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Social networks connect us, inform us, empower us. Our connections shape our worldview, says James Eder of Causr.co. Our online connections are often the gateway to new opportunities, new jobs and new experiences. Millions of us are more connected than ever. We can reach thousands of people in a few clicks. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and dozens of other platforms and apps connect billions of people around the world.

Facebook dominates this market, with 1.86 billion monthly active users (MAUs). Facebook also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, with over 1 billion and 600 million users, respectively. LinkedIn currently has 467 million users, with Twitter hovering above 310 million users, as of June 2016. Each and every social network is in the business of connecting people.

Digital connections are on the rise. The average LinkedIn user has around 919 first-level contacts. Email and Skype make it easy to find and work with customers all over the world. But that doesn’t mean business travel, conferences and networking events are in decline. Far from it. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) predicts business travel will be worth $1.6 trillion in 2020, growing 5.8 percent annually over the next few years.

Making Meaningful Connections

Despite numerous benefits of social networks, email and messaging apps, face-to-face interactions are invaluable when working with other professionals. Body language, eye contact, trust. We build relationships on more stable foundations in person.

We innovate. Bounce ideas off one another. We are driven to create products, services and solutions that we otherwise wouldn’t dream of until meeting and talking face-to-face. Sometimes all it takes is a chance encounter.

The Bulletproof Coffee brand, popular with celebrities and Silicon Valley founders emerged from a chance encounter, on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London Heathrow to San Francisco. Herb Kim, the founder of the Thinking Digital Conference, was unexpectedly seated next to Bulletproof creator, Dave Asprey, who wanted to call it “Total Human Performance.” Instead, Kim suggested, “something more like ‘bulletproof,’” and the name was born.

No Such Thing As Luck

Pure unexpected moments of serendipity are rare. Most of the time, leaving things to chance is simply too high risk. Innovation doesn’t happen that way. Google, Facebook, Samsung, PwC (in Boston) and dozens of other innovative companies are investing heavily in buildings that will generate more chance encounters.

Extensive research has gone into the value of “collisions.” Hence, the continued popularity of networking events and conferences. Designing workspaces that encourage collaboration is another way to stimulate innovation and encourage growth. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) dug deeper into this concept, using biometric tracking in hundreds of offices across dozens of sectors to assess the impact of face-to-face meetings and chance encounters.

Research shows that encouraging employees to “collide” generates positive results. HBR “data suggest that creating collisions—chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organization—improves performance.” One pharmaceuticals company found that when a salesperson “increased interactions with coworkers on other teams by 10%, his or her sales also grew by 10%.”

So, instead of one coffee station for every six employees, the company installed one for every 120 and redesigned the canteen. Interactions between departments increased across the company. One team of 50 sales staff, responsible for $1 billion in sales, generated an extra 20% in the quarter after the redesign, resulting in an extra $200 million in revenues.

Crossing the Digital Barrier

Every day, those of us who travel - either within a city, a region or to other countries - miss dozens of chance encounters with those who know or areconnected with, on social networks. In a professional context, that potentially means we are constantly missing opportunities to sell, buy, innovate and collaborate. There are apps, including Causr, which make it easier to connect and meet people we ordinarily would not encounter.

All we need is the context. A reason to connect. For two professionals, the context usually already exists, through mutual (real-world) connections, shared knowledge, industry gossip and topics of interest. Digital connections are only valuable when we reach out, take a chance, and get to know one another. Only then, can we break down digital barriers and work together in the real world.

Written by: James Eder, Founder & CEO Causr.co

Causr is a location-based app connecting people on the go. See who’s near by. Join groups to see people with similar passions & interests from the Startups community to triathletes there’s something for everyone. Connect and meet up. You can find Causr on the Apple App Store now.