The social media conference has become as much of a cliché as, well, the social media expert.

These one-day summits or boot camps promise to connect and inspire, charging an “investment” upwards of $499 (plus GST!) for panel discussions and keynotes that’ll fast track you on the latest web 2.0 technologies.

The panels buzz with catchy AdWords-approved titles: “Real-Time: Does it Matter?,” “Privacy in the Facebook Age,” “How to Promote Yourself Online like a Rock Star.”


Toss in the swag — free totebag and notebook! — and you’ll end the night at the free drinks soiree supposedly getting your ROI (Return On Investment).

But doesn’t information want to be free? And if you’ve got Mashable and ReadWriteWeb in your RSS reader, what’s that VIP Pass really worth?

Dig deep enough, and the social media conference is actually free. Sure, spend a day out of the office listening to speakers proselytize on leadership, branding, and “community engagement.”
Or you could just Google the speaker’s slideshare, and cut an hour-long presentation into 20 quick mouse clicks through the presentation’s slides.

Then again, maybe you want to feel like you’re really there.

Well, if any social media conference is worth their cutting-edge speed on the next high-level success strategy, they will have a projected tagcloud streaming the audience’s real-time tweets.
These tweets are helpfully hashtagged, and voila! That content is viral for your curbed consumption.

Yet here’s the worrying thing: have you ever sloughed through a social media conference’s hashtagged stream?

Last week, I scrolled through such a feed, and was struck by the jingoistic mindcasting on how to sell a networked future that’s supposedly is here and now.

“True creativity is original ideas that add value and are actionable,” read one iPhone tweet. “FIND THE BRIGHT SPOTS and leverage them in your strategy,” went a retweeted HootSuite nugget.

Read between the lines — wait, can you even? If these real-time results say anything, it's an alarming present state: the bounce rate for an evangelistical echo chamber preaching to the converted.

Conferences a mouse click away

Think social? How about anti-social, especially with these three ad nauseum web 2.0 panels.

UR Personal Brand Lifebloggers: It tells how to monetize your ideal persona and be Internet famous: Be real, be authentic! Embrace the Twitpic-ing of your breakfast.

Death of the Critic: A roundtable on the future of arts criticism in the digital age by professional ‘legacy media’ critics — who still haven’t set up their own Wordpress or Twitter account — mourning the loss of the broadsheet’s long-form (or re-writing Newswire press releases).

The Live Keynote: A cocky turtlenecked guru unveils company’s latest software to an audience full of developers. Elusive marketing stats and the promise of ‘convergence’ are dramatically punctuated by powerpoints. The enthusiastic applause distracts you from the product’s high price tag.

Rea McNamara writes about the on/offline statuses of niches and subcultures. Follow her on Twitter @reeraw.

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