I arrived at the BlogHer conference in Chicago unsure of exactly what I would find. Would it be like a Star Trek convention where everyone else was an insider about Spock's difficult childhood or Captain Kirk's passion for Irish dance music? Would I be the person who didn't speak the language? Didn't get the jokes?
Although I have a website with my own blog, blog frequently for platforms such as this one and have succumbed to Facebook and Twitter as part of the new world order, I still don't feel very up-to-the-minute. My technological know how is always lagging. I worried that I would be an outsider among the 2,500 women assembling this past weekend from around the country to talk about the intricacies, future and nuances of the female social media world. BlogHer functions as the launching pad to bring women who are hoping to connect on issues and learn more together.
My worries were completely unfounded. Much like heading into a book group where you know no one, I felt instantly sucked into the slipstream, connecting with some of the attendees at the display booths, on the conference floor and in conversation after the panel.
There were women of all ages, young and tattooed, middle-aged with sensible shoes and Mom-ish. I met a high school economics teacher from Nebraska who blogs about starting your own business. There was the self-proscribed Thrifty Mom who blogs about saving money and clipping coupons.
Just like what quilting bees and book clubs, socials and teas in small towns have provided throughout time; the world of blogging is now connecting women from remote towns and dense urban areas to like-minded readers outside of their communities. I was surprised to learn that many of the veteran bloggers write as many as six or seven different blogs, making their content so vertical, they can build a base of dedicated readers.
"Generalists have a harder time getting audiences today unless they have an established name," explained Bonin Bough, Global Director of Digital and Social Media at PepsiCo.
In this way someone can connect with people who embroider, or with just marine moms or coin collectors, splintering the blog universe into its own version of Google.
The two-day conference included seminars and breakout sessions on topics such as speed dating, Mommy blogging, Geek Labs to learn more techno-skills, microblogging, queer blogging and more.
"There are so many opportunities for veteran and rookie bloggers to connect in real time with like-minded women and brands," said Beth Feldman, founder of RoleMommy.com. "Think of it as a sorority rush where you don't learn the secret handshake until you've proven yourself a trustworthy candidate."
The BlogHer conference has an Oscars feel, as one participant described it. There are parties and product giveaways. The excitement builds. Companies like PepsiCo, HP, Strawberry Shortcake and Ragu were among those who came to sponsor sessions or seminars and let participants sample what's new. Collectively these women bloggers reach millions of readers and wield a great deal of consumer muscle. What they have to say can really carry some weight.
One of the interesting things to me was the off-line discussion I had with an established blogger about the "new blogger generation versus the old." Most of the original bloggers are writers, journalists, experts in their field and authors.
But the newer groups joining the blogging world are, for the most part, former marketers whose product review blogs are very attractive to brands. The most popular product reviewers get along well with the original group since they earn revenue on their sites traditionally, through banner ad placements. But some newer bloggers haven't always come clean about being compensated, creating resentment in some cases.
While most publicists reach out to bloggers without paying for reviews, there are marketing companies that offer payment or gift cards for bloggers to post reviews on their sites. As long as a blogger discloses they're being compensated, that's fair game. And now that the FTC has stepped in to the blogging world, these practices will be closely monitored (check out disclosurepolicy.org for details). The bottom line seems to be that as long as bloggers have an authentic voice, and are honest about product reviews, it's all fair in the blog world.
I was at the conference to moderate the PepsiCo "Live With Purpose" panel with Jill Beraud, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at the organization. As part of PepsiCo's corporate commitment to "performance with purpose" they wanted to create a conversation around how women live with purpose in their own lives. They had invited me to come as a mother, writer and co-founder of www.Remind.org, a foundation that helps wounded veterans and their families, created in the wake of our own families experience with my husband Bob's injures in Iraq. Our www.tweettoremind.org campaign is an example of how social media can be used to generate funds for a good cause, having raised over $150,000 to date for wounded military families.
The panel included Maria Niles, a blogger at Fizz; Paula Gregorowicz, a life coach; Anita Tedaldi Doberman, a military mom with five children (whom she brought to the conference) and whose husband has been deployed five times; Krystyn Heide, a web designer and developer; Erin Kotecki Vest, a producer for BlogHer.com; Jeanne Beacom, a fashionista; Aliza Sherman, a web pioneer and social media strategist; and Beth Feldman founder of RoleMommy.com and BeyondPR.
What followed was a lively discussion about how each of these influential bloggers find purpose in their lives. From around the country, hundreds of others followed the discussion on BlogTalk radio and weighed in on twitter. One woman tweeted about how caring for her 80 year-old amputee father gives her purpose and another tweeted about taking her son to military hospitals to visit the wounded. It was an hour of demonstrating what women do best, handle the many roles in their lives and still dig down to give back.
Beraud asked women if the sluggish economy meant they were cutting back on giving in any way. The consensus was that if they couldn't give financially, women gave more of their time, their family's time and used the blogosphere to connect others to causes that mattered to them personally.
PepsiCo will be quantifying the entire panel discussion and tweets to begin a benchmark about how women live with purpose that will be measured going forward.
As I left the conference, still absorbing all that I had seen and learned, I realized I wasn't in fact, all that behind the times. I was just like every other women in the blogosphere, eager to connect, eager to talk to others about my cause and happy to get back to my kids and my own bed.