Why I Stopped Speaking at Social Media Conferences

Why I Stopped Speaking at Social Media Conferences

WARNING: This post will offend a lot of business professionals—and most of them deserve to be offended. You’ve been warned.

The title sounds like professional suicide. I gave up attending conferences few years ago, except in very rare instances. I’ve also stopped speaking (except in my role as lecturer at College for Creative Studies).

I’ve spoken all over the US and a few countries abroad. I’ve spoken to Fortune 500 firms, government entities, admirals, generals and the general public. I’m warmly received and while I’ve never been booed or heckled, I will admit one of my talks started an audience fight at Cornell.

So why stop?


  1. Nothing New Under the Sun
  2. Less than 5% of You Will Implement What You Learn
  3. Conference Organizers Are Feckless Half-Wits

For the rest of you…

Reason 1: Nothing New Under the Sun

With the exception of a few obscure code tricks that I’ll never use, I haven’t learned one new, truly useful thing at a conference in over five years. Not one. Tech conferences—especially social media ones—have become such an echo chamber of mediocrity and me-too-ness that only those new to the industry are benefiting.

And that is not me.

I’ve been in marketing for over two decades, almost all of it in digital. I’ve worked on some of the largest marketing and social media projects in the nation—and some of the smallest. I’m quoted in several books, I have albums on iTunes and Spotify; I’m even a verb in the Urban Dictionary. Point is: I’ve done stuff.

Reason 2: Less than 5% of You Will Implement What You Learn

This is beyond the Pareto Principle. Less than 5% of the folks I have spoken to have ever implemented strategies or tactics I’ve freely given them. Disappointing. This is most obvious when folks come up to me after a conference and say they saw me speak at X-event and I was really insightful, blah blah. I always ask what did I say that impressed them. About 5% of them can remember even one thing.

The 5% remember, because they actually did something with it—that is, they didn’t just listen; they did. And that is sadly the case with every topic in life. The 95% nod politely and erase everything from memory once Dancing with the Stars comes on.

I take that back. There is a small percentage of Creatives, UX and Strategists who can recall and recite, but they too, do not implement. I’ve seen them parrot my words at meetings, but it’s so clear that’s all they are doing and there is no true understanding behind it. Disappointing.

Reason 3: Conference Organizers Are Feckless Half-Wits

I got sick of explaining why I stopped calling myself a social media strategist and refer to myself as a plain old strategist. HINT: It’s all strategy. It’s all business strategy. There is nothing unique or arcane about social media or digital that requires a different kind of strategy from any other strategy that achieves business goals. And if your strategy isn’t achieving a business goal, you are wasting everyone’s time.

And don’t come to me with “But you’re ignoring engagement—that’s unique to social.” If you honestly think that, there’s nothing more we can do for you. Go back to being a sheep and enjoy your Cool Ranch Doritos. Guess what? Marketers and advertisers have dealt with engagement since the beginning of time. Ever heard of events marketing or experiential marketing? Word of mouth? It’s been around for a few minutes. Look into it.

So what does this reason have to do with conference? Plenty. Organizers think they need “social media strategists” to speak. But getting a conference organizer to understand anything beyond ticket sales is like trying to discuss Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum with a fig. They. Do. Not. Care. It’s not my job to educate or convince the world’s conference organizers. A hundred years ago, these same folk would have been circus carnies. I’m not joking. Talk to one; you’ll want to bathe in hand sanitizer afterward.

OK, I feel better having vented. Thank you.

Please know I am not knocking some of the amazing folks I have been lucky enough to shared stages with or spoken at the same venues with. Please don’t get me wrong. Chris Brogan, Jeffrey Zeldman, Hajj Flemings, Amber Naslund, Derek Powazek, John Halcyon Styn and a few dozen more—brilliant folks who get it. And they know what I’m talking about because a few of us have had this talk before.

I know I’m not alone in thinking this way. What do you think/feel/perceive about why I stopped speaking at social media conferences?



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