A couple of years ago I caught wind of some dude named Dave Snyder who was hosting a conference-style get-together in South Florida called ScarySEO. I checked out the roster of speakers and their bios, and noticed that almost every single one of them was a contributor, editor or blogger at Search Engine Journal.
I thought to myself : “Hmm … who’s this jokester in South Florida hosting an unofficial Search Engine Journal conference?” When I e-mailed Dave about adding myself to that familiar roster, he replied, added me to the site and tweeted about it – all within five minutes. I considered calling Guinness World Records.
I first met Dave, as well as an old industry buddy (Jordan Kasteler) a few months later at SES San Jose, where we finalized the details for ScarySEO, planned future conferences and worked to associate them with the SEJ brand.
A couple of years, one less car (sold in lieu of ScarySEO budget), several mergers and three conferences later, we are now working together under one roof to host our brand new agency’s first conference: BlueGlass LA.
We know – there seems to be a major online marketing conference every other week these days. Thus, as was our main priority in putting together conferences for Search & Social, great care was put into making sure attendance at BlueGlass LA will be absolutely essential for serious professionals in our biz.
We’ve never had an empty house… but this time around we have something unprecedented in the works. Therefore, I’d thought I’d share some of the secrets to our Conference Fancy Sauce. There are only three simple ingredients – like any quality organic dish.
Our goal (as per usual): to bring the same feel, value and authenticity of a top-notch industry blog to the world of conferences.
1,000 tablespoons Original and Valuable Content : One thing I’ve learned in my 7 years of professional blogging is that there is way too much noise out there – and that a successful blog must be, by definition, unique. Newspaper sites and the AP may be able to get away with duplicating content like there’s no tomorrow – but in order for a blog to stand out, both content and tone must be fresh and exclusive.
Marketing conferences (and general commercial speaking events) are no different. I have been to SO MANY search marketing and online advertising conferences where the same speakers regurgitate the same jokes, presentations, pitches, case studies and ‘tricks’ they have been doing (and preaching) for YEARS.
With ScarySEO, IMSpringBreak, Search & Social, and BlueGlass LA, we’ve guaranteed original presentations from ALL of our speakers, and invited industry prodigies who don’t always get a voice in cookie-cut rosters. This has always been my philosophy behind SEJ – and why it’s seen so much success.
500 cups Audience Participation: On a blog, anyone can leave a comment, respond to a comment or add more content to the original pos. In such a manner, the blog transcends one-way broadcasting and epitomizes the notion of multi-layered conversation.
In a world where listening to one’s own voice is a hobby for many – specifically, in events where there is only one microphone for a sea of listeners – it’s often difficult to get a question in at a traditional conference. Worse even – questions tend to morph into speeches or sales pitches. There is a name for that on blogs – spam.
Thus, we handle Q&A a little differently at our conferences – interaction is a priority rather than an opportunity for irrelevant soliloquies. As such, we keep session panels small with two or three speakers (i.e. mini-keynotes) where everyone can hold the microphone at one point if they so desire. The result: real conversation, thought-provoking questions, multi-faceted responses, NO spam.
To top it off, discussions transcend single sessions via workshop-style roundtable discussions where speakers go from table to table in order to answer more specific questions. As such, our conferences are more than interesting monologues but opportunities for consulting, networking, business development and information sharing between speakers and attendees.
An hour of consulting from some experts may run at $500 – our conference tickets cost about the same… for 48 hours of consulting and training.
Serve it up hot on a communal table: Our conferences have many times been compared to summer camps. Not because we have S’mores or underwear hanging from flagpoles, but because for up to 72 hours, our attendees eat, sleep, drink and dream Online Marketing.
Beyond interesting sessions, participants attend three buffet-style meals a day, happy hour parties, and nighttime networking activities where core sets of intertwined business contacts are formed and lifetime friendships begin (around the crème de la crème of knowledge in the biz).
Ultimately, we’re not about foot traffic – we’re about results. Successful blogs are more than sources of fresh, unique content – they’re communities where content acts as a bridge between writers and readers. Just as this sense of community exists on SEJ, SEOmoz, Twitter and Sphinn – among others – so does it materialize during our conferences.