Yesterday, I talked about the disappointment (to put it mildly) I feel whenever I run into a pointless social-media related conference. Particularly the kind that charges significantly more than the value it actually delivers, and essentially serves no purpose other than to further inflate the social media hype bubble instead of actually advancing the discipline. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, click here to go read it now.
Judging from the comments the post generated, this topic evidently struck a nerve with more than a few of you. Some of the comments were so good that I figured I should share a few of them with you today.
From Mack Collier: “The worst thing you can do for your event and the attendees is pick the speakers first, then the topics.”
Like you, I will only speak at events that stress teaching and learning. If the attendees can’t be sent home with a plan of action for how they will move forward with their social media efforts, then I won’t be a part of that event. This is a BIG reason why I am in no hurry to speak at SXSW again. I spoke there last year, was on a fabulous panel with Mario Sundar, Kami Huyse and Lionel Menchaca, but on the whole, SXSW is NOT where a company that wants to get up to speed on social media should be spending the time and money.
Now, before I got into my rant about speakers, I’ll add something that attendees should look for. Lots and lots of networking time. Not just with the speakers, but with each other. Look for interactive sessions, or open mic sessions. The more time attendees have to interact with speakers and each other, the better. That’s where the REAL value of the event comes in. It’s great that sessions are live-streamed, but that’s not where the value is, the value is in the hallways and during dinner. If the speakers at an event leave the stage and run to the airport, that’s a HUGE red flag.
As for conference organizers, the WORST thing you can do for your event and the attendees is pick the speakers FIRST, then the topics. If you say ‘OMG we have GOT to get Joe Rockstar to speak!’ then you’re screwed. You pick the topics that your attendees need to be taught about, THEN pick the speakers for that topic.
Second, you have GOT to paid your speakers. Even if you just cover travel, this is a must. Let’s say you don’t pay your speakers. That means they are out $1,000-2,000 just to get to the event. So that means they walk in the front door knowing they are a coupla thou in the hole. And how do you think they will make up that money? By trying to PUSH THEIR SERVICES on the attendees. Nice! And their presentation? Do you really think there’s much incentive for them to spend hours on making a kick-ass custom deck? The only customizing they will probably do is to add a couple more slides about THEMSELVES and how you can WORK WITH THEM.
Nice. Conference organizers, you get around this by PAYING your speakers. Don’t give them the ‘well no we can’ t pay you, but you’ll have access to HUNDREDS OF POTENTIAL CLIENTS!’ line. That’s BS. Those ‘potential clients’ are serial conference attendees, and are going to take copious notes and run home and try to do this stuff for themselves.
And as you said, there are WAY too many social media conferences. Case in point: A couple of months ago Social South was in Birmingham. Wonderful event, admission was $200, and should have been several times that. But the NIGHT before SoSo at the EXACT SAME VENUE, there was a FREE social media seminar where ‘experts will teach you all you need to know about using LinkedIn and Twitter to make $$$!’ And you better believe since this was a ‘free’ event, that attendees were subjected to a ‘free’ commercial by these ’social media experts’ on how they should HIRE THEM.
The social media conference circuit is quite frankly bloated, and broken. Hopefully organizers will pay attention to this post.
From Valeria Maltoni: “The multiple tracks and rushing to decide on what will be good from the program doesn’t cut it for me.”
It’s a really good discussion to have not just for social media. Branding and marketing conferences, international communications conferences come to mind, too.
I’ve attended my fair share and I can tell this community here – I like it how you all came in and discussed it from different angles – that the multiple tracks and rushing to decide on what will be good from the program doesn’t cut it for me.
Learning the same way I eat and am social, I take my time to enjoy the experience, absorb the context and connect with all present. Fewer speakers and some sessions to warm up with a topic and have a real discussion would result in a less disconnected and more useful experience – both for the participant and the speaker.
From John Heaney: “Is the best you can offer a 45 minute presentation on the 6 Best Facebook Fan Page Tips?”
Like you, I’ve become frustrated with the number of social media acolytes whose primary function appears to be trumpeting the importance of social media as the next great marketing channel.
We get it, already.
Want to know what’s tough? What really consumes our time and effort? Making social media efforts work. Day in, day out, engaging staff, management and clients in social media (or is that new media?) channels.
Believe me, I know how to give a kick-ass presentation that will have C-level executives salivating over the prospect of implementing their own social media initiatives. I can power through a captivating Keynote presentation that convinces them that delay is potentially ruinous.
Then, however, I have to execute a real life campaign. Design a researched strategy that makes sense for their organization and integrates with their existing marketing efforts. Design guidelines and policies to protect the organization. Introduce the campaign internally. Train employees. Train some more. Then train some more. Generate compelling content, then try to recruit internal talent to contribute their own. Market and promote the company blog, Twitter contacts, fan pages, YouTube channels and any other selected channels to targeted prospects and an existing client base. Then do it every single day. All the while tracking SM activity and tying that activity back to authentic and measurable business activity. The revenue-generating kind.
Now, can you help me with that? Or is the best you can offer a 45 minute presentation on the 6 Best Facebook Fan Page Tips?
From Scott Gould: “We, the conference organisers have been hoodwinked into building celebrity events about quantity and not change incubators about quality.”
We need this kind of talking, because to be honest, we (the conference organisers) have been hoodwinked into building celebrity events about quantity and not change incubators that are about quality.
It took a lot of hard work and resistance to make Like Minds what it was (and what it will be) – as so many people wanted to pitch in with their ideas for making money and not imparting value. It takes guts to hold that type of event at the risk of financial loss.
From Amber Naslund: “A conference built putting tools in the forefront is leading with the wrong message to start with.”
The social media hype has us waaay too focused on the tactics and tools, and not nearly enough in the broader business implications. A conference built putting tools in the forefront is leading with the wrong message to start with.
I think that one gets missed a lot because the organizers are in the making-money-with-events business, not the teach-people-to-do-their-jobs-better business.
You can go read the rest of the comments (and leave your own) here. In the meantime, keep them coming.
Update: (added Monday 3 November 2009 – 13:50)
From Steve Woodruff: “I’m impatient with hearing the same old same old tired generalities, especially when it is dressed up in meaningless biz-jargon.”
Over the years, I’ve attended many, many conferences – some awful, some forgettable, and a few outstanding.
I’m getting impatient.
I’m impatient with thinly-veiled sales pitches from sponsoring companies during sessions. If you’re going to have sponsoring companies, set aside a specific time in the event when they can present their solutions openly to the audience.
I’m impatient with speakers who think their role is to walk through a series of slides and do a verbal data dump. If you cannot spark interest, tell engaging stories, use helpful analogies, facilitate discussion, and (yes, this matters) speak with a reasonably pleasing voice, then don’t be a presenter.
I’m impatient with attendees who are satisfied with passive information reception. We deserve and should demand better.
I’m impatient with hotel setups where you cannot get some light on the speaker. Really – you CAN do this.
I’m impatient with hearing the same old same old tired generalities, especially when it is dressed up in meaningless biz-jargon. If it’s not practical, real-life, and fresh, put it on a blog somewhere where it can be ignored. Because that’s what your audience is doing.