CrunchyMetroMom

Trying to create balance…

My BlogHer’14 Plus/Delta: My 5 x 2 round-up July 29, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 9:24 pm
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BlogHer14 Badge

 

This was my second BlogHer conference; BlogHer’12 (New York City) was my first, and BlogHer’14 (San Jose) was my chance to be the veteran, swagger in full effect. Well, what passes for swagger. It mostly translated to “I’m not putting on tons of makeup for this.” With the location for BlogHer’15 still unannounced, here’s my take on what to consider before making travel reservations for 2015. For those who haven’t seen a “plus/delta” before, plus represents things that worked well and delta is for things that need improving (delta being a symbol for change).

 

Plus

I met my soulmate. I was introduced to Slap Dash Mom by a mutual friend, and we were on the same wavelength from the first minute. Sadie knocked me over with her awesomeness. We were some kind of stupid chick flick on the afternoon we left San Jose, when she was due to board her flight at the same time JetBlue would finally open their counter to let me check my bag, effectively circumventing our last shot at ONE FINAL HUG. Luckily, her flight got delayed – and the line at security was short – so we managed to get one last little visit in. It was some serious Hollywood material. Truly: call us. We’ll help write the script, guys. Have your people call my people.

 

Sadie+me

Sadie and me, before her flight took her home to Arizona

 

My path is MUCH clearer. My aforementioned soulmate is a highly accomplished blogger and, during our first evening together, she gave me a “Come to Sadie” talking-to that I really needed. It clicked: I understood that, in the choice between running an online journal and running a blog, I preferred to have a blog. I realized that what she was talking about – running self-hosted on my own domain, finding ways to engage with brands where money or goods may be offered but my morals aren’t for sale, etc. – was the direction I really wanted to go. THIS is why I came to BlogHer: to find my path.

I made new brand connections! This trip, I talked with brands I hadn’t met before and satisfied my curiosity about products I didn’t know very well. In some cases, this meant I got information and set up relationships that will lead to “work” together; in other cases, it helped me quickly cross things off my list. Bloggers, especially newbies, may assume that any brand that shows interest is one that you should do work with; depending upon your specific goals, that may – or may not – be the case.

I learned some best practices. I heard about optimizing WordPress, using visuals to improve your blog, and key elements for creative non-fiction. I’m planning to channel these lessons into improvements I’m rolling out over the next couple of months, and having face-to-face connections with these subject matter experts was really helpful.

 

Communication

A reminder that it’s all about communication

 

I made a bunch of new friends! I met bloggers at a variety of experience levels, and so many people were nice, funny, kind, and cool people. It’s lovely to fly 3,000 miles and meet people who you’d love to see every day. Jana of Merlot Mommy, Christy of Giveaway Train, Carol of All Mommy Wants, and Melanie of She’s Write are just some of the fabulous people I met.

 

Delta

When I joked that San Jose wasn’t the desert, I didn’t expect them to hide the water. For some reason, water was exceptionally hard to find at BlogHer’14. In fact, as we wandered the Expo Hall on opening night, bartenders explained champagne was free but water was $2/bottle. Wat. If we’re going to support health, let’s start with hydration, please. Since cups seemed to be the most popular swag choice for BlogHer’14 sponsors, it would’ve been nice if one was included in the conference tote bags, along with a map for hydration stations.

Brands are running away from BlogHer conferences. According to current exhibitors, it’s obvious that the costs of BlogHer participation are becoming – or have become – too high. Whether it’s the five-figure sponsor fees  or the tight restrictions on events/giveaways and badges, BlogHer is getting a reputation as being brand-unfriendly. This clearly contributed to the founding of Blogger Bash, a brand-oriented event held in New York City the weekend prior to BlogHer’14. Apparently, outboarding events – timed to coincide with the conference but without the sponsorship $$$ heading to BlogHer – got out of control at BlogHer’13, but the pendulum swung too far in the other direction for 2014. Note: Outboarding events still occurred, but they were greatly diminished in number.

Which brings us to swag…or the lack thereof. I’m no swagwhore, but the distinct lack of quality swag was fairly depressing. Fab swag kudos go to the teams at official sponsors Chuck E. Cheese (board games and tokens), Baskin Robbins (ice cream!), Bridgestone/Firestone (tote bags and those amazing tire cake pops), and Skype (power stations, rain jackets, and the ever-present cups). That’s not to say that other folks didn’t have great swag, but the majority of the offerings were minimal. Even “room drops” – items delivered to your room when you stay in an official conference block room – were minimal to non-existent. My roommate and I only got stickers from The Mrs. (tune to enoughsong.com to hear their tune); others got stickers and cupcakes. The consistent theme was, “No, you’re actually in a desert and just didn’t know it”. Perhaps if BlogHer lowered their sponsor fees, sponsors might be more inclined to dangle better swag and increase booth traffic.

 

Tire cakepops

These tire cake pops were as tasty as they were adorable

 

Trust in the BlogHer team is diminishing. There were several “official” events (breakfasts, talks, etc.) with a limited sign-up window and, “in the interest of fairness”, random selection of bloggers rather than first-come, first-served. One look at who got the first batches of confirmations suggests that “random” was a creative term. Bloggers with well-established brand relationships coincidentally landed spots at these exclusive events, shutting out new folks. Any attempt to swap or otherwise open space up was greeted with iron fists and disinvites. If the brands or BlogHer want to fill events with bloggers that have pre-established relationships, they should be honest about it. Disclosing “pre-existing relationships will increase your likelihood of getting chosen” will at least give people a sense of whether they should get their hopes up. That said, I would prefer first-come, first-served: let those with the fastest fingers win. Or let people apply and the brand picks who they want. Transparency is better than opacity that’s pretty damn easy to see through.

Session diversity and organization needs to improve. The most common complaint was that sessions were too high-level or aimed at newbies. Experienced, well-established bloggers are looking for more connections (with each other and/or brands) and to take their blogs to the next level. General sessions, where material lacks depth, don’t really serve that need. To that end, I’d recommend that BlogHer do two very important things.

  1. Set up specific tracks, i.e. “Beginner, Experienced, Advanced”, and then build content in each track to support the needs of those different bloggers. Of course, you let people roam in case they’re newer to one thing than another, but having categories and developing content for each unique need is vital to re-establishing BlogHer’s place as THE conference for bloggers.
  2. Put screens at each Geek Bar table. A distinct lack of A/V support hampered some of the sessions, and that’s not supportive of the speakers that are taking the time to develop and conduct presentations/sessions.

 

Reverend Run DJ's the closing party, sponsored by McDonalds

Reverend Run of Run-DMC brings down the house with an epic 1hr set at the closing party, sponsored by McDonalds

 

Verdict: Ultimately, ANY conference is what you make of it. There will always be sessions that don’t quite grab you, food that’s not 100% fantastic, and people that turn their nose up rather than say “Hi” to a stranger. On the flip side, there is always at least one nugget of wisdom, there’s always a restaurant or SOMEWHERE nearby for better food, and there’s always at least one nice person who’d love to be your friend. I had a blast at BlogHer’14, neither in spite of it nor because of it. I hung out with friends both new and old, I learned a lot, and I soaked up plenty of sun. I can make a party anywhere. So, before you go to BlogHer’15 – or any other conference – the question for you is: Can you say the same?

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Day T-1 for BlogHer ’14 (#blogher14) July 24, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 10:03 am
Tags: , , ,

After what was a pleasantly civilized trip thru airport security (no stripping! no removing things to place in separate bins!), our luck ran out at the gate. A group of us were all flying JetBlue from Boston to San Jose, and we schmoozed for a while – not noticing that HEY OUR PLANE ISN’T HERE YET. Turns out it was delayed, probably due to lines of thunderstorms, and we didn’t get out until about an hour past our scheduled departure. We also learned there was no wifi on our plane. The one carrying bloggers. To a conference for bloggers. Oh irony…

Once in the air, we enjoyed the movies (“Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Grand Budapest Hotel” for me and my friend), but not long after our second flick finished we were told we were on approach to Salt Lake City. Um…what? Turns out that we had been diverted around those same storms – sent up as far north as Maine and central Vermont! – and we were running low on fuel. We landed in SLC, spent a short time on the tarmac and headed out as soon as we were fueled up.

By this time, we had already lost one hour to the storms – and now we lost time to the fill-up. Sometime around 11pm local time (almost 2hrs late), we groggily wandered off the plane into the surprising vastness that is the San Jose airport. Cabs were procured, and – thanks to my Marriott app the nice Rewards people recommended – our keys and two bottles of water were waiting for us at the front desk.

The view may be lovely – hard to tell at night – and it was a slog…but we are here, so I’m just happy to be able to say that we have made it. I didn’t expect red eye flights in both directions (not my preference), so here’s hoping the return trip goes more smoothly. [FWIW, it could be worse. The folks waiting for the return flight to Boston were waiting all this time for us to come in, so they could equipment, and the flight attendants were filling up the flight with passengers and heading right on back with them, working two long flights in a row. They were a chipper bunch. Hope they got some sleep.]

 

BlogHer ’12 Diary: Through the Looking Glass August 7, 2012

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 8:07 am
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My apologies in advance for the length of this post. It could have been longer, but in deference to those who don’t want to read every excruciating detail of what I did and who I saw, this is the abridged account of my trip…

When I signed up for BlogHer ’12 last year, I don’t think I had a clue of what I was getting myself into. I’d only just started my blog at that point, and my primary motivation was to spend quality time with my besties of 5-1/2 years, Daily Cynema and My Kinda Rain (the latter, whom I still hadn’t yet met IRL). At least a month ago, maybe two (time passes so oddly in the interwebs), I got added to a Facebook group for BlogHer ’12 attendees. The group was a great place to ask questions of the veterans about things like business cards and media kits, and it eventually turned into a constant chatter of shoes, cab ride hookups, and sniping. In other words, it was like every other BBS-type setup I’ve ever been on. You can’t put that many people in an enclosed space, even online, without some measure of “Lord of the Flies” action coming out. It’s just the nature of things.

So, as prepared as I could be, I set off with my rolly bag (a standard carry-on), packed with clothes and an empty duffel bag. The train ride from Providence to New York was a blast; my seatmate was another blogger who works near me, and we chatted the entire way down with each other and the nice young man who sat across from us on our speedy Acela voyage about 200mi south. The first evening was a matter of settling in; my besties and I hung out briefly and then we adjourned to a relaxing dinner of tapas and sangria with long-time friend Local Kitchen, who was super-cool about braving midtown traffic to come meet up with us.

Our first full day in New York was spent primarily doing touristy things, like getting My Kinda Rain on camera for Good Morning America, as she tried to get a hug from Sam Champion, followed by a trip to the other end of the island to bear witness at the World Trade Center Memorial. From such joy and amusement to such sorrow and stillness…it was quite a contrast. I’ll never understand the people who grin and mug for the camera in front of a monument to the death of thousands of people. But, I suppose this is neither here nor there.

The rest of the day was spent on more BlogHer-type stuff, going to the opening address, which was delivered via satellite by none other than President Obama (!!!), followed by “Evening at the Expo”, an opening sprint through the expo area to get a sense of which vendors were there to try to gain our ears (and vice versa). We eventually finished the night off at one of the hotel bars, commandeering a sizable portion of the back area with a number of bloggers and a couple of company reps. Much conversation ensued, and that’s all a good thing.

Our second full day in New York, the first full day of the conference, was spent bouncing back and forth between “Geek Bar” sessions (intimate gatherings in shared space, to talk about specific topics on blog maintenance, improvement, etc.) and the expo. When we missed lunch entirely due to our workout with Bowflex (which won each of us our own Bowflex CoreBody Reformer!), we ended up “eating at the expo”, walking through and nabbing samples here and there to sustain us for the evening. The night was punctuated by unbelievable events, like waiting in a seemingly endless line to gain entrance to the Hasbro party in Times Square, only to discover (much to our delight) that we did manage to be part of the coveted first 300 entrants (which meant we would receive a “swag bag” of goodies upon departure).

Swag is a major component of this conference, whether plucked from the expo floor or obtained through one of the parties held on or off-site. In some cases, it’s clearly just a gift; in others, it’s an invitation to a review or an offering to encourage further contact. This, dear readers, was the reason I brought the empty duffel bag, and I filled it to the brim over the course of the long weekend. We finished the night at a BlogHer institution: the Sparklecorn party. Part 80’s dance revival, part gay nightclub, part rave, and part “lots of random stuff in one place”, Sparklecorn seems to have something for everybody (except those who don’t like to dance, drink, or wear glowing items).

Sparklecorn Cake

This is no mere My Little Pony…

 

The last full day in New York, which was the second day of the conference, we started off with a breakfast held by Disney Jr. The new channel took over the space on my Comcast dial previously reserved for SoapNET, so I’m still mourning the loss of “Beverly Hills, 90210”, but the breakfast took some of the sting out of it. Not only did I get a hug and smooch from Minnie Mouse, I got to bring home two Minnie dolls for the kids and a really swanky iPad cover for dh. Yes, I can be swayed, but I still miss my shows. Ah well. I also got exposed to more of what dd’s friends are likely watching (and probably ds’ friends, as well), so I’m a bit more prepared with an answer when they ask to turn on the TV.

Following the breakfast, we had more Geek Bar sessions, which we mixed in with logistics – getting our Bowflex equipment to the business center to ship home and starting the potentially endless process of sifting swag into piles to keep, exchange or toss. (There is a swag exchange where people drop off swag they don’t want and pick up any spare swag they want from what was discarded by others.) This was followed by the really fantastic experience of going to my first Disney advance screening, a first look at “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”. (I’ll be posting my review later this week.) I’ve been to a handful of screenings, at best, but never for anything Disney, so this was a real treat. We then followed that up with a  post-screening reception, with movie-themed drinks and swag. Of course, swag. More and more swag. Twenty-four swag.

Sunday morning, we all scattered to the four winds. My Kinda Rain took off well before dawn so she could make it home in time for her daughter’s mid-morning baptism. Daily Cynema had a shared cab organized to get her to the airport in plenty of time for her flight, so she headed out around dawn. I took off for Penn Station shortly thereafter, lingering long enough to get a shower before heading home on the earlier train I’d rebooked to the night before…so I could be home to have lunch with dh & the kids.

Amazingly, the swag is almost entirely unpacked. Some of it has already been put to good use (like the Disney Jr. items). Some is about to be put to good use (things I don’t need but that I’ll be putting into an opportunity drawing to raise money for my marathon walk next month), and some will either get used shortly (for evaluation and potential outreach to a company) or will be Christmas gifts for the kids.

My overall evaluation of the value? Impossible to quantify. I packed so much into the weekend – seeing old friends, making new ones, and building a sense of what I want to do with this blog for now – that I can’t even get my brain screwed on entirely straight. I will be tinkering, somewhat, but my core message and focus will remain the same. If I add a review or giveaway here or there, know that it’s only for things I actually WANT to review or give away. I have no desire to become a clearinghouse or paid ad. Anything new I can do will be based on new relationships I’ve formed that allow me to offer things I like to others. So there will be slight tinkering. All in all, it was an amazing time and I’m very glad I went. We’ll see if I make it to Chicago next year…but if My Kinda Rain and/or Daily Cynema are up for it, then so am I.

 

 
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