I’m about to head home after having attended SES San Jose for the third time in my Internet marketing career. My thoughts on the conference are mixed: I thought the SEO-focused sessions that I attended were solid (Search: Where to Next?, Search on a Dime, the Advanced SEO Roundtable with the always entertaining Todd Friesen), especially for beginners, and that, per usual, the lunches were atrocious (pasta salad, soggy sandwiches, shiny hot dogs and cafeteria-style pizza squares three days in a row).
However, I’d say that, overall, the social media tracks were a disappointment. I heard from a lot of people that Turning the Social Web into Real ROI was a disaster, and that the panelists ended up talking about the Facebook ad network the entire time instead of focusing on ROI as a whole. As I blogged earlier this week, I thought Igniting Viral Campaigns was a mixed bag, but what was really perplexing was the fact that the programmers put two social media sessions opposite each other, scheduling Igniting Viral Campaigns and Social Media for the Little Guy at the same time. When there’s a limited number of social media tracks, you don’t want to pit two against each other and risk splitting your audience who has a social media interest. It just seemed like poor programming to me.
Managing Conversations and Reputations felt extremely general and basic, with more of an emphasis on “what is social media marketing” than actual takeaways and advice. I already shared my opinion of the Black Hat vs. White Hat session, and I heard from attendees that the Twitter and Blogging site clinic was extremely repetitive, with the panelists focusing way more on Twitter than on blogging and giving the same advice for each Twitter account (maybe this should have been a session instead of a clinic to avoid repetition?).
I love that search conferences are incorporating more social media tracks into their programming, but I think that the sessions need a bit more organization. SES’s social media tracks don’t feel as if they had any organization or quality control–I get the impression that there was little to no communication between the panelists prior to the conference to go over what everyone was going to talk about in order to avoid overlap and ensure that the flow of the session runs smoothly.
I checked out SMX East’s agenda and felt that the social media tracks are almost an afterthought, with all of them falling on the last day of the conference. Both SMX and SES lacked the always-popular link bait session and clinic, which I always felt was one of the more entertaining and valuable social media sessions. So what’s going on here? With SMX quickly putting the kibosh on their small Social Media conference and both series phoning in their social media tracks, why does there seem to be weaker emphasis despite the fact that social media continues to get bigger and bigger?
Here’s what I think needs to happen in order to improve the quality of social media tracks at conferences:
- Have a better vetting process for speakers. Everyone thinks they’re a social media expert nowadays, but that’s certainly not the case. A well-known name in the search industry isn’t necessarily a social media “guru,” so there really needs to be better quality control to ensure that speakers aren’t just going to offer up some generic, basic slide deck and waste the audience’s time with boring, repetitive information.
- Organize the speakers and communicate with them before the show. I noticed a lot of repetition in people’s presentations. If someone is going to focus on giving a general overview of the session’s topic, he should go first and the other speakers should focus on other angles, like actionable advice or case studies or examining the ROI. The moderator and the panelists all need to communicate with each other and make sure that they know what everyone’s talking about and how the session is going to be paced. This is common sense, people — 4th graders doing group presentations know to do this.
- Focus on the topics. If the session is about Twitter and blogging, talk about Twitter AND blogging. If you’re talking about social media ROI, talk about the ROI, not Facebook. Keep the session on-point and structured — you need to deliver according to the audience’s expectations.
- Tie the presentations and topics back to search. I think panelists, moderators and organizers forget this part the most. We’re at a search conference, yet I almost never hear how social media ties into search (with the exception of reputation management panels). Remember to keep that search aspect in mind and talk about how social media marketing impacts your company on a search level — does it help more of your pages get indexed? Attract links? Help you dominate the SERPs with more real estate in the Top 10? Etc.
What do you guys think about the quality of social media sessions at conferences lately? How can organizers improve these tracks? Do you think SMX should bring back the social media-focused conference, or do you now expect every large conference to have a social media track or at least a few sessions devoted to it?