BlogHer '09: We're listening. And here's what we're mulling over so far...
It's Day Three post-BlogHer '09, and we are in our full-on, annual Listen-Real-Hard mode here at BlogHer. Since Lisa Stone, Jory Des Jardins and I first plunked down our credit cards to reserve a space for the BlogHer 2005, we have asked for everyone's help to make it happen. To make it better. To make it a celebration of women who blog.
Back then we called BlogHer '05 the "conference the community built". Our mission is to create the space where we women who blog can create our own opportunities--for education, exposure, community, economic empowerment, or all of the above.
What that means to us is that nothing matters more than your feedback – and we’d like to invite it here and now. While one of our annual traditions is a thorough post-conference survey, and that will go out later this week, this year we think it’s important for us to join the landslide of blog posts and Tweets with this post.
Because while we’ve received some terrific and uplifting feedback, and some important criticism, there’s also a fair amount of confusion being created by feedback to events that were not official BlogHer events – parties we didn’t control and sponsors we didn’t host.
As a result, people (some of whom were not even in attendance) are rushing to not only "blame" BlogHer itself, but our community/attendees as a whole, and even calling out “mommybloggers” in particular.
We don't think it's fair. We think it's buying into gross stereotypes or generalizations about women, and women who blog. And we want to see if we can help avoid similar situations next year.
So, here are our questions – we’ll list them first and then dig in:
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?
As we’ve said many times, official sponsors subsidize BlogHer and allow us to offer the same $99/day early-bird pricing we have since 2005. That said, our conference team works hard to make sponsorship engagements an optional opportunity for all, limited to a particular space and time, while sponsors work hard to understand our community and create engaging, memorable experiences.
Here's what we do now to acknowledge sponsors: We make official sponsor announcements at the beginning of each day and sometimes at major breaks, such as lunch. We briefly thank the official sponsor at the beginning of any sponsored session; on occasion, we may allow these sponsors to have a table for information or drop information on seats. We also put signs outside of officially sponsored sessions. Sponsored sessions do not mean the sponsor has a speaker in that session, quite the opposite. Speaking slots are an editorial decision, not a sponsor benefit.
Is that too much? What felt appropriate, and what felt intrusive?
BlogHer has two distribution points for swag at the official BlogHer event: You can pick up an official conference tote bag at registration. And you can visit the Expo Hall. Both distribution points are avoidable. You can refuse the bag, and not visit the Expo. Even when we served meals and had the party downstairs in the Expo Hall, it was in a half of the Hall that was booth-free. Obviously Ragu decorated for lunch on Day One and the Sobe Lizard was getting down with Mrs. Potato Head during karaoke (and no, to my recollection, I've never written a more surreal sentence) but our parties are about the people. And the food. And the drink. And the occasional raffle. We've actually never done a party gift bag, and we've never thought it was necessary.
Were BlogHer’s two official points of swag distribution – tote bag and separate Expo Hall – too many? Would you prefer if we had the tote bags down in the Expo Hall, not at registration itself? Would that keep the swaggy element more unobtrusive?
BlogHer held three official cocktail parties, one after BlogHer Business, and one at the end of each day of BlogHer '09. All other parties were not hosted by BlogHer, although we did give the Sheraton hotel permission to rent out conference space in the hotel to other parties hosted by bloggers. When we published this list of all BlogHer events and parties that were open to any attendee, our intent was to promote that spirit of openness, because that's the spirit of BlogHer. In almost every case, however, we didn't know much, if anything, about what the party planners and their sponsors were planning. And most of the sponsors of the unofficial parties, whether open parties or exclusive parties, were not conference sponsors who were also contributing to delivering value to our entire attendee base of 1,500.
How can we make it clear that unofficial events are not organized or hosted by BlogHer? Should BlogHer promote parties that we're not hosting...at all? Is trying to provide a comprehensive guide for people who travel to the event helpful? Or are we creating confusion about BlogHer?
We’re concerned about how to balance delivering clear information with wanting to make sure everyone has a great time throughout their entire BlogHer trip!
What do we as an organization do, what do we as a community do, when we read about babies getting elbowed or swag getting stolen or sponsored bloggers run amok? BlogHer created guidelines for sponsored bloggers, but we've read posts indicating those weren't always followed.
Enforcing these guidelines could turn BlogHer into Big Sister, which isn’t why we started the event. We feel more comfortable telling people they are violating the spirit of the event and moving on. It would be helpful if we got feedback about how many of such folks you actually encountered --an avalanche, or just one or two?
As for overcrowding and subsequent crowd control issues: Should we try to fix this issue by actually organizing more after-hours parties ourselves? Should we have one big cocktail party, then a series of simultaneous after-hours options that smaller sponsors can contribute to without needing to support food and an open bar for everyone? Should we define a number of slots, take up all the venue space, and then let community members sign up to do the planning, while we sign up to get them the sponsors they need? Does that ensure that at least everything under that one roof is consistently produced?
As many point out: It's BlogHer, not BlogMom, and if you review the full conference agenda, we don’t think the diversity of women in our community could be more clear. We talked about blogging ethics and coding PHP and marketing to women of color and what is pro-woman in a post-Palin world and learned from international activist bloggers in Bolivia, India, Malawi and Nigeria. Somehow the media coverage keeps missing the other attendees and focusing on the marketing and moms aspect. (Sigh. No, Jory and I don’t even have kids although we like Lisa’s very much. Yes, we have theories on why. But, that's another post!) Check out the comments to this AdAge post, and you'll see that the moms don't like being so pigeonholed.
How do we keep making the diversity of our community clear? How do we even more strongly encourage people to build their own experience?
We do think the annual conference is at its best when all of our blogging worlds collide. And set off creative sparks, not controversy. So, we wanted to let you know what we are thinking about as we review all of the feedback about the conference. We wanted to thank our official sponsors profusely, as well as the team that helped us take care of them and of you – you all worked so hard.
And we wanted to share that we are so very interested in your thoughts on all or any the above questions. Thank you. You made the conference amazing for us.
Let 'er rip!! Thanks.
Elisa, Jory and Lisa