by Michael J. Shapiro | March 01, 2012

At trade shows, conferences and most any other kind of meeting today, there's a lot more going on than just what occurs on the show floor, at the podium or in the classroom. A growing number of attendees also are participating in online communities purpose-built to enhance event engagement, and these platforms extend far beyond the event itself.

Case in point: For MPI's 2010 World Education Congress, more than 1,500 attendees elected to join the Pathable online community -- more than 60 percent of the show's total delegates. All but about 100 of these members completed online profiles, and many used the platform's personalized schedule, added contacts and took part in online discussions. Nearly 500 messages were exchanged among attendees using the platform.

Surprising? Not to Pathable CEO Jordan Schwartz. "That type of engagement is typical," he says. "We see that more than half of our events get better than 50 percent adoption, and a third get better than 75 percent. And there's nothing up our sleeves -- we are not opting people in. People are accepting the invitation, filling out their profiles and spending some time on the site. We're offering something that fulfills a critical need."

In fact, it's a niche the more widely used social media don't seem to fill. For MPI's event, just 212 attendees opted in to the LinkedIn group set up for the gathering (Pathable attracted more than six times that number), and a scant 131 joined the Facebook event group.

Zerista mobile pageAlong with competitor CrowdVine, Pathable has been offering event community platforms for nearly five years. Zerista launched two years later, and Leebug has been steadily growing its business since 2010. A number of registration and other meetings technology providers offer platforms with similar functionality. In every case, the idea is to create a social network specifically for that event's audience -- members, customers and any potential attendees. In some cases, the platform is integrated with the event program and session scheduler. And each offers an accompanying mobile web app.

As more organizations devote time and resources to their event-related social media plans, business has grown for each of these technology providers. Best practices have emerged, and providers can easily guide new clients in establishing effective communities. But the technology niche is still young, and it's still evolving. Here's a look at some trends and how event social-networking providers are responding to them.