BlogHer '09: We listened. We mulled. And here are some of the decisions you've helped us make

BlogHer Original Post

Almost six weeks ago Lisa, Jory and I asked for your feedback and help on making BlogHer '10 even better than BlogHer '09 in a post we called: We're listening. And here's what we're mulling over so far...

We asked five different questions, and you answered. Thank you so much for your help. You didn't always all agree, but you all took the time to share your feedback constructively and sometimes at great length! It is exactly that willingness to jump in and help us work through the tough issues that continues to make BlogHer the conference the community built.

So, now it's time for us to respond and let you know what we took away from all of your amazing feedback. Some of this stuff is, well, complicated, and we're still mulling it over, but in other cases, we've made some decisions, now that we know how you all feel about them. Here were the questions:

1.How can we appropriately acknowledge BlogHer’s official sponsors?
2.What is the proper place for conference swag?
3.How should we respond to the many unofficial parties that are held?
4.How should we respond when members of the community do things that hurt the community?
5.Finally, who is BlogHer for, what do we discuss at BlogHer conferences and how do you think we could communicate it, so that people know it?

But, you know what? We're going to reverse the order in which we address those questions, because it seems only right to start with questions about this community first.

5. Finally, who is BlogHer for, what do we discuss at BlogHer conferences and how do you think we could communicate it, so that people know it?
BlogHer's annual conference is for bloggers who blog about every topic under the sun, and we work hard with teams of bloggers to create conference programming that reflects the diversity of our community. So, what can we do to both maintain that diversity of content and to make sure more people (including the media, by the way) know about it?

Here are some of the things we're thinking about sessions:

  • Writing, writing and more writing: We've definitely heard you on wanting more writing programming. When we announce our call for ideas later this week, you'll see we've added a Writing Lab track. Start sharpening your own pencils to suggest the kind of programming you'd like to see in that track!
  • The mommy track: When we issue our call for ideas, you'll see a new Writing Lab track, but you won't see the MommyBlogging track. We introduced that track in 2008 for the very first time, mostly to acknowledge the strong presence of parenting bloggers in our community. After just two years it doesn't seem to make either moms or non-moms happy, so after two years of doing that track (after not having one the first three years) we're going to retire it.
  • Geek Lab: Yes to more Geek Lab. No to this year's set-up. Our 2009 experiment that worked as far as the content, but didn't work because we didn't feature that content properly. Next year we'll plan a better set-up, longer sessions, more intermediate sessions. Check, check, check!
  • Promoting the programming: We need to make as much of a fuss over the programming as we do over the parties. We as BlogHer; we as a community. We're thinking about lots of ways we can do that, and we're thinking of what kind of tools to provide you, so it's as easy to share what sessions you're excited about attending as what parties you're excited about attending. We hope you'll feel the same way and will help us!
  • The Community Keynote: Nest year we'll plan a tad shorter community keynote, with tissues PLENTY of tissues on each table! 
  • 4. How should we respond when members of the community do things that hurt the community?
    This is a tough one. While sponsored bloggers have attended previous BlogHers, 2009 was the year it became somewhat commonplace to hear about individual bloggers being sponsored to attend by companies. We don't know exact numbers, but we doubt that more than 20% of attendees had any such sponsorship.

    However, we learned from your comments that, unfortunately, a few sponsored bloggers may have given the majority of them a bad name. While we already have guidelines for sponsored bloggers, we learned from your comments that these guidelines need to be strengthened in the following ways, in order to try to give sponsored bloggers even better guidance:

  • We created guidelines that encouraged sponsored bloggers not to become "human spam" by indiscriminately passing out materials. However, it seems that this practice was still common at the conference, and irritated a considerable number of attendees, who shared this complaint in our post attendee survey. In response, we will update the guidelines to prohibit distribution of swag in the conference space. Business cards, post cards and coupons? Fine. But leaving such materials lying around or interrupting authentic conversations to pass out materials is still not OK.
  • We will post and re-post these updated and even more specific guidelines and include them in attendee newsletters. We will also proactively send the guidelines to any blogger we see mention sponsorship. We want to help you help yourself (and your sponsor) by not aggravating people. The guidelines are designed to help you make a good impression (and, by the way, we give similar advice to our official BlogHer sponsors!)
  • Most importantly: We will publish and then enforce consequences for violating these guidelines. We have said that we don't want to be community police, but it's clear that we need to ask for better cooperation, giving those folks who violate guidelines one warning, and then we need to make it clear that we can and will confiscate the badge of someone who doesn't adjust their behavior.
  • This approach may sound draconian, and we don't take it lightly, but we urge you to read the comments on our original post and our post announcing BlogHer '10. This is a problem for our community, and we will work to fix it. It's true that we can't control people - hey, we really don't want to! - but we can control how we respond. It's clear from our post-conference survey and other feedback that the community is asking us to help them have a better experience.

    3. How should we respond to the many unofficial parties that are held?
    This question may be one of the toughest nuts to crack, because we're talking about New York City! But there are some things we can change about our approach this year, in the interest of making sure that you all know what to expect when you walk into the identified "BlogHer Conference Space" - meaning all of the meetings rooms, ballrooms and exhibit space.

    Like what? Well, here are some examples:

  • Since we have secured the hotel's entire conference space, we can make sure it is only released, if at all, to groups that will follow recommended policies and guidelines. Just like many of you, we have concerns about things we heard about regarding RSVP management, crowd control, exclusivity and swag mania.
  • It was understandably confusing that we promoted 20 different parties with which we actually had nothing to do. Lesson learned! We will be much more discerning and communicate more clearly why we're promoting what we're promoting.
  • We control how our logo and trademarked name are used, and we can make sure that, again, use of our logo means that we are actually involved and that certain guidelines were agreed to. (PS-If you see a use of the BlogHer logo which you question or wonder about, we would love to hear from you. Please email me at elisa@blogher.com.)
  • The bottom line is that you should not have to wonder if or how we are involved with any onsite event or party.

    2. What is the proper place for conference swag?
    Speaking of swag. We all know it was a big topic of discussion this year. Let's talk about BlogHer sponsor swag, where you can expect to see it, and how we hope to make it as opt-in as possible:

  • The Expo Hall: The Expo Hall in New York is its own separate space, as Chicago's Expo Hall was. It's going to be sponsor city in there, and we're OK with that. If you are not OK with that, we hope you will not go in the Expo Hall :)
  • The conference tote bag: Survey says...most people still want to get a conference tote bag with some goodies in it. We will ask you if you want it. Please decline the bag if you don't want swag. Not every item in the bag will be personally usable by every attendee. And it doesn't matter if you're a mom or non-mom, that's going to be true. We will do a better job with the Swag Recycle Suite this year to allow you to discard that which you don't want to keep or give to someone you know.
  • Room Drops: Most of you think of them as surprise gifts. Some of you think they're overkill. If you've already reserved your room online, you'll have been asked whether you want room drops. You will be asked again upon check-in. You can opt out of room drops if you want, and if you don't want to participate, or if you're concerned that some things are dropped to which you might be allergic etc., then please do opt-out.
  • Sponsor stations in other spaces: We think sponsor stations that deliver something of value to attendees are OK, as long as they don't do any kind of in-your-face sell. If we're going to tell sponsored bloggers not to do such hard sells, you can bet we give our sponsors the same advice. What qualifies as "something of value"? Food and beverages are a good example. The fact that we feed you all day long is a benefit that allows a lot of folks to be able to afford to attend the conference. Value or not, no sponsor station should block a hallway or be in your face. But we think, in moderation and when serving a functional purpose, sponsor stations can be OK.
  • We will beef up our advice to sponsors by creating a Sponsor Best Practices document that each sponsor will get, and that we'll go over with each sponsor in detail. That means we'll be suggesting what kind of swag is useful, practical, desirable. Again: Not every attendee will have the same perspective on that. But we all agree about some things that are not useful and desirable. And if sponsors are willing to take your card and ship you something, or to give coupons instead of swag, we're all for that idea too!
  • Those best practices will come in handy, because we are going to reserve all suites in the hotel for official sponsors. When we do that, we can issue the policies and guidelines we need to...just like with the parties...about space planning, RSVP-gathering, crowd control, swag distribution and hours of operation.
  • 1.How can we appropriately acknowledge BlogHer’s official sponsors?
    We start with the premise that our conference sponsors expect and thoroughly deserve public acknowledgement.

    Why? Well, we have always believed in being transparent about how critical sponsors are to this event.

    Bloggers pay only $99/day if they register with earlybird pricing, and that brings perks that most conferences do not deliver. To be perfectly clear, that means food: Full breakfast, lunch, snacks and hors d'ouevres, open bars. Food and beverage are the number one variable expense for any event, and the more people attend, the more you must spend. Each attendee pays only about one third of the cost of their care and feeding. And as we've raised the bar on what we serve (going from single drink tickets to open bars, as one example) we've kept the price per day exactly the same as it was in 2005. That means lots of inflation for us, none for you :) Sponsors make this possible.

    That being said, we do think we can set more specific and consistent standards for where, when and how we acknowledge sponsors, such as:

  • We will give the sponsor acknowledgements, including any sponsored user-generated videos, before every general session their own scheduled agenda item, so you know exactly when sponsor acknowledgements and announcements end and programming begins.
  • We will use sponsor acknowledgements to announce fun conference activities. So much is going on, and it's not just sponsors that miss out when attendees can't keep track of it all...it's attendees too. Not every activity sounds fun and interesting to every attendee, but surely we can all recognize that lots of attendees will care about things like cooking demonstrations, video blogging stations, fashionista visits, raffles for free car tires, tweet-ups, etc.
  • We hear you loud and clear on sponsor presence in sponsored tracks and sessions. No more seat drops or decorations...just good old-fashioned signage, an informational table in the back of the room and a brief verbal "thank you" at the beginning of each sponsored session.
  • All the usual online, printed and newsletter branding will still apply.
  • We are dying to hear what you think of the above results from our long weeks of listening and mulling. In the coming weeks, we will also be publishing:

  • Our call for ideas for BlogHer '10 (look for it later this week!)
  • Updated guidelines for sponsored bloggers
  • The BlogHer trademark policy
  • We hope all of these guidelines will give you a very clear idea of how we're working to make BlogHer '10 the biggest, and also the best, BlogHer yet.

    We have always enjoyed soaking up all of the post-conference feedback...the good and the bad, as crazy as that sounds. This year there was so, SO much good. We had numerous long-time BlogHer attendees tell us that '09 was the best year yet for them. Maybe after attending a few times, those folks have grown expert on making the conference their own...on seeking out what they love, and moving past what they don't. Whatever the reason, we won't be satisfied until every attendee is as thrilled as those folks! We hope we're making a great start with all of the above decisions and ideas. We're sure you'll let us know, and as always: We look forward to your feedback :)

    Thank you, again -
    Elisa, Jory and Lisa
    BlogHer Co-founders

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