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Why Going To Conferences Is Worth All That Money

Why Going To Conferences Is Worth All That Money

In the post-BlogHer 2010 mania, including the many posts about bloggers crying in bathrooms and being snubbed by people with social skills that are at the preschool level, we were hypothesizing (in the comment section to a post here recently) as to why anyone would bother with going to these kinds of conferences only to undergo this kind of torture. Yet I keep maintaining that you must — you simply must, if you want to build your blogging business, and I’m going to try to explain why with this post. The short answer for why is that, quite simply, your traffic will increase. My traffic increased about 20% overall (sustained) after BlogHer 2009, and another similar jump after Mom 2.0. It’s too soon to say the effect of BlogHer 2010, but I maintain that there has always been a significant traffic jump for me in the wake of a conference. As to why, well, that’s a tougher question, but I’ve worked out some hypothetical explanations below.

The Conference Is a Constellation Out Of Which A Potentially Viral Number of “Sales” Or “Leads” Are Made

When you go to a big conference in your niche — I’m talking about something like BlogHer for the mommies here — there is a viral effect to your attendance that cannot happen any other way to the same degree. You meet a few people, make a few connections, have a few connections: it doesn’t seem like a big deal or any different from anything else, but it is, and here is why. A conference like BlogHer ends up with a ton of tweets, posts, Flickr uploads, and incoming links, both before and after the conference. If you meet one person there, at one party, and make a good impression, you might end up on their blog, with an incoming link, on their Flickr page tagged into a picture, @replied on Twitter, follow friday’ed on Twitter because of it, discussed later in some hotel room with that person’s roommate because of it, discussed later with someone else’s roommate because that person saw you talking to that person at so and so’s party, or because you showed up talking to so and so in the background of a picture that showed up on Flickr.

These are just some of the possible combinations of social media that can lead to your “brand” being viral as a result of a few connections made at a big conference like BlogHer. I haven’t even discussed all of the possibilities presented by the Flickr Frenzy, but suffice to say that there is a good reason that people freak out about losing weight every year before BlogHer. If you look good in photos, you will show up in more of them, and people will put you on more pages, in more blog posts, and that is a form of acceptance. People will wonder who you are, and that is a kind of advertisement. This is all about getting people to look at your blog, and that is the name of the game.

You Cannot Understand The Real Of The Community Without Going To A Conference

Particularly in the mommyblogosphere — though I would guess this applies to all different online communities — there is a gap between what happens out in the public online space and what happens behind the closed doors of DMs and private emails. You cannot get a feel for what is really going on in a community, therefore, unless you go to a conference and observe things in real life every once in a while. You need to see people in person to figure out who is somebody you want to partner with and who is somebody you want to stay away from. You need to see who is really friends with whom and who is just in a strategic alliance. You need to see who drinks too much to be a reliable business partner and who is a social climber. This is all stuff you’d be able to figure out in an office job by working with people face to face but because we are online, we can sometimes hide this stuff — sometimes, but not always — behind our screens. The offline stuff is key just to cover our asses.

Now. Maybe you’re not going to be able to do this to the same degree with every conference. Not every conference will have every person you need to meet in attendance. But find the ones that do and go to those. Don’t bother with ones that don’t have people you don’t need to meet — I don’t. And by the way, who I need to meet (or observe, or whatever) might not be the same as who you need to meet. We all have different criteria for these things. Figure out what kinds of connections you need to make and figure out where those people are going to be, and go there.

It Works If You Work It & Other Cliches

Inevitably somebody will tell me they have been going to conferences and have never had these kinds of traffic jumps, I’m sure. I’m guessing, though, that they are not doing what I am doing, and repeatedly going out of the comfort zone to make new connections (or difficulties, as the case may be, with me) on a regular basis. For instance, I went to lunch by myself at BlogHer on both days so that I met new people, I went to several parties at which I’m not sure I was particularly welcome that led to interesting connections, I wandered around the conference alone and met some new people with interesting stories to tell and new perspectives to bring to the table. I did not rely on my friends 100% of the time and it forces me to grow, and my traffic tends to grow as a result (I suspect, anyway). Please share any other strategies or theories you have for this kind of stuff in the comments.

Comments (30)

  1. Aug 17, 2010

    And, it’s fun! That’s why I go, anyway.

  2. Aug 17, 2010

    Isn’t this life, really?

    The online diabetes community is a rather tight-knit group, but there is a dynamic like you described there, too. But so has been every workplace for me. And dorm life. And high school.

    It’s who you know. It’s with whom you associate. It’s whatever you make it (hence, going it alone from time to time).

  3. Aug 17, 2010

    Very interesting. I tend to avoid conferences because I’m … well, because I’m an anti-social misanthrope at heart.

    Do you find that the initial jump in traffic is sustained in the longer-term?

  4. Aug 17, 2010

    Well, yeah, of course. But I was getting specific questions from people who wanted to know what the business ROI was for something like that.

  5. Aug 17, 2010

    Yes, it’s like going back in time and trying to force yourself to do it a little better this time, if possible. We all are going to fall back into familiar routines because that’s our nature, but if you can just force yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit then you can get much better results.

  6. Aug 17, 2010

    Yes, I should have clarified that, though I have had fluctuations in traffic due to other factors, the gains I’ve had associated with conference attendance have never gone away — meaning, I’ve never gone back down below those levels since then.

  7. danish
    Aug 18, 2010

    Did you wind up going to the Mighty Meetup? I don’t remember seeing any commentary on that.

  8. Aug 18, 2010

    I think you’re right. I just wish they’d do these in less expensive places.

    But I think that if by magic a pile of money and a babysitter appeared, I’d be better off doing something in my niche than something like this anyway.

  9. Aug 18, 2010

    Yes. I did. It was OK. It wasn’t really all that mighty, though, to be honest. There was a LOT of picture taking going on at that thing. That was a good example of how Flickr becomes your best friend or your worst enemy after BlogHer.

    The mighty people were mostly secluded in a back room so I didn’t actually interact with Maggie herself, but there were some other people there I did meet. It was a smallish get together, though. It was like the polar opposite of what Sparklecorn was. You could not have planned two parties that were more different on the same night, during the same time period.

  10. Aug 18, 2010

    I agree, the good think about Mom 2.0 was that it was in Houston and — no offense to the Texans — I had no problem not ever leaving the hotel. For me, going to Houston is not too bad in distance, at least it’s not as bad as NY, and it’s definitely not as expensive as some of the other choices.

    But the bottom line is, these things are biased towards people who have disposable income and mobility, which is not fair but that’s also capitalism. That’s why with something like BlogHer I was telling people to get working on sponsors early and often because that is a very real possibility for a conference like that and at least then you have the option of getting it paid for. It’s expensive but there is no other way of building traffic and connections that works like this, this quickly and effectively. And regarding why to buy the full pass even if you don’t go to sessions — you want to be able to go to lunch and meet people and hang out in the halls and meet people, and you need a full pass to do that. And yes, they check the passes, sadly.

  11. Aug 18, 2010

    The mighty people were secluded in a back room?

    Oh my goodness. What’s the point of announcing your party on the internet and then keeping the cool people in a different area?

    One thing I will say about Sparkecorn: from what I have read, they seem to have included everyone, and everyone seems to have had a good time. It appears they took what happened the year before, learned from it, and made it better.

  12. Aug 18, 2010

    Well, that sounded worse than it was. They weren’t in a back room with a door closed. When I got there, some of them (including Maggie) were in a back room with an open archway thing over it with a sit down area. So I could have gone back there, easily, of course, but it would have been like, “HI EVERYBODY, IT’S ME, ANNA!” to do so, you know? So that’s why I didn’t.

    Sparklecorn was better than last year, yes. They improved it. They did do one thing that I have to assume was to stick it to the velvet rope thing, though, and that was to rope off their MamaPop tables with velvet rope.

  13. Aug 18, 2010

    When you say you agree in reply to Kerry do you mean that you agree it’s not cost effective to attend a large general conference if you are a niche blogger? I am also in a niche writing memoir and writing about iPhone story apps for kids — have been reaching out online to other memoirists and writers. This has been working to build connections but my new niche connections don’t seem interested in BlogHer. I would say most didn’t go, didn’t expect to get much out of going. Do you think niche bloggers are missing out by not attending these things? Honestly, the way you write about BlogHer the social interactions seem pretty sophmoric and at worst meanspirited. I can see would you need to go and perhaps other mommybloggers trying to succeed as mommybloggers but if you’re not a mommyblogger seeking to network with other more powerful mommybloggers shouldn’t you expect to be treated like chopped liver or a person wearing a kick me sign even you do go outside of your comfort zone and say hi and shake hands and stuff? It occurred to me that one might pre-network in advance of the event in let-the-nerds-unite fashion so you’d at least have some backup people to hang out with but even that seems depressing — the wallflowers club — so I’m just not getting the point. In your case you don’t care if people don’t like you because that’s part of your shtick and increases your traffic. This is not an advisable strategy for most bloggers.

  14. Aug 18, 2010

    I’m sure you’ve explained this before, perhaps even last year, but thanks for this new info about BlogHer ROI. As someone who was really curious about how YOU work it and how you “work it,” this illuminates the value of this kind of conference and has a lot of just good general networking advice and perspective. (Your reply about getting a do-over on some of your past social mishaps/bad habits is a great way to look at this.)
    My curiosity, however, is STILL unsatisfied, and I wonder if you could expand, with details, on this cryptic tidbit: “I went to several parties at which I’m not sure I was particularly welcome that led to interesting connections.” Which parties? Why weren’t you welcome at those? Did anyone recognize you and, like, sneer? (“Hellooo, An-NA, nice to see YOU here. Not!”) What connections or kinds of connections, and what made them “interesting”? And how did you choose which parties to attend–what made certain social/networking occasions appealing for you, and when there was a conflict, how did you decide which to go to?

  15. Aug 18, 2010

    I meant I agree that I wish they would do them in less expensive places, where there are fewer attractions outside of the conference.

    You don’t have to go to BlogHer, but I’m sure there are other conferences to go to that are appropriate within niches.

    And I don’t think that ALL of the aspects of these conferences are sophomoric. Do I think certain aspects are? Yes. But the networking with the people there? No. The people putting on BlogHer might be morons, but that doesn’t mean that all 2,400 people attending the conference are. That is why you go, to get access to the 2,400 attendees and all the sponsors. BlogHer is just the organization that holds the conference, they have nothing to do with its value, trust me.

  16. Aug 18, 2010

    I was probably not particularly welcome at Sparklecorn because of the post I wrote about it last year (though I did receive a VIP invite to go to it), as well as my many run-ins with MamaPop and/or MamaPop writers over the past 12 months. You can read the post about Sparklecorn here.

    I was probably not particularly welcome at the Mighty Meetup because of the post I wrote about the Broad Summit (hosted by the same people).

    Nobody recognized me and sneered, no. Women don’t do that. Women recognize me and say, emphatically, how NICE it is to see me, with too much enthusiasm.

    I had an interesting run-in at one of the parties but I got interrupted before it could really be really really interesting so I cannot comment further on it except to say that somebody stopped me to talk to me that I never in a million years would have thought would do that, and said she wanted to meet me, and I almost had a heart attack because of it. But then some douchebag interrupted us and I never found out why she wanted to meet me.

  17. Aug 18, 2010

    That makes sense that it’s all about access to attendees and sponsors — that the sophmoric should be ignored. But what I was really asking is whether you think this kind of access is useful for niche bloggers given that mommybloggers and the sponsors are probably not interested in niche bloggers? I can see it from a possible cross pollination perspective, like maybe you’ll make connections you wouldn’t otherwise because you’re different. But it sounds like attendees are primarily after traffic and sponsors, and meeting different genre bloggers doesn’t serve that end.

    What I’m noticing with bloggers trying to succeed as writers — at all points along the spectrum from traditional publishing to self publishing — is that the community is centered around writing as craft. The blog serves as a platform for the eventual goal of publishing, but in the meantime it’s all about the craft, not traffic to attract sponsors. I think it’s just a completely different business model. I don’t know but am guessing that for these bloggers it’s more important to attend writing conferences and to build a reputation within the writing community for being good at one’s craft.

  18. Aug 18, 2010

    That’s an interesting speculation. There’s a longstanding tradition of writers improving their craft by writing, publishing, seeking out informed readers to critique their work, etc. Those bloggers interested in being recognized for their writing among more traditional writers are, I imagine, doing that in their own writing niche, in their own communities or with like-minded people they can meet at lectures, on Twitter and by other means. But there are a lot of issues and challenges for people who identify primarily as bloggers that can only be addressed by meeting their tribe members at blogging conferences. For example, moderation of comments is not something writers in traditional media have much experience with. SEO, RSS and other technical issues–not generally addressed at writing conferences. I also think you put too much emphasis on the importance of craft–there are plenty of brilliant writers out there who will never be published in traditional media because they can’t figure out how to get in the right doors (write a proposal, get an agent) and because they can’t do what many bloggers do brilliantly–market themselves and their work. Besides, no one’s making any money as a writer in traditional media either. Almost no one, anyway. And many writers formerly employed in traditional media are losing their jobs–and becoming bloggers!

  19. Aug 18, 2010

    I’ll interject a bit here Susan, from a publishing standpoint (my day job).

    In general the industry looks to writers to have blogs as platforms–not money making ventures. It’s not frowned upon to have advertising, sponsors, etc, but a publisher wants to see a following more than a business venture. Lots of writers use blogs as a place to build a writing community, but from a publisher standpoint THAT community isn’t going to impress trad. publishers as much (sadly, writers aren’t a great market for writers).

    So for writers who blog, who are looking to build a writing community, I would think that writing conferences would be better than a conference like BlogHer or really, any of the blogging specific conferences (except maybe SXSW, because the publishing community has started to have a larger presence there).

    However, if you’re looking to build a readership beyond just writers, if you’re looking to build a platform that can someday be used as a selling point to a publisher (or if you’re planning to self publish–to have a larger audience to buy that book when it comes out), then attending a conference like BlogHer might be worth it for the networking. I haven’t attended BlogHer, but attending any conference that has 2400 people can, if done right, grow your traffic, build your platform and lead to a larger readership–all things that are good when you’re looking to sell a book.

  20. Aug 18, 2010

    I don’t mean to place to much emphasis on craft because that is too limiting. I was trying to uplevel and make observations about how traditional vs blog writers seem to form communities and settle on a business model. In both cases, you need traffic, but I’m not sure you that you build it the same way or with the same goals in mind. I absolutely agree that bloggers are more business savvy (though not all of them are) and that traditional writers have much to learn about marketing. On the other hand, if what you have to do to succeed as a blogger — to build enough traffic to attract sponsors — drives your choices about what you write about and how you interact with your community then at some point you’ve crossed the line and it’s all business — you’re engaged in professional writing, e.g., technical writing, not writing as craft, the ultimate goal being money, not mastery per se, though I know many professional writers who do care deeply about craft. It’s a matter of orientation. You have decide which kind of people you admire and want to network with — if you mostly care about craft it can be soul destroying to spend a lot of time networking with people who mostly care about power.

  21. Aug 18, 2010

    Ginger, that’s the perspective I was looking for! So I guess what I would ask then, is given an orientation towards writing as craft and a desire to grow readership beyond other supportive writers, what’s the “right” way to get the best out of BlogHer? Just do all the stuff Anna says?

    In my own business doing financial consulting with an emphasis on organizing, it seemed like networking with professional organizers would be a good investment of time but it wasn’t. It turns out most referrals come from small business networking via friends, church and my modest online presence. The business relationships often lead to personal financial consulting. I spent HUGE amounts of time networking with organizers — a friendly group — and made some good friends, but from a business standpoint it was a non-starter.

    This is why I carefully think about where to put networking dollars and time.

    I’m thinking that blind networking at a large conference of mostly bloggers-as-a-business trying to build a craft readership is dicey. But maybe you just put yourself out there and make connections anyway and have some fun while doing so.

  22. Aug 18, 2010

    I go to Blogher. I am not someone who gives a flying F about making money from my blog but I do have advertisements on my blog because when your name is nakedjen you get loads of traffic no matter what you’re writing about so I figured I might as well pay for my server. Basically, my blog pays for itself and feeds the dogs. The dogs are grateful for the food.

    I’m not a mommy blogger and have complained, in the past, about the strong focus on MOMMY at Blogher. Still I go and it isn’t to create more traffic to my blog. I go to find new blogs and new writers that will inspire me. When you have 2400 folks all in the same place who are all passionate about BLOGGING, well, you’re going to find at least a few blogs and people you just did not know about before. I love meeting the PERSON behind the words on the screen. I love learning why they decided to blog in the first place. I just love bloggers, I suppose. Plain and simple. And I love sharing their passion.

    This year the conference felt far more chock full of bloggers who are in it to win it. That’s completely okay. There’s money to be made in this blogging world if you’re good at it and understand how to do it well. I think it is awesome that so many are truly making money at this gig. Especially the mommies.

    I’m most definitely in that small niche of old school bloggers who blogs because I just have to blog. For my own sanity. My blog is 8 years old and I had a diaryland journal for years before that. I’m a DINOSAUR.

    I think, honestly, that any conference, Blogher, SXSW, Mom 2.0 is absolutely what you make of it. We all have our own agendas for our blogs. Choosing the right conferences for your blog is what will work best. Blogher probably is not even the right choice for me, truthfully, as a writer, but I am always happy that I’ve gone. Because I always, always come home with at least 25 new blogs to inspire me.

  23. Aug 18, 2010

    NakedJen this totally makes sense! I get inspired by new blogs all of the time and I would like to meet who’s behind some of the bloggers I follow. I was thinking those bloggers mostly don’t go to conferences but I’m obviously wrong since you go and as of I’m now following you :-).

    I don’t begrudge bloggers being in it to win. That’s fine and I wish them well. I just don’t think those are the bloggers who are likely to inspire me.

  24. Aug 18, 2010

    Susan, I’m glad I could help. I’ll share that I’m not shy and often, like Anna, will sit with absolutely no one I know and make sure I meet everyone at the table. This leads to really fun opportunities and this year I happened to sit with the PR person from Scholastic at lunch. It turned out that she and I had LOADS to share and in common and became fast friends (background in PR for films!) and that just would not have happened any other way than being there and being willing to sit at the table with strangers.

    That said every day offers us opportunities, I think, to connect with people, don’t you think? By that I mean that I make a complete fool of myself (I’m certain) talking to the people waiting in line at the grocery store or the movies or even while walking my dogs at the park and asking them all about WHO they are and WHAT excites them about being on this planet? It is just at a conference, like Blogher, where we’re all passionate about blogging, that I get a chance to truly meet the folks who are doing what I’m doing, too.

  25. Aug 18, 2010

    Basically what NakedJen said. Well, except that I do have kids and I do write about them, but honestly, my blog is just my little space in which I can write. That is all. I do have ads because I love tacos. Yes, I blog for tacos and I am not ashamed.

    I have been going to BlogHer since 2005 and it has changed so much – some for better, some for the worse. I continue to go because I enjoy hanging out with my friends and meeting new people. Sometimes the agenda interests me, sometimes it does not. This year, I actually did attend quite a few sessions – mainly in the writing track (and I did blog about those sessions!) I was not really into the parties and swag as much this year, I just wanted to gain some fun ideas for my tiny, boring site. I write for myself, I am my Audience of One and quite frankly, I was getting bored with myself.

  26. Aug 19, 2010

    I’m sold on the idea of meeting some new people — power tripping or not — and getting to meet some of the bloggers I know online in person. Maybe I’ll even learn something from the business hype.

  27. Aug 19, 2010

    I think there’s no 1 right way, other than be open to talking with and meeting anyone and everyone. You never know who is going to connect with you! (says the person who hates networking and has to keep herself from turning and running when she walks into a room full of people she doesn’t know).

    That being said, if I had a niche topic like yours, I’d probably approach BlogHer with a little more precision–go to the (horribly hard to navigate) BlogHer site, see if you can find some bloggers in a segment that dovetails with yours (maybe the money section), and start seeing what names pop up. Check out their blogs, check out their commenters, followers, etc, and see if you see anyone you connect with. If so, reach out before the conference to see if they want to try and meet–that way you have a few people in your corner before you arrive.

    But I’m kind of a planner by nature, so that’s how I might do it. Whether you’re looking to build a business or not, it’s nice to know you’re going to show up and have at least a few people to talk to in a sea of faces, you know?

  28. Aug 19, 2010

    I like the idea of pre-networking — reaching out other bloggers in advance so there’s some friendly people to hang out with.

    Another thing that occurred to me is that the iPhone developers in my group all have blogs and think it’s important to go to BlogHer so that’s another group I can tap into. They don’t seem too thrilled with BlogHer but maybe it’s because they have the same niche complex I have.

    As an aside, the WSJ had an interesting article on power a few days ago http://bit.ly/9WTG96

  29. Aug 20, 2010

    Well, I went, and I am naturally gregarious and friendly and can carry on an animated conversation with a column, and I was (sigh) miserable. I introduced myself to a lot of people, had a pleasant interaction with them, and then that was it. I suppose I managed to convince myself that I would meet a group that would have fun together during more than a 5 minute meetup, but it didn’t happen. I get that it didn’t happen, because everybody else is looking to network, not join a sorority (memories of rush coming rushing back, bad pun YES!) but…my expectations were not realistic. And yet everywhere I looked an animated group of three, four, five, six women were going around together having a ball and I felt sad and lonely. waaaaahhh. Okay. Enough self pity. Now I need to figure out how to make the next one better. Any suggestions would be very welcome!!!

  30. Aug 20, 2010

    Lorrie: come and sit by me. I mean that completely sincerely. I’m sorry I didn’t meet you at Blogher, because I would have included you in all my shenanigans (and trust me there were shenanigans) and then you at least would have wondered if all bloggers behave this badly?!?

    Truthfully, there are many online “communities” that talk AD NAUSEUM about BLOGHER in the weeks leading up to the conference. You can find the one that seems to “fit” you the best and perhaps at least find ways to “meet-up” with those folks once you arrive at the conference. I know that both my roommate and I told people who were attending for the first time this year that if they wanted to “meet” us in the lobby at the Hilton, we’d gladly meet them just so they had “someone” to hang out with and we kept our promise. I met some fantastic new folks that way!

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