A Blogosphere Divided and the Future of Social Media Conferences

by Marcus Sheridan

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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