Last week we talked about the decline of local associations and association chapters.

Many of my older subscribers agreed that this is a real phenomenon. Most of these regretted the loss but had no more of a solution than I did.

Some (presumably) younger subscribers didn’t see that this is a problem, as social media provide plenty of ways for people with similar interests to interact.

Here’s one beyond how they help satisfy the deep-seated need many of us have for human contact: With social media it’s a lot harder to know if someone I’m interacting with has actual expertise and useful experience of their own, or whether they’re Google/Wikipedia insta-experts.

I treasure the experts I know personally because I know the extent to which their opinions are worth paying attention to. Someone on social media? Not so much.

One more point in favor of in-person events: In side-bar conversations during an in-person event, you can ask for a locally-based colleague’s discretion. Social media have no discretion to offer.

Which still might not mean this is an actual problem. It might instead be a constraint, the difference being that problems can be solved. Constraints must be dealt with.

With this in mind, and also recognizing that problems can’t be solved nor can constraints be dealt with in the absence of root cause analysis, here’s my list of likely root causes for the decline in in-person professional socializing:

  • Heavy drinking stopped being funny. Or, for that matter, socially acceptable. Who’s going to want to stay after the formal meeting in order to listen to friends at their worst?
  • 45+ hour weeks became normal for professionals. And that doesn’t count the ones who wish 45+ was normal, because their weeks were longer. Enough already – they’d like at least some sort of life.
  • Going to meetings adds a stop. If I leave work to go home, I’m home. If I leave work for a meeting, that’s one more step before I’m home, and one that takes more energy than I can spare at the moment.
  • Less participation leads to fewer volunteers. Fewer volunteers leads to meetings with less appeal. Meetings with less appeal leads to less participation. As vicious cycles go, this one is easy to fall into and hard to break.
  • Local associations and chapters are competing with vendors. Vendor events are better-funded and better-orchestrated than what local groups can manage. With a limited in-person time budget, which are you more likely to attend?
  • There’s plenty of tangible information-sharing on the web. This adds to the competition for attention and participation. It also makes justifying participation harder when there’s work to do and your boss wants it done Right Now.

Bob’s second-to-last word: My metric for assessing the quality of virtual team meetings is how well they emulate in-person ones. For the time being at least I’m going to continue to apply this same metric to social-media-based professional interactions.

Bob’s last word: On this subject, thanks go to long-time reader and correspondent Sean Murphy for recommending Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone. No, I haven’t read it (yet). Just the title sums up a lot of what we’re talking about in a mere two words.

Gotta love it!