The folks at Blogworld pointed out that I wrote this piece 4 years ago about whether social media would kill conferences. Clearly, that hasn’t happened, but I thought it’d be interesting to see what’s happened in the marketing and social media conference space in that time period:

Google Trends - Web Search interest: social fresh, new media expo, blogwell, inbound marketing summit, online marketing summit - Worldwide, 2004 - present

For most of the conferences named in this admittedly hasty Google Trends search, the trend has been in the wrong direction since writing that article. The only conference that’s had its share of search increase is Jason Keath’s Social Fresh conference. Once you step out of the social/digital bubble a bit, you see that some conferences are clearly growing in terms of share of search:

Google Trends - Web Search interest: adtech, himss, oracle openworld, dreamforce, smx - Worldwide, 2004 - present
(disclosure: HIMSS, Adtech, and Dreamforce are clients of my employer)

Social media didn’t kill the conference – in fact, I’d argue that for the more successful conferences that have integrated it into the experience, social media has helped them grow and expand their reach significantly, but that’s in concert with the ubiquity of mobile devices and mobile Internet connections. Conferences as a rule still are hideously awful at providing reliable Internet access, but with 3G and LTE connections, staying in touch with people isn’t as much of a big deal.

Dreamforce Chatter App - Salesforce Labs - AppExchange

The gold standard I refer to for conference experiences (again, disclosure, it’s a client, though the last time I attended I was working at a different company) is Dreamforce. Their conference app was incredible, allowing you to register for sessions on your mobile, get reminders when one of your sessions was coming up, schedule meet-ups and meetings, and as a speaker see who was scheduled to attend your session so you could follow up with them. It integrated with other social networks as well, and it’ll be exciting to see what Salesforce.com does with it this year.

The reason that many social media conferences have lost share of search has less to do with social media as a platform and more that social media isn’t new. It’s baked into many businesses now (though not necessarily executed well) and as a result, conferences either must evolve their offerings or face reduced interest. I’m happy to say that I was wrong 4 years ago about the conference business and social’s impact on it (our clients are doubly happy I was wrong) – the need for people to meet up and share face time is greater than ever.


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