Last week, I picked up my rental car from Fox locally in Ontario, a zippy little 2015 Sentra with less than 1000 miles on it, threw my inordinately large suitcase into the trunk, tossed my cell phone onto the passenger seat and headed down the 15 freeway with San Diego as my final destination. I had reservations at the Horton Grand Hotel on Island, right on the edge of the Gaslamp area, and I was anxious to arrive and start the festivities.
Traffic was light and I made it to the hotel in an hour and 45 minutes.
The Horton allowed me to check-in early, so after I hung up the five outfits I’d brought for the next three days, I plugged in my laptop and set up shop at the window desk for a couple hours of work before heading to the Grand Hyatt to check in for the Social Media Marketing 2015 conference and get my golden ticket, my lanyard and badge, then head to the U.S.S. Midway for a welcome networking party. Of course, this meant spending a little time to change into proper party attire, minus the heels. Perfect time to wear these adorable sparkly silver flats I’ve had waiting for just such the opportunity. Working from home means I don’t often need to pull out the business-wear and I had a good time packing my suitcase, not a task I often relish. This time though? No problem. I was spending three days in San Diego with other social media professionals and had been looking forward to this week for months.
Check-in was quick and I had time on my hands, so I headed out to Seaport Village. I ate a ridiculously good chocolate cupcake, filled with caramel and topped with chocolate-habanero sea salt frosting made by Frost Me, a former Food Network Cupcake Wars winner! Score.
As much as I love cupcakes, I most loved the 45-minutes of peace and quiet I got sitting on the grass overlooking the bay and the bridge to Coronado Island. Yachts and sailboats went by, and I could have easily laid back and gone to sleep. The breeze, the mild temperatures were a perfect start to a very busy few days.
I really wanted to hop on that boat and go under the bridge.
And that sun, so pretty..
But first, let me take a selfie….
At 6:30, I was on the first bus from the Grand Hyatt to the U.S.S. Midway. I grabbed my social media bingo card and things got serious real quick as all of us networked like fiends trying to fill our cards. Who works from home? Who is an alumni? Who snorts when they laugh? It was big business but it really opened everyone up and people that had been strangers were suddenly talking like they had known each other for a while. I met three lovely ladies, all in social media of course, and we spent the next few hours getting to know each other while we filled our cards, filled our plates and even road the flight simulator. (What a blast that was! It’s a must-do if you’re ever on the Midway.) A highlight for me was the Admiral’s Quarters tour, where we not only got to see what it was like for the captain and admiral to live aboard the Midway, but we saw the actual war room, left like it was when it was decommissioned in 1992, right after Desert Storm. I’d been in the Army Reserves back then and what memories it brought back!
Isn’t that an amazing piece of equipment? Used as late as 1992 before the ship was decommissioned, it was pretty stellar to know it had been used during Desert Storm.
After a glass of wine and a lot of walking and even a helicopter selfie, I was back on the bus to the Hyatt all too quickly. In reality, it was 3.5 hours later but it had gone quickly. The party was still in full swing when I left but I was tired and quite fine with going back to my room to watch TV and prepare for the next day, full of speakers and networking opportunities.
I had a little issue with the air conditioning and was up a lot later than I’d intended, so when my alarm didn’t go off at 6am like I’d planned, I felt groggy until I got over to the hotel (at 7:10 — I don’t mess around) and inhaled the first cup of coffee. The breakfast spread was expansive — yogurt parfaits, breakfast sandwiches, fruit, to name a few things, and coffee. Lots of coffee. The talk was often about where we came from, what our job was and what we’d been looking to learn about. So fascinating to find myself next to people from all over the world, yet facing similar social media challenges. After a morning networking session, we were off to speakers of our choice. With over 130 speakers, and five main sessions per day, the choice of topics and speakers was almost overwhelming. I got into the habit of getting to the room early to get a seat, then being one of those people, you know, the kind that leaves their sweater, notebook and coffee cup at their seat before heading to the restroom so you get a spot in a room that frequently had only floor space left…and people happily piled onto the floor to see the speaker anyway. With speakers like Guy Kawasaki, Mari Smith, Jon Loomer, Kim Garst and Mark Schaefer, to name just a few, it’s no wonder that this conference had so many attendees. We were provided with a very detailed guidebook which laid out the schedules as well as all the sessions and speaker bios, not to mention the much-needed maps of the extremely spacious Grand Hyatt layout. So many rooms to explore, and with the help of the map, I never got lost once. I even found the Starbucks downstairs.
This was the main hall during the opening keynote — it was packed!
My first session with Guy Kawasaki was exemplary; Guy is charming, funny, exuberant, full of incredibly helpful tips yet totally authentic. I could have listened to him all day! Mari Smith’s accent is so adorable that I was immediately charmed and interested, and she had me as a permanent fan when she kicked off her heels in order to be easily heard via the standing mic when her wearable mic failed. Lutz Finger, a quantum physicist with an MBA who currently works for LinkedIn, also had an accent that I love. (I am a sucker for accents.) Jay Baer…you only need to listen to him speak for a few seconds to know why his personality will have you clamoring for an autograph or selfie (though I didn’t actually get to meet him, as I only saw him at the closing session on Friday night) and Kim Garst’s help with visual posts offered much-needed help for me, though she admitted that her leopard-print shoes were indeed getting a lot of attention…and rightly so. I could go on but I’m still digesting what I learned and the pages of notes I took.
This session was a panel with Guy Kawasaki, Mark Schaefer, Christopher Penn and Mari Smith. They were not only sharing good information but they were so funny, too!
The videos will be available shortly, for the next year for those who bought tickets, so I plan on listening to all of them. That alone is worth the price of admission but being there in person is something you can’t describe. The energy is palpable, as everyone’s running from session to session and excitedly waiting for their favorites to speak. I was fortunate to find space with every speaker I wanted and to meet several of them during networking sessions. I have to confess I did skip out on the Thursday night beach party. The long day of paying rapt attention had worn me out and I wasn’t up for karaoke or a surfing competition, though it did look like a lot of fun! I headed back to the hotel after the last session on Thursday, where the topic was customer service, something I’m always interested in improving. The Horton Grand’s website mentions food at their Palace Bar, as does the sign next to check-in, but when I asked the concierge, she said no food was available but I could order pizza. (Pizza, when I’m child-free and on vacation in foodie heaven? I passed.) I decided to head around the corner to the Saja Korean restaurant, where I enjoyed a $2.50 glass of Korean beer, as it was happy hour, a bimbao bowl and a seaweed salad with kimchi. The weather was still perfect for outdoor seating and I people-watched until all I could think about was a shower and my robe and catching up on email. So I did exactly that, packed up as I was checking out the next morning before heading to the last day of the conference, and enjoyed lounging on the bed with my laptop, watching people walk through the Gaslamp district through my window. I thought I’d regret going back ‘home’ early, but I didn’t one bit! I made a call to the husband and knocked out a lot earlier than the night before, with the air conditioning issue fixed and the fireplace quietly on.
Friday was much like Thursday, with another fantastic breakfast and boxed lunch, available to eat all throughout the hotel at tables where we could deliberately eat with others in the same topic area of social media, like bloggers, B2C or healthcare industry, just a few examples. On Friday though, I played hooky. I took a vegetarian sandwich boxed lunch and headed back down towards Seaport Village, where I watched FlyGuysSD display their new flyboarding opportunity and sat by the gentleman who controls a huge kite with controls in each hand. So much fun!
I did a little light reading of my new “How to Measure Social Media” book, by Nichole Kelly — a great book if you’re looking to know what to include and how to include it if you’re asked to supply a stat report — and noticed a lot more water activity than the day before. Lots of people who wandered by also had #SMMW15 badges, so I think quite a few people were trying to soak in more San Diego flare while they could, and maybe to just warm up a bit and get some sun. It was a good break from constantly being around so many people and helped me perk up a bit before the last few sessions. For someone who doesn’t work in a traditional office setting, and hasn’t in 20+ years, it’s a hard sell to sit all day, even with engaging, fun conversation all around.
The end came too quickly, and after Jay Baer taught us all how to hug our online haters, I quickly hiked back to my hotel, grabbed my bags and car, and found my way to the 15 north. Then I sat in traffic for about an hour, but here’s where something strange happened: I didn’t mind being stuck in traffic. I had so many things to think about. I was going over mental lists of things I want to do in my role as Social Media & Content Marketing Manager. I also had a list of things to do with this blog and my social media consulting and training business. So many ideas, so many changes to make and things to try. I’ve moved them onto paper — pages and pages of it — and I can’t wait to start trying new approaches and implementing new ideas. The drive took me almost 2.5 hours, so I had a lot of time to think and plan, and I was relieved that I didn’t need to worry about getting gas; even after all that sitting in traffic, the needle didn’t even get to the halfway mark. (I drive a Charger R/T with a Hemi, so my eyes are frequently on the gas tank.)
Goodbye, San Diego, I love your skyline!
If you’re in the social media field in any capacity, SMMW is for you. Information overload in the best way possible, and being surrounded by those who get what you do all day long? Priceless. If you’re in it as a day job, as a part-time business or as a blogger, you’ll get your money’s worth. SMMW 2016 is going to also be in San Diego, which means you can do the same things I did. Party, relax, learn and get in some much-needed “me time” on the shore. Many guests arrived earlier or stayed later and hit up La Jolla Cove, Coronado Island, Petco Stadium or just wandered the shops or even the museums at Balboa. (I plan on taking Little Dude back there on an upcoming weekend. I want him to see the Reuben H. Fleet Space Center. I remember visiting as a teen and I think he’d really like it.)