BlogHer, Then & Now. A 6 Year Timeline.
I attended my first BlogHer conference in 2009. My first blogging conference ever, in fact.
Back then, there were around 1500 attendees, which was SO HUGE and FRIGHTENING for this newbie blogger (I giggle at that small number now). The solo travel from Oklahoma to Chicago was terrifying enough, as it my first time doing that as well, but somehow I survived.
And had the time of my life.
Perhaps part of my positive experience was that I was out of the house with REAL ADULTS or maybe it was because I was officially pursuing a career that I loved and with people who were doing the same. Actually, it was ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO WERE DOING THE SAME. Amazing people that understood and respected my hard work and passion. People that I quickly learned a MILLION THINGS from. People who called me after the conference and offered more advice. People that I could easily call “friend” then and today.
sidenote: At Blogher ’09, there were no rules regarding swag/branded handouts, so bloggers could freely pass out their own swag, including t-shirts, buttons, jewelry and hats.
Another year went by, and BlogHer 2010 found itself in the big apple.
The blogging space was already changing by 2010. Not only was the BlogHer conference attendance growing rapidly and new bloggers were springing out of the ground daily, but the space was becoming more competitive and aggressive by the minute.
A few days before attending BlogHer 2010, I announced my new venture – Mom Spark Media, a boutique social media marketing agency – and I received the most interesting feedback. Most was positive and supportive, of course, as the rock-on community I met in 2009 was not completely dead, but I also received more pushback than I ever expected. I was soon learning that success, or in my case simply a new business announcement, could create a jealous, firey rage within the community and FAST. It scared me, but I kept moving forward with attending the conference.
The conference ended up being a success, though there were a few bloggers who chose to walk the other way when I said “hi.” Also, NYC was a bit overwhelming and the hotel was a little OMG SO CROWDED HOW THE HELL DO I GET ON THE ELEVATOR crazy, but I had a fun and productive time overall. I owe this to the positive people I surrounded myself with at the conference. Smart, confident and creative women who knew what the hell they were doing.
And then I slept for 3 days because NYC.
If you ever want to host a successful conference of any kind, have it in San Diego. Everyone was in a good mood this year, because, um, San Diego. It was by far my favorite BlogHer. All of the attendees were still in one hotel (though the size was obviously increasing), with the conference center just a short walk away. Attendees all seemed happy, no drama to be heard of (at least, for me) and I honestly consider it one of my most successful networking years.
I owe this positive experience to the beautiful weather, laid-back atmosphere and my amazing team I had at the time.
I left BlogHer 2011 feeling JAZZED UP. Like, really confident and ready to take on the world with 29749234739 ideas I came up with while there. It was the BEST YEAR.
sidenote: Private, non-BlogHer events were still happening in 2011 and attendees/brands were pretty transparent about it online, too. In fact, I publicly listed private parties in a blog post here at Mom Spark.
It was the WORST YEAR. For me, anyway. Like, HORRIBLE. There are several reasons why, which I list in this post, but the main being that it felt so unbelievably huge, crowded and disconnected. The conference was back at the same OMG SO CROWDED HOW THE HELL DO I GET ON THE ELEVATOR hotel once again, but this time it was downright suffocating. We were all under one roof, yes, but space was so limited that I didn’t want to stay under that roof.
Saying that, I made the best of it, and I did get to spend time with some of my favorite people, once again.
I said that I probably wouldn’t go back the following year.
Not only was the conference back in Chicago, but also at the same Sheraton hotel that hosted my first BlogHer in 2009. Weird, full circle feelings, so I was hopeful.
That year, the conference center was a bus ride away from the host hotel, making the opportunity to bump into someone you know a bit more challenging. The Sheraton certainly didn’t feel as lively as it did in 2009 with the conference under the same roof as the host hotel, so it felt a bit disconnected.
Outboarding culprits were getting penalized more than ever. Attendees were complaining about the commute to the conference center. The usual BlogHer parties were dwindling along with the private parties, and the only dancing to be had (which was a BlogHer ritual on the last night of the conference before) was held in a teeny tiny hotel suite with 923749287493 people with little to no air conditioning. It didn’t stop Desiree and I from creating our own dance floor and rocking the night away, but it certainly wasn’t the same.
Overall, I liked the conference in Chicago. I made a good list of contacts, had a few successful meetings and managed to throw in a little fun here and there. I was getting used to the separation of conference center and hotel and learning how to embrace it. I had no doubts that I would be attending BlogHer the following year in San Jose.
I returned from my sixth BlogHer (what the what?) a week ago, and I came home with a whole host of feelings. This year, I chose to buy the networking pass only and experience it that way, since the most important elements of the conference for me is the networking and connecting with brands (and a little fun, too, of course).
The conference attendance was smaller this year, which was nice, but the hotels were still dispersed among four hotels, with the conference and expo being in a separate space, so it still felt a bit disconnected. I rarely bumped into attendees at the hotel I was staying in and I really do miss that part of BlogHer. I have embraced the change, but I really do miss it! As I said before, it has always been about the people for me, and not seeing those people stings.
I was fortunate enough to receive a couple of last-minute sponsors for BlogHer as well – Netgear and Merck for Mothers – and I was very thankful for that. Also, the generous folks at BlogHer offered me the chance to interview Khloe Kardashian while there, so that was pretty rad. 🙂
Another positive note – BlogHer brought back the Saturday party, courtesy of McDonald’s, and it was pretty epic. I was SO happy to see that they brought back this tradition, as the dance floor is always a smart way to bring everyone together in one place, with one mission – to dance, act silly and have fun. We really do deserve it after 3 days of networking, meetings, sessions and little sleep.
Saturday night was the highlight of the conference, by far. I was able to finally see some of my buddies that I hadn’t bumped into yet and just let go for a few hours.
So….upon returning from the crazy weekend, I had many thoughts:
- Am I still getting something from BlogHer?
- Is it still possible to network with everything so spread out?
- Do I belong to a specific group or groups in the blogging community? Does that even matter?
- What are the next steps for me in my career and do they include BlogHer?
- What is my worth in this space?
I’m still pondering these questions and working through them. The space has changed so much since I started Mom Spark in 2008, that at times I look around and feel confused. I love this site and my career so much that I am often terrified of losing it. I have no specific concerns of losing it, but the bigger the space grows, the more I worry that I will become insignificant in the sea. Of course, the more I worry, the more I lose the creativity and drive that made Mom Spark a career in the first place, so I don’t plan on making a habit out of it. 🙂
So, as for BlogHer – it is, and always will be, what you make it. If you want it to be a shitty experience, it most certainly will be. If you want to do some major networking and rock your brand, you can do that, too. If you want to talk shop with your best friends and blogging buds, it’s the conference for you. BlogHer provides THE meeting place to give and receive what you like, but it is up to you to create something magical.
There is no getting around the size of the conference. It will continue to be a huge space with a large attendance, with venues scattered throughout. As a veteran attendee, I miss the old, smaller days, but I don’t blame BlogHer for that. If anything, this is a result of our community growing because veterans, like myself and my colleagues, lead the way or set some positive example (at least, that is what plays in my mind). I’m not mad at BlogHer for its growth, though I once was. Instead, I choose to embrace the evolution and change my attitude. Change my strategy. Work with the growth.
My advice? Surround yourself with people who lift you up and inspire you, always hold your head up with confidence, and keep on dancing, even if there isn’t a dance floor.