A Better Way to Network

Alex Morrow
Dec 11, 2019 · 12 min read
Image for post
Image for post
A typical networking event where there are small groups of individuals mingling and sharing stories.

Have you ever been to a networking event and forgot to exchange business cards with another person? Do you even have a business card, who carries paper nowadays? What about this: Have you ever been invited to get beers after a networking event, but you didn’t meet the people you thought you would? Maybe you just didn’t get invited out after at all. Our team set out to create a solution for this problem space, networking events.

Image for post
Image for post
Our goal for Beyond Network is to connect professionals outside of standard networking events in more intimate settings.

Networking events are professional settings where people can build business relationships with others and act upon opportunities in the future. Networking events include conferences, workshops, and panels; any events where professionals mingle together. At these events, there is usually time before, after, and between activities for socializing. This is when contact information and personal information is exchanged. After the main networking event, some individuals get together after to engage in more personal interactions; going out to bars, grabbing a coffee, or getting dinner together.

With our social computing system, we allow professionals to quickly exchange LinkedIn information with the touch of two phones together when individuals meet in person. We also created a feature where individuals can create “after-party” meetups and invite the people they connected with throughout the networking event. With this solution, our team wants to make contact information exchange easier and promote more meaningful relationships through the creation of “after party” meetups. Continue reading below to find out about our process!

Image for post
Image for post

Project Overview

The Need:
At networking events, professionals need an efficient and convenient way to connect with others and create meaningful connections beyond the networking event.

Our Solution:
A platform that lets professionals quickly exchange contact info with the touch of two phones and enables professionals to invite others to personal meetups.

Our Process:

Creative Discussion
As a team, we first met up to share our experiences in social settings, how we could design for them, and empathize with those around us.

Research
We took our ideas to the real world and began shaping the scope of our project’s context. We started conversations with our users and learned more about them at real networking events.

Design
During this step, we had to get creative with how we were going to test our idea. We began rounds of coding up our prototype and determining the best way to set the scene for our user-tests.

User Testing Session
We pitched our idea and got feedback by holding a user-testing session. We created a mock networking event and got users to talk and share their thoughts.

More iteration
After our session, we looked at the feedback provided and analyzed some bumps we faced. We further developed and improved our prototype and sketched out potential screens.

Where we are now
The next step would be to fully implement and integrate our prototype in a “natural” networking session. This would require more time and resources.

Research

Competitive Audit

Here are a few of the networking platforms we explored to understand what tools existed to connect people for professional purposes already.

Image for post
Image for post
  1. LinkedIn
  • Over 560 million users
  • A platform to connect with other users professionally & find jobs
  • Desktop & Mobile friendly
Image for post
Image for post

2. Meetup

  • A platform that organizes online groups that host in-person events for people with similar interests
  • Finding and building local communities for people to meet new people, learn new things, find support, get out of their comfort zones, and pursue their passions together
Image for post
Image for post

3. Shapr

  • “Tinder” for business relationships (50 swipes a day)
  • Building your dream network
  • A platform to find inspiration, opportunities, and even new friends
  • Motto: Take networking from awkward to awesome

Interviews & Field Observations

In order to gain insight about our users, we conducted interviews and released a survey to understand pain points and the networking experience. We selected young professionals who are about to join or have recently entered the working field as our users. We chose this category as most of our field observations at various networking events included members of these groups.

Some key findings we found:

  • There are varying levels of comfort that people have when attending these events
  • Some challenges people face are continuing conversations after the networking event
  • Networking events are seen as opportunities to meet new people, grow connections, and learn more about jobs and companies
  • Casual environments help to facilitate more conversation between strangers and allow for more fruitful and personal conversations
  • Individuals hope to connect with people to work on projects with them or so that they can share contacts and upcoming networking event information

We also immersed ourselves in networking environments to scope how we would incorporate our app into the setting. When thinking about career-centric networking events we found that participants prioritize networking with recruiters/managers/working professionals over others.

Image for post
Image for post

Design Sprint

We needed a lot of time to think and discuss. After developing our prototype, we came up with scenarios to understand how our product could naturally be implemented without over disrupting the networking event. One key point we were hoping to highlight in order to keep our idea competitive was intentionality. The question we asked and hoped to answer during any potential scenario our prototype seemed appropriate was how do we inspire and encourage people to continue their conversation beyond the setting so that these new connections are more meaningful?

During our design sprint, we focused on ways we could mimic a networking event to provide context for our user-testing session. This portion involved coming up with prompts to help initiate conversations in the “networking” event and guiding users through the prototype.

Some initial points we kept in mind were

  • How do we keep “after-party” events more intentional with smaller groups without seeming exclusive?
  • How do we help people connect with other people from their networks?
  • How do we empower people to continue conversations?

Our team was wonderfully diverse. Each member contributed to interviews and field research observations. Additionally, we released surveys to gauge how people approached networking events. After ideating and iterating, we then divided the work with UI and backend development to increase efficiency in workflow.

Initial Prototype

Image for post
Image for post
Google Form that simulated “bumping” phones to exchange contact info.

To build this prototype, we decided to use Excel as it was the easiest UI that existed in which we can declare our own functions. Ideally, we want our app to have bump technologies or near field communications (NFC) to ensure real-time information exchange between users. In order to prototype the real-time exchange of information, we created a Google Form for users. This form required the user to input their name and email. Once a session of networking was over, we then required users to take down the name of the person they spoke to. When the networking sessions were over, the user was able to see the names of the people they spoke with as well as have an emailed list of those names as a form for feedback. We then wanted to prototype the experience of the post networking event, in which users receive notifications if someone in their network created or is attending an event.

Image for post
Image for post
Google Sheets screen showing a list of people attending an “after-party” meetup.
Image for post
Image for post
The email the user received when invited to an “after-party” meetup.

We decided to use Google sheets to create this experience. Using the Google forms, we populated a Google sheet (Info Sheet) with information from the Google form. Each row of the form included the name of a user, their email and the names of the two people they interacted with. We then created two Google sheets (Event sheet), to represent 2 post-event meetups, that have the names of everyone in the class in one column and attend buttons in another. The creator of an event’s first-degree network receives invitations to the event — which is an emailed link to the Google sheet. The first-degree connections are found using a script function. The function goes to the Info sheet, finds the name of the creator of the event. I then read the values in the third and fourth cells in the row, which correspond to the names of the people interacted with. Another script function then uses the names of the people, searches the Info Sheet, finds their emails and send them a link to the Event sheet. If a person clicks the attend button, the same search in the Info Sheet will take place, and another person will get emailed a link to the event. If a person declines the invitation, their connections will not receive an invitation. This creates the idea of a domino effect where people will get invited based on the response of people in their network.

User Testing

During our prototyping session, we had people keep a Google form open during the “networking” portion. This Google form allowed people to mark the names of the people they met while networking in order to register them as a connection! People held their laptops as they walked around and found people to converse with, expanding on the topics we listed on the screens that pertained to each 2-minute networking session. An insight from the session was that people typically spoke to others that were in their immediate vicinity instead of people across the room. This part went pretty smooth.

Once the “networking” portion of our prototype session wrapped up, two social events were created for users to attend after the networking event. The events and their RSVP functions were embedded into two separate Google sheets (depending on the event), and the user’s access to the distinct sheet depended on whether their connection was attending. Once a connection selected that they were attending, an email would be sent out to the connections they made so they could click attend, resulting in a “snowball” effect as it expands to more and more connections. This emailing function did result in technical difficulties as the script attached to the “Attend” button required authorization to run, and not everyone was able to get the authorization to work! As a result, the “snowball” effect did not reach as many connections as we had hoped, unfortunately.

Image for post
Image for post
User testing in our class, students used their laptops to interact with the Google Sheets and give us feedback for iteration.

After testing our prototype with the class, we released a form for our 38 users to fill out with their feedback. Our first question, which asked how comfortable the user felt talking to strangers on a scale of 1–10 (with 1 being very uncomfortable and 10 being very comfortable), had an average answer of 7/10, indicating that people felt fairly comfortable speaking with strangers. As our app wanted to focus on creating more meaningful connections by encouraging users to meet up after a networking event, the second question of our survey asked users about how likely it would be for them to attend a follow-up social. The second question was similar to the first one in that it had a scale of 1–10 (with 1 being very unlikely to 10 being very likely), and results reflected an average answer of 5/10. For the third question, the same rating scale of 1–10 (with 1 being very uncomfortable and 10 being very comfortable) was implemented to ask people how comfortable they were inviting connections only to the follow up a social event. This question had an average rating of 7/10, which tells us that people tend to prefer only having their connections (1st, 2nd, 3rd connection) to attend the social event with them.

Image for post
Image for post

The next section of our feedback form included questions about our prototype, such as benefits and problems users foresee regarding the use of our social computing system and opinions on future features and iterations. 32 out of 38 respondents believed that our system would allow others to connect outside of networking events in an easier and more efficient manner. However, there were some predicted problems that may arise with our systems, such as a lack of critical mass, privacy infringement, and intimacy issues with larger groups. Additionally, a concern that was noted by our users was that the simulated environment was with classmates you are already familiar with and that their answers would have been different had it been a professional environment. One question in our survey asked users how they would feel if the system required the user to “bump” phones, a feature where people could exchange contact information quickly. Out of the 34 survey takers that responded to this (optional) question, 24 people were in support of the feature as it would make the process of making connections and getting their contact information more efficient, seamless, and even fun! The 10 users that were against it were concerned that the interaction may be awkward, superficial, or even uncomfortable if one end of the party did not want to exchange information.

Our prototype evolved after the feedback received during user testing sessions.

Final Prototype

We created a few screens to visualize what our prototype would look like if we implemented it. Additionally, we made a few adjustments to the original prototype made in Google Sheets. For this, we added a decline button so that the event creators and other connections can get feedback on their response, adding to the social validation platform we wanted to create. To optimize the snowball effect’s potential to support one’s network, we wanted to ensure that information was easily visible and scannable. Overall, having options to attend or decline appealed to our users. In future iterations we would include features for hosts to reach out to their network personally (improve the invite feature).
You can visit our screens here and our Google Sheets prototype here.

Image for post
Image for post
Prototype iteration adding decline buttons and red cell shading to signify that the user declined to go to the event.
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
(Left) Home screen giving users the ability to quickly ‘bump’ others and access professional articles. (Right) Bump screen instructing users on how to exchange contact information.
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
(Left) Pop-up modal showing what would happen if a user ‘bumped’ phones with another person. (Center) List of network connections made throughout the networking event. (Right) Pop-up modal displaying an “after-party” meetup notification.

Reflection and Next Steps

We spent countless hours in meetings trying to understand how our prototype could be different enough to be worth using in a setting that already holds great social pressure. This project has helped us grow as designers by forcing us to think outside the box to prototype in a way that is still relevant to the context we are building for. When designing for a social setting, it is almost impossible to remove the awkwardness and friction that comes with small talk, being new, and being vulnerable. Our design aims to understand and work with the quirks and joys of new environments with new people (ie. networking) by connecting people with the right tool to connect with each other beyond the first event. We believe that our app will succeed in the right environment when people have the opportunity to take the step forward and meet someone new at the event. Our app will reach its potential when our goals align with our users.

Image for post
Image for post
Bringing the story back to our users, attempting to make long-lasting, meaningful relationships.

With more time and resources, our team would continue with iterating our prototype and holding more user testing sessions. Our initial round of user-testing was focused on understanding how our prototype fit in the scope of our setting. For future sessions, there would be a greater emphasis on understanding metrics (ie. following the average # of people who attended the after-party event and how it connects to the interactions people have with each other while networking) to keep track of retention. We would bridge the gap between qualitative and quantitative data to ensure that our prototype brings us back to our goal of enhancing social interactions and supporting the growth of meaningful connections.

Contributions

For the user research portion, all team members conducted interviews and observations. Alex Morrow, Nancy Nguyen, and Jason Liu gathered community data with surveys. Amanda Chung conducted a competitive analysis. All team members worked on research and prototyping presentations, with Nancy Nguyen and Jason Liu collaborating on the final presentation slides. The prototype itself was made by all team members, with Noor Dahbour and Jason Liu creating the scripts for the Google sheets. Noor Dahbour and Alex Morrow worked on the screens for the user interface. This portfolio piece was written as a collaborative effort between all group members of Beyond Network.

Thank you so much for reading!

Social Computing in the World

A short collection of social computing stories and ideas.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store