What happens when the meeting’s over?
That’s when the fun starts, says the boss of a new social network for business travellers. But how is Whenthemeetingsover.com carving a niche among the Goliaths of social networking?
Socially you’re likely long-entrenched in Facebook; reserving LinkedIn to connect with a larger professional network. You probably also dip into user-generated TripAdvisor for opinion overload on restaurants and hotels; the well-organised among you might use the travel-planning and itinerary sharing networks Dopplr or Tripit, and be eyeing up the just-launched Gtrot.
What’s missing? Stuart Dawson, CEO of Whenthemeetingsover.com (WTMO) has bundled what he would argue are the best and most relevant attributes of the above into a one-stop, go-to portal for business-travelling social animals.
“LinkedIn is amazing for building your network and building a business,” explains Dawson. “But what it doesn’t give you is the human element. On the flipside, Facebook is amazing for that human banter element, but it doesn’t lend itself to business.”
The seeds of WTMO were planted when international business traveller Brian Catton, now the site’s chairman, was staying in a Thailand hotel a few years back. He spotted a fellow guest carrying a tennis racquet. Catton wanted a game badly, but being British was typically reluctant to ask. Bucking the trend, he did approach the Swedish man; not only did the pair enjoy a great game of tennis, but went on to do business as both had interests in property.
This got him thinking. How many millions of people must be in every city at the same time that you may want to meet, wondered Catton? Not being au fait with the world of the web, the idea could easily have flickered and died, but through a mutual contact, integrated marketing man Stuart Dawson got involved.
Although it started as a portal which, in Dawson’s words, was all about, “How can we connect Mr X in Thailand with Mr B who’s there for two days,” it has inexorably evolved into a more general social network for business types on the go.
This is sensible; the itinerary share model isn’t new. The My Travel application by TripIt on LinkedIn, for example, allows you to see where your network is travelling and when you will be in the same city as your colleagues.
I asked LinkedIn spokesperson Krista Canfield how else one can use LinkedIn to facilitate business trips? “Sign in, click the ‘Contacts’ hyperlink at the top of the page,” she explained. “You can sort all of your LinkedIn contacts by companies, locations, industries. Or, click the ‘Advanced’ hyperlink on the right hand side of the page and search the more than 100 million members on LinkedIn by ‘past company’, ‘location’, etc.”
Dawson doesn’t expect a multi-million member base anytime soon, but feels that the opportunity is there to grab a niche from this emerging market. He points to the many businesspeople who aren’t all about getting that next deal, but who do want to connect with likeminded people – though not necessarily old friends on their social network.
“Now we’ve got to let it grow into what it wants to be; the members will define what that is. It could end up being the best directory of hotels in the world, or a totally open, impartial forum platform for people to chat and debate about things.”
Interestingly, Dawson has found that WTMO is particularly suited to those of a “certain age”, who understand it in a way that they don’t other networks. It also appeals to those community seekers who desire a more intimate experience, who might be put off by a millions-strong network.
Like other sites, once you “friend” someone on WTMO, you get a quick snapshot of them as a human being when you scroll down their wall of comments and activity. This way, thinks Dawson, “you instantly get a feel of what they’re like as a person; do they know what they’re talking about professionally, what are they like socially? At the end of the day, people buy from people, and if you’re looking to partner with somebody, you can almost get a head start this way.”
Right now, the site is in beta phase and the process is invite only, but soon a friend-inviter module will be released, where contacts can be added through Facebook, Hotmail or LinkedIn.
Do people want to mix business and pleasure online? LinkedIn’s Canfield says not on her site: “In social networking, as in life, context matters. Most people do not want to mix their professional lives with their personal lives, and that’s why there is plenty of room for more than one social platform.”
WTMO’s experience so far bears this out. They are finding that people are enjoying connecting with others in forums about things like ‘Essential Reads’ or ‘The Next Big Thing’. “The fact that you work in finance doesn’t mean you’re not going to like The Alchemist,” says Dawson.
The new site is already doing particularly well in Australia and the US. I asked Dawson why: “It’s a generalisation, but you go into a bar in the UK and you don’t typically see random businesspeople chatting. However, you go into an airport in the States and everyone’s lined up at the bar talking; there’s a genuine openness and interest in fellow travellers.”
What’s next? WTMO are talking to global hotel chains and big airlines about how they can work together, how they can engage with the brand. An app is also in the planning. This will obviously be key for the business-travel market and competition is stiff.
Free app LinkedIn Mobile, says Krista Canfield, has become for businesspeople like a “personal assistant who’s ready to get you info whenever and wherever you need it.” Example? “Running late to a dinner meeting with clients and want to see who you know in common with the other attendees?”
A regular traveller, Dawson understands the importance of a mobile app: “Being a classic Brit, I tend to get the BlackBerry out and try to look busy. However, if I had an app that revealed likeminded business travellers in the same destination, I’d be keen to connect. It’s also all about downtime; you’re waiting two hours for your flight, it’s the perfect opportunity to take in the latest news, catch up with your network.”
“That for me is potentially bigger than the site itself.”
Back in the office, Dawson wants to position the site as a social network that, unlike the Facebooks of the world, employers can embrace. “In some of the businesses I’ve worked, you look around the office and there’s always a lot of white and blue on the screen; employers hate it, they’re losing two to four hours a day to a social network.”
Readers of this column can join WTMO by visiting www.whenthemeetingsover.com/signup and entering “VIP” into the invite code box.