I’ve been writing a series on Marketing Roadmaps on the marketing lessons from BlogHer ’10 so I am not going to cover too much of that here. I’m also not going to go into a terrible amount of detail about my experiences at BlogHer. Let’s leave it at this: I had a great time, enjoyed seeing so many friends and colleagues, wish I hadn’t missed some folks and had more time with others, and was thrilled with both the attendance and the conversation at the two panels I was part of and with the reception everyone gave to Professional Blogging For Dummies. I adored showing bloggers interviewed for the book where their story appears.
Instead, in this series of posts, I’m going to share my thoughts on the evolution of the BlogHer community & conference. I’ve attended every main BlogHer conference since the first one in 2005, and that puts me in a fairly small group along with the founders Lisa Stone, Jory Des Jardins & Elisa Camahort Page, Maria Niles, Celeste Lindell and a few others. My thoughts here are a continuation of the walk down memory lane post I wrote before BlogHer.
2,400 people. Mostly women. That’s the audience that over the period August 3-8th occupied the New York Hilton. And I use the verb occupy intentionally. It was an army of bloggers, none of whom needed you to explain what a blog is or why one might want to have one.
That however was possibly the ONLY thing that everyone had in common. BlogHer is a diverse community — even if the media persist in categorizing all women bloggers as mom bloggers.
The women, and (mostly) enlightened men, who participate in the BlogHer community write about everything under the sun. And moon. Families, food, film, photography, politics, pop culture, marketing, media,motherhood, technology, racism, gender… The list goes on.
A diverse community creates a diverse agenda. Some bloggers want to monetize. Some want to write better. Some are looking for a job. It’s entirely possible that an attendee only attends 1 or 2 breakouts because those are simply the ones that interest her. And, yes, some come simply for the social and brand activities.
In my earlier post, I said that I thought the community was undergoing an evolution but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what. I can now.
I think the BlogHer community is comprised of three basic groups, each of which comes to the community, and the conference, with a very different agenda.
Post-graduates: These are women who have been blogging for 3 or 4 (or more) years. The first wave. Some had personal websites or were active on BBS and forum sites. They come to BlogHer to speak, to share their experience, to support their friends and colleagues and to network. Unless they are at a crossroads — for example, looking for a new job — they aren’t going to learn a lot at the sessions. BlogHer is about connecting and sharing their knowledge with others. Much of your A-list (though I hate this term) is in this group. The challenge: how to keep them engaged even as they need, or perceive they need, the support of the BlogHer organization less and less? How to give them what they need so we as a whole do not lose the benefit of their contributions.
Sophomores, juniors and seniors: These bloggers have been writing for a couple years. They’ve started to hit their stride. If they work with brands, they are beginning to build the relationships they need to “graduate,” but BlogHer is an important opportunity to connect with companies and surface new opportunities. This group has always seemed to be the most active segment of the BlogHer community, and I think gets the most out of the breakout sessions at the conference as well as the brand events, both official and off-site unofficial events. Remember: Today’s A-listers were sophomores in 2006 and 2007. Danger: This group may be seduced to spend more time at the unofficial brand events in order to make those all important connections. How do we keep them at the conference? Do we?
First year: These are the newbies. They’ve been blogging for less than a year, or perhaps they haven’t even started yet. They come to a conference hungry for information at the most basic level, but it’s a mistake to assume that they aren’t also interested in more advanced topics. Just because they are new to blogging doesn’t mean they are complete novices. They may have years of life or business experience that they can apply to their blogging. And they may not. This is the group best served by intro-level content. A potential issue: It’s entirely possible that there isn’t enough intro content to meet the demand. This year, I heard there were more newbies than ever before. I’ll be very interested in their assessment of the conference, both the sessions and the overall value of the connection with the community.
Because that’s the most important characteristic of BlogHer. It’s not just a bunch of sessions glued together by a ticket. BlogHer is a conference where bloggers come to learn from each other as much as from the speakers. This is very different than the typical industry conference, where the knowledge is dispensed by putative experts to the eager masses. At BlogHer, anyone can aspire to be a speaker, and you may learn as much in a cab as you do in all the sessions.
Nevertheless, the conference agenda should offer something for everyone. I know for a fact that achieving this balance has been a goal of the organizers from the very beginning. So, the challange is: what to do next year to meet the needs of these three groups, which co-mingle at parties, receptions and general sessions, but which have very different educational needs?
I don’t have an answer, but I have some thoughts.
For the post-graduates: A few years ago, BlogHer experimented with the “unconference” format. I honestly think that format is too unstructured to fit the community as it has evolved, however, I think the idea of roundtables around key issues like ethics, brand-blogger relationships, the future of journalism, etc. might have some legs. More than birds of a feather, but not as intense (or as unstructured) as the unconference format.
For the first years: Mentors. Don’t ask me how this would work, because I haven’t thought it through yet, but over and over, I hear people talking about their mentors. The bloggers that shared their knowledge and expertise to help someone else get established. There has to be a way to offer that through the BlogHer community in a more organized (but flexible) way.
And now to the sophomores, juniors and seniors: This is the population that needs to feel it has an opportunity to be an active part of the agenda. But many of them have no speaking experience and may not want to speak to groups of 50 – 100 — 1000. Involving them in a mentor program is one idea. More importantly though, is answering the question: what will keep them on-site and not off at unofficial brand events. Or sightseeing. Does it make sense to suck it up and acknowledge that people will go offsite and build that into the agenda? Perhaps with an official sightseeing trip that will rock their socks and provide killer competition for all the unofficial events that will cram into the same time slot? Next year’s location offers plenty of opportunities to do something like this. San Diego’s Wild Animal Park in Escondido. The Gaslight District.
I don’t have the answers. But, our feedback as members of the community can help provide the answers, so speak up and ask for what you want from BlogHer — the community and the conference. You may not get everything you want, but it’s guaranteed that you will not if you say nothing.
In my next post, I’ll share my thoughts on the Blogworld Expo blog post about BlogHer. Here’s a preview:
I have been attending high tech industry conferences since the early 80s. Yup, I am that old. And they are all the same to some degree. The sessions and the expo are 2/3 (or less) of the experience. The networking, parties and business meetings are just as important as the putative reason for being there — the conference. BlogHer, and Blogworld Expo, are no different.
For my part though, I’ve reached the age where a little baby spit-up is preferable to a 20-something drunk vomiting on my shoes in the cab line.