Your conference participants' choice of education sessions identifies who they are and also about who they want to be. They are aspiring to be something different and do something different.
As a conference organizer, you have the ability to help them achieve their dreams.
The social and interest graphs
First, some definitions and background on the social and interest graphs.
The social graph - a digital map that defines who you know. Scientists use the term to refer to the global mapping of everyone and how they are related. The social graph demonstrates our connections with others and organizations that we personally know. Facebook is a great example of the social graph.
The interest graph - a digital map that defines your interests. It consists of what you like, what moves you and the facets of your personality that, in part, make up who you are. Those interests form your personal identity. Online, we may form relationships with others based on similar interests.
Comparing the two
The social graph consists of who you know. The interest graph consists of what you like.
Contrary to the social graph, which demonstrates the network of people that you know, the interest graph consists of the network of people who share interests with you, but you don’t necessarily personally know.
The social graph tells you that two people know each other. Yet it has limitations on telling you anything beyond their connection to each other. The interest graph, unlike the social graph, offers insight into personal taste, preferences and behaviors.
Social networks such as Facebook start with your friends and let you see what you have in common. Interest graph-based models – Springpad, Pinterest, Get Glue – start with your interests and then let you make connections. It’s less about who you know and more about what you care about.
How the interest graph and participant aspirations affect conferences
Blogger Edward Boches recently wrote a post about marketing using the social and interest graphs, and consumer aspirations.
Boches discusses Mullins book about how our purchasing and consumption habits project something about us. We purchase products not just for their use but also because of what they say about us. I posit the same holds true for our conference session consumption. We attend sessions because we want to aspire to be and do something different.
“… Mullins argues … that we are sometimes portraying a persona that we’ve yet to realize, instead declaring that it’s who we want to be,” Boches says.
The interest graph is allowing us to declare our wishes, what we aspire to become. New social tools like Pinterest, Fab, The Fancy, Svpply and Hunch allow us to display how we can be perceived in new ways.
This provides new opportunities for marketers and conference organizers. It provides new ways to mine our participants’ interests and develop programming based on what they would like to become. It gives us new data of their aspirations.
If conference organizers can do that, we increase the likelihood that we create participants who become our evangelists, boost our sales and improve loyalty.
How can conference organizers use the social and interest graphs to design programming that will attract participants and help them aspire to their dreams? What systems should conference organizers put in place to collect data about what their participants wish to become based on their session consumption patterns?
Jeff Hurt is education and engagement director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. Read his blog at Midcourse Corrections, where this column appeared originally.