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Networking goes niche

Posted by Chad O'Connor  October 18, 2012 11:00 AM

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When it comes to meeting new people in Boston, it's hard to argue that the city's reputation as a place where mixing and mingling can be difficult is off the mark. But the social landscape of the city is changing, thanks to several new businesses that have responded to the challenge by using common interests goals to bring people together. As a result, generic networking events and dating websites are being replaced by customized user experiences.

Sounds simple, right? And it is, for the most part. Five years ago Daniel Heller launched Guerrilla Queer Bar takeovers as a way to bridge the gap between the gay and straight communities, as well as provide an outlet for the LGBT community to socialize in new places. Heller used e-mail and social media to rally participants, and success was swift: within four months, attendance skyrocketed. Now, Heller has created a parent organization called The Welcoming Committee, which -- in addition to the original takeovers -- allows users to create their own events with an app, and has opened up takeovers to include sporting events and travel destinations. "There are 385,000 gay people in Boston and the vast majority doesn't go out," he says. "But this can be really powerful. I [also] hope we change lives in more rural parts of the country where there are no gay bars for miles."

When it comes to online romance, innovators like Arum Kang are taking it to the next level. Kang, a Harvard Business School grad, founded Coffee Meets Bagel with her two sisters. The company touts "quality dating made easy," and is based on the theory that the best way to meet potential partners is through your social network. "There are a lot of services, free or paying, that show you a bunch of profiles to choose from and send messages," says Kang. "What if you don't want your profile being browsed publicly, or if you don’t have time to browse other profiles?" Using Facebook as a platform, the service presents members with one potential match -- likely a friend of a friend -- every day at noon. The user has the option to "like" or "pass" on the potential date. Mutual likes result in a date, while passes simply wait for the next day's delivery.

Gourmands looking to share big ideas over meals can aim to get involved with The Luncheon Society. Though founded in 1997 in San Francisco, the gatherings have moved to L.A. and Manhattan -- and just opened shop in Boston last year. While you gotta be in the know to go (the invitation-only events of 20 to 25 bring in newbies via referrals) and each affair features a keynote speaker or author and discussions can cover science, film, culture -- or whatever pops up. "Think of us as 'Adult Drop in Daycare,' " says Executive Director Bob McBarton. "There are no rules, very little structure, and the gatherings happen when they happen." And expect a diverse crowd: guests have included former White House Special Advisors, lieutenant governors, and Presidential nominees. "There is a wonderful alchemy that takes place when lawyers mix with artists, who swirl around business leaders, and they interact with people from tech as well as others from the sciences," says McBarton. "All bring their own perspective to the table and it breaks down some of the traditional ways of thinking." Overall, it's an avenue for smart conversation, interaction, and learning.

Courtesy EPL Photography / The Good Ones
Have fun meeting new people
But what about those looking for a multifaceted option where all their interests are accounted for? The Good Ones, launched over the summer, takes a more personal approach. By filling out a psychology-based Personality SnapShot Assessment on their website, users provide information about themselves that staffers then use to create specific events around individuals. "We look for three core commonalities," explains co-founder Carolyn Meenan, "Lifestyle, values, and interests." The Good Ones operates under the understanding that for many looking to meet new people, time is a growing scarcity. "We want these events to be valuable and meaningful," she says. "You can’t cookie cut anything anymore." To that effect, The Good Ones pays extra attention to sensory details like lighting, music, scent, food, and drink when planning a function in order to create the perfect atmosphere -- and ultimately, more mutually beneficial interactions between guests.

By using social media and e-mail marketing to reach a target audience and then creating worthwhile, offline events, each of these companies has found new and effective ways to respond to increasing demand for top-notch, personalized services. And the best part? Meeting people in Boston has never been so easy.

Anne Vickman is a freelance writer and social media manager based in Boston.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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