I have attended many conferences in the last ten years, including Search Marketing Expo, Search Engine Strategies, and Internet retail events. Generally speaking, I’ve been pretty impressed with all of them.
However, the reality is, these conferences are expensive. In fact, the average cost of attendance is around one-thousand dollars, not to mention the cost of transportation, hotel and food expenses. The typical person employed in the online marketing field probably cannot afford the luxury of attending these seminars. I personally can only afford about two conferences a year, but I’ve recently found a solution: local meetups!
Most of my friends are lawyers, doctors and teachers and therefore not accustomed with the work I do. This is a major frustration of mine. So, attending a conference is the only time I actually get to mingle with Internet marketing specialists that aren’t trying to sell me something.
Most of the best conferences are not in the Philadelphia region, where I’m currently located, and so I have to travel to either NYC, Chicago or Seattle to find an amazing convention. I do travel to New York often, but sometimes it seems the best speakers favor the West Coast conferences.
Monthly Meetups Fill In Conference Gaps
About six months ago, I was looking over my wife’s shoulder and saw that she was on the website Meetup.com. My wife was looking for a meetup for new working moms that liked to hike and be active. It was an interesting website with about 2.2 million unique visitors and seemed to have a very active user base.
I have to admit that my first impression was that most of the website is for new moms looking for something to do or fitness gurus that are looking for people to workout with.
However, there was an extensive section on a variety of technologies. I was very excited to start looking around for a meetup and have tried out a bunch since then. I came across groups spanning SEO, Search Engine Marketing, SQL and analytics.
The gatherings ranged from incredible to god awful, but I learned the trick to finding the right meetup is to research the leader of the organization and find out what credentials they have or if they’ve received sponsorships for the events.
One of the best meetups which I now attend every month, is run by a manager at GSI Commerce who manages the search engine optimization program. This is absolutely the best meetup I have ever been to. My favorite part about these gatherings is that those who attend are just as great as those who run the meetup.
Usually people attend from many of the top firms in the Philadelphia area. These include agencies like Seer, Razorfish, TPG and many others.
One of the best parts of the meetup is that you can be engaged as much as you like or sit back and listen to what everyone has to say. A lot of people go to learn and ask questions. Some days, I sit back and just listen and some days I try to speak as much as possible. However in this specific group, there are plenty of teachers and people that want to learn.
How Do Small Meetups Compare To Big Conferences?
When comparing the topics discussed at conferences with the meetup, they seem to be equivalent. One of the major benefits of attending a meetup rather than a conference, may be your ability* to be more involved.
For instance, I may email the leader of the meetup and suggest topics that are of interest to me, or if I happen to have a major question, I can just ask by simply sending an email or making a phone call.
For example, I once had a question regarding link building, looking for some new techniques to create links. At the next meetup, our leader gave a presentation on link building and all of the members had a chance to talk about their favorite tricks. I found this type of learning very beneficial.
Additionally, when major events happen in the Search Engine Optimization or Search Engine Marketing world, we are able to discuss them immediately at the meetup whereas a conference may miss these topics or be delayed in addressing them.
For example, when Panda was first announced, the meetup discussed and dissected Panda. I found it incredibly refreshing and it eased a lot of my anxieties surrounding the update.
This meetup group which meets once a month, has been a blessing for me. It seems, most Internet marketers feel the same way. I have attended meetups such as Web Analytics Wednesday. People from Vanguard and Comcast were arguing about which analytics software I should use for my small business. Of course, one of their answers was to just buy both Webtrends and Omniture. I was little shocked by that answer, but it was worth the information.
The truth is, everyone wants to give their opinion no matter if it is right or wrong, but the great part about these meetups is that there are always people to share ideas with. And the best part is that it’s free!
The only thing it may cost you is your time and commitment. I actually bring a lot of my employees to the meetings and I find it helps them relax and learn at the same time. It doesn’t hurt that most of the meetups are at bars either.
If you are in the Philadelphia or Southern Jersey region, contact me and I will be happy to tell you more about the meetup or how to attend.
As of recently, I am researching the power of Twitter and I encourage you to follow me @jakegoldblum and or come say hello at the meetup. The first two people to do so will be given Empire t-shirts.
*Editor’s Note: Search Marketing Expo events typically do a call for Session Ideas on the SMX Blog prior to finalizing the agenda and putting out a call for speakers. Anyone can suggest session ideas, and it doesn’t mean you have to volunteer to be a speaker at the session.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.