BlogHer 2010 – It was, um, weird.

On Friday, Megan and I ventured to New York City (please say that in your mind like they did in the old Pace Picante Sauce commercials…). Of course, setting my alarm for 4:30am was a big investment and I meant business.

We were off to BlogHer 2010! BlogHer is a massive community blog, an ad network, and a conference with a mission:

to create opportunities for women who blog to gain exposure, education, community and economic empowerment.

The conference is massive and well-funded. It draws some of the biggest of the big female bloggers (and some dudes!) from all over. It provides a forum for women to talk to each other about the trials and tribulations of blogging, bond over shared experiences, and support each other in growing their voice in the world through blogging.

I had the privilege of meeting up with Michelle Ward, the When I Grow Up Coach, and Rachel Johnson, of Swap Bot. I also got the chance to shake hands with Grace from Design*Sponge.

Am I bragging just a little? Maybe.

Overall, the conference was both completely overwhelming yet underwhelming at the same time.

The conference catered primarily to mommy bloggers – and whether you love ’em or hate ignore ’em – I don’t really fit into that crowd. Although the toddler that yells “mama! mama!” from her crib late at night might tell you differently.

Catering even more to mommy bloggers than the conference itself were the corporate sponsors.

In two giant halls full of sponsor-exhibitors and countless corporate suites, there was only one brand that I use with any regularity: Earth’s Best. While you know my passion for independent businesses, I happily spend money on other brands whose products are good for me & my family. I didn’t find any others there.

So, while I support the mission of BlogHer to “create opportunities for woman who blog to gain economic empowerment” I have to wholeheartedly disagree that schmoozing with national sponsors is a means to that end. I would have loved to see a panel discussion on creating multiple revenue streams in a blog-based business or on getting comfortable earning what you’re worth.

Maybe a presentation on financial challenges for female bloggers working from home. Or a Q & A with a pro on finding corporate sponsors that match your values.

But, alas, there was not. And while there were plenty of professional development sessions, their weight was sharply out of balance with what appeared to be “the real show.”

Now, I am a realist. I took home some of the freebies I thought I could use and I snapped pictures of Mrs. Potato Head & Dora the Explorer. I enjoyed the copious amounts of free food no doubt provided by the sponsors whose logos were plastered on every free wall. I’m not judging – just asking if this is really how we want women bloggers to be represented. And perhaps more importantly, if this is what it’s like to be an empowered woman with a voice.

Women have a loud, powerful, echoing voice in the blogosphere. Parroting national brands and their ad campaigns isn’t empowerment, it’s exploitation. As women bloggers, we have a responsibility to put more emphasis on creating communities – both local & online – full of engaged voices and open minds. We have a responsibility to measure truth against hype and not abandon ideals for arms full of cheap swag.

NB: I only attended Friday and I would be happy to hear that I missed something like this on Saturday. But I didn’t notice anything on the agenda. Check out Rachel’s recap to hear about the final keynote & some other bright spots I missed.

54 thoughts on “BlogHer 2010 – It was, um, weird.

  1. Wow. I didn’t go this year but what you describe sounds a lot like last year’s BlogHer, which I felt very similarly. I think a big problem for me is not just the brands being there but also the weird behavior of the bloggers around them.

    You said this very well.

    Steph

    1. Hey Steph! Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one with that opinion… At times I certainly felt a little weird myself for not “getting it.” I’m not a radical purist… but I do want people (and women in particular!) to think more than just act or respond.

      I’ll definitely be going to another conference in the future but probably one where I have a bit more in common with the other attendees. I’ve got SXSW in my sights πŸ˜‰

  2. Great post! I’ve gone to the conference for the past three years and wasn’t disappointed at all to miss it this year. I will seek out smaller, more “niche” conferences in the future.

    1. Amy – that’s definitely something I’ll be doing. Definitely have ALT design summit on my list. Hello Craft for next year… and maybe, just maybe, SXSW. Not small, not niche – but powerful & diverse. And in Austin – what could be bad about that?

  3. I’ve never been to BlogHer but have never remotely felt the urge to go, because I feel like you do. I based my opinion on BlogHer solely on the tweets and twitpics and blog posts of other attendees, but based on your post my thoughts weren’t too far off. Thanks so much for your perspective!

    1. Hey Cameron! I think BlogHer as an organization has a lot of potential… and maybe it’s been consumed by this commercialism. There’s an opportunity to have other voices heard. Perhaps we can start to make a change?

  4. “Maybe a presentation on financial challenges for female bloggers working from home. Or a Q & A with a pro on finding corporate sponsors that match your values.”

    So let’s pitch it!

    1. Hey Danielle! I’m definitely down with that. I wasn’t turned off by BlogHer – just found it not meeting my needs. But I’m all for changing things to better meet my needs πŸ˜‰

      Really, I came out of the conference wanting to engage the community more – just wondering if I have the time… Thanks for the encouragement!

  5. I did a meet up with people from my other blog on allotmenteering earlier this year and it was a complete distaster! I flew over to England and was treated like some sort of infectious disease. I write about the allotment from the point of view of someone with mental health problems finding some self esteem in growing her own food. I don’t know the latin for everything I don’t like to get in there with very famous person there might be around. I was me – that wasn’t good enough. So after weeks of excitement I was totallu underwhelmed myself.
    Though with my photography people through Crafty Ireland I have already made some lovely friends. Horses for courses – I guess it’s just best to be true to yourself – met ups with them happen in fancy cafes and people swap info, tips and presents (I have to try and get to one soon!) x

    1. Hey Amy! Right with you there – I’ve thought about both πŸ˜‰ I don’t scare easily. When I get uncomfortable, I tend to want to change things!

    1. Hey Laura, it is unfortunate. But I do think there are venues both inside & outside the BlogHer community to change the way women are perceived and courted in the blogging community. We just have to talk about it and get honest!

  6. I have a sincere problem with the incestuous relationships between bloggers and their advertisers. It goes against everything I learned in traditional journalism ethics courses. I blogged about this heatedly last year. I used to blog for momcentral.com but stopped when they asked me to alter the content of my reviews b/c they might be offensive to the product marketers.

    In y

    1. Hey Elizabeth! I agree. Here on SG, I keep advertisers & editorial very separate more like a traditional publication. I try to disclose any kind of other links I may have to ideas/products/brands I talk about. Doing anything less seems, at best, quite fishy.

      If we have a voice, we have a duty to use it as honestly as possible.

  7. I’ve attended many other blogging and social media conferences in the past, but this was my first time ever to attend BlogHer. Like you, it appeared to be mostly about brand courting. While I saw several educational sessions regarding some sort of professional development, it mostly had to do with schmoozing brands in order to receive sponsorships and free stuff. I didn’t really see much in the way of helping to empower women to rise to the top of the social media ranks and even make real, actual money blogging. BlogHer was more about the camaraderie and sponsorships than social media and professional development. (The kind of professional development that helps one to earn money). At least that’s how I saw it.

    1. Hey Deb! I agree wholeheartedly. My biggest takeaway is how “pro” mommy bloggers are such a different culture from the “pro blogging” culture. As a pro blogger, I’m interested in earning a living – and a good one – not getting free stuff in the mail. I want to be independent and have a career doing this. Blogging is my passion… and I didn’t see so much of that there….

  8. I have never been. I thought about it for a while but had a feeling that it would be just as you have described. Read some of the comments and I agree, smaller more niched conferences are probably the way to go. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I disagree that the conference primarily catered to mom bloggers. I sat in a terrific session on building an online resume for job/client search, and one on finding writing inspiration. There was a whole track on political/cause activism in social media. Annissa Mayhew and Cecily Kellog headlined a powerful panel on dealing with grief and loss online. …workshop on creating/altering a WordPress theme.

    There was an entire day devoted to the White House Project, all about getting women elected to office, campaign skills, and more.

    I actually thought it was a welcome reprieve from other “mom-blog” heavy conferences, although I love those too.

    The Yahoo Shine booth was all about re-creating yourself, not being a mom. There was also a heavy fashion presence. And while many of the sponsors focused on our roles as moms, and household managers, the fact is that many women ARE moms, and this is a great opportunity for those brands to reach out. If it weren’t for the sponsors, all the other learning wouldn’t be possible.

    I guess I just had a totally different perspective on the conference itself. And as I sat with diverse groups of bloggers throughout the conference, from liberal activists, to lesbians, to fashion, humor, and – yes- mom bloggers, I really did see a community “full of engaged voices and open minds” But I think if you’re looking for ways that you disagree with brand messages being shared with consumers, you’re always going to find it wherever you go.

    1. Sarah, I really appreciate your perspective. As a first timer, I think I was a bit overwhelmed by the hoopla of it all.

      I attended 2 of the Friday sessions in the “change agents” track and found them sorely lacking. While the women on the panels were, no doubt, talented women with strong voices… the info & discussion was basic at best.

      As I said to earlier comments, I’m not completely turned off. Just confused about the true mission of the conference.

  10. When I saw you tweet that you were going, I suspected as much and wondered what you would think of it. I’m so glad to hear your honest assessment that’s not getting caught up in the hype. I find this type of thing really disturbing. The democratization, community, authenticity, and alternate ways of earning a living available online are a boon to women’s progress. It’s sad to see some women use these tools to essentially embrace the same vacuous atmosphere of women’s magazines. The blogs I love, I love because they are -not- that.

  11. Great post! (Thanks for the shout out! It was awesome to meet you at the conference. I wish we could have chatted more.)

    While I had a really fun time at BlogHer, you addressed some of my less positive impressions precisely. I don’t consider myself a “swag grabber” – i live in a tiny apartment and don’t need extra stuff to bring home – but somehow I ended up with two giant bags of free product from the conference. Hmmm… it does feel a bit unethical since I don’t plan to write reviews of the product.

    One thing that really bummed me out was finding out how much those corporate sponsored paid to be sponsors (think hundreds of thousands of dollars) and how much profit the conference generated for BlogHer. I don’t think I am naive, but I guess I hadn’t considered that the main goal of the conference was to make money… I thought it was about helping women. Ha! I am naive!

    Anyhoo, I really did have a fun time and met some really cool women. But I think that the actual conference is most helpful for beginner bloggers who hope to attract corporate sponsorship… and I do not plan on attending next year in San Diego. :(

    …but whichever future conferences we do attend (like Hello Craft!) we should definitely plan to meet up or host a craft-focused get together. :)

  12. I just commented on Megan’s blog with the same response. I am disappointed, but not surprised at your take on blogher. I had hoped when I saw you were gong that meant it might be different, but alas. I agree it is either time to change blogher or find better venues for art/craft DIYers with a conscience. I am new to this arena and have no intention of getting sucked into the same old exploited work force I left to work for myself. Still there needs to be support and connection for those forging new paths. You present your response very well, and I love your alternative suggestions. I did not know about ALT design or Hello Craft (off to check those) but SXSW never occurred to me as a possibility. Hell yeah why not! Thanks for your commitment to keeping it real!

  13. I would just like to say that although these brands were there, and yes, they were in abundance, there was no one telling me I HAD to write about them and promote them on my blog. No one held a gun to my head and said “here’s a bowl of oatmeal – you’d better tell all your readers that we gave it to you and how wonderful it was”. Everything was opt-in. It wasn’t a mad dash grab for swag – the suites, and there weren’t untold hundreds of them – were relaxed, calm and actually a nice break from the cacophony. In fact, I asked one suite sponsor… what’s in it for you guys? WHY do you/they do it? She simply said they wanted us to talk about their things. It wasn’t a requirement, though.

    I totally get what you’re saying, but for me, a “mommy blogger” with more than that, it was not a pressurized situation at all.

    The noise, though? OMG. lol

    Also, I would love to see those sessions that you’ve mentioned, and I do hope that you’ll bring them up for next year.

    1. Hey Dawniemom! I realize that no one is forcing you to write about anything. And that you review the things you like. I get that – it’s cool.

      But there were plenty of national brands that have much friendlier relationships with women who were not represented. And I think that if it wasn’t for the corporate courting of our blogging voices, we wouldn’t see nearly as much product-based blogging on women-run blogs.

      Truly, I’m not interested in free stuff. I’m interested in earning a living off of my web properties (and I do.) for my smart writing & opinions. I wish the focus of the female blogging community was directed to that more.

      The overall feel of the conference was very casual – for sure – if it wasn’t… I probably would have left! :) But casual doesn’t make sales pitches less forceful… Instead, it can make us think that a sales pitch is more of a friendly gesture. Dangerous πŸ˜‰

      But like you said, the sessions I suggested (and more!) would be cool. I definitely want to engage more with the community and bloggers like yourself to have my OWN voice heard!

  14. So interesting to hear your recap; I suppose I had a really different experience.

    I was very outspoken, like Steph, about the overwhelming nature of the corporate sponsorship last year and this year seemed like a huge improvement. If you stayed off the expo floor -which was removed from the rest of the conference – and instead devoted your time to the panels, the Room of Your Own discussions, the community keynote, the Birds of a Feather lunch tables, it was all about learning, connecting, and sharing. One of the best parties of the weekend, Sparklecorn, wasn’t even sponsored as far as I could tell. Just lots of women dancing, eating cake, and generally making asses out of ourselves to the tune of Beyonce; the way every party should be, right?

    If you hung out on the expo floor a lot, it was a different experience. And come to think of it, I liked that part of it too. Ubisoft dance game? Pure awesomeness.

    1. Hey Mom101!

      Good to know it was better than in years past – lol! I’m not saying I didn’t have fun. And I hope that wasn’t what you took from what I wrote.

      We did stay off the expo floors except for a brief 20 minute stint just to see what it was all about. And what I took away was weird πŸ˜‰

      But that’s cool. It’s not all about me & what I want… but there is another voice – and another way of expressing our own voices – and I want that to be heard too!

      1. Agree! The more voices the better. One of the greatest moments of the community keynote was the fabulous Shutter Sisters photo presentation of the Rwanda trip. More! More!

  15. I had wanted to attend and was on the wait list. Next year, I’d love to choose several great conferences to try. As with many of us, the budget is limited. I would love to see a post about varying conferences and focuses, Tara. Would you consider writing something like that?

    1. sure! it would probably be great research for me. my travel situation is on the verge of changing and I’m looking forward to getting out and meeting people this year. so I need to read up!

  16. I’m so glad I read this! I’d been kind of down about not getting to go to blogher – I was hoping it would change my blogging life, you know. Hype hype hype. But from you’ve said here (and it gels with other non-blogging conferences I’ve been to) I think I’m glad I didn’t spend my hard-earned cash to fly out. You should do a post on some of the other conference options!!!

    1. I’ll be looking for other conference options between now and next summer… Glad to know so many people are as well – more likely that they will exist!

  17. I just wanted to leave one more comment, to just explain where my feelings about it were coming from. I had experienced part of blogher 07, and went to blogher 08 and really came away from it with good feelings all over- sessions, relationships, etc.

    So I think I was expecting THAT when I attended blogher 09, and it was (in my opinion, SO different) SO overwhelming and kind of like, whoa, this isn’t what I was expecting. And I let it become a turn off, a negative for me. I honestly walked away with a whole negative vibe about the whole conference (from not being able to find a seat in sessions when previous year was no problem, to all the parties, and I did avoid the Expo floor except for going to one blogher lunch down there). I also was disappointed to witness how strange many bloggers acted about the Expo-ish stuff and parties and suites and of course, the infamous swag of 09. It made me look at people differently and I was embarrassed to be lumped into that category. And then I looked at the bigger picture and remembered this was NOT a conference for mom bloggers, but a conference for women. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

    It is totally what you make of it, but at the same time, you make it out of the ingredients you’re given.

    Steph

  18. Hi ScoutieGirl!

    I attended both days of BlogHer and my impressions were very much the same as yours. It felt more like a social event, not a business one. Aside from the panel on how to pitch yourself, I didn’t learn anything I could have gotten from elsewhere. The information felt very, very basic and not really suited to helping people make a business out of their blog.

    On the plus side, everyone was really friendly and it was nice to expose my brand to so many new people. I’m just not sure BlogHer is the best fit for where I want to go.

  19. thank you so much for sharing your perspective. i noticed the “buzz” on twitter & the today show, etc. to be honest it sorta felt like the “cool kids” were having a party.

    what is so refreshing about blogs is their independent-ness, so the whole sponsorship hoopla perplexes me. it also saddens me a bit. is our authenticity for sale? & at such a cheap price?

  20. Interesting. To be honest, I’ve never really got the whole blogging conference thing – aside from networking and hopefully professional development. But none of them seem to be about the latter that much. Not being in a major city that will see a conference like this, I will prefer to seek out better experiences.

  21. I am so glad you shared this! I’ve not been to a blog conference, but part of what keeps me away is that same focus on “Mommy” bloggers. It’s like the world has no idea that other women blog! Thanks for the honest thoughts! I’m glad to know I’m not alone!

  22. I was bummed to have missed BlogHer this year…I attended last year’s conference, and had a similar experience to yours, but still wanted to go this year. I really felt like I was the odd [wo]man out last year because I have a crafty oriented blog…but I learned quite a bit, and met some fantastic people too. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I’ll be looking at the niche conferences too…meanwhile, maybe it’s time to help make a change at BlogHer?!

  23. Tara, thanks for sharing your opinion on blogher. I kept wondering if I should attend but after talking to someone who had gone last year it sounded like it was more focused on mommy bloggers and such. It sounds almost like it’s become too big a venue. It was interesting to get your take on it – I feel better that I didn’t go! I’m looking forward to seeing how Alt Summit is…seems like it’s a more niche based conference.

  24. This is my first visit to your blog and I found this post really interesting. I’ve read several accounts of BlogHer and did find them to be very ‘mummy blogger’ focussed. I’m in Australia, so no chance of attending, but I find it interesting that the organisers are overlooking the huge variety of ‘Her’ blogs out there. Thanks for sharing your opinion.

  25. I didn’t attend this year (hopefully next), but was happy to see your comment “I would have loved to see a panel discussion on creating multiple revenue streams in a blog-based business or on getting comfortable earning what you’re worth. Maybe a presentation on financial challenges for female bloggers working from home. Or a Q & A with a pro on finding corporate sponsors that match your values.” I’m hoping that this WILL be addressed in future gatherings! Glad to hear that others want to see this, too.

  26. Yes! This was my first BlogHer and I found it to be very strange also. The mix of professional, social and commercial aspects was just weird and I wasn’t exactly prepared for it. I was also underwhelmed by many of the sessions I attended. One thing that struck me was how little content in the sessions I went to was about *blogging*. I’d have loved to see the sessions you suggested above — loved it. That would have made the conference absolutely worth all the money I spent on it.

  27. I adore BlogHer.

    It sure has changed a lot. So…I make it what I want to be. Have done so every year. I go into it knowing it is going to be huge, frazzled, full of swag and product and also? PEOPLE. People that are real, lovely and wonderful friends.

    Basically, the reason I attend.

    It’s NOT for everyone and the thought of this year as a newbie would be daunting for certain. I also like to attend smaller conferences to get more of that “one on one” time with my friends.

    AND…may I suggest a conference that I think would be right up your ally?

    http://thecreativeconnectionevent.com

    I don’t craft/art/donothingthatisotherwiseartistic but I am more excited to attend this conference than i can express. (Disclaimer: I work for Where Women Create)

    Give it a look…I think you’d approve! :)

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