What: Social Media Experiment. 3 days. 8a-8p. No leaving the house.

When: CES 2015 Week

Where: Home office, two laptops, two monitors

Where-ing: Plaid Flannel Christmas Jammies

The feeling was the same.

That familiar, overwhelming combination of excitement, anxiety and curiosity that only the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show can incite. The hypothesis being tested: I will attend CES without leaving my house and still gain the same amount of industry knowledge and tech updates as if I had hopped that annual flight to Sin City.

So how does one actually go about 100% virtually attending the biggest trade show in the world?

First, I used Keyhole to monitor all Twitter, FB, and Instagram conversations around #CES2015. There were over 30,000 posts by the end of Day One. Watching the increasingly speedy feed, I felt exactly the same as walking into LVCC, seeing all the crazy huge booths, and not knowing where to head first. I decided to follow WSJ’s public CES 2015 Twitter list, including all individual reporters and list members. I set up Google Alerts for CES, CES 2015, and the Consumer Electronics Show. Craving a “walk the trade show floor” visual experience, I came across Engadget’s Pinterest board. Scrolling through, it was almost like shopping Tech East. I pinned gadgets of interest for later in-depth exploration.

Next, I downloaded Jerry Springer in social app form- AKA the Secret app. The CES event feed was less tech insights, more hookers and blow. Jeez, and I thought how much alcohol I typically consume during CES was bad. Although suddenly feeling pretty good about myself- I’m out.

Finally, I organized my live keynote and blogged panel schedule. Samsung, Intel, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Gary Shapiro. Live Panel on Twitter, Media & Entertainment, Live Panel on Native Advertising, Live Panel on Digital Marketing Disruption…check, check, check.

So for the next 72 hours, I do nothing but read and watch my face off and see what happens.

Here’s 5 things the experience of what I’ll call “Social Show” (attending a trade show exclusively via social media) taught me:

1) Social Show is Anti-Social

Despite being immersed in 3-D Printed Pizza, Panasonic’s cool photographer phone, Sling TV, Cerevo’s smart snowboard bindings, the VR tour of Stark Towerand more- attending CES by yourself in your house is-surprise!-really lonely. I really missed running into old friends and clients, people watching, and just generally vibe-ing off the energy of thousands of passionate tech geeks hanging out together. Although social media typically makes you feel more connected in your daily normal life, when it comes to a live event, you really feel like a kid outside the party house with your face pressed up against the glass just wishing you were inside. I thought I might enjoy the relaxed “me” time experience of attending CES virtually- but I was wrong. The convenience of not having to travel did not trump the enjoyment of seeing old friends and making new (real life) ones.

2) Social Show is Super-Smart

I learned WAY more this CES than any other show I’ve attended in the past. The ability to change direction learning about a company, product or person with one click really expedited the volume of information I was able to digest without having to walk 10 minutes to the next booth. Also reading everything helped me to retain it, as opposed to just seeing everything and listening. Depends on what kind of learner you are, but I’ve never been able to rattle off facts about something like the LG Baby Washing Machine like I can now- and I don’t even do laundry. Bottom line: from a strictly educational standpoint- attending a show by yourself from home allows you to really focus and retain 5x as much data as being there live. The key to gaining maximum benefits here is to close down your email, turn off any notifications, and put your phone on silent so that you don’t get distracted from the event. So my initial hypothesis was ultimately correct.

3) Social Show is Simple Living

A few things I did NOT miss about being at the conference in person were the cab lines, the restaurant waits, the crappy hotel room at premium price, the sore feet, getting sick from shaking hands with post holiday people from all over the world, and being hungover from “networking” too late. I woke up refreshed and ready to learn, saved a few thousand bucks on T/E, and was able to honor my New Year’s health resolutions for once without the temptation of late-night room service. I couldn’t help propping up my Uggs and smiling at the hundreds of comments lamenting the lack of Uber and coveted dinner reservations throughout the experience.

4) Social Show is Virtual Buddies

A surprising comraderie developed among the virtual attendees across all social platforms. One example of this was industry influencer C.C. Chapman’s FB post about not missing being at CES, which spawned a lively discussion among fellow digital attendees running the gamut of to-miss-or-not-to-miss opinions. I started to see the same handles popping up on connectivity issues, relishing the benefits of attending from home, or questions about what had actually happened on site before reporters could publish their version. These avatars and handles, as weird as it sounds, became my virtual buddies. Another example was Intel’s live keynote landing page- which was designed extremely counterintuitively. I offered my feedback on how attending their streamed session was cumbersome, and some suggestions for improving it. The amount of retweets and favorites from these same digital attendees that I was coming to know was unbelievable. The desire to connect with others and share the experience was the same, and spontaneous (albeit shallow and temporary) buddies developed as a result.

5) Social Show is Truly Global

7-9 of the top 15 #CES2015 tweets at any given time during the show were in Arabaic, Spanish, and other languages. Walking the show floor, you know that you are in the midst of an international audience, but actually seeing such a large volume of chatter in so many different languages really hit home for me in terms of realizing how massive the tech community really is. It made me feel like a small fish in a very big overwhelming pond, but also proud that our country serves as the physical hub for such a connected, passionate space.

Ultimate Pro: I learned more than I have at any other CES because of the volume of information, the ability to switch directions quickly, and the undistracted focus of being present exclusively to absorb information. I saw every demo, product, and talk that I would have wanted to see at the event itself and more, with far less expensive travel and no annoying logistics headaches.

Ultimate Con: I really missed the human connectedness of partaking in the global tech community. I didn’t make any solid new contacts, or get the chance to nurture any old relationships over a cocktail. It was extremely difficult to stay tied to my computer for three days, and my eyes were definitely a little crossed by the end from sifting through such information overload and staying focused on the event.

As my friend Dave Haas asked me after my experiment was over: “So, bottom line, are you going to attend in-person next year?”

My answer is absolutely yes.

Did you attend CES in person or virtually this year? What did you think?

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