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conferences

Why I Won’t Be Attending Mom 2.011

by anna on October 31, 2010

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Let me start by apologizing for the self-important topic and for the general who-gives-a-shit, Anna? response many of you will have to this post. The absurdity of me writing a post about not attending a conference is not lost on me, but after recommending Mom 2.0 to anyone and everyone who has asked me about good business-oriented conferences within in the mom blogosphere, I feel like some explanation is necessary for why I’m no longer endorsing it or attending it myself.

Disclosure: I submitted a panel idea for this years’ Mom 2.0 conference (on the topic of maintaining trust capital View definition in a new window while still making a living online) which was rejected. I assume many people will think this is why I have changed my mind about the conference, but actually, I had had planned all along upon attending the conference regardless of whether or not I was chosen to speak (and, indeed figured there was little chance I would be chosen to speak given . . . several factors). My experience last year had been well worth the investment without speaking and I had no reason to believe that this year would be any different. However, after reviewing the loose agenda and the speakers list released last week, I’ve decided my money is better invested elsewhere. My reasoning is listed below.

1. Panels have been cut by 25%

My primary concern about endorsing this conference is that the panel time has been cut by one fourth so that there can be an afternoon spent on “practical application” of ideas presented in the panels “in real life.” The opportunities for practical application will ostensibly be presented by activities such as swamp tours and fashion walks in New Orleans — a claim that raises more questions than it answers. I understand that it is several months before the conference and as such, the complete ideas are probably not fully formed, but what this whole thing smacks of to me, frankly, is a choice opportunity for highly paid sponsor product placement for the conference organizers at the expense of conference attendees. And if that’s not what they have planned, then it should be, because it’s an excellent opportunity for getting a bunch of bloggers to take pictures of each other next to signs that say French Market or Who Dat or whatever it is they sell in New Orleans, and then tweet it all over the planet. Good for them, I say: I’m just not interested in supplementing it with $500* from my already sparse conference budget.

In the interest of trying to determine the actual content of this mysterious third session and its utility to people who read this blog, I’ve had several conversations with the Mom2summit Twitter account and the info@mom2summit email account this week (these accounts are apparently empowered with the capacity of speech, as if they have their own human subjectivity). The Mom2summit Twitter account initially contacted me in response to some tweets I made expressing concern about the third session. I asked the account what the third session (the “time off” as I worded it, and the “application time” as the mom2summit email account worded it) would offer to bloggers who are interested in learning how to land private ads or sponsorship deals, because I see that as a primary concern for my readership. The twitter account told me that monetization would be covered in the first two sessions, but that maybe the Twitter account could add something in the third part. I asked the Twitter account to give me a formal statement via email, and this is what the info@mom2summit.com account was able to compose for me:

We are still in the process of developing this Saturday programming, but it will be designed to include opportunities for the diversity of attendees’ interests, subject lines, and content needs. For instance, we have mentioned a French Quarter fashion tour, which will be a smaller outing for fashion bloggers, site owners, and media to tour the country’s oldest perfumery and to visit with one of the leading hat designers in the world. That’s just one of the 10 to 15 options. Another will be a video session, where those interested in adding video content to their site will be able to develop a video blog entry with the help of a professional crew. There will be a tour and discussion with educational leaders for those who blog on political or public policy issues. For those exclusively interested in “landing private ads or sponsorship deals”, there will be a more in-depth strategy session on business-development application, coupled with a traditional Ritz-Carlton tea service, that will cover that topic.

Some of these options are no doubt interesting from an objective standpoint, but they don’t really meet my personal needs for a business conference. You might have surmised that the last bit was added in response to my query, so there is now a potential option for people who are not interested in a swamp tour and who are not able to get onto the perfumery short list (pro tip: if you are going with the thought of getting onto the perfumery shortlist — don’t is my advice, unless your last name is Armstrong). The response from the mom2summit email account is much longer than this, and includes references to requests from last year’s attendees for “more case studies.” While I wholeheartedly respect the email account’s desire to meet the needs of the conference attendees, I’m a little confused about what this means, unless we are talking about case studies in the sense that people study them in business school, in which case — nope, still confused as to how that involves visiting a hat designer. And now my head is hurting.

It might be that my interests are not diverse enough to go to a conference organized by a corporate email account working in conjunction with an anonymous Twitter handle. In which case, nicely played, electronic agents of unknown third-party social media maven behest!

2. The speaker lineup is light on business/monetizing expertise.

The speaker lineup released on Friday includes one person I would enjoy seeing speak, an executive from Yahoo Shine who sounds semi-interesting, five dads, and a few other people who are mainstays from the mommyblogging speaking circuit. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here because there’s not a whole lot of reason to, but suffice to say that from where I’m sitting there’s not a whole lot on this agenda that is fleshing out to be innovative from the perspective of business or monetization. This was not the case last year — last year there was all kinds of stuff shared that was not available elsewhere in the mommyblogosphere. People were speaking whom I had not seen speak elsewhere, and they were sharing information that was not shared elsewhere. The list posted is not the full list of speakers, but this list posted suggests a trend, and that trend does not suggest good things to me for the kind of content in which I am interested, or in which the readers of this blog tend to be interested. It doesn’t mean the conference won’t be enjoyable: I just don’t think it will be a good return on investment for people who are looking for a business conference.

*3. 25% cut out of this conference, for me, works out to about $500. A $500 reduction in value, plus a decidedly fluffier agenda, makes Mom 2.0 look like a smaller, more expensive incarnation of BlogHer View definition in a new window.

A round trip plane ticket from Los Angeles to New Orleans costs $400-500, and three nights at the Ritz Carlton costs about $700, even without room service. Even with my cheaper conference ticket (I bought it last May for $310), with food and incidentals factored in, I would be looking at close to a $2,000 price tag for attending this conference. I’m willing to pay that much for a conference and indeed have on several occasions, but with a lighter agenda and with 25% of the panels cut out, that makes this conference into a smaller, more expensive version of BlogHer. And the one thing that BlogHer has is that it is BlogHer, and that everybody goes to BlogHer — the only argument for spending money on Blogher is the ubiquity of it. A smaller conference has its benefits, but it loses those once it tries to emulate the bigger, crappier one that only has value in ubiquity. Some of these events will probably be fun, but for this amount of money, and time away, I need a higher ROI to justify it.

Caveat: Maybe, *maybe* consider going if you are a newer blogger who wants a chance to meet big name bloggers.

When I was thinking about reasons to go to this conference, I realized that there might be a reason to go if you are a newer blogger who wants a chance to meet some of the big name bloggers in a smaller setting. Several of them are likely to be at this conference (e.g. Dooce View definition in a new window, Maggie Mason View definition in a new window, The Bloggess View definition in a new window, Design Mom, possibly Finslippy?), and it is much easier to get a chance to meet and talk to them in this context than it is at a big conference like BlogHer. Is that worth paying $2,000? I kind of doubt it, but I thought I should leave that possibility open because it is a legitimate plus of this conference. And I’m guessing that it will be far better run than you would imagine would be possible for an outfit run by a corporate Twitter account and an anonymous email account. I’m just not confident that it will have the same kind of business cache it had last year. I would be happy to be proven wrong, though.

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 View definition in a new window 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 View definition in a new window, 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 View definition in a new window, 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(!).

Overall Thoughts

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.

This is not my definitive post on BlogWorld Expo 2010. It is only the second day, and I can already tell you that the conference is very well-run, and that I’ve seen things implemented here that are exemplary from an organizational standpoint and from the perspective of ensuring that the population’s needs are being met. I will discuss this more at length next week. The purpose of this post is to explore my first impressions of the distinctively different experience of attending a conference out among the regular(?) humans, instead of just with the mommies.

To call BlogHer View definition in a new window a conference full of just mommies is already a misrepresentation, of course, and even though the BlogHer community is full of women and men of all types, we often act as if it is all mommies. I would guess that the reason the mommyblogosphere is not always welcomed with open arms into the rest of the internet has something to do with this fact. Alternatively, It may have something to do with our penchant for pink sidebars, cursive fonts, and stock graphics of martinis interwoven with pacifiers.

At any rate, I thought that my conversation at the Liquid Lounge last night with Larry, a marketing (?) rep with Izea, was worth relating because of its reflection of how mommyblogging is generally viewed by the internet as a whole. One of the benefits of being a sober alcoholic is that I’m often one of the only people who is cognizant enough at these kinds of functions to remember embarrassing and incriminating conversations the next morning to broadcast them to the rest of the internet. I’m kind of like a CIA plant, and at this conference I’m uniquely well suited to the job since the conference has about 60/40 male to female ratio during the day, but at the nighttime events the ratio slants much further to the male side, and it’s always been my experience that you can get men to say stupid things in the context of bars, particularly if you are a woman and they think you might be a PR representative at first, rather than just another blogger.

Larry came up and introduced himself, asked me what my name was.

Larry: Meredith?
Me: Anna.
Larry: Oh, Anna. I’m with Izea. Do you know us?
Me: Oh. Yeah. [Thinking: you're the ones who send me annoying emails every other day.]
Larry: What do you do?
Me: I’m a blogger.
Larry: You’re a blogger?
Me: I’m a blogger.
Larry: What’s your blog?
Me: ABDPBT View definition in a new window.
Larry: . . .
Me: I’ll just give you my card.
Larry: Wow, this is a . . . this is a card.
Me: See it’s All But Dissertation Pretzel Brain Twist. Never mind. It doesn’t matter.
Larry: So you have your master’s degree?
Me: Yes. But. Never mind.
Larry: What do you write about?
Me: Well, originally it was a mommyblog, but now I write about the business of mommyblogging.
Larry: Really?
Me: Really.
Larry: How do you feel about mommyblogging?
Me: How do I feel about it?
Larry: Yeah. Are you pro or con? [Making thumbs up and thumbs down sign, coupled with questioning face.]
Me: Well I find mommybloggers fascinating.
Larry: You do?
Me: Yes. They are fascinating. It’s a fascinating community. It’s a fascinating phenomenon. I find all of it fascinating.
Larry: It’s a fad.

Me: A fad?
Larry: It’s like Justin Bieber.
Me: So, you mean, there will always be another one of them, then?
Larry: What?
Me: There will always be another mommyblogger to take the place of the one who just was a fad, and who just went out of style.
Larry: Where do you see your blog going, though?
Me: I see it talking about the business as it continues to develop. As it continues to burn through the next series of Biebers. And the series of Biebers after that.
Larry: [Wanders off to dance with programmer from Microsoft.]

There are some mommybloggers at this conference. Not a ton, but some. Predominantly, though, this is a conference filled with marketing and public relations people, tech people, and people from various aspects of the entertainment business. This is a conference where the mommies are given one panel on the revolutionary topic of blogging for money, not swag View definition in a new window (sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, of course), at the back of a dark hallway. Mommyblogging is a small niche — a small, insular, rich niche, that is not well-respected by much of the rest of the internet. Coming to this conference has made this more apparent to me than ever.

But is mommyblogging a fad? I don’t think so. I think that women will continue to leave the workforce to have children and seek the community that blogging provides. As long as women are controlling the household budget, advertising dollars will be spent on trying to capture their attention, and mom blogs will be monetized. Saying mommyblogging a fad is like saying that having children is a fad: we will be able to burn through trust capital View definition in a new window and Biebers with sponsored posts for as long as we want, because there will always be another one to take the place of the one who has fallen out of favor. Is it a bleak portrait? Maybe. But that doesn’t make it incorrect.

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