When an Event Is Brands Only, Are Hashtags Even Off Limits to Vendors?

Whole Foods social manager calls out #brandsonly 'moochers'

When some people say #brandsonly, they mean it quite literally. This week, SocialMedia.org has been hosting a Brands-Only Summit, and while a vendor-free environment can certainly sound appealing, it can also create a bit of awkardness when enforced on non-attendees trying to participate on Twitter.

Case in point: Here's a tweet from Whole Foods senior social media program manager Ryan Amirault:

Shortly after, social media management service Sprinklr made the mistake of responding to one of Amirault's tweets from a #brandsonly session, and the company included a link to one of its recent blog posts:

Amirault told Sprinklr to cut it out:

Sprinklr responded, noting that it actually had employees at the event:

But Amirault still felt the vendor's tweet was out of line:

So I asked Amirault whether he felt the hashtag should be limited solely to non-vendors attending the conference:

Here's the conversation that followed:

Interestingly, AMC Theatres' socially savvy loyalty marketing manager, Shane Adams, also weighed in at this point, taking a bit more of an accommodating stance on outsiders' tweets:

As someone who has attended a lot of conferences and seen how aggressive or just annoying vendors can get with consumer brands, I understand why there would be some tension on this issue. And I understand why a "brands only" event would have some appeal.

But the conversations coming out of this week's #brandsonly conference raise several issues that are probably worth debating:

• How do we define a brand these days? Is it a company that only targets consumers? If so, why are so many of the Brands-Only Summit attendees from b-to-b services like staffing company Adecco, IT hardware provider EMC and aerospace firm BAE Systems?
• Brand marketers spend every day of their professional lives trying to get sales messages in front of potential customers, so is it hypocritical to get upset when vendors do the same?
• What is the point of an event hashtag, anyway? Is it primarily to help attendees better engage with the content and their fellow audience members? Or is it a way to propagate speakers' information to a larger crowd that couldn't or normally wouldn't attend?
• Where do agencies fit in this mix? They're vendors, certainly, but you'd be hard-pressed to argue that a content-creating powerhouse like 360i wouldn't bring a lot to the table at these events.

On that last note, at least the agency types appreciate they haven't been perma-banned from listening in: