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August 24, 2005

Ross Mayfield: Cheaper to Host than Attend

Ross, at the forefront of utilizing social networking technologies for hosting conferences and distributing content, offers his take on what's coming down the road.


With the right social software, you can promote, coordinate and self-organize events with near zero cost. Location does matter, but not for everything. Now cost can be a good thing, as some events are better with a little exclusivity, but inclusive options provide alternatives that help the ecosystem as a whole.

A more wild thought is that event models almost correspond to the three modes of production identified by Benkler:
* Firms and contracts: invitation is the barrier to participation
* Markets and prices: price is the barrier to participation
* Commons-based peer: reputation is the barrier to participation

Yes, at the moment the technologies and execution of what Ross is discussing are primarily in the domain of geekdom (and marketing) events.  But they're just the super-early adopters. 

These ideas will become more mainstream.  It may take several years, but the model behind these concepts make sense.

As more "organic" events come online, power will shift from professional organizers to community leaders.  Consumers of educational content will be the winners.  "Large fee" events will need to further justify their high costs, with some exceptions (i.e. Gartner & Forrester-type events).

Ignore at your own peril.

MORE:  Just got to reading Sue's link to Dave Taylor on "The Critical Business Value of Attending Conferences". 

Conferences are all about the breaks, the dinners, the bar at the conference hotel after the day's done.

Why? Because the so-called educational aspect of a conference is something you can often receive by simply buying a book or a training DVD. That's not enough to get me to travel to another city. To me, the most important aspect of attending a conference is the opportunity to meet people that I wouldn't have otherwise ever met. It's the random, the chaotic, the unexpected, unplanned discovery.

Dave did note that Om Malik disagreed somewhat, stating that, "A highly networked professional could connect with anyone they want anyway," and that he (Om) wasn't particularly interested in connecting with random people anyway, it was once his circle of trusted experts started talking about someone that he became interested.

On an unrelated note, toward the end of the post, Dave mentions that his conversations with the people he meets at events aren't only about business.  They're about anything that's interesting.

You can call this the "art of small talk", but in fact being able to establish a one-to-one personal connection with other professionals in your field is critical to being a success. They're not customers or vendors, after all, they're people.

I get a kick out going to luncheons and parties and hearing vendors gush, "I just LOVE your show," when they run into an organizer they haven't met yet.  Why people put up with fools trying to ingratiate themselves I'll never know, especially when the vendor doesn't know a freaking thing about your event (other than that it's big) or you (and they just interrupted your their conversation on "anything else" - which in this instance happened to be about favorite recipes). 

Sometimes you just gotta feel for large organizers at our industry conferences.  It's almost like they've got targets painted on them. 

02:29 PM in Trade Show Trends | Permalink


The people that don't need the conferences like OM are not the vast majority of those folks attending the large-scale events. I've been at a dozen trade shows over the past several years with co-workers and none of there networked over the internet, had blogs, or participated in social online media in any great details. Hence, the reason they were at the trade shows & conventions to meet people and learn from others.

Posted by: Dana VanDen Heuvel | Sep 9, 2005 3:36:01 AM

You have a lot going on in this post! I think Ross is right, up to a point--that point being that it takes time, energy, and a certain amount of talent to organize an event. Three things "community leaders" may not always have in abundance, no matter how good their social software is. I see this as a growth area, but not to the exclusion of what we currently have.

And one comment on Om's philosophy: Give me a break! If everyone in his circle had the same point of view, they'd never meet new people or hear new ideas to pass along to him. And how does one get to be a highly networked person without talking with people you don't yet know? Maybe I'm missing something, but this makes no sense to me.

It's kind of like blogging, in a way. One thing I'm loving about the blogging world is the serendipidous way I'm meeting people I never would have come across otherwise, but who have enriched my life and my work enormously. It's kind of like a big virtual convention, where you may know who the session leaders (bloggers) are, but you never know who you'll be sitting next to. And the person you're sitting next to could change your life (I should know--I met my husband at a convention.)

Posted by: Sue P | Aug 25, 2005 4:09:33 PM


I wholeheartedly agree with this. However if sponsors and exhibitors are to play a part - even in events promoted via social networking - they will have to come on board as well.

When I am telling my prospective exhibitors that I will be promoting my show, in part, through blogs and podcasts, they immediately ask, "Yes but what kind of real marketing are you doing to get attendees?" They just don't get it yet.

Direct mail and trade magazine advertising they understand - I tell them blogs and podcasts and they assume I am doing it on the cheap. When in fact, I'll spend more money getting a less qualified attendee with traditional media.

Posted by: Tim Bourquin | Aug 25, 2005 1:37:04 AM

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