The fourth incarnation of the BlogWorld & New Media Expo took to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, beginning with the Social Media Business Summit conference on October 14 and continuing with the BlogWorld & New Media Expo and Conference on October 15 and 16. This year, the show drew 86 exhibitors and a little more than 3,000 attendees; the first year, 2007, drew 1,500 attendees and 62 exhibitors. The sold-out event was a huge success, said BlogWorld C.E.O. Rick Calvert, who added: “I started this show because I wanted to go to it and it didn't exist.”
Now that it does exist in the form of a face-to-face event, it also exists in another form: in real time on the Internet. Attendees attract an audience of about 50,000 people, on average, with their various social media projects, and that translates to vast and instant coverage. “At our pre-conference, we tell all the vendors and [other participants], 'Listen, every experience you have is going to be on the Internet, so be nice to people.' It's usually a very positive experience, but if a projector isn't working at our show, people are talking about it on Twitter or on their blogs,” Calvert said.
He said that also translates to an attractive offering for sponsors and exhibitors. “Everyone who comes to a show [to exhibit] wants to sell stuff, but they also want media coverage. And literally every person at our show is media. Twenty-two percent of all the posts at our show mentioned Ford,” he said. “That literally translates to millions of mentions, and brings a tremendous interest in sponsorship. Exhibitors come to connect with attendees, or they want attendees to talk about them.” Publicity-seeking sponsors in addition to Ford included Southwest Airlines, Pepsi, Sony, and Kodak—none of which are in the social media business.
The event has always been in Las Vegas, where Calvert says the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority works hard for the business, rooms are affordable, plentiful, and of top quality—and attendees from all over the globe are willing (and eager) to travel. “We knew we wanted this to be an international event from the beginning,” he said.
This year, the 45,000-gross-square-foot event moved from the Las Vegas Convention Center to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, which felt more intimate and solved some of the past production challenges: With 13 concurrent sessions over three days, and more than 120 sessions and 300 speakers in all, organizers had to build out a significant number of breakout spaces, with difficulties of acoustics and expense. Instead of building out a keynote theater for 1,200 people, Mandalay Bay offered a ready-made ballroom that worked better. Attendees posted 1,134 mentions about the venue itself during the three days of the show, most of which were positive.
A couple dozen of this year's exhibitors signed up on the show floor for next year's event, which was a record. “Part of the reason [participants] are so happy [with their investment in the show] is because our industry is maturing and a very large percentage of our attendees wanted to go on the show floor and talk to our exhibitors about business,” Calvert said. “The conference, educational content, exhibits, and networking are all critical to our show. The show floor was busy all day.” To ensure that busyness until the very end, and avoid that end-of-show tumbleweed feeling, organizers hosted a closing reception on the show floor. “We had to actually kick the attendees out so we could close the show down. The ending experience for the exhibitors was a super positive one,” he said.
Her also cited a bit of a postmodern dilemma on the heels of his show's success. “One of the things any show manager can learn from our show is the future of how their shows are going to work. We make all of that content available online for attendees for an additional fee, or for non-attendees to participate virtually. We're expecting about another 2,000 virtual attendees over the course of about the next three months. Our goal is to live-stream our sessions so that anybody can participate virtually from anywhere in the world. And as [the price of creating and offering that option] is coming down, face-to-face to events are going to be in trouble.”