Is there a void of advanced social media content on the conference scene?

Mon, Feb 28, 2011

Events, Other, Uncategorized

Two years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to help Jason Falls put together the social media business track at BlogWorld in Vegas. It was my first BlogWorld and helping organize the track gave me a chance to get to better know Jason–and many of the speakers. Relationships I keep up to this day.

Last year, I had the opportunity to lead the track along with my friend Chuck Hemann. With help from an advisory board and the BlogWorld conference team, we put together a pretty solid track of topics and speakers that included folks like Todd Defren, Dave Fleet, Jay Baer, David Griner and Shel Holtz, just to name a few.

However, as much positive feedback as we got about the track, we also received some constructive comments. One of those concerns was that we lacked more “advanced content.”

That got me thinking–is there a void of advanced social media content when it comes to the conference scene? And, what does this “advanced content” look like anyway?

For me, advanced content comes down to more of the nitty-gritty details. The innovative strategies and ideas around how to use the tools to achieve success for our clients/organizations.

Last year at BlogWorld, one of the best sessions I sat in on was Maggie Fox’s presentation on the combination of earned and paid social media. In my view, Maggie’s session was definitely “advanced content.” She talked about approaches using tools like Digg, StumbleUpon and Outbrain I hadn’t heard of anyone implementing before. And, she had research and data to back it up. She had examples. She had results.

What do you think? What does advanced content look like in today’s conference environment? What would you like to see? I’d love to hear your thoughts as we think about what this might look like at BlogWorld in New York City and Los Angeles this year.

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56 comments
Cam
Cam

Nice post, Arik. I stopped going to the "social" events because it seemed the same ideas, comments and material were being regurgitated over and over.

The other thing that drove me away was a lot of social media types wanting to be the expert without doing any real work other than hosting their own Facebook page (Present company excluded. You and your blog readers are like a who's who of social media types that are actually participating and contributing to the industry.)

Clearly, businesses need help understanding how communications have changed. But is there really "advanced content?" Participate. Be human. Be open. Try.

Aaron Pearson
Aaron Pearson

Looks like you have plenty of comments, Arik, but I wanted to plug MarketingProfs' SocialTech conference last October in San Jose. I didn't hear too much B.S., lots of good, hard-nosed case studies and even some social geniuses from Google, Lithium, IDC, etc. that focused on the science of social media relationship analysis.

David Murray
David Murray

Advanced is a big word. From what I have seen, I feel there needs to be more emphasis on aligning social media with business communications. Integration of social media with current marketing efforts. Then there is the need for cultural identification within an organization to effectively leverage social web activity.

There is still a lot of theory and tactics. I don't see many workshops where speaker and attendees roll up their sleeves and get to work putting these pieces together. This can't be done w/ 100 people in attendance, but in smaller 10 or 20 to 1 workshops. Anyway, my point here is that we in the social media vacuum easily forget how many people do not understand how the social web works, let alone their own businesses.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

Great conversation, all. Arik, thanks for starting it and being open to the feedback. Here are four areas I'd like to see more focus on when talking "advanced content":

1) Content marketing. I've seen several folks, most notably Mitch Joel, define this as the transition from marketers as broadcasters to marketers as publishers. To take Gini's video request one step further, sessions on creating awesome content of all types that people want to share would be beneficial.

2) Social media measurement. Specifically, different approaches and best way to approach this topic with clients or leadership, case studies, how a solid understanding of analytics (someone mentioned Google analytics earlier) can help you get executives attention, etc. I don't think you could have too many sessions on this topic. Maybe that's just me.

3) Influence. I told Chuck this already, but would love to see a panel with a couple of social media measurement folks, Joe Fernandez from Klout and someone from Traackr or Technorati. The amount of conversation about this topic in the last few weeks has been significant and it shows no signs of stopping.

4) Convincing leadership and strategic planning. Echoing others' comments below...I think we assume our peers all know how to do these things well when in reality, we could all learn a lot from each other on what approaches have worked best/worst in the past, how people go about reading the leaders they are trying to convince, etc.

Best, JG.

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

Here's an advanced concept: If x people propose topics, rather than saying yes to some and no to others, say yes to everyone but offer them to be part of a group panel instead. But let the panels figure themselves out that day. Schedule the block, not the panel composition or topics. Think spontaneity. The panelists will surprise each other and learn from each other, and the attendees will walk away with more ideas than had they only heard one person talk about one idea.

But, hey, I'm biased in anything I write about BlogWorld, for I proposed a BlogWorld NYC topic a few weeks ago -- to no response. I guess my idea to share blogging and social networking strategies of local governments, a construct every potential attendee is familiar due to living in a city or town, is too advanced a topic to be considered for a quick reply of, "Gee, Ari, that sounds fun!" or, "Hmm, Ari, can you expand that?"

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

I do think we're missing advanced sessions, but it's not any different than any of the industry organizations. When I was PRSA Chicago president a couple of years ago, we worked really hard to create more advanced programming that went away with the person who was president the year after me. I just got back from PodCamp Toronto where nothing was advanced. I feel like I've gotten to a point in my career that I attend conferences, and speak, to give back, not to learn. I'd love to see that change.

That said, there are plenty of topics we can all speak on and where we can also learn. I'm with Matt - some things I want strategy and others (like SEO and advanced video), I want nitty gritty. This is a good place to start - surveying your readers! And, if you need a female speaker (what's with that, BTW?!), I'm game!

Patrick Garmoe
Patrick Garmoe

Arik, great post.
I've been thinking a lot about this issue because I intend to begin hitting at least one or two conferences a year and want to make sure I don't waste my money or time. My worst fear is attending conferences where I am just exposed to stuff I could have read on a blog.

I think this issue is complicated by the age we're in, with a steady stream of webinars, e-books, and blogs, you never before have had so much access to great advice and education without leaving your home. This really makes the conference as a key place to build relationships key.

I also agree with Amber that the tracks ought to go beyond social, because social is what everyone in a company will eventually do. It's not (in the long run) a skill set in and of itself. That's one reason I'm contemplating attending high level SEO conferences, instead of social media conferences, which tend I think to focus way too wide and not deep enough.

I think social media has so much potential breadth and depth for business that over time people will naturally want more and more specialized classes, with prerequisites.

On the other end of the spectrum, I could also see more courses geared specifically to social as applied to various scales of businesses and types of businesses. You can be an excellent social media manager for a large brand, yet feel very inadequate for example, when the local non-profit or local shoe store asks you for advice on using social media.

Danielle Hohmeier
Danielle Hohmeier

I totally agree Arik. I haven't been to many really big conferences, but even smaller, local events have been leaving me uninspired lately.

I feel like they are great for small businesses, people just getting into the social space, or for people who's entire job isn't made up of social media activities. But for me, I spend a chunk of each day reading up on what's going on in the world of social media, blogging, SEO, etc. When I go to events/conferences/speakers on these subjects I feel like I've already heard most of what they've had to say. Their content has become more of a reminder for me ('Oh shoot. I keep forgetting to use my email list to invite people to my Facebook Page!') or, honestly, just a time to mix and mingle with other local social media junkies.

I've started to branch out of the social media box to look for inspiration - attending local events on art, design, community, etc- and applying lessons learned there to my business life.

-Danielle @ Atomicdust
Saint Louis, MO

Kristin Gast
Kristin Gast

I just attended a conference on Thursday and sent out a tweet outlining this same idea. It seems that every industry puts out conferences with basic, introductory session topics. No offense to any conference organizers intended, but the "Facebook 101" sessions need to go. Or, separate tracks need to be created for advanced users who are ready to take those tools to the next level.

I was totally going to write a blog post on this topic (I still may) and you beat me to the punch!

With BlogWorld being on both coasts, and inaccessible for many, I could also see some of the very smart people in Mpls putting something together.

Ryan Knapp
Ryan Knapp

Arik - Let me liken what you are doing to what we do at the NSCAA.

Each year we have a Convention with over 10,000 soccer coaches who are able to choose a load of different topics and sessions. Some are on the field, some are lecture based, some are geared towards youth, some pro. We offer a wide variety of classes for everyone because the Convention brings with it a wide variety of people who's skill sets are extremely varied. The event is inclusive to all.

For those who want the advanced versions, they come and take our week long coaching courses (National, Advanced National, Premier). These courses cover advanced topics and tactics that you do not get at our Convention, but are essential for those who want to take the next step.

Translation: I don't think you can do much except offer some different topics at the larger conferences. Instead, possibly offer a weekend smaller course with notable speakers, cap the enrollment to keep it low and offer really focused advanced topics on whatever items you wish to learn about.

My .02. Hope it helps!

Matt Ridings - Techguerilla
Matt Ridings - Techguerilla

I think the word "Advanced" here could use some defining. When I think advanced I think breadth (strategy, visioning, collaboration, org structure issues, etc.), but advanced can also mean depth (nitty gritty). The former is where there is currently a dearth of conferences. The latter has plenty, but tend to be individual conferences revolving around that specialty specifically vs. something like BlogWorld's variety.

Is BlogWorld the right venue for an executive level track? I'd certainly be extremely interested in that, but there may be some branding issues with the name BlogWorld and that group of people. You'd know that better than I :)

Kellye Crane
Kellye Crane

Important topic, Arik. "Advanced" is in the eye of the beholder, and even those who live and breathe social every day may be advanced in some areas, and less so in others. I think this is what causes confusion for both conference attendees and organizers.

I perform a similar role to yours for the Social Media Integration conference in Atlanta, and I've been thinking we should have a few "expert" sessions this year (in addition to beginner- and advanced-level content). The kicker: we'll list prerequisites for the session in the conference program (for example, must be proficient in Google Analytics and SEO concepts to benefit from this session).

What do you (and others) think of this approach? If you like it, feel free to steal it!

rick wion
rick wion

Great commentary. I couldn't agree more with that Len and Olivier offered. One part of "advanced content" I would love to see somewhere are anti-case studies. We all learn a ton from each others success but sometimes the better learnings are in programs that didn't go so well. I'm not talking about issues and crisis management--rather I'd love to see post-mortems on programs that were not impactful and then a look into the goals, strategies, tactics or measurements that failed.

Olivier Blanchard
Olivier Blanchard

What Len said. There also needs to be a more defined track for business managers that includes the four pillars of social media program operationalization:

1. Strategy & development (planning, including goal setting and targets)
2. Integration (plugging the program into the org)
3. Management (best practices, case studies, coordinating with agencies, etc.)
4. Measurement & Reporting (financial/ROI and non-financial)

Most of the content I run into at conferences basically amounts to:

- Case studies (sales pitches)
- Theory and cheerleading (sales pitches)
- The future of Social (sales pitches)
- Product demos (sales pitches)

Now don't get me wrong: I like the last four. They have their place at conferences as well, but you also have to inject some real how-to into the mix. With both structure AND continuity. That's how you start to build real value for attendees in terms of actionable content.

Oh, and what Len said. Technical tracks wouldn't suck.

Cheers.

jakrose
jakrose

Great question.

Two advanced talks I would like to see at Blogworld:
- Game mechanics: How is game psychology being used in marketing and loyalty today and what is the future of this fast growing segment of the internt?
- Mobile for the everyman: We keep hearing every year that next year is the year of mobile. But the gap between what mobile can do and the tools available to the average business to get there is a large one. I think it is closing but would love a presentation on what that looks like today.

As to the larger conversation about advanced topics at conferences in general, I think I might write an article in reply to this. It is a constant struggle and one worth continuing to talk about and debate.

PS. Looking forward to #bwNYC.

Jennifer Wilbur
Jennifer Wilbur

I felt the same when attending BlogWorld this year. It would be nice to see case studies of how an consultant/external agency successfully help implement a social media strategy for its client. Specifically, challenges and suggestions for communicating to the internal team, educating them and getting their full support.

Also, as Amber mentioned, looking at the larger business plan and understanding where, when and how social media can help. What are common challenges and/or opportunities - and how do they often differ from one industry to another.

Amber Naslund
Amber Naslund

Hi Arik -

Great topic. If you're asking what the social media practitioners need to know, I think it's important to step *outside* of social itself to discuss business practices that are a tier or two above social and more organizationally diverse.

If we're to understand how social can be more than just a marketing channel, we've got to get it out of communications-centric discussion and talk about things like strategic planning (not for just social, but for business in general), organizational design, collaboration and internal communication, even some of the fundamentals of things like product development lifecycles, innovation practices, or change management. That likely means getting in teachers and practitioners that have nothing to do with social, and everything to do with business strategy, management, and leadership.

If we better understand a generalized landscape for the direction that *business* is heading, we can better understand how social does or doesn't support those aims. Bridging silos in business means we've got to bridge silos in our own practices as well.

It's not to say we can't learn more depth or perspective on social media practice itself, but I think to broaden our boundaries about what social is capable of, we need to deepen the discussion in other areas. It's possible that designing a conference for the social media professionals and one for those learning to understand the basics of social are two separate endeavors.

Amber

Damion White
Damion White

Arik, really enjoyed this post, this is absolutely worth thinking about. Recently, my company sent one of my superiors to represent us at the Marketing Prof's SM conference in Austin - and despite being our only dedicated SM employee I was unable to go. At any rate, the subsequent download did not include any of the "Tier 3" topics from discussions that I'd envisioned myself attending. There is a lot to be said - as @patrickbjohnson points out - for what the level of content means for the ticket sales of these conferences.

For as long as SM has been a "hot" topic of conversation and accepted for business, companies have gotten by with the most base level of knowledge and tactics. As the certain few evolve more rapidly than others (as is currently occurring) the clamor of the competition to catch up will drive the need for higher order thinking in SM (and SM conferences).

However, as SM continues to evolve and the applications/implications become more widespread there will be a need for an increase in advanced content at these conferences. I imagine this content would be characterized by highlighting for brands/organizations the concepts - or ways in thinking about/executing SM initiatives - that will have landed them well behind the advancements made by their competition.

Len Kendall
Len Kendall

Here's what many of these programs lack, and sometimes are items people don't want to share for free:

1) Channel Planning - How to pick the correct communication vehicles based on psychographics (more-so than demographics) and especially not based on flavor of the month interests that a fickle audience (like all of us) have.

2) Writing skills - I've noticed a huge influx in this type of panel for SXSW 2011. People may understand all the channels, but so many are not good writers. And it's not that they don't understand the mechanics of each individual channel, it's that they aren't interesting. A lesson in where to draw material from, and how to illustrate it in a captivating way would be helpful. This is less a discussion of social media, and more about classic elements of being a writer (and applying it in new ways).

3) Search - This is still a gray area for many. There seems to be a large gap between the people who get it, and don't. There needs to be more approachable counsel in this realm, specifically with a focus on how social content effects search results in 2011.

4) Coding - People don't like this, but the basics of HTML are important. This needs to be taught in an interesting way so people will actually attend. See what Made by Many did: http://madebymany.com/blog/coding-for-dummies

5) Synthesizing floods of information and efficient content creation - Quite frankly, people are dumb about how they spend their time reading and contributing. A lesson (or examples) of ways to streamline both would be very helpful because there aren't enough people creating their own original content due to the time suck of reading redundant material and over-extending themselves when offering their opinions digitally in places that have a very short shelf life.

Good luck at the events.

Blog World Expo
Blog World Expo

Where did you send that idea exactly Ari? to deb@blogworldexpo.com?

Deb Ng
Deb Ng

Hi Ari -

The lack of reply is my fault and I apologize. I have so many proposals to go through, but you're right, I should have at least acknowledged yours. We haven't made any decisions about any proposals at this point, and I haven't even had an opportunity to read most of them. Mostly I've been answering questions and helping to get the online form going.

So I'm sorry for not letting you know I received your proposal. I did and hope to look at it very soon. If you have any other questions, you're welcome to call or email.

Deb Ng
Conference Director
BlogWorld

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Let's talk offline, Ari. Shoot me a note and we'll find time to talk. We also heard some pushback last year about the number of panels we had, so we may be moving a bit more toward the middle on that, too.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Shamelessly pitching yourself in the comments section? Very Dietrich-like! ;)

Blog World Expo
Blog World Expo

nearly 50% of our speakers and 41% of our attendees were women in 2010 Gini 8). We are very proud of that. http://bit.ly/heqsxp

send me a note off line to talk more about podcasting!

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Great idea on attending events outside your industry to inspire creativity. Doesn't get to the "advanced training/content" angle though. What would you like to see, ideally?

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Interesting concept. Maybe a smaller "event within the event" on one day of BWE focused solely on advanced thinking/content for colleagues operating at a higher level. Hmm...

Blog World Expo
Blog World Expo

Honestly Matt we have struggled with this ourselves. We certainly think we have content that is relevant to executives and we do want to expand on it. That is why we created the secondary brand of "Social Media Business Summit" for our conference content that is purely business focused.

We have had several internal discussions about marketing SMBS completely separately from BlogWorld but have not made the decision to do that one.

We believe part of our unique value proposition is bringing together these two very different groups (bloggers and business executives) in a way that allows them to network, learn and do business with each other.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Good point, Matt. There are a number of factors at play here--hence the discussion. Like your executive-level track--but you're right, not sure this is the right venue. Instead, maybe it's a senior-level marketer track?

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Exactly the kind of thing we were thinking about. And, I think the "prerequisite" angle is interesting. We need more context for tracks at events like BWE. This gets to that need. Stealing!

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

A friend of mine and I did a session at a local event a couple years ago based on social media "fails." Our point was yours exactly--we can learn more from our failures than we sometimes can from our successes. David Griner and Dave Peck played on this a bit with their case study prezo last year--and I think we may do something similar again this year. Thanks for the note, Rick!

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Good thoughts, Olivier. On par with some of the other folks. And, I agree with the technical tracks. Giving that more thought.

Blog World Expo
Blog World Expo

I love the idea of Game Mechanics Jason! This is something I have taken an interest in recently and I think you have hit on a great topic here.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Love both topics, Jason. Especially mobile. I think we need to get beyond the higher level, theory-based discussions with that topic. We need to get a little dirty.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Like the idea of the client presenting WITH the agency--that's idea we've thought about. And, I think it certainly has merit. It's funny--sometimes the most interesting aspects of a successful campaign are the little things that might usually go unnoticed (think about the Old Spice campaign and how they built up enough trust with the client to react to situations in real-time for their work last year).

jakrose
jakrose

This is also the difference between designing an event for marketers and an event for CEOs. I am with Amber, all marketers should be exploring social as a business tool, not just a communication tool. But for the most part, people are looking for marketing tools and tricks right now. And most marketers are not empowered to affect change when it comes to customer service or product development/improvement. However misguided that is as a business choice.

It is all about defining your audience I suppose.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

I like the idea of bringing non-social media/marketing types into the fold for an event like BlogWorld. In fact, I've given that idea some thought locally up here in PRSA circles, too. What would you like to hear about, specifically, Amber? You're probably right in the sweet spot of that person who still needs to keep learning but is probably at the higher end of the food chain in terms of knowledge.

Blog World Expo
Blog World Expo

Damion and Patrick both touched on an important point; ticket sales. But there is another aspect to that. The reason organizers in any industry sell more tickets for basic fundamental content is because that area has the greatest need.

Obviously everyone commenting on this thread would benefit from higher level content and that is very important to us. We know it is a segment of our larger community we can serve better and we are trying to do just that.

However we are years away from the vast majority of the population even understanding very basic concepts when it comes to social media. You are always going to see content for that group because there is a need for it.

One last thing to remember while no one on this thread needs that lower level content, everyone in this thread benefits from the education of newbies in our space.

Ryan Knapp
Ryan Knapp

No 5 is huge in my mind. I think constantly to myself about those who simply get stuck in the time warp of consuming info and forget to actually come up with fresh ideas themselves.

While the number of outlets is increasing, the number of original thoughts seems to be on the decline.

jakrose
jakrose

Devil's advocate for a moment. I think most marketers need writing and search skills, in a bad way, but they do not need coding skills — unless they are having to do everything themselves. It never hurts to know more about the architecture of your industry, but I have no idea how SMTP works and I can create email campaigns just fine.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Love the writing, coding and search topics. All nitty-gritty. And, all much needed by different audiences. In fact, all three of those areas could have beginning, intermediate and advanced content embedded in.

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

Affirmative, Deb. You told me the email address via a tweet, so I sent it to you on Feb 14 with a follow-up a week later to confirm you received it.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Oh I was reacting solely to Arik's list of men speakers, not to the real numbers. :)

Ryan Knapp
Ryan Knapp

Sure, you could do that as well. I like the idea of offering advanced topics. You just want to be careful if they are a smaller setting that those who are in the room have a good base of knowledge because the class will go as slow as the weakest learner. There is nothing wrong with having someone who is new in the room, so as long as they know the topics and discussion are advanced.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

Makes sense and that was definitely a benefit of my experience at Blogworld last year. I think the problem is that many execs think they should already know this stuff and they are the ones who would benefit most from the more "basic" content. Put them in a room with solely their peers, and they might open up. Otherwise, I think they are intimidated by what they don't know and think they should know. Thoughts?

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

Absolutely, Jason. I heard someone say the other day that the "big thing" for clients last year was mobile and the "big thing" this year is going to be gaming. Don't think mobile became the "big thing' quite yet and is still very applicable, especially with the tablet infusion we are seeing. And gaming is growing for sure.

Carri Bugbee
Carri Bugbee

With regards to Old Spice, I think it's safe to say W+K rarely works with any clients that won't give them creative license to do what they want. That's their stock-in-trade as an agency (as a W+K alumnus, I know this was in-bred to everything the agency stood for back in the day). I'd be interested to know what Dean McBeth (the digital strategist on that account) would say.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

Good example, Arik. Just to add to your thoughts Jen, I'd love to see a session on integrated marketing communications and the role social media plays as one tool in that mix, how it can work together with the other tools in the IMC box to achieve client objectives.

The strategic planning idea is right on as well. So often, a strategic, integrated approach is what resonates with a potential client and gets us the chance to execute social media tactics as a part of that plan...not the latest Zappos or Ford (no offense to Scott Monty) social media case study.

Sheila Scarborough
Sheila Scarborough

Could not agree more. There are a TON of mainstream people out there who are still at the "Facebook 101" level for their business. I have two clients who asked for help getting more out of LinkedIn; yes, boring old LinkedIn. It's not that they're dumb, it's just that a deep dive into social media hasn't really made sense for their market until now.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

This comment is right on. And while many people commenting here may not need that "basic" social media content, what many could benefit from is advice on how to better educate our clients about the basics and help them educate their superiors. That is a similar, but very different, topic than some of the more basic content I've seen covered at conferences -- not just Blogworld.

For instance, a presentation on the need to integrate social media into your crisis communications plan could be seen as basic by some. A presentation on how to best convince a marketing or PR exec who doesn't live and breathe social media everyday like we do of why it's so important to expand that crisis plan to include online WOM, complete with case studies, could be extremely valuable.

The amount of knowledge and understanding any one person has of social media or emerging technology does not necessarily equal the ability to convince decision makers of why said technology is applicable to their business.

@keithprivette
@keithprivette

Marketers and frankly business folks need to expand their search perspective. Marketers if you have supply chain as part of your business start searching that, if you have loyalty or credit cards and customer service start searching that. Or for heaven-sakes start developing a more dynamic team of business and technology folks and turn them everyone loose! Jason I do believe you have the right idea about technology!

Blog World Expo
Blog World Expo

I love this idea Justin!

"For instance, a presentation on the need to integrate social media into your crisis communications plan could be seen as basic by some. A presentation on how to best convince a marketing or PR exec who doesn't live and breathe social media everyday like we do of why it's so important to expand that crisis plan to include online WOM, complete with case studies, could be extremely valuable."

curious what others think.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Is there a void of advanced social media content on the conference scene? – I love this post from Arik Hanson. It is what I’ve been thinking for a while with conferences seeing the same tracts. There is substance, but lacking beef as there isn’t anything that dives into an advanced segment, almost making the material remedial at times. But how do we change this? Check the comments for some great feedback. [...]