The Year that Shame Died
The BlogHer conference, as always, was phenomenal in so many ways. A chance to be in a room with 1400 other people who don't need me to explain exactly what it is that I do? Awesome. Having attended now for four years, I've seen it grow and change in fascinating ways.
I will be honest, I was concerned going this year that the marketer infiltration of the event was going to be problematic. But the reality is, I couldn't have been more impressed with how the marketers interracted with the attendees. They were respectful, they were enthusiastic, they were so engaged that they attended panels. It was a tribute to the efforts of Jory and the rest of BlogHer, who clearly worked tirelessly to make sure brands Got It Right.
And by God they did.
After three years of working to convince marketers that bloggers are an important force, conference sponsors like Pepsi, Suave, Nikon, GM, Clorox Greenworks, Tide, Ann Taylor and especially smaller brands like Blue Avocado were stellar evidence of the fact that indeed, women bloggers are an important force. (Yes we are!) I walked up and down the expo floor and thanked each of them for attending, and for making it possible for so many women to attend a $299 conference instead of a $2299 conference. And here I want to thank J&J and the most excellent (and hello? Eco-friendly) OB Tampons for covering my own expenses with a scholarship, as a beautiful and much-appreciated show of support for what it is we do here.
Much to my surprise however, what turned out to be the problem at BlogHer was not how the marketers acted, but how so many bloggers acted. Without pulling punches, I will say it was shameful.
The countless bloggers who combed the expo floor with the purpose of asking marketers for expensive free items (and of course, an identical one to giveaway to a reader).
The shameless swag frenzies at parties that led to a blogger with an arm so bruised she looked like a heroin addict, and a baby in a carrier who endured his first ever sharp elbow to the head. (Really hope those free PBS Sprout stickers were worth it.)
The blogging consultant who crashed two invitation-only sponsored networking lunches to pitch her own business, taking away time from those of us there to learn about the gracious sponsors who paid for the lunch in the first place.
The "sponsored" bloggers who were so inept and amateur with their outreach, they simply shoved products into your hands, however irrelevant, or interrupted conversations and interviews to tell you about their sponsor's VERY VALUABLE GIVEAWAY.
The sponsored bloggers who took the money and ran, all but ignoring their obligations to their benefactors over the course of the weekend.
The empty cardboard boxes that unapologetically polluted the halls outside rooms of bloggers there to hand out swag as the Sheraton's overtaxed janitorial staff struggled to keep up with it.
(Edited to add) The blogger who literally threatened to blog about a sponsor's competitor if he didn't give her free product.
A simple misunderstanding at an off-site cocktail party that led to an egregious misuse of Twitter, ostensibly to assert the power of mombloggers. F*ck with us, we'll bring you down. Oh, and by the way...can I have a free camera and maybe an identical one to give away to a reader?
And, once again, the whispering by the other bloggers at the conference that ugh, there go those mommybloggers again.
I think that hurts me most of all.
I often felt, throughout the weekend, like the Indian crying over a once beautiful landscape.
I'm not the only one. I'm already seeing similar sentiments from bloggers like Kristen Chase, Christine Koh, Chris Jordan and Steph, who beautifully expressed that the hugs she received "were much more valuable to me than the samples of laundry detergent."
At the panel I spoke on about brands and blogs, there was the beginings of an excellent discussion about relationships, and how to build and maintain them. It was pointed out that bloggers like Jaden of Steamy Kitchen (a brilliant woman and also my fellow panelist) and Cool Mom Picks are successful because of the focus of the blogs and the relationships that they build with marketers that transcend giveaways and freebies.
Bloggers can continue blogging about their passions--be they the products they use or otherwise--or they can use a blog as a tool to get free stuff. I have to (have to!) believe the latter group will sort itself out soon enough, when there is no audience for that sort of drivel, and no more marketers left to engage with them.
In fact, I would challenge marketers to start thinking good and hard about who they work with and the return they'll actually get on their investment.
That said, none of this not the fault of the marketers. Or the marketing. Or the giveaway blogs. It's the fault of blog posts that offer up ten tips on becoming an A-list blogger while defining A-list as someone who gets free stuff. People are starting to blog with entirely the wrong motives, then wondering why they're disgruntled and burnt out and shaking their fists at public relations. Or why everyone is pissed at them when they elbow a baby in the head to snatch a free tote bag with a corporate logo on it.
Let me just say there's a reason A-list celebrities aren't the ones lining up for free swag at the Golden Globes Boom Boom Room every year. It's not Angelina Jolie, it's Mrs. Scott Baio.
(Edited to add: I want to clarify this is not a class judgment. I am in no way saying that popular bloggers don't like free stuff or that you should be ashamed for wanting some free dish soap. I publish a site that gives away products daily and I love how happy it makes people. What I'm saying that blogging "success" shouldn't be defined by the amount of stuff you get. It's about what you put out, not what you take in.)
The wonderful thing I did see this weekend, at least at my panel, is that the majority of bloggers seem to want to get it right. They want to learn better ways to engage with PR and marketing, and do it in a way that benefits their readership. They want to blog with integrity. They want to wake up excited by what we all do here, and they too were horrified by some of the behavior on display this weekend.
In fact, one of my favorite conversations of the weekend was with a blogger I'd never met before, Jill of Charming & Delightful, who told me that she didn't understand the need for the Blog with Integrity pledge last week, but now she did. In fact, she reiterated our discussion on Kristen's post in comments.
My thoughts here are not in any way a condemnation of the conference or its organizers, and man, I'll be bummed if the comments here end up taking the tone of "Glad I wasn't there." I was glad I was there. More than glad, I was overjoyed. I can't even wait until next year when the conference will be held in New York (whoo!) because the connections I make, the friendships I solidify, and the things that I learn at BlogHer are always invaluable.
Even if what I learned, once again, is that our words have power, and our actions--for better or for worse--do reflect on the entire community.