BlogHer 2012 — was it worth it?

English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair par...
English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The conference is over, with its many parties just beginning as I write this.

Three days of full-on intensity, 5,000 bloggers in one midtown Manhattan hotel, about 80 percent of whom — maybe 90 percent — were female, and under the age of 40.

It’s not a pleasant feeling to feel ancient, but this conference was very much a place for 20-year-olds and their eager enthusiasm. I’m not being fair, because I did see a few women my age or a bit younger, some of whom  are well-known in that huge on-line community.

But I quickly wearied of hearing perky 20-somethings tell me they “mommy-blog”, as I searched in vain for people writing on books, or work, or business, or politics. Had I done my homework and really searched the site and reached out to people, I know I could have made those connections.

The 2013 conference will be in Chicago, July 25-27, and registration begins in a few weeks.

The Good

— The agenda offered a lot of choices, whether super-technical information or tips on writing.

— Running into five or six very good friends, a lovely surprise and pleasure with so many attending, like Heather Greenwood-Davis, a Toronto-based travel writer who just finished an around-the-world odyssey with her husband and two young sons.

— We were told that 85 percent of speakers are new each year, so you’re not hearing the same Cool Kids at every conference.

— Katie Couric, a television legend in the U.S., and Martha Stewart, another American media titan, were interviewed live on stage. That was fun and gave us a glimpse of these famous women being a little more spontaneous and human. I enjoyed that.

— There was lots of good food and drink, so we weren’t subjected to the usual conference horrors of overpriced, lousy food and $15 glasses of wine. (They actually gave us a fistful of drink tickets. Score!)

— I loved hearing 19 bloggers, including a man, read their work from the stage. Several were deeply moving and beautiful, like Susan Goldberg, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario (way north) with her partner and sons.

— I liked seeing women of every size, shape and color. One panelist, Cecily Kellogg, sported fuchsia hair and was wickedly smart and helpful.

The Not-So-Good

— Way too many people! Many told me they were frustrated and really annoyed at being, literally, shut out of sessions they had paid real money to listen to, some of them flying across the country to do so.  There were simply too many bodies for the venue.

— Way too noisy. I came home shaky, headachey and exhausted from the sheer volume of too many people in too small a space. If you’re standing a foot from someone and having to shout, we have a problem.

— Nowhere (at least nowhere obvious) to just sit quietly and think, read, chill, chat with someone. No one should ever have to sit on the floor!

— No way to quickly, easily and efficiently, every day, find fellow bloggers with your interests. It would be simple, easy and helpful to simply affix a colored ribbon to everyone’s badge showing what they specialize in.

I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t have the time, energy, stamina or patience to be all perky for hours (to be polite and friendly, which is what you do at conferences) with dozens of people with whom I have zero shared intellectual interests.

My larger question, which may be rhetorical, is if there is any useful and mutually respectful dialogue to be had — which I saw no evidence of (and may have been happening) — between old media (i.e. print/broadcast) and this new world of social media.

Old media, as you know, is focused on fact, ideas, provable assertions, reliable (one hopes) sources. Biased, yes, but evidence-based.

I am still uncomfortable in an insular, ego-driven world of all-opinion-all-the-time. I’m not persuaded that it, alone, offers lasting value without some underpinning of a more objective reality.

I also have deep reservations about women toting huge bags of “swag” they got from dozens of exhibitors, all eager for attention from this demographic — women who buy stuff.

Swag. i.e. free shit, included (no kidding), vibrators (bright pink, the size of my thumb), cooked sausage, toothpaste, feminine pads for women in menopause (who are no longer menstruating?!) and soy-milk ice cream bars.

One exhibitor told me many women swaggered up demanding to be paid to mention her products, or to be given free samples. Her company makes sinks, bathtubs and faucets.

You want a fucking free bathtub?

And — what has any of this gimmegimmeegimeeeeeeeee to do with great writing?


Long before you focus on your blog’s financial ROI, we should be focused on writing amazing work that people might, if we are really, really lucky, even remember years from now.

Or even a few days from now.

What do you think?

Were you at BlogHer 2012?

Do you think you’ll attend in 2013?

28 thoughts on “BlogHer 2012 — was it worth it?

  1. Nemesis

    “…90 percent — were female, and under the age of 40.”…

    Why do I always hear about these after the fun!!!! Just kidding.


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  3. Harriet

    I think you should send this post to the organisers of the event. Really like the ribbons idea, and understand your frustration.
    Although I am not much of a blogger, and probably too young, I’d still like to go sometime – if not next year then the year after.

    1. Thanks…I plan to!

      I think being young would actually be a huge advantage for you. I felt positively decrepit being in such a tiny minority. It was not as welcoming, in that respect, as I would have liked.

  4. I understand your experience…I attended MOM 2.0 Summit and was one of the oldest bloggers there…although I found the “mom” bloggers very friendly, I was always aware that I was “their” mom. It was a much smaller meeting and therefore plenty of room to sit and enjoy all aspects of it.
    I did find that at the night get togethers it was more about groups of bloggers who knew each other so those events were not as enjoyable for me. Even the Versace Mansion Soiree was a bit lonely save for one young man who was there as a sponsor. He was nice enough to sit with me while eating…we had a wonderful conversation about many diverse topics. He enjoyed the mix of old and young thinking.
    I agree with you that name tags with info would be helpful…I would like to attend BlogHer next year in Chicago as that is where I live…I think that the frenetic pace of NYC only add to the already energy of such a young interesting crowd of women.
    I am not a writer although I try hard. If you decide to come to BlogHer again in Chicago next year I would love to meet you.
    Thanks for your thoughts….I don’t feel so bad about missing BlogHer12 anymore.

    1. Since it’s right in your town, why not go? But be prepared for a madhouse…unless they make a deliberate decision to limit the number of people attending. There are just too many. I really had to flee the parties (which I had so looked forward to as a chance to be social) as they were so horribly noisy. I heard one young woman lamenting that the later parties, with dance floor, had also been too jammed to be enjoyable. They have to fix that!

      I’m glad you went to Mom 2.0, and I wish I’d seen many more women our age at BlogHer; I wonder why there were not. I might have seen…10? I really enjoyed one of them, from Boston, and plan to follow up with her. We met at the coffee table.

      I think the clique-ishness you saw is off-putting, but probably inevitable. I

  5. I was there and agree with most of your points. I actually spotted another blogger with the postcard for “Malled” and was so disappointed that I didn’t get to meet you in person! Anyway, as a single and childless blogger (not necessarily by choice but by circumstance) I felt the event was full of young, mommy bloggers, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I would have liked a bit more diversity. There were an insane amount of people as well, which had me heading for the exits often. It would be nice to have groupings of folks by topic or demographic or whatever. Sure we’re all bloggers and can all learn from each other, but if we want to go a bit deeper into specific topics, it would be nice to find a way to do that in this community. I also went to Blogher Food earlier this year and I enjoyed that experience more, probably because there were fewer people.

    1. So sorry we didn’t meet! That would have been fun.

      Interesting to hear your thoughts on this. As someone older and with no kids, the whole mommy blogger thing leaves me completely cold. I so wanted to find women as passionate about books, politics, cultural commentary, feminism…and they must have been there….?

  6. Really interesting post…. There is a certain narcissism about blogging… Thanks for sharing, though it actually sounds like hell on earth to me! I hope you gained something useful from it. I think you should share your feedback with the organisers for next year, too!

    1. I did learn some useful technical stuff about SEO and I did make a few good contacts for my book — both of which were my goals for attending. But it was not as pleasant as it should have been…which I will certainly share with the organizers.

  7. I’ve found the BlogHer website a few months ago, and, as an aspiring professional writer, I was hoping to get to write on it one day. Perhaps, just because it’s for women, it’s not for all women, specializing in any field… From your description of the event, I see it as a narcissistic gathering of young bloggers concerned more with media & sponsor attention than with good writing. Hopefully I’m wrong.
    I think it’s a staple of 21st Century, that everyone wants to be a star, wants fame, and is less concerned with what they are creating, the quality of what they are leaving behind.
    Caitlin, in my list of blogs that I follow, you stand out as the “real writer”. Sure, I’m biased because I know you’re a journalist, so I know you write more “seriously” as a blogger. But one can easily spot that, in the way you document, the fact that your articles make one think a bit longer about the issue discussed. Having studied journalism as well (but not having practiced much) I’ve always had a bit of resistence to this everyone-is-a-writer trend, in the internet age.
    Always a pleasure reading you, thanks for your view on this event.

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

      My challenge with many blogs is that I have a limited appetite for pure opinion. I want to see links and backstory to the larger world, and I have found few bloggers who do this — unless it’s political, and I find those tedious and biased. So the blogs I like best usually offer beautiful writing and visuals.

  8. Thank you for stating that blogs should feature great writing! I am always dismayed by the number of “writers” out there. Good point & I’m sharing.

    1. The challenge is…who defines “great”? It’s in the eye of the beholder, and many bloggers think that they’re amazing. Maybe they are. I have seen blogs with tremendous followings that don’t strike me as worth the attention, but they’re clearly very appealing to a lot of people.

  9. Hi Caitlin! We have a mutual friend–Michele (Pet News and Views)–who pointed me to your post. I was also at BlogHer 2012. Dare I admit it? This was my 4th BlogHer.

    Your post is spot-on. But there are ways to mitigate the bad parts.

    I don’t bother going to the parties. Too much noise. And if I drink too much I’m useless the next day (at 55 I’ve lost my youthful ability to drink all night and be cognizant the next day). Instead of the parties, do something local that’s fun/interesting. Have dinner at a restaurant as far away from the conference as is convenient. On Thursday and Friday, I saw 2 shows and met business contacts/friends each night for dinner. Much more fun than the parties–and much more productive.

    Figure out the sessions you want to attend ahead of time (maybe you did this), and rank them. For the one’s you rank, “MUST see,” claim your seat at least 10 minutes before the session starts. Try and sit on the aisle in case it’s a dud so that you can easily leave and attend something else. All the sessions are posted on the BlogHer site ahead of time, so it’s easy to figure out what you want to see.

    Don’t try to go to all the sessions–it’s too overwhelming. Did you know you can catch up on what you missed? Each session has a live blogger, and details from the session are posted on the BlogHer site afterwards. Yes, it’s not as good as actually attending and taking your own notes, but at least your head won’t explode due to over-stimulation.

    The constant noise is debilitating. Having a room in the same hotel as the conference is a huge help. When the noise is too much, go to your room and re-charge. Yes, you paid lots of $$ to attend, but the money will be just as wasted if you can’t concentrate because the noise has set your brain on fire.

    Before the conference, talk to the bloggers you love to see if they’re attending. Add the “I’m going to BlogHer” badge to your blog. Tweet about it. Be “loud” in letting your community know that your going to be at the conference. If you want to find a specific segment of the blogging population, find a way to draw attention to yourself so that they can find you (LOVE your idea of ribbons on the conference tags). I am a pet blogger, and I travel with a flat representation of my dog (Flat Tyler). I sat down at a nearly empty table on Friday morning, set up Flat Tyler so he faced the door into the ballroom and he found me 4 other pet bloggers ( I’ve seen other bloggers use tee shirts to find their tribe. Or tu-tus. Whatever it takes to make it easy for them to find you. No matter how embarrassing it might be (seriously, I’m a 55-year old woman with a flat representation of her dog. The embarrassment is outweighed by the connections I make).

    The swag situation and the “gimme, gimme” attitude is outrageous, but it can be ignored. If you don’t want your swag bag, drop it off at the swag recycle room. In my experience, the swag hounds seem to have the loudest voices and I think that’s why they seem like they’re the majority of attending bloggers. I don’t believe they are.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to write a book here. Warts and all, I think this is a good conference. And I hope I get to meet you in Chicago!

    1. There is a lot here.

      I live in NY so I did not need or want a hotel room, nor tourist attractions. At this point in my life and career (same age as you) I want data and networking opp’s. That’s it. I really don’t have the bandwidth to make social chitchat with dozens of people with whom I have zero in common but my gender and the fact that I blog. For some people, that’s a lot, and very satisfying.

      I don’t use Twitter nor am I a member of BlogHer, so these are good suggestions for people who are.

      My feeling is very strongly that the organizers need to make the conference much more user-friendly, less exhausting and better organized. Cramming too many people in too small a space suggests a lack of planning or, perhaps, greed.

      Don’t forget that, for every acolyte who adores the BlogHer community and style, there were also many first-timers like me watching the scene very critically to decide if this was worth attending again — let alone the added $$$$ of a flight and hotel. From what I saw, it was too uncomfortable and too difficult to meet the people I wanted to meet. I didn’t have hours and hours to search out all the bloggers I needed, set up meeting places and times…

      Too much work.

  10. You hit the nail on the head!

    As a fellow seemingly ‘elder’ in the sea of younger women, the networking aspect was a bit ineffective. However, I did connect with some very interesting, energetic types and wished that there was more time dedicated to better segmented mixing opportunities.

    Martha Stewart and Katie Couric were a hoot.

    1. Weren’t they though?!

      I’m thinking of trying to put together a conference next year that’s much smaller, “40 Over 40″….what do you think? I’ve already got a few journo/author pals very interested…I think the mis-match is also generational.

  11. I loved reading your take on the conference. I’d like to attend someday but maybe only if they decide to do smaller regional events. I help organize our customer conference at my job and it’s not an easy thing to do. Birds of a feather signs during lunch are always successful as well as some kind of indicator on the badges that help group people together. Much of a successful conference is about connecting and networking with the other attendees. The sessions should be secondary.

    1. Apparently (which I missed!) there was a “birds of a feather” meeting early Saturday morning, although I heard it wasn’t that great.

      I was delighted to meet some great people — like Kit! — but that was utterly random. I’d say of all the people I met (probably 20+) and exchanged cards with, maybe 4 or 5, at most were likely to be truly useful for the future. It’s not bad, but could have been much more productive with better organization on this issue, I think.

      The sessions, for me, were too niche, too basic or too advanced. I attended one on advanced SEO (my brain bled but I learned a lot); one on Hispanic women’s POV (lame, sorry to say) and one on book promotion, which (not to be rude) I could have taught. I most enjoyed seeing and hearing Martha and Katie, and listening to the bloggers who read their work.

  12. Thanks for giving us a rundown of the good and bad–I always appreciate your straightforward opinion. I’ve heard of the conference and been nudged a bit to attend, but I wasn’t sure what it was really all about. I’m a pretty social person but, like you, I dislike big, impersonal events where it’s difficult to make meaningful connections. Sounds like they need to limit the numbers or create niche conferences.

  13. Not sure what you would actually gain from attending as you already have such amazing engagement with your readers, blog often and well…

    I found the sessions just not very helpful, so I guess it depends what you want from going. I only went because my book came out last week in paperback and I was trying (and failed utterly, sigh) to connect with book and business bloggers face to face. I will just have to invest the time to find them and see if I can just do it on-line.

    It felt like people go because they are determined to make $$$$ blogging (and maybe many already do) to to hang out with their friends. Neither goal fit my needs. And the crush was just too off-putting.

  14. I’ve always wondered what those conferences are like and appreciated your frank and honest review! Certainly none of the blogging fever here in Brussels… but it is coming up slowly. Kind of glad to say I’m starting up away from the mania.

    I love the idea of “40 over 40”. Go for it. Very glad to have come across your blog, you have a new reader!

    1. Well, I suspect you read the more polite/oblique one on FP today…You are far better off away from the craziness. I simply don’t get it but I’m not that social and I get paid to write, so maybe the two key appeals of blogging (new pals and being read) are a little less compelling for me now.

      We’re already planning it with a meeting here next week, and a preliminary invitation list of more than 70 women…I really hope to make “40 over 40” a reality for next spring near NY. There are so many smart, talented, creative women eager to connect face to face, and BlogHer was wayyyyyy too young/loud/noisy and focused on motherhood to resonate usefully for me.

  15. Oh, dear LORD! Why didn’t I find YOU at this conference?? I take HUGE issue with the writing thing. I have nothing in common, and I mean NOTHING, with people who post giveaway after giveaway with terrible grammar. Nice to meet you, I’m Stephanie. Next conference, we should sit down in a quiet place. And talk. About writing.

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