The Origin of Social Fresh, the social media conference
I recently asked my pal, Jason Keath if he could write out the history of Social Fresh. Here’s what he sent me. Enjoy! For those of us in Charlotte, you’ll remember much of what he speaks of…
In 2005 I decided I wanted to be a creative director for an ad agency.
This was pre-Mad Men mind you. But the fine arts major inside of me saw the creative world of agencies as a pinnacle of sorts.
Needless to say I got sidetracked.
Today, almost 8 years later, I am running a company called Social Fresh, a social media training company. Social Fresh started in 2009 as a social media conference in Charlotte, NC, where I was living and working at the time.
Social Fresh came about out of frustration. Working my way through three very different agencies, where I was lucky enough to be able to pitch social media strategies for clients and potential clients, I recognized that there was a big gap when it came to how people thought about social marketing.
I got asked to pitch social media ideas a lot. There was clearly a thirst for it, even back then in 2007 and 2008.
But of all those pitches, few clients were eager to actually put money behind social media.
Social media was still too new and there was a trust gap. An education gap.
In late 2008 I went out on my own and started consulting with businesses on how to better integrate social media into their business and their marketing. When I saw the same education gap with my personal clients, I knew I needed to do something about it in order to be successful.
And thus, the first Social Fresh social media conference was born. The first time I thought about the idea was some time in 2008. The event itself was on August 24th, 2009.
Now keep in mind, all this was happening right as the Great Recession was hitting the US. Seems like a silly time to host a new conference, but I was foolish enough not to care about such trivial things. Thankfully.
The conference was meant to educate businesses in North Carolina about social media best practices and success stories. I was shooting for 100 attendees. And hoped a few folks would find out in neighboring states and make the drive into Charlotte to attend.
The first Social Fresh conference hosted 30+ speakers (a roundup of corporate speakers and experts from around the US) in two rooms during one long day. Smart folks like David Armano, Spike Jones, Gia Lyons, Bert Dumars, Jim Deitzel, Kipp Bodnar, Ryan Boyles, Wayne Sutton, Laurie Smithwick, Brandon Uttley, Lisa Hoffmann, Greg Cangialosi, Keith Burtis, and many more.
Many folks that I call friends today were there. DJ Waldow, Corey Creed (ahem), Jason Peck, Gavin Baker, Lyell Petersen, Jim Mitchem, Katey Dietz, and lots more.
I’m sure I am forgetting some very important people.
Many of the people listed above and a couple dozen other local Charlotte social media folks really made this event a success. My timing and persistence allowed me to create Social Fresh as an event and ultimately a business. But without the amazing community of marketers and social media folks in Charlotte at the time, the event would never have been as successful as it was.
When I planned Social Fresh, I honestly just wanted to break even. The real return, in my eyes, would be my consulting practice. And while I did win a few very lucrative clients from the event, something else happened that I did not expect.
Namely, hosting and running the first Social Fresh conference was much more fun, more rewarding, and more profitable, than any consulting or agency work I had ever done.
And the event was way more successful than I anticipated. Over 200 people bought tickets and there were a lot of people that traveled from all over the country to attend. I took this very seriously.
Finding a potential business opportunity that is fun, rewarding AND profitable is not something to take lightly. And I didn’t.
I took a deep breath, surveyed the landscape, and decided to jump out of consulting work and straight into Social Fresh as a full time business.
Every dime that I had made hosting the first Social Fresh conference was immediately earmarked for what I called Operation Overload.
The plan was simple: host four Social Fresh conferences during the first four months of 2010. I had roughly four months to plan and execute the events and til this day I am not quite sure how I accomplished it all.
I immediately set out on the road to scout cities and hotels for the conference. I attended every networking event, conference and meetup I could from Florida to NY to Las Vegas. Over the course of 8 months, I lived on the road and at the end of it all had hosted four more Social Fresh conferences, each more widely attended and more profitable than the first event.
Looking back, I will never do four conferences in four months again. But the Overload strategy worked. I built a national audience for Social Fresh that has continued to grow through today.
We hosted a total of seven conferences in the first 12 months of the business. Since 2011, we have hosted just two Social Fresh conferences a year. There is something to be said for focusing on fewer events, and ever since I made that mental shift, our events have gotten better and better.
After those first five events, I realized quickly that the website needed to become a social media blog. To keep up with our audience in between events. To share insights. We had 44,000 people visit the blog that first year. This year, 2013, SocialFresh.com will be visited by over 2 million marketers, most of which are outside of North America.
That is a very humbling accomplishment for me. And one that pushes me to bring our great conference content online in new and better ways.
Today I spend most of my working hours split between continuing to improve our conferences and growing the success of our online social media training options.
Over 5000 people have attended a Social Fresh conference in the last four years. It is a number I do not take for granted, but also a number that I do not focus on a lot.
Today I focus on the passion of our fans and the quality of our content.
I have learned a lot since 2008 from Social Fresh and all the amazing people that make what we do possible every day. I’m very thankful that four years ago I was crazy enough to just go for it and take the idea as far as I could.
Thank you to those of you that helped us get there along the way.
– Jason Keath