Sean's Unofficial Guide for Social Media Marketing World 2020 (#SMMW20)

Why go to Social Media Marketing World?

SMMW is — by far — the most complete digital marketing conference I have attended. 

  • The attention to detail is Disney-like and makes for a can’t-miss experience.
  • The great use of scale turns a huge event into many smaller, intimate events.
  • The speaker lineup is filled with keynote-caliber speakers from top to bottom.
  • The attendees include amazing practitioners you are less likely to find online.
While I’m far from an expert on the event, here’s what I learned from last year.

Why go to SMMW… Again?

You may ask, “why not mix it up and only attend new (to you) events?”

For now, I think getting more out of SMMW will be more valuable.

I’d say SMMW19 went at least 80% as well as can be expected. Still, there are plenty of easy fixes and optimizations that I’ll pass on to you below. Plus, knowing people going into an event, while not necessary, can be a big help.

note: Links to SMMW20 are affiliate links. This allows us to make a small commission, in return for providing detailed conference-related resources.

Where To Stay

It’s worth staying as central as possible. And not only for quick access to the convention center. Social Media Marketing World is a big event that contains a lot of smaller events.

IMO, user-created events are the lifeblood of Social Media Marketing World. This includes dinners, breakfasts and early morning walks from the official hotels. Most of these dinners and breakfasts were within a few blocks of the convention center, so having a walkable hotel is super convenient.

  • Main Conference – several hotels are near the convention center, this is the easy part.
  • Early Morning Walks – first thing in the AM, these start at several of the official hotels.
  • Breakfasts & Dinners – these tended to be near the convention center and Petco Park.
  • Official Informal Meetups – before and after the event, these were in the Hyatt Lobby.


The official hotels are all close to the conference center, but the different locations can have an impact on your experience.

  • Marriott – probably the most all-around convenient. It’s located next to the convention center and also the Hyatt.
  • Hyatt – this is super convenient for the opening & closing official/informal meetups, if they’re in the lobby again. 
  • Omni – this is where I stayed for SMMW19 and it was a good location for many of the smaller networking parties.
  • Hilton – close to the convention center, maybe a little further from some of the events, but not by much.

When To Stay

The user-created networking events will start before the conference, so you don’t want to cut your arrival too close. SMMW19”s official dates were Wednesday to Friday, but there were plenty of events on Tuesday, and some as early as Sunday. Social Media Marketing World 2020 has shifted to Sunday to Tuesday, so I’ll arrive Friday.

Long Before The Event

Start planning for this earlier than your typical conference.

  • Buy your ticket – the early bird discount is significant, and ticket prices will only get more expensive over time. Also — very important — you want to be ready when the private groups and official app are available.
  • Reserve your hotel – rooms close to the convention center are in demand. (We weren’t able to use our hotel’s points and had to use SMMW20’s code to find an available room.) 
  • Follow the speakers – get familiar with some of last year’s speakers you don’t recognize. They might become some of your new favorites! 

Closer To The Event

The event starts virtually before it starts IRL.

  • Join the  private groups – last year there were well over a dozen Facebook groups, including First Time Attendees, Connections Corner, and many that were subject specific (Instagram, Facebook, Social Strategy, Analytics, B2B, Higher Ed, etc). Last year, these were started months in advance.
  • Join the conference app – the groups are nice for getting acclimated, but the app is where the event comes alive. The forum part explodes with activity, both in the user-created events and general forum threads. But the events fill up quick, so don’t wait until the last minute. Last year the app was available roughly one month before the event.

Right Before The Event

Ain’t no minute like the last minute…

  • Find the list of table talks. See how the tables are generally arranged, along with several that you would like to explore.

    The official site mentions this in passing, but the variety of topics SMMW can support is amazing — over 100 in total. This included social platforms, types of content creation and marketing tactics, along with niche topics… everything from introverts, to higher ed, to blockchain, etc. Besides the official table talk times, plenty of people used this resource during the sessions times.

  • Join several events in the app. Just give yourself enough time to get between events, paying close attention to how far away they are.

    Despite being a SMMW newbie, I was able to attend a podcasting dinner the night before, a podcasting breakfast the morning before the workshops, meet people at the podcasting table talks, plus meeting several of my favorite content creators who were also podcasters. You could easily have a similar experience learning about YouTube or other topics.

  • Consider creating an event. Anyone can do this in the app, and you’ll be surprised how many people come forward.

    I created a mini-meetup during the first day of people from St. Louis. It had interest from over a dozen people, and a half-dozen were able to attend. (Don’t be surprised if the number of people who actually attend is less than the number of people who reserved. Everyone is busy and managing their schedules the best they can.)

During The Event


If you have an all-access pass with sessions on Sunday, arriving on Saturday will allow you to get situated, relax, and maybe catch a user-created event or two.

There will be some casual networking near the event space in the late-AM, before the all-access workshops in the early-PM. This is followed by the big on-location networking party for all-access ticket holders, which features the Table Talks, which can be a super efficient way to find your tribes.

Get plenty of rest beforehand, because if you do everything, it will be a long day. There is the power networking walk, usually some unofficial breakfasts, then a full day of sessions. You don’t have to attend all of the sessions though. There is plenty to do in the networking plaza and even in the halls. As for the 2nd networking party, I didn’t attend that last year, so check the official site and decide if it’s your kind of event.

Another full day of sessions. By this point, even if you were a diligent session-attender on Monday, you might need to “tap out” for a session or two in order to stay fresh.

note: I didn’t see anything in the schedule (yet?) but if it’s anything like last year, there could be a closing event. Also, if it’s in the same location as last year, it could be pretty loud. With my hearing, I had to stay towards the outside at first, and could only wander inward after the cacophony started to die down a bit. YMMV

Frequently Asked Questions 

What should I wear? How casual is too casual?

Wear comfortable shoes. Other than that, I’m the last person to ask. The dress code seemed fairly casual… maybe because it was California, maybe because sneakers are so helpful for all the walking. And there is a LOT of walking around in the big event space.

Will I have a good time even if I’m an introvert?
You might think all the attendees at a social media conference would be social butterflies, but SMMW seems to cater to introverts more than other events. There were user-created events, forums threads and table talks specifically for introverts.

If you could only see one speaker, who would it be?
There were so many incredible speakers last year that it’s hard to pick one. And I’m planning to see all-new speakers this year. But if pressed to see one speaker again, it would be Marcus Sheridan. He is super sharp and brings enormous energy.

My Personal Tips

Take at least a one-line note of EVERYONE you meet.
Otherwise you WILL forget many people, unless you have a superhuman memory. It’s far easier to carry a small notebook with you at all times. (This is standard lifehack advice even outside of SMMW, but it’s especially important for SMMW.)

Bring healthy snacks if lunch is unlikely to be enough.
There were a few places to get food during non-lunch hours, but the selection was not big. If you are trying to maintain muscle mass, or you are just in the habit of eating smaller meals throughout the day, you’ll want to pack your own snacks. Protein bars, nuts, bananas, what have you…

Schedule some downtime during the event.
You can schedule things from before dawn to the last thing at night, if you want. And the first time you attend, it’s tempting to try and cram everything in. But you can hit “the wall” so make sure to check in with yourself and don’t feel guilty about taking a self-care break

For more information, visit the official site at

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