Behind The Scenes At BlogHer's Conferences With Elisa Camahort

Last month I caught up with Elisa Camahort when we were in DC. Although I've been involved, as a speaker, editor and supporter, of BlogHer since the early days (It's strange to think that less than 2 years can be called "the early days" in social media.) I was curious to learn how within, what seemed like seconds, BlogHer had morphed from one workshop - to an online community - to an ad network - to two niched conferences.

Elisa and I chatted about blogs, women in social media and the challenges and opportunities facing the BlogHer founders - Elisa Camahort, Jory Des Jarden and Lisa Stone - as they build an organization that is focused on women in social media. Elisa agreed to recreate our conversation.

Toby - Let’s step back in time to 2005. How in the world did you pull off the 2005 BlogHer Conference with no infrastructure, when you, Jory and Lisa were holding down full-time jobs and with minimum funding?

Elisa - Because of the community. Don’t get me wrong, Lisa, Jory and I worked like madwomen…but at every step of the way when we asked for help, someone stepped up to deliver. The women’s blogging community didn’t respond to the idea of a BlogHer Conference with a passive “entertain me” attitude. On the contrary, they reacted with an active “What can I do?” spirit. Volunteerism contributed to every aspect of the conference. We like to call it “do-ocracy.” (More on that concept is here: http://www.blogher.com/about-blogher-conference-06)

Toby - Flash forward to 2007, BlogHer is now the premier online community for women bloggers, an ad network and not one but two conferences are planned for this year. What is the difference between the two conferences?

Elisa - Thanks for the kind compliment Toby. The BlogHer ‘07 Conference this July in Chicago will be the next generation of the annual conference we’ve had in Silicon Valley in ’05 and ’06. It’s for all women who are interested in blogging, be they as bloggers, bloggers-to-be, or blog readers, regardless of topic or focus. We’ll continue to have the diverse schedule of sessions and events we’ve had, covering everything from the highly personal to the politically charged to the purely professional.

We’ll continue to promote do-ocracy, and look for ways to expand that empowered do-it-yourself approach beyond the Birds of a Feather sessions and Room of Your Own tracks. And we’ll continue to help all women to attend by heavily subsidizing the conference registration fee and feeding people!

BlogHer Business is our inaugural topic-focused event. Essentially we took the Business track from BlogHer and decided to expand it. Lisa, Jory and I are were all heavily involved with business blogging and helping businesses to grok social media long before we formed BlogHer, so this was a natural first focus area for us.

Lisa helped launch such blog networks as Law.com and Glam.com. Jory helped launch the ThirdAge blog network and consulted for such companies as Pluck and Rojo. I was an early business blogger, blogging for clients on topics as varied as healthcare, theatre and Internet trends. (I wrote for five client blogs at one time.)

We also had been to multiple business-related blogging conferences and felt we could add value in this arena. We consider BlogHer Business to be a “deeper dive” into a part of Blogher’s overall agenda. And in future we hope to expand the kind of deeper dives we make. BlogHer Tech? BlogHer Election ‘08? BlogHer Arts & Crafts? BlogHer Finance? We expect the community will point us in the directions to go.

Toby - Does a separate conference for business bloggers have anything to do with the buzz last summer about mommy bloggers and business bloggers having different interests?

Elisa - Actually, no. As I said, we’re not dropping business topics from the annual event at all. We’re just digging deeper. It’s an incredibly rich and deep topic area. The BlogHer annual event is about finding common ground and celebrating our differences. And promoting one another. And validating quality work and writing, no matter its subject matter. If anything, we’re figuring out how to address our greater community’s divergent interests head-on and see what we can learn from unexpected sources.

Toby - Why the steep price increase for the NYC conference?

Elisa - It might be easier to explain how the annual event prices are kept low. And why we want to continue to do so. Lots of the people who attend the annual event aren’t blogging as part of any business or job. They can’t expense it to anyone or deduct the trip at tax time. It’s pure out-of-pocket expense…it is really a luxury for a lot of folks. So, if we keep the registration fee low, if we feed you all day, if we try to find hotel options that are affordable…or at least can easily support room-sharing, then we can make sure that we can accommodate, or rather be accommodated by more bloggers.

Toby - Let’s take a step into the future. How will you market BlogHer to ensure that you maintain the positioning and brand awareness that you’ve developed? In other words, how will you differentiate BlogHer from possible competitors?

Elisa - Jory Des Jarden, Lisa Stone and I are part of the community, and that’s what makes this brand tick. We are committed to continuing in partnership with our members – of BlogHer.org and BlogHerAds.com – and think that will do the trick.

Here’s how we interpret “partnership”: We try to differentiate ourselves by our level of service and responsiveness. By the variety of experiences we offer, online and off. By the fact that we are about community…about helping all boats rise together. And by how personally we take every aspect of our business…including helping customers understand the blogger perspective. We are each bloggers, after all, I started out as a personal and political blogger, before becoming a business blogger.

Lisa is a journalist-turned-blogger focused on the media and politics. Jory is an author and identity blogger looking at work and life. By tapping into our passion about blogging and passion about our Mission… which is to create opportunities for education, exposure, community and economic empowerment for women bloggers.

We have big plans…to continue to improve the content and experience on BlogHer.org, to further expand our educational and conference endeavors,to continue to work with the community to create more of the opportunities that our Mission speaks to.

Our conversation was too long for this space. The full interview is in two parts on my blog Diva Marketing. Read about how Elisa, Lisa and Jory first met Part One: The BlogHer Back Story. Learn about what Elisa considers to be her biggest challenges and opportunities and fun as she continues her social media adventure in Part Two: BlogHer's Vision & Future Direction

Follow BlogHer on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/BlogHer-28615

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