This week I was talking with a strategic partner of mine–an agency partner I work with on a specific client. We were chatting about SXSW–one of the team members had made the pilgrimage to Austin earlier this month. And, the response was pretty much what I was expecting: Had a blast, didn’t learn too much.
Fast forward a few days. Different conversation. Same outcome. I had coffee with a colleague of mine here in Minneapolis. Someone I have an enormous amount of respect for. We had the same discussion: Is SXSW worth it? I think we both agreed it would be a good time (she’s been before). After all, who from Minnesota doesn’t want to get out of this state in March to hit Austin for a week? But, we also agreed we were past the point where we were learning new skills and approaches for our clients at an event like SXSW.
These conversations–and the resulting opinions–aren’t meant to serve as the typical “SXSW bashing” we see after the event each year. Instead, for me, they point out a trend. Something we’ve seen for more than a year now.
Where’s the programming for the advanced digital professional?
What I’ve heard from folks that went to Austin seems the same: Great event for networking, but I just didn’t learn that much. And, judging from the sessions/panels I saw, it seems SXSW is pandering to the masses–not the “geeks” that made the event so great.
And SXSW is hardly alone. Take a look at some of the other conferences that focus on social media. Without naming events (and you’ve all seen them–heck, I helped organize one the last couple years), they all feel similar to South-By in terms of content. Panels. Case studies. Keynote speakers trying to sell books.
We’ve seen this movie before.
I’m not trying to slam these events–and why would I when I was a part of one as recently as last fall (and had a blast doing it!). These organizers are merely putting out content and targeting a specific audience. Business 101. And, it works. SXSW keeps growing each year.
But, what about those of us who have been operating in the industry for the last 4-8 years (and I’m on the light end of this among some of my colleagues)? What events are targeting us?
The answer: Very few (if any).
So, what should we do? What’s the answer?
For starters, conferences will adapt. We’ll probably see it happen quite quickly as more people move into that “advanced” bucket. At least, that’s my hope.
But, aside from that, I think it’s on us to find alternatives. A few that come to mind:
We can all learn how to become better consultants to our employers or clients. Why not take a coaching or consulting class that gets at the “people” side of the business?
A college-level business class
An idea I’ve been considering this year. I know I need to get smarter about the financial side of business–both for my clients, and for my business. Why not take a college-level course at the University of Minnesota or St. Thomas on financial accounting? Not the sexiest move, but I’m sure it would help in immeasurable ways down the road.
Seeing more of this lately. I know Len Kendall does some work with improv down in Chicago–I’d be interested to see how that impacts his “day job.” I tend to think it would help a ton on the consulting/brainstorming side of things–and, well, it’d be pretty fun, too. In Minneapolis, I know Brave New Workshop has improv classes for beginners–they get to perform, too!
Those are my thoughts. What do you think? Is there a gap in the social media conference scene? If you’re on the advanced side, how are you handling that in the year ahead?
Note: Photo courtesy of Geoff Livingston via FlickR Creative Commons.