Over the past year, after having attended multiple social media conferences as well as the recent Blog World New York event, I’ve come to a conclusion—the blogosphere is dividing itself into two groups, and these two groups in many ways will affect the future of social media, and their conferences, as we know it.

Dave Cynkin and Rick Calvert, the founders of Blog World (and two men I greatly respect), announce the new name and direction of their conference.

Group 1: The Solopreneur

The first group of “bloggers” fit a huge gamut of areas, but most fall into the following categories:

  • “How to blog” bloggers
  • “How to make money online” bloggers
  • Mommy bloggers
  • Niche site bloggers
  • Personal Development bloggers
  • Etc.

Although there are certainly other categories that deserve mention here, most of these folks share a similar trait—they’re mainly single person entities. Some are extremely successful, but to be frank, many are the digital version of starving artists.

Now don’t get me wrong, as my description of this group is not meant to be negative in any way. Yes, many of these bloggers may have employees, guest posters, virtual assistants, etc.—but they are not at all your traditional business. (Again, this does not denote good or bad.)

Group 2: Business Bloggers

The second audience I’m seeing at social media shows are business owners and marketers who hail from your more traditional “company” entity. Some come from “mom and pop” outfits while others represent massive corporations, but generally speaking, they’re cut from a similar cloth—they have a payroll, huge monetary demands, and need to clearly see the $$$ behind blogging and social media.

I bring these two groups up because as I spoke in NYC for Blog World, I found my audience to be almost too diverse—with about 60% being solopreneurs and the other 40% coming from the traditional business side.

And as I analyzed the effectiveness of the presentation I gave, I came to the conclusion that conferences simply can’t achieve the highest user experience unless the majority of attendees feel like they can very much relate to each other—in and out of the “classroom.”

In some ways, this could also explain Blog World’s decision to change their name to NMX. Just as I said (despite the disagreements of many) a few weeks ago that we are shifting from the word “blog” to “content marketing,” Blog World now sees their name as too limiting for the future of what they’re striving to be.

As to whether or not their re-brand will prove to be a good move only time will tell (my guess is yes), but this much I do believe is certain—With the general acceptance of social media and content marketing around the globe, more and more conferences are going to pop up that are niche specific, and super conferences with incredibly broad audiences will find it difficult to build their brand and dominate across all markets.

As a perfect example of this, take Content Marketing World. I’ve talked about this event before but clearly, as just about any attendee from last year will tell you, that conference was HUGELY successful and left a lasting impact because the audience was locked in on one thing and one thing only—content marketing.

Furthermore, the audience at CMW consisted of almost no solopreneurs, as the words “niche sites,” “mommy bloggers,” “make money online,” etc. were practically non-existent.

To me, this is the model of the future, and it’s the same model (very niche centric) that has been shown in other conferences such as:

HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Summit

Or take for example Jason Falls’ newest event, Explore, which is a powerful mini-conference popping up in different cities around the US. Here is the description of the event:

Explore will be a one-day, two track, intensive learning summit focused on helping business communicators, executives and owners move beyond the tactical level of digital and social media marketing into strategy, planning, operations and measurement. Our format will allow us to bring a lot of content to our audiences (most sessions are 30-minutes in length) and our relationships with the top thinkers in the digital marketing space will allow us to give you, our audience, access to the top minds in the business.

Do you see what I’m saying here? VERY business oriented. The target audience is clear and concise, and it doesn’t attempt to be everything to everybody.

As a comparison model, let’s look at NMX for a moment with their newest conference description:

New Media Expo (NMX) focuses on the Blogging, Podcasting, and WebTV industries. Within each of these industries we will have tracks discussing content, community, and commerce as it relates to helping educate content creators achieve their goals. We will also discuss tools and, of course, represent our various niche communities.

As such, there are now questions that identify what industry you are a part of, the track you want to speak in (content, community, commerce), and the specific topic within each track (for example, mobile, monetization, etc.). You will also be asked to identify an education level for your presentation, as we are seeking a percentage of beginning, intermediate, and advanced sessions.

Part of the excitement of these new features, is that we will now be able to show attendees sessions based on their own unique goals. For example, here are some options an attendee would see to help them come up with their own personal conference schedule:

  • I am a blogger who wants to build a business, what sessions should I take?
  • I am a podcaster who wants to grow my community, what sessions should I take?
  • I am a blogger who wants to create better content, what sessions should I take?
  • I want to learn how to create better content in the WebTV industry, what sessions should I take?
  • I am new to blogging, podcasting, and WebTV, what are the beginner sessions I can take?

Without question, NMX seems to be working hard to address some of the issues I’ve brought up here as they allow their attendees to target the right sessions every time, and this is a move I highly commend.

This being said, what does this continual evolution mean for the SXSW and NMX conferences moving forward, especially considering their incredibly diverse audiences? Honestly, I can’t say, but I do think more and more niche-based conferences will continue to appear around the globe and hurt the super conferences. In fact, as brands and audiences grow online, owners of those brands will seek out ways to further monetize their large numbers, and events/conferences are a natural extension to existing monetization methods.

I would also argue that a brand like Blog World/NMX should split their event into at least 2 shows—one completely focused on the “make money online” crowd and one on the more traditional businesses. If they don’t elect to go this route and continue down the road of extreme diversity, their product, user experience, and brand may ultimately suffer because of it.

But like everything else, I could be incredibly wrong. ;-)

Your Turn

This is one of those topics that clearly has no right or wrong answer, which is why I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Here’s my main question:

Would you rather attend a conference/event that was very niche specific, or would you rather attend one that was extremely broad and diverse? Why?

Jump in folks, let your thoughts be heard.

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54 thoughts on “A Blogosphere Divided and the Future of Social Media Conferences

  1. Hey Marcus,

    I haven’t attended any of those conferences, and have really left blogging behind for other ways to drive traffic (not saying that blogging isn’t a good way to drive traffic and build authority, I was just burned out after several years of doing it in the “blog about blogging” niche). Personally, I just don’t see the value (for me) at any of these conferences. I do find value in smaller, local conferences/meetups like the one I helped organize about using Google+ for Business and what author rank can do. There is something lacking outside the “blogging” world, and local small businesses are getting left out. I think there is a huge market to help these guys.

    BTW: I am a “solopreneur”, but I don’t fall under any of the categories mentioned…. :-)

    PS: Found this post on Google Plus

    • Hey Keith, always appreciate you stopping by man. Yes, I know you don’t fit in those boxes. Heck, I’m currently a “solopreneur” as well but wouldn’t say I’m in group #1….But it just so happens that much of group #1 are solopreneurs—if that makes sense.

      Great points about local conferences and meetups. I think many folks can relate.

      Continued success bud,


  2. Hey Marcus,

    Great post. To answer your question, I would want to attend ones that are very niche specific. However, I think I would do okay with ones that are broader, as long as there were tracks that clearly met my needs. At the same time, if there are “general sessions,” those might be a bit of a problem if the audience was very diverse.


    • Yeah, I think you’re right, which is why I think Blog World seems to be making great adjustments to make the mega conference model work. Their bottom line is they want folks to feel enriched with the content/speakers, and anything that will lead to that is a good thing.

      Thanks for all :-)


  3. Hiya Marcus!

    I don’t think it’s necessarily that the Blogosphere is divided. I think the way we have been looking at social media for the last three years is going to undergo a mega-change. You’ve touched on one way before – the idea that bloggers are going to become less about “how to blog” and more about “How my company can answer your questions.”

    Here’s my radical theory. I think that social media began to catch fire just as the US economy really started to go down the toilet, and I don’t think that’s an accident. People were out of work, nothing was popping up, and there was this whole new gold mine that could be explored. So, we have social media experts, blogging experts, Facebook experts, etc. And that’s cool. BUT, now that people are finding employment or are realizing that social media isn’t paying the bills, I think they’re going to lose interest in the people who are just talking about how to blog better. I think cliches like, “Be awesome” are going to become increasingly less useful.

    I know in my own case, I have less time to spend on social media as we get busier and busier. That means if your blog doesn’t catch me in the first lines, I’m probably going to move on unless I know you create high quality stuff. If your webinar looks like it’s not going to give me a strong take-away, I’m not going to spend an hour, hour and a half with you. I would imagine it’s the same for a lot of people.

    I think the era of the social media conference and the social media expert is coming to an end, and I think that’s going to put a lot of people in a bad place who aren’t ready for such changes. People want actionable items, something that can really help them improve somehow. That’s what coming out of the recession era is about.

    • I think you are spot on, Margie, although I think the trend line is going to be a little longer. I’m still finding a lot of B2B companies that have little or no social presence, let alone an integrated marketing approach and the laggards will still be searching for the basics to get them started on a road they should be already on.

      • Good points, as always, Bob.

        Hope you’re well buddy!


      • I agree, Bob, but…there’s already a lot of that content available. Folks could google it and find stuff from the last year or two. Has Twitter changed *all* that much? Eh.

        • Rebecca Livermore


          I was thinking this morning about how Twitter doesn’t change a whole lot, but Facebook certainly does. In fact, there are times I wish they would just stop with the changes already.

        • Well, that’s how I do it, but there are folks that need “da structure”, classroom-style learning and a reason to shut of the smartphone and concentrate for a while.

    • Wow MC, this was incredibly thoughtful and provocative…and he has me thinking.

      Love the way you’re looking forward and I think there is major legitimacy in what you’ve said here.

      Thanks for always having such nuggets of truth with your words :-)


      • Nuggets are one of my favorite bits of candy to eat. True story :)

        Thanks Marcus!

    • Hat tip, well said.. just very well said.

  4. It’s amazing how fast things move in the Digital World.

    Personally I think there is a place for both niche and mega conferences. Having not attended any of the conferences mentioned (YET!) I don’t have the most educated viewpoint.

    But as a consumer of information I’d say that both have their place. With a few mega conferences surviving and many niche conferences gaining traction and solidifying themselves.

    There is always going to be a draw when you can get all the heavy hitters in one place sharing ideas. It’s good for the industry and great for the consumer.

    Thanks Marcus.

    Ryan H.

    • Well then I guess we’ll be having another conversation about this soon bud after you hopefully speak at all these events!! :-)

  5. I think its very important for people that are just dipping their toe in the social media pool to get the exposure they get from a more diverse conference. As a user gets more comfortable with the technology. Then they can dive into the Niche specific deep end.

    Hopefully theres room for both.

    • Great point Kerry. It is very nice for someone to go to a conference and literally “try out” a variety of sessions. Personally, I’m a huge fan of that I just don’t know if there is enough of the experimental types to sustain the massive conferences.

      Then again, maybe there is ;-)

      Thanks so much for dropping by!


  6. I represent a rare bird- I think I was the only (or a very small number) of soloprenuers at Content Marketing World 2011. What I learned there was invaluable- I didn’t konw what to expect, but I learned that Content Marketing is much more than blogging. I learned that many companies (ex Hubspot, Coppyblogger, etc) have solved some of my problems. I learned that when I get bigger, other compnaies have products/services all to help me do a better job with my customers. This allows me to focus on what I do best: deliver a service in a niche industry.

    While at the conference I developed ideas and strategies which fit with my brand, may take awhile to execute, but are part of a cohesive whole.

    Bottom line- the small guy can learn from the big boys. Creating more silos may interfere with creative growth/ideas of businesses. It’s not an us vs them (Mega vs. Niche)– It’s OK that people putting on conferences select an ‘ideal customer’ we do it all the time in business. Does that mean that others won’t benefit? Doubt it. It just helps give focus and cohesion to the program.

    • LOVED this comment Sarah. Awesome insights!

      TY! :-)


  7. Marcus,

    In looking at your two categories, they are still a little hazy to me because I see some overlap. For instance, when Bob and I had our family (just he and I) marketing business, we might have been in the solopreneur bucket (no employees, etc.), but yet we were business bloggers. Our sole purpose for a blog was building credibility through our content and generating leads (clients) for our business. Our blog was a successful tool for doing that.

    Now that I have moved to being an author blog, I am not a business with payroll and other demands, nor am I a mommy blogger or an online business. I am blogging to build an author platform and a base of fans for my upcoming books. So there is another kind of blogger. The permutations are endless. : )

    I guess what I am saying is that sometimes it is hard to put ourselves in boxes. And I agree. With the wide variety of bloggers and content marketers out there, the big conferences have quite a challenge trying to meet everyone’s needs. Perhaps they shouldn’t be trying to. But I also have been to conferences where I have learned to look at things in new ways because I have been exposed to people and ideas outside my narrow field.Not to mention the networking opportunities at the big conferences.

    Margie’s theory is very interesting and has merit. I hadn’t thought about the advent of social media coinciding so closely with the recession. Interesting topic here.

    • Great point, Judy – unless you know the specifics of a blogger’s goal, it’s impossible to put them in a niche or pigeonhole.

      • I’d say yes and no to that DB. In other words, sometimes ones Nichel (like podcasting, SEO, niche sites, etc) is easily identifiable. But like you said, goals are not easy to define from the outside looking in, which brings up the question– Should conferences be more “goal based” or should they be more “classification based”? (If that makes sense..)

        Again, I don’t have any answers, this is really just a “Marcus thinking out loud post”

        Thanks for dropping in,


        • I’d suggest goal-based; that way, the organizers can avoid trying to target those bloggers who don’t care about being in a niche, or making money, but just blog for the love of the art form.

          • I like the “What is the goal of your blog?” question. It’s basic, but cuts to the core.

            • One of the first things I always asked when consulting, miss – otherwise we’d just be shooting in the dark from the off.

    • First let me say there is definitive overlap Judy, no question. Heck, TSL overlaps, and one could argue that it overlaps big time.

      And just because someone is a solopreneur doesn’t mean they’re not a “business blogger”, (which I should have mentioned/defined better in the article).

      I think in many ways you and I are actually very much on the same page here– The arguments for and against variety vs niche are strong, and only time will tell the result.

      But I certainly appreciate the wise words you always seem to bring to the table Judy :-)


      • I would love to see conferences define more specifically exactly what they mean by beginning and advanced tracks. Because what is “beginning” and “advanced” may mean different things to different people. I didn’t go to BlogWorld last year, but the year before, many of the sessions that were labeled advanced were too basic for me. But then that’s a different problem. Okay, maybe I’m going off topic here. Sorry, Marcus. : )

  8. I don’t think it’s just about niche differentiation, although really important. The more I’m attending these types of conferences, the more I get frustrated at how long ago I grew out of their content. Tailoring sessions to attendees is extremelydifficult as everyone here is saying. It’s hard to put us all in a box. I guess I’m just saying that part of that is not just type, but experience. I wish there was a conference looking out for me to be on top of my game, year after year. Instead, I keep attending because I love the people I see on each occasion, and hang out in the expo hall to meet the exhibitors and network because the content is being presented more basically than I need. Which definitely could go back to the bloggers vs. businesses thing. We need different types of presentations.

    • Amy, I think you’ve brought up a very important point– You want to be pushed and feel like, despite your experience, you were mentally challenged, stimulated, etc.

      I’m completely with you on that, which is why I believe every show show designated the “level” of the session (BW is doing this) so as to ensure folks aren’t out of place.

      But like you said, if the only reason we’re going to shows is social, then eventually it will wear off and not be worth the money spent.

      Great stuff Amy, really glad you stopped by.


  9. I feel like a right idiot now, lol.

    The last time I posted I jokingly said, “I’ll see you at content marketing world next year.”

    This was in reply to Blog World changing its name because people view it as content marketing now. Not only does Blog World go and change its name, but I find out there is actually a Content Marketing World. Double Doh. :)

  10. Hi Buddy,

    We talked about this and I think we are witnessing a real evolution in this space.

    What started off as a bunch of people writing their ‘weblogs’ has now taken a real professional and business approach to it.

    Back in the days, there would be people who learned how to type and they became professional typists. Now we all type, and soon we will all blog. The skill in itself isn’t the main focus anymore, it’s why you do it that matters.

    The conferences that bring these people together reflect that change. It’s not just about the skill anymore (blogging) it’s about what you do with it.

    • Excellent points my friend. The evolution of what all this is and what it all means is clearly taking place. Without question,this isn’t just about “blogging” anymore.

      Thanks for all you do brother,


  11. I think it is very important to separate/teach based on what someone is trying to accomplish. It took me quite a long time to figure out that there are some differences between having a blog that supports a business (a chiropractor who blogs) and having a blog that essentially is almost the whole basis for a business (mommy blog supported by advertising). While there is some overlap, many of the differences really are a big deal and both of these people would have several different needs at a conference.

    I also definitely agree with those who say that we are seeing a shift. The worst part about that though is that a lot of people are just figuring out/barely caught up with where things are now. What that means is what we will continue to need is people who can understand what’s going on in the content marketing/social media space and who can help other people apply it to their specific business rather than just talk about generalities that “everyone” needs to do.

    • Great, great points and observations Cheryl…which explains why I always love it when you stop by and add things. ;-)

      I think many people don’t distinguish those two types of blogs for quite some time, but like occurred with you (and me), if you’re in this industry long enough you see some definitive differences.

      Thanks for all the support Cheryl!


  12. Honestly I’m in category 1, the soloprenuer. But I want to go into category 2 next year.

  13. Hey Marcus-

    You must have been reading my mind. As you know, I’m considering starting an inbound marketing company. Thanks to you, I now have my own story to tell.

    Any ideas what would be the best conference for me to attend?

    -Waterproofing Guy

    • Good luck on your inbound marketing company Mathew. I hope you will be successful on your business venture. Perhaps, this post could really help you a lot.

  14. Interesting point. Luckily the backbone of the blogosphere is made up by solopreneurs otherwise we wouldn’t have so many different views of the world and we would have just a handful of blogs mainly pushing their own business. And Google wouldn’t know which one to prefer, this way instead it can always put businesses first and solopreneurs second, especially those with a small wallet. :)

    Also many solopreneurs follow mainly their passions and this makes their blog very interesting, imho.

    As for the specificity of conferences I mostly agree but I think it’s not so compelling. I mean while FB attitude is clearly a dead horse it’s not so automatic that the best way to go is specificity.

    Taking marketing as an example there are probably hundreds of aspects to be taken into consideration but as a whole the rules are always the same since the beginning of time: have a good to exceptional product, price it correctly and possibly low while keeping a healthy margin, let people know about your product and the benefits it can bring. More or less isn’t this the core of marketing or selling? Then we can go on discussing the various sides of it but the principles of marketing are always these. Imho.

    So as regards conferences if someone deals with principles they can be applied to every field or business and so can have a wide audience, is someone deals with techniques which are more specific the audience can be narrow and focused. Probably both can exist together. As well as solopreneurs and business bloggers.

    Does it all makes sense? :)

    Funny that we’re going back to niches instead of good for everyone stuff, who will tell this to Zuckerberg? :D

    • Andrea, what’s up bud? Sorry for my late response on this but loved your thoughts here.

      Your points are in many ways much like my own– both sides of this coin can be argued, and really only time will tell.

      Either way, it’s an issue I keep hearing about, so I figured it deserved a few words. ;-)

      Keep it real brother,


  15. Let me shake off the realization that I am a starving artist. There. Ha! So I had a couple thoughts as I was reading this but my first is, why is Blogworld so nichy and Content Marketing is not? One is focused on blogs, the other on content. Could you argue that people are at different stages and have different goals related to content much in the same way we do with blogs? Then why can we speak to a broader group about content?

    • You could argue a lot of things about this issue CP, as I really don’t have any answers here. More than anything, I was just making observations with this post, as a result of conversations with others. Who has the best model? I don’t know. Maybe there is a place for both. Maybe not. My gut says not…But I’m wrong a lot. ;-)

  16. Lots of overlap as Judy mentioned and it all comes back to the core, the goals of the blog. I’ve always seen a big difference when the blog IS the business vs. when it’s a tool for developing or promoting one, be it for an individual (author, speaker) or company/brand pushing products and services.

    Having not attended either conference, I can’t really say. Different reasons people attend events, different goals will drive the different types of content. I do think BlogWorld is onto something w/ the rebranding, trying to push blogging and self-published content to the next level. People invest time and money, so they need to be able to get something they can’t get elsewhere, something that’s actionable and doable per their goals. Any event that keys into the objectives of attendees has a greater chance of success.

    As for me, I’d rather attend.. neither. It’s not that I’ve learned all I need to on social media, on content marketing, it’s just that my time and budget are limited. Were I in the market for more events, it’d be one geared to business owners, managers, directors – those biting fish I hear tell of. ;-) FWIW.

    • Great points Davina, and I think there are many, many people in your same boat actually.

      Thanks for all your support, I do certainly appreciate it. :-)


  17. Hey Marcus –
    I thought you might be interested in something Seth Godin said about 3 yrs ago – “Synchronizing buyers to improve efficiency and connection is a high-value endeavor and it’s right around the corner. It will permit mesh products, better conferences, higher productivity and less waste, while giving significant power to consumers and those who organize them” I take this as having a similar belief as you.
    I think the economics will have a lot to do with niching them as well.
    take care.

    • Dang John, looks like Godin was wayyyy ahead of me on this one. ;-)

      Awesome quote bud, thrilled you stopped by to share.


  18. Danyelle Franciosa

    That shows how faster is growing is digital world and I am truly amaze with it. I would rather attend a conference that is Niche specific because it helps you to develop more about writing a niche blog.

  19. Well done, Marcus. As a solopreneur serving “traditional” business, I feel like a freak. Online I spend far more time working on other people’s business (OPB) than I do my own online presence. My work definitely falls into the VERY business oriented category, even though my own online work is…well, very undefined.

    For the past 30 plus years I’ve spent my life attending CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and other conferences where the crowd had quite a lot in common, even if they represented varied segments of an industry.

    None of my clients would be remotely interested in the “make money online” genre, but would be very interested in things like lead gen, traffic gen and even much less discussed things like using content for internal training programs.

    As social media begins to enter puberty I suspect we’ll see more niching down of conferences designed to segment the crowd. One counter argument to this is the value found in throwing people of varied backgrounds, industries, interests in a conference together to foster the cross pollination of ideas. I’ve got clients who benefit because I’m able to expose them to solutions from completely different industries. That only works by helping clients see how a solution from a different sector can be applied to their situation. A mega-conference like NMX might need to help people connect the dots so they can better answer the pressing questions EVERYBODY has, “How does this apply to me? How can I use this?”

    • GREAT points Randy, as always. You hit the nail on the head– segmenting can be good…and it can be bad. Heck, we’ve got enough bubbles in this world, that’s for sure.

      Notwithstanding, are folks getting what they paid for? Is there value?

      Appreciate your thoughts bud, as always.


  20. Marcus, I encounter the exact same conflict in my own back yard. Probably 30% of my clients are solopreneurs, with the balance from the B2B and Enterprise space. Completely different beasts – different needs, different approaches….

    That’s not to say that BOTH groups can’t benefit from the impact of blogging and content marketing. But the strategy won’t necessarily be the same for both groups and as a professional consultant and copywriter, I need to be mindful of the differences.

    I’d be interested in a follow up post from you that addresses very practically what your recommendations would be for both sectors and why.

    • Ahh yes Ruth, that’s a great recommendation, and I’m going to have to think about that.

      You know, this was one of those posts that was more pensive and observatory in manner, as I don’t think I have the answers…at least today.

      But you can be assured my brain is working hard on this one. ;-)

      Thanks so much for stopping by Ruth!


  21. Thanks for sharing this one. For sure this conference gives a lot of learning to everyone who want to know more about social media and the possible things to get from social media that would help in getting traffic to the website.

  22. James

    Marcus, great stuff as always. I was at Blog World NYC and found the mix of people to be a distraction from what I wanted to learn. It was my first Blog World. I am in the big brand category and I feel the content was watered down due to the “Solopreneurs”. The two groups just don’t mix in my book. The marketing for the event lead me to believe I was going to get something I can’t get st SXSW or the other conferences I attend. Your session was one of my favorites and I look forward to seeing you talk at AZIMA on the 19th.

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