2019 was a banner year for digital marketing conferences. After a staggering 66% of marketers were expected to increase spending on live events in 2019, we saw an increase in high profile keynotes and expert panel discussion that was great news for brands sponsoring the event.
Attending a digital summit as a paid attendee, however, requires serious consideration about whether time and budgets should be invested in attending (even in such a strong year). So let’s dive into the benefits of attending, selecting the right digital summit for your discipline, how marketing professionals fit them into the budget, and which were our favorites of 2019.
Benefits of Attending a Digital Marketing Conference
Digital Marketing Conferences are an excellent source of information-sharing between brand marketers, brands proving out their content marketing strategies with exciting case studies, and ad-tech companies releasing new tools and platforms that forge a closer relationship between customer and brand. But there’s so much more hidden value that attending the right conference offers:
- Networking. This should go without saying: content marketing conferences are some of the best ways to network with other marketers in the industry. Rather than a catch-all networking event where everyone has different motivations for why they are attending, digital marketing conferences allow attendees to inquire about available positions, learn what types of social media and content initiatives different brands are working on, and share insights (and laughter) at the cocktail parties and breakfasts thrown by some of the sponsors. Additionally, some of the breakout sessions and content labs will allow you to build more robust marketing strategies using ideas you and your breakout teams brainstorm together.
- Educational opportunities. Speaking of breakout sessions, digital conferences offer strong opportunities to apply the marketing strategies learned in a master’s program to newer social media products and media platforms. Whether you’re attempting to add a new idea to a group project in your social media course, or distilling down a point of view you’d like to bring to your next interview, conferences give a look behind the curtain to attendees that people won’t see in the day-to-day experience with social media or content platforms.
- Demo new products and software. (Facebook VR, etc.) Not only can you get a closer look at the existing technologies in the content and social media marketing industries, but you can also look toward the future. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Salesforce regularly go on road shows with newly-announced products being beta tested by marketers and users alike. Adobe often invites creative technologists to demo some of their work on beta features at conferences to generate excitement.
- Bring online connections offline. Platforms like Twitter foster the ability to follow and participate in conversations with peers, senior executives and celebrities alike. These interactions translate well into a conversation starter in person, and are a nice segue to introduce yourself after a panel or at one of the networking breakouts.
- Content Marketing Workshops. Several conferences have workshops offered to content marketers of all abilities. For example, conferences like Social Media Week have a host of entry-level primers for anyone new to the industry, and conferences like Digimarcon West offer a menu of options better suited for social media and content veterans looking to pick up new skills.
How to Choose the Right Digital Marketing Conference
Budgets aren’t unlimited, and digital conference attendance fees can quickly add up. With hundreds of conferences taking place globally per year, it’s time to ask a critical question: How can you find the best digital marketing conference for you?
First, check out the past attendees. When you skim the attendees list, you’ll notice that past vendors are often annual attendees at conferences and include them as a line item in the annual marketing budget. Some speakers have relationships with content marketing conference hosts and participate in panels each year. If a team is hiring whose decision-makers will be in attendance, or are simply interested in networking with a certain target, use the transparency of conference attendees as a strength. Conference and digital summit organizers typically publish the companies, titles, speakers, and (often) names of the attendees who paid for a content marketing badge the previous year.
Next, select conferences that specialize in your area of digital marketing. Interested in product marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, or search marketing? There’s a conference for that.
While several of the larger conferences focus on the broad spectrum of marketing disciplines, often the most valuable conferences highlight marketing strategies relevant to a specific group of marketers. For example, FinCon focuses on marketers specifically interested in the financial and fintech space, which means a larger share of the networking and sponsor marketing events are more likely to be relevant to their audience. On the other hand, conferences like WordCamp aren’t focused on discipline, but rather focused on a specific content marketing platform. (Wordpress)
Finally, decide if the networking piece is as important as the content marketing workshops and breakout sessions. If not, virtual attendee badges are often offered and are far less expensive than the price of a live badge. These are also replayable, so if there’s a desire to rewatch a session or workshop that was particularly relevant to a content marketing initiative you’re juggling other things, you have the option.
Here are a few other small tips for attending conferences and maximizing every dollar spent:
- Combine Digital Marketing Conference Weekends and Personal Travel to the destination city. Attending a digital summit on a Saturday can also mean catching up with family and friends on a Sunday.
- Listen to the Experts. Each year, several major publications post a list of conferences they are looking forward to. We recommend some of ours below and will be posting an updated list early in 2020.
- Dig into the media kits. If you are interested in attending a digital summit with mid-level social media professionals, some may be heavier in those attendees than others. Press kits are usually transparent and include titles of attendees so the conference can pitch sponsorships to brands and vendors. That benefits both them and you.
- Consider the reviews and takeaways on social media. Conferences that use hashtags well will often post pullquotes, insights, and have an active communication channel with the other attendees. Social Media Week does this admirably, and lends itself to public Instagram sharing and solid hashtag engagement on Twitter.
Cost of Attending a Digital Marketing Conference
Now that we can narrow down the list of marketing conferences, it’s time to look at the expenses associated with attending them, and how you can save money on admission fees.
- Use your student discount. Many conferences offer students a discounted rate to attend and participate in the digital workshops. Take full advantage of those deals. A discount received while studying at a university like Yeshiva can be as much as $200 on admissions, or as much as 30% cost savings on your conference admission from marketing summits like DigiMarcon. If you work for nonprofit organizations, you may be eligible for other discounts as well.
- Put together a group. Some conferences have group rates for marketing professionals attending in small and large groups. If friends or colleagues are attending (or a group of other students is interested), you may want to put a group together to save as much as 20% on attendance. Some digital summits have additional discounts for entering a discount code.
- Freelance reporting with a press pass. Even an established digital summit typically loves when reporters are on-site, because it’s another opportunity to share the success of panels and increase the amount of organic impressions generated by their event. This requires a bit of legwork and building a relationship with a publication interested in featuring the marketing conference you’d like to attend. After receiving the assignment, conferences like Social Media Week (owned by Crowdcentric) have prospective reporters fill out a media application to receive the credential to cover the social media conference. Depending on the freelancer’s relationship to the media outlet, you may also receive a byline for covering the event and can start building up your digital marketing portfolio along with attending. A true win-win.
- Ask about existing badges. Several colleges and networking groups purchase badges in bulk to distribute to students, mentors, and staff. Connect with the heads of departments to determine whether they have existing badges or have relationships with the content marketing conference showrunners to get you a badge at a discounted rate.
Being creative about how you’ll connect with marketing professionals at these conferences can stretch your budget further than you think.
Best Digital Marketing Conferences 2019
2019 was fantastic for social media and content marketing conferences, and there’s still a full quarter of events remaining. Planning on attending some of the most valuable social media and content marketing conferences around the globe? Here’s our list of the ones who’ve done a great job this year:
Inbound 2019 - Taking place in Boston on September 2nd and 3rd, the INBOUND conference featured a loaded lineup (Elizabeth Gilbert, Alexis Ohanion, Katie Couric, Janelle Monae, and more) of A-List marketers and useful breakout sessions. Considering the regular lineup of award-winning talent usually featured, INBOUND also offers value: A conference badge for 2020 without the bells and whistles can be bought for $50 as of late September 2019. However, the full package is also one of the better deals for content marketing conferences that are often in the low four figures.
Hubspot, a giant in the martech space, runs this digital summit each year. Special emphasis is placed on breakout sessions for data-driven marketing professionals that focus on content strategy and measurement.
SXSW - South by Southwest transformed from a film, tech and music conference arguably into a household brand. As the conference got bigger, so did the sponsors - and the city of Austin was forever changed. This conference specifically focuses on the intersection of media and culture, and content marketers receive an up-close look at how media companies are pivoting quickly to adjust to trends on social media and the buying behaviors of the target. Authors (past: Guy Kawasaki, Brian Solis, Valerie Jarrett), political figures (past: Stacey Abrams, Edward Snowden, Barack Obama), Fortune 500 brand executives, and celebrities are around every corner, preparing for a 15-minute pitch, keynote event, book signing, or panel open to different tiers of badges at SXSW.
In addition to the content breakout sessions for marketers, data analytics panels, valuable networking opportunities, and a separate week of musicians and performers, SXSW was instrumental in propelling digital marketing and analytics companies (e.g. Foursquare) to new heights.
Social Media Week - One of the world’s largest conferences whose flagship is in three cities (New York, London, LA), SMW brings together the world’s social media marketers into one room. Substantial price discounts exist for early registrants, and high profile keynote speakers are usually on the docket. Past A-List marketers like Seth Godin, Cindy Gallop, and Rada Agarwal are staples in the green room, and several breakout sessions exist for conference attendees to explore the chosen theme of the conference. They typically host a post-conference party on the first day of the event to promote networking and foster conversation between marketers.
Workshops like ‘stretching a marketer’s Instagram budget’ to ‘measuring impact on brand marketing’ are the types of deep dives available to attendees in any stage of their marketing careers.
DreamForce - Salesforce’s conference juggernaut, while being the most overtly branded marketing conference on this list, is one of the biggest in the world. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff built a conference that pays off his marketing efforts while sharing invaluable strategies like social media listening and producing insights that go well beyond any of Salesforce’s proprietary tools.
MarTech - Content marketers whose focus is in the lower sections of the marketing funnel may find a home at the MarTech conference. From learning how to properly attribute your digital marketing campaigns to glean deeper insights from your search strategy, this conference is built for seasoned marketers who want to ensure their hard work on smart, data-driven marketing eventually translates to product sales.
Speakers from companies who are hyper-focused on results (e.g. Bain, Cisco, Mailchimp, Hootsuite) inspire attendees to put a bow on their omnichannel strategies, and pay particular attention to the campaign’s overall conversion.
Social Fresh - Another conference dedicated to social media marketing, Social Fresh puts a premium on the companies attending rather than the celebrity presence of some of the other conferences. The usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) are in attendance, with marketers from brands like Bacardi and Peloton taking you through important topics like the state of social media and visual brand storytelling.
As with Social Media Week’s Insider pass, Social Fresh also offers remote attendance access for marketers interested in seeing the panels from their remote workspace. The full conference pass for this digital summit allows for better networking opportunities , but the flexibility is welcome in an increasingly mobile world.
Final Tip for Attending a Digital Summit
Now that we’ve broken down our methodologies for selecting a digital summit that helps focus on your preferred marketing strategies of interest, start planning your attendance for the end of 2019 (as well as 2020). If you applied for a digital marketing and media masters and joined the program, also consider reaching out to your professors to learn more about which ones they like the most.