5 Tips Other Blogging Conferences Should Take From BlogWorld Expo, Plus 3 Areas In Which I Am Hoping To See Some Improvement Next Year
I spent the past few days at BlogWorld and New Media Expo 2010 in Las Vegas, a blogging conference that is billed as the largest social media conference in the world. (Disclosure: I was given a full access conference pass (value: $1195) and airfare from Los Angeles to Las Vegas (value of about $300) in exchange for providing feedback on the conference.) My overall impression of BlogWorld was positive: I felt it was a great conference and would definitely attend again. I’ve listed below the things I think BlogWorld does particularly well, as well as a few areas that could possibly be improved, and some guidelines for deciding if you would benefit from attending BlogWorld in the coming years.
5 Tips Other Blogging Conferences Should Take From BlogWorld Expo
1. Have Panels On Everything. Really — Everything. Even Porn. (No, I Am Not Exaggerating For Effect.)
BlogWorld has panels on the usual stuff you would expect: monetizing blogs, how to find readers, how to get readers, keeping readers engaged, building community on your blog, et cetera. Generically speaking, they have travel blogging sessions, real estate blogging sessions, healthcare blogging sessions, and tons of other niche sessions that I cannot even remember. There are several blog to book panels and some book to blog panels, tons of hiring PR companies panels, and tons of how to deal with PR companies panels. But there are also lots of hidden gem tech panels that you haven’t considered, such as the panel I attended on how to develop apps for your blog and why you have to do it, things you must include in your app, how you can do it for little to not very much money, even if you are totally technologically inept. You are not going to have the “the panels all say the same thing” problem at this conference. There are some panels for which that might be true, but there are so many panels, you can always find one that is new and innovative.
2. Shoot For Exemplary Organization.
BlogWorld Expo 2010 was expertly run. (Well, the one exception would be the youngish guy who introduced the mommyblogging panel pronouncing Mashable “Muh-SHAY-BUL.” But hearing that was actually enjoyable for me, so I don’t really count that against the conference as a whole.) The check-in process was quick and easy, and they offered both self-service or human-assisted options with no paperwork required. Magazine booklet guides with panel listings for the entirety of the conference were easily procurable, and large paper menu-style guides were also made available for the daily listings. The sessions I attended were blissfully free from the annoying tech problems that ordinarily plague these types of conferences, and wireless internet was available both in the conference hotel and in all of the conference rooms for me during the whole of the conference. This is the first time I haven’t had to struggle with these things at a tech conference, so I was pleasantly surprised by this, despite having a G card on hand to save me from a wireless failure.
3. Encourage and Foster A Professional Environment During Conference Hours; Keep Parties Off Site.
There is no question that this is a professional conference. Within the conference space, the dress is Zuckerberg standard-issue for most of the men from the tech sphere, and suits or business casual for the PR/marketing executives. Women are wearing business casual mostly across the board, with a few blogging outliers. I’m happy to report that there was nary a tutu or a tiara in sight for the whole of the weekend, and some of the best conversations I had took place in the hallways between panels with people who were genuinely interested in what I had to say had products that were actually useful for the things I am interested in doing. There are professionals at this conference who need the information that bloggers have, and are interested in speaking to bloggers. Oddly, bloggers are not as hugely in attendance at BlogWorld Expo as you might think — this is an advantage if you are interested in making contacts with publishers, corporate executives, tech startup people, and PR reps: they are really interested in talking to bloggers and understanding our space, and if you are here, you can become the person the start to think of as their guide.
One thing that contributes to the feeling of professionalism at BlogWorld Expo is the complete separation between the party space and the conference space. There are tons (and tons, and tons) of parties at BlogWorld Expo, but they all take place elsewhere, outside of the conference space. This might seem like an unimportant distinction, but it is not — when you go to the conference, you are going to work, and when you go to a party at BlogWorld, you have to get into a cab to get there. Not only were they able to throw the parties at the more hip and happening clubs in Vegas this way, they were also able to separate the party atmosphere from the conference atmosphere, and this is an important thing to accomplish for the professional atmosphere of a conference. Conference attendees still have the obligation to remember that they are among colleagues who will remember what they are doing and saying, even if it’s at a party and not at the conference, of course, but the separation of work space and party space makes sure that the conference is always thought of as a professional, worthwhile endeavor.
3. Make Sure You Have Lots Of Tools In Place For Gauging Audience Satisfaction With Panels.
As you entered panels at BlogWorld, your conference passes were not only checked for registration purposes, they were also scanned so that attendance at the panels could be checked and gauged by the conference organizers for interest levels of the audience for the contents of the panels. The organizers also took care to make sure that feedback forms were distributed to people as they entered panel rooms to encourage more feedback on the panels. I took it that the organizers were very interested in hearing what attendees thought about the conference, and want to make sure that the experience is good, and continues to improve in years to come. Suffice to say that this has not been my experience with all blogging conferences that I have attended.
4. Choose a venue that is well-equipped to handle conferences.
Las Vegas hotels are experienced with hosting conferences. They need them: conferences are the food they eat and the air they breathe. There’s a good argument for hosting a conference in Las Vegas, because things are open late, there’s tons of places to have events late into the evening, and there’s always another restaurant available if one is too crowded. The fact that attending BlogWorld only required a 45-minute plane ride of me is totally influencing my opinion here. Am I in favor of conferences located conveniently close to the West Coast? Oh yes. And I don’t care who knows it. Let us have more of them, I say!
5. Keep Swag At A Minimum, Or Optional Basis.
There was some swag at this conference, but it was downplayed heavily. Rather than being handed out directly to conference attendees at registration, bags to carry stuff were displayed outside the panel rooms on racks so that people could take them if they were interested, and leave them if they were not. The expo floor was about one-tenth the size of the expo floor at BlogHer, despite being a conference of a much larger size. Somebody offered me free shipping for my swag back to my house and I looked at her questioningly like, “What swag?” because I don’t know, maybe there was swag and I just didn’t see it, or maybe people were buying stuff and that’s what they were shipping back? I don’t know. This is a different thing. People here are getting value in the form of contacts, business connections. There’s no swag getting in the way. It really made a difference, at least for me — I cannot say that the connections I made were a direct result of the lack of swag mucking up the works, but it does seem like it made things easier.
3 Areas In Which I Am Hoping To See Some Improvement Next Year
1. Vegas is still Vegas.
While I admitted above that Vegas is well-suited in many ways to hosting conferences, it is still, sadly, Vegas. Spending four days in Las Vegas is like spending four days living in an airport. It’s expensive, dehydrating, smoky, trashy, and there’s no free market price competition. Every morning, I had to walk past a stripper dancing on a table to get to the conference space, and there’s nowhere in the general vicinity to buy a bottle of water for less than $6.50. And finally, every additional day you inhabit a casino hotel you are risking death by club sandwich or canned mini bar Snickers.
Lest you think I am being overly critical here, let me explain: the choice of Vegas as a venue is also problematic because it is symbolic of the other two problems I had with BlogWorld (listed below). These two problems are not things that would keep me from recommending the conference, nor are they things that I think are particularly the fault of the conference organizers; however, they are things to consider, and they are things that I think would be helped by moving the conference out of Vegas. And as such, I had to include a change of venue as a consideration for improvement.
2. BlogWorld Expo Is Too Expensive For Most Bloggers.
This conference is cost prohibitive for most bloggers to attend unless they are being sponsored by some corporate entity. There are ways around this, but most bloggers are disorganized and will not be on the ball to get a sponsor or to apply to get a speaking pass, or to figure out a way to get a discounted pass. Because of this, it’s unlikely that there will ever be a huge contingent of Average Joe bloggers at this event, and perhaps they want it this way, I’m not really sure. It’s an advantage from a blogger’s standpoint, because many of the people I met were excited to actually speak to a blogger — there are many people from the corporate world there who come to learn about social media, and they want to talk to bloggers and learn what we think about certain things. The stuff we know about this space is valuable to these people, and at this conference there aren’t as many of us because it’s just too expensive to go. But I think it might be in the conference organizers’ best interest to look into recruiting some of the “best and brightest” every year or working out a certain number of discounted passes to sell to bloggers to encourage a higher number of average blogger attendees. Both bloggers and the business member attendees would likely be appreciative of this.
3. Might be intimidating to attend as a woman unless you already know a lot of people and/or are very outgoing or determined.
Like many tech conferences, BlogWorld is attended by mostly by men. The panels during the day are about a 60/40 split in favor of men by my highly informal count, which makes attending the official conference daytime events fairly easy as a woman. However, the nighttime events tend to have a higher male to female ratio, and this can be intimidating to deal with if you’re a first time attendee. While it’s true that all first time attendees have to overcome a certain degree of social anxiety to attend a conference like this, the fact is that this section of the blogosphere is already weighted heavily in favor of men and it’s likely to scare all but the most determined of the women away. Again, not completely the fault of the conference organizers, but choosing a venue where one doesn’t have to walk past a stripper on the way to a panel might be a step in the right direction, as would be coaching moderators on the politics of who to call on during Q&A sessions — I personally raised my hand six times in a Q&A session before I was called on, and the first 5 times men were called on before me (yes, I counted). I was the only woman raising my hand. Was this just an unlucky coincidence? Maybe. Maybe the moderator just didn’t see me, though I was in the second row, so that seems unlikely. There are tons of maybes here, and I realize this, but these are all perceptive things that go into an already problematic gender situation, that might be something to consider. And by the way, the moderator in question was a fellow woman(!).
This is a quality conference, and if you can afford it, I would recommend attending. There is something for everyone here, and there are all kinds of contacts to be made. Every time I go to one of these events I come back with some kind of new insight, contact, or tidbit that I didn’t have before, and BlogWorld is no exception. How this compares to other conferences I’ve attended is that BlogWorld is for serious business people — the real career people of the blogosphere, not the people who want to join a cult of celebrity. This is not a conference about egos or internet “celebrity” (though of course there is some of that at every conference). This is the kind of conference where you meet the people who are quietly making their living on the internet every day, and who can show you how to do it as well. I would definitely go again, and was really glad to have had the opportunity to go this year.