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How to Recreate Live-Networking Via Virtual Table Talks Platforms like Facebook's Messenger Rooms have met the moment of our socially distanced era.

By Mike Allton

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When was the last time you attended an in-person conference? If you're like most of us, it's been quite some time. And while online events and virtual summits have done their best to provide the same educational opportunities, it's the networking that we're all lacking today, i.e. random chances to meet and talk with other people who share similar interests, similar challenges and by stroke of luck happen to sit down at the same table as you and a conversation ensues.

Except when it comes to remarkable events, luck has very little to do with it. Savvy conference organizers know that it's the seemingly random relationship building that has the biggest impact on attendees. They might remember this or that fact from a presenter, but it's the friendships that are shared and endure the test of time. ("Do you remember where we first met? It was on the deck of the U.S.S. Midway at Social Media Marketing World!")

Rekindling those relationships and the potential for sparking new ones are powerful motivators for attendees to return to the same events year after year, so conferences deliberately facilitate such possibilities through networking events and table talks.

Related: 5 Ways to Step into TikTok

Table talks are nothing more than a collection of tables — with enough seating for most attendees — that have specific topics or areas of interest indicated for each one. One table might be for Facebook Live Video, while another might be for TikTok. While one might have a sign for Agency Owners, another might be set aside for International Ecommerce. The event simply needs to consider the range of topics attendees are interested in, as well as categories of attendees or target audiences, and designate seating accordingly.

As an attendee, you can then choose to sit at whatever table and topic sparks the most interest at that particular moment. Sometimes you'll have questions, while sometimes you'll have answers for other people, but the time spent will always result in new acquaintances and opportunities for long-term relationships.

But of course, until in-person events are restored to their original levels of occurrence and attendance, we won't be participating in such table talks any time soon.

Some events have used Zoom and even breakout rooms within a Zoom call to give some semblance of directed networking, but it doesn't have quite the same randomized energy that we're looking for.

So what if I told you that we have an option available to us right now, for free, that can go a long way toward replicating the exciting success of in-person table talks?

What Are Facebook Messenger Rooms?

While the initial implementation of Rooms in 2014 by Facebook never even made it to home release, their 2020 live-action reboot has been a blockbuster. Positioned specifically as a competitor and alternative to Zoom, Messenger Rooms are a way to easily hop into a video chat with one or more of your friends and connections. Up to 50 friends, in fact.

Dubbed "Messenger" Rooms because, initially, you would use a chat or group chat within Messenger to start the Room and video call, Facebook recently rolled out the ability to utilize Messenger Rooms within Groups and Events to help folks looking for new and better ways to connect online.

The release made it incredibly easy for group administrators and moderators, or even regular members (if permission is opened), to start up a Room and create a fun video chat among community members.

Just like a Zoom video call, Messenger Room participants can choose to mute their mic or disable or their camera, as well as share their screen or a particular app they have open on their system. And Rooms can be joined from either desktop or mobile.

What makes Messenger Rooms somewhat easier to manage is that users need only be logged into their Facebook profile to join. There's no additional software or app to install.

Messenger Rooms as Virtual Table Talks

The lack of having to install any additional software is just one of the ways that Messenger Rooms is integrated into Facebook and makes the solution an elegant one.

  • Rooms within a Group are created by an Admin or Moderator and immediately generate a post within the Group that the rest of the community can see and, potentially, join the Room from.

  • Rooms can also be found through a Rooms tab in the Group navigation bar.

  • Rooms are automatically given a permanent link that can be shared to other social channels via email and more.

  • Rooms can be scheduled for a particular date and time.

  • Rooms can be organized into Units if the Group is set as a social learning group, allowing group owners to easily create different Rooms for different purposes.

And one of the great security features about Rooms is that, if the group is configured so that only Admins or Moderators can create a Room, that also means that only Admins or Moderators can open a Room for others to join. Without an Admin or Moderator present, such Rooms cannot be accessed or used.

How Steep Is the Learning Curve?

Because Rooms are still relatively new, there's definitely a degree of uncertainty for both moderators and attendees alike. If you're considering using Rooms for your next event, or perhaps just as a way to help strengthen relationships within your Community, you should consider:

  • Starting to use Rooms in your Facebook Group well in advance of the event so that community members become accustomed to the technology.

  • Creating a private Facebook Group for speakers and Room hosts, if you're using other people to help open Rooms, so that all have an opportunity to test and experience Rooms in advance.

  • Posting easy instructions for event attendees, and including detailed information in an event guidebook.

Related: Virtual Meeting Etiquette Guide for Hosts and Attendees

Facebook is determined to carve out a slice of the live video networking pie, so we can expect Messenger Rooms to continue to evolve and improve in the coming years. If you have an online event coming up, using a Facebook Group and Rooms — whether as a standalone solution or to augment other platforms — will be a great way to help build community and give your members easier ways to build relationships.

Mike Allton

Virtual Event Strategist

Mike Allton is a virtual event strategist at The Social Media Hat & Head of Strategic Partnerships at Agorapulse. He hosts The Virtual Event Strategist Podcast and he is the co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing with Jenn Herman, Stephanie Liu, Amanda Robinson and Eric Butow.

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