Geeks in the Pool

Few will dispute how the social media revolution has spawned a range of new communications competencies, if not industries. These burgeoning industries feature companies that specialize in SEO and SEM, Facebook engagement strategies, online listening and measurement tools, digital video production, mobile engagement solutions, and the list continues to expand.

Of all the industries created by the digital disruption of the public, private and non-profit sectors, there’s one whose revenue may very well exceed that generated by the firms actually conducting these chores. I’m talking about conferences of course — that booming business that profits from a plethora of pontificating pundits.

A quick check of social media’s movers & shakers’ Plancast schedules will reveal a dizzying array of “professional development” gatherings in which they have speaking roles. Virtually every magazine and tech-oriented website has delved into the conference-organizing business, let alone the start-up showcases that range from the rival Launch and TechCrunch Disrupt confabs to the monthly New York Tech Meetups and Ultralight Start-ups.

One new development, or rather an old development taken to a whole new level, are virtual conferences that do not require a physical presence or even an avatar. Two caught my eye recently and I thought it would be fun to do a tale of the tape:

Dates: June 8-July 28
Sponsors: MediaBistro, SocialTimes & AllFacebook
Price: $399 (before May 11) $499 thereafter


Mark Drapeau, Director of Strategic Dialogue, Microsoft; Editor, SECTOR: PUBLIC @cheeky_geeky and @SectorPublic

Sarah Evans, Owner, Sevans Strategy

Shel Israel, Author, Twitterville; CEO, SI Associates

Guy Kawasaki, Co-founder,; AUthor, Enchanted

Alan Levy, Co-founder and CEO, BlogTalkRadio

Charlene Li, Founder, Altimeter Group; Author, Open Leadership @charleneli

Thor Muller
Co-founder and CTO, GetSatisfaction

Jennifer Neeley, Social Media Strategist,

Erica Reitman, Blogger

Robert Scoble, Tech evangelist, blogger, author

Lockhart Steele, Founder, Curbed Network

Dates: May 3-May 26
Price: $297 before April 14, $597 thereafter


Jeremiah Owyang, partner of customer strategy at Altimeter Group

Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of Alltop; Author, Enchanted

Brian Solis, partner, Altimeter Group: Author, Engage

Frank Eliason, SVP of social media, Citigroup

Mari Smith, co-author, Facebook marketingh

Erik Qualman, Author of Socialnomics; MBA Professor, Hult International Business School

Michael A. Stelzner, founder, Social Media Examiner

Dan Zarrella, award-winning social, search and viral marketing scientist at HubSpot; Author of two books: The Social Media Marketing Book and The Facebook Marketing Book.

Andy Sernovitz, CEO,; Author of Word of Mouth Marketing

David Meerman Scott, Author, Real-Time Marketing & PR: How to Instantly Engage Your Market, Connect with Customers, and Create Products that Grow Your Business Now and The New Rules of Marketing & PR.

Jay Baer, a tequila-loving, hype-free social strategy consultant

Steve Garfield, author of Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business

Hollis Thomases, author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day; Founder WebAdvantage

Mario Sundar, senior global social media manager and chief blogger at LinkedIn

Ann Handley, co-author of Content Rules; Chief content officer for MarketingProfs

C.C. Chapman, co-author of the book Content Rules and founder of Digital Dads

Todd Blecher, communications director for Boeing’s corporate office in Chicago

Kelly Feller, social media strategist at Intel’s Social Media Center of Excellence

David Germano, GM, Barefoot Proximity for P&G’s online magazine

Stephanie Marx, social media marketing manager at Cisco Systems

Kevin Heaps, social media strategy consultant with Verizon

Pia Baker, brand director at Timex Shripal Shah, SVP, Digital at Catalyst Public Relations

Dean Hunt, an Internet entrepreneur from the UK

I personally am not a huge fan of webinar-fueled “conferences.” Sure, they save time and travel expenses, and you may even learn a thing or two. But there’s nothing that can replace face-time with those friends & followers whom you’ve heretofore only met virtually. I’ll never forget chatting up Scobleizer at a New York City steakhouse dinner in the days when blogger meetups were ascendant. And no one can tell you that South by Southwest doesn’t get its mojo from its social events (on steroids).

Summit at Sea (Photo Raymond Leon Roker via Flickr)

Perhaps this is why the most recent incarnation of the digital/social media conference was such a hit last weekend. Organizers of the Summit at Sea Series invited 1000 digerati aboard a cruise ship from Miami where the likes of Richard Branson, Craig Newmark, Ted Turner, Russell Simmons and others too fabulous to mention schmoozed it up with those whose number of Twitter followers exceed most mortals.

Judging from the Twitter chatter and resulting media coverage, I’d say this concept has some very strong sea legs. One possible drawback: geeks in bathing suits.