Why Digital & Social Media Conferences Are A Waste of Time and Money

I spent a lot of time at business conferences.

Most notably, I’ve spent significant time and money speaking at and attending digital marketing and social media conferences.

After doing that for over seven years, I’ve come to one indisputable conclusion: they’re not worth the time or the money.

Of course, this means I’ll never get an invite to participate again. I’ll never get to sit on an enthralling panel discussion on the best use of Pinterest to attract Mom’s to my brand. I’ll never debate the value of the latest social platform (insert any name you want!) and I’ll never be peddled another book by the overpaid author who hasn’t really sat in my chair or encountered the problems I face in doing my job. That same author or “expert,” is also the first clown to throw stones at brand folks when they handle a situation differently than they would. You know the kind, the “jump all over Brand X for how they messed up a Twitter response to an angry customer,” guy. Yet that “expert” has never managed a brand nor sat in that chair.

Yeah, that douche.


How have I come to this conclusion and why the 180-degree turn? It’s simple: the results.

For most brand folks there is a desire to interact with others who share their challenges, experiences and unique perspectives. To be able to interact with those folks – in person – has great value. But most conferences do not do that. Brand folks may be able to get some of that by meeting up with their colleagues at these events, but the money and time spent isn’t worth it for the brand or company. I’ve been to and sent employees to them and they don’t yield the results for the investment.

Before I decided to write this post – and possibly piss off people I consider friends who make a living attending and speaking at these conferences – I did informally poll people I know and trust to understand how they felt about it.

Overwhelmingly, the response was the same – we get value out of seeing and sharing stories and experiences with others who have similar roles.

The issue is this: most of these conferences facilitate brand digital marketing pros getting together. But the programming, in my opinion, doesn’t help you do your job better or help you significantly improve. So, in essence, brand folks go to these to escape the four walls and vent and connect with others who have a passion for the job. That, at face value, may mean you do get a good return on the money spent but that is only part of the story.

My issue here isn’t with people who attend these conferences. For any of us who have been trapped surrounded by corporate types who don’t understand what we do, it helps to be around like-minded pros. My issue, instead, is with the organizers of these conferences who really aren’t doing much to further the practice or help everyday practitioners do their jobs better.

Instead, most of these events are businesses themselves. Their sole purpose is to make money for their organizer and for those that speak. It’s free enterprise and I don’t have a problem with someone making a living that way.

That said, as someone who manages a staff, and has spoken at these types of events, I’m just opting out. When I see things happening that actually provide value to my people, then I’ll rethink it. I don’t need them to go somewhere to be told things they already know and to be hit on by agencies prospecting for business.

People who work in digital channels (web, social, et al) need healthy gatherings to learn and advance the practice. What they don’t need is corporate-funded boondoggles with speakers presenting data, ideas and points of view that haven’t evolved in six years.

Save your money.

Scott Gulbransen is a veteran of the digital marketing world. Having managed public relations, social media and digital engagement at brands like Intuit, Applebee’s and H&R Block, he’s now the Global Head of Digital Content at Haymon Boxing in Las Vegas.

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