Editor’s note: Kayte Hamilton is the founder of marketing research and social media engagement company The Social Question. 

You’ve probably heard advice before about how networking, specifically through attending conferences, is one of the most important and best ways to promote your business. General tips usually range from connecting with a large quantity of people to being authentic and lots of, in my opinion, extroverted tactics that can feel daunting to someone who is used to communicating with their peers through digital means. And now in a world still learning how to live with COVID-19 and many other viral illnesses, in-person conferences can have a new form of tension added to the mix of big and small personalities in the room. 

Conferences and trade shows used to hold a very specific value to an organization’s networking strategy; meet with as many quality decision makers who you could partner with, or nurture existing relationships. I realize I am hyper-generalizing with those two statements. Regardless of why you attend, the truth is that conferences are expensive … registration rates, travel and hotel costs, on top of dollars spent on entertaining. It’s not surprising most companies emphasize the need to see a bottom-line impact and positive ROI to justify attending. The marketing research community is deeply rooted in relationship-based sales after all. 

Virtual events and in-person shows have different networking capabilities, despite our best attempts to say otherwise in 2020 and 2021. This time of year, there are often opinion posts about which shows to attend or individuals asking for help on deciding where to go. Each marketing research event has a slightly different emphasis and you need to have a strong point of view on why you want to attend a show in the first place. 

Call me a Millennial (spoiler: I am!) but I don’t attend conferences to close sales. As a researcher, I ...