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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Going to blog conferences - your questions answered

Being inspired by Kacy's questions (and request for me to craft such a post), I've decided to give my advice/opinions about attending blog conferences. On my blog's facebook page I posted the question:

If I were to write a post about attending blog conferences, what sort of questions would you like to see answered?

Instead of answering the sort of questions which were posted in response, I'll answer the very questions which were posted.

(Before I do, let it be known: I'm not someone who travels year-round to blog conferences. In fact, I've been to just a handful. Also, you can find these What-To-Know-About-Conference posts all over the web; you should read maybe those, too... I do promise you that here in my post I will be completely honest with you. And that these opinions are my own. Is this a disclosure? Because also, I'm not being compensated from anyone, or any company, mentioned in this post.)

Are they worth the money?

I think so. That is, the ones I've paid to attend have been worth the money for me. You have to decide for yourself if it's worth it for you. I don't mean to be vague, but you know your money situation better than I do, so, you know: do what works for you. I feel like I should also include the phrases, "Make it work," and, "Pray about it."
I suppose what is good to do at each conference; is it better for learning, networking, freebies, etc.?
Different conferences cater to different audiences; there are conferences which focus on design, food, etc., and this is where 'knowing your niche' comes in to play. To find out what will be going on, read the conference's blog and agenda, but also ask around: what do past attendees of the conference think?

As for my own experience: If you want to learn, go to evo conference, which hosts world-class instructors and panelists on topics ranging from Food Photography to Apps, Gadgets, and Online Tools. Evo also caps their attendance, ensuring manageable (and therefore accessible) class sizes. For networking, any conference is good, I think, because networking is up to you: how are you reaching out, and to whom? BlogHer, because of its size (3600+ attendees in San Diego this year), is good for networking and for freebies, which leads me to: freebies. The more sponsors there are at a conference, the more likely there is free stuff to take home. Again, from the conference's site you can learn about which sponsors and companies will be in attendance.
How to get beyond the social awkwardness when you go alone.
Is going alone awkward? If you're more comfortable being in a group, make arrangements before you go (or while you're there) to meet up with people. Perhaps you'd be willing to share a hotel room with someone (or some two, or some three) -- instant buddy, someone with whom you can check in and compare schedules. Maybe there's someone who you've known online only (you comment on each others' blogs regularly, or chat on twitter) who will also be at the conference: this is the perfect time to be introduced face-to-face! Set up a lunch date, or arrange to go to a party together. We know each other because of the Social in Social Networking, and online can carry over easily to (what the kids are calling) IRL. Be proactive.
How much does it cost to go to one? Lodging/attendance/food etc.?
This depends on the conference.

Lodging for most conferences is available at a nearby hotel, which will usually offer a conference-related discount (often including free wifi during the conference). Remember that the cost will be lower for you if you share a room (do pay attention to occupancy in regards to rates), and if you're in need of a roommate, there are usually message board-type places linked on the conference's site to help you find what (in this case who) you're looking for.

The rate to attend conferences varies, and many will offer an Early Bird Special (both BlogHer and evo are offering discounted rates if you register BEFORE August 31st, so hurry if you're planning on those). Pay attention to ticket transfer policy: in case you can't attend, you may want to sell your ticket, so see if the conference will allow for that (and if so, how many times; like, if you decide to buy someone else's ticket because they can't attend, but the conference has a one-transfer-only policy, you wouldn't be able to sell your ticket in case you end up not being able to attend. Does that make sense?). Also, there are different ticket options: buying a full-conference pass would be more expensive (but a better deal) than a pass for just one day, or just a party pass. Full conference passes, without a discount, can be $200-$400. (Or more.) (Or less.)

For food, many conferences include meals and/or snack breaks, and there might be food in the form of appetizers (and more!) at parties. Check your conference's schedule. If you're visiting a different city, you may want to plan on spending money to dine at local (famous?) restaurants.

Speaking of Visiting A Different City, another cost is transportation. I like going to evo because it is in Park City, and while I do stay at The Canyons, I can drive, making it very affordable. Just like finding a roommate, consider carpooling to your conference's location (I know a few who drove from Utah to San Diego for BlogHer this year). If you do end up flying, perhaps the fates will be on your side and you'll get to fly with friends (like I did last year on the way to BlogHer). And if you fly, when you get there: will you rent a car? Take a cab (can you split the fare with a friend?)? Does your hotel offer a shuttle?
How do you get invited to the cool parties?
There are so many parties and events, and once you've registered for the conference you'll likely get email alerts about needing to send in your RSVP for this party or that event. Pay attention and reply quickly, though because those events fill up quickly.

The other answer? For the non-conference-affiliated parties? Honestly? By knowing cool people. This is a (harsh?) reality, and a lot of people get their feelings hurt by being excluded. If there aren't many parties on your schedule be prepared to hear about a party you didn't get invited to, and DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT BECAUSE YOU'RE HAVING FUN ANY WAY. Seriously. At BlogHer in New York last year, I was invited to quite a few cool parties, and it was all because of who I know, people who were kind enough to include me on their list(s). This year in San Diego, I did get invited to a couple of parties, but not nearly as many, and there were plenty of parties I wasn't invited to. Still? Fun time, and never without something to do.
How do you get companies to give you free stuff at them?
Companies are there to distribute their stuff. But beware of the quality: do you really need to use up space in your luggage for 2 packages of tortillas? (I did last year, don't judge.) Companies use space in an expo hall or hotel suite or other designated area designed to have attendees visit and learn about the company and its products, most times with samples, and sometimes with samples of products that haven't hit the public market yet. If you'd like more than one sample, just ask. ("Would you like a shirt?" "Instead could I have one for each of my kids?" "Sure! How many kids?" "Five." Check it out -- souvenirs.)
What benefit would there be for an unknown/introverted blogger to attend?
To have a good time. To get out of the house. To meet people you've only seen online. To spread the word about your blog. To visit a new city. To say you went. To take classes specific to being a blogger. To learn more about the industry. To connect with brands/companies. To get free stuff. To party. To go on vacation.
How do you even find out about them?
Listen (read) about what other people are saying about them, and then 'like' the conference on facebook or subscribe to their newsletter. You could even post a facebook status or send out a tweet which says something like, "Which blog conferences would you recommend and why?"
Is it bad to take as much free stuff as you can? I'm seeing bloggers say it's tacky, and yet it's all I want.
When people talk about tacky, they're talking about when people act tacky, as in: people get invited to a party, and instead of spending time there, attendees hear about The Great Swag, so they enter as soon as the doors open, make a mad dash for (and fight each other over) the gift bags, and then leave. (This may or may not have happened at a conference which I didn't attend.) (But I heard that it did.) You can get free stuff, but be (or at least act) gracious: thank the host/rep, ask questions about the company (or party host if applicable), don't just take the stuff and run. There's time to get all the stuff you want: take the stuff and then make conversation and THEN run. Just kidding. But you never know, by engaging after (or before) receiving The Stuff, you may establish a connection which would result in being able to host a giveaway, or partnering with a company on a campaign, or becoming the next face of Your Favorite Laundry Detergent. You just never know.
Business cards?
Yes. Absolutely. If you're going to a conference, invest in business cards. They don't have to be fancy; in fact, the ones I hate to receive have a piece of gum or whatever stapled to them, or are 'creatively' shaped. I just want a card I can put in my card holder with the rest of them. You can get cards at a reasonable price at, or you could try your luck at any number of giveaways on stationery blogs and the like.

Include contact information, but be brief also (tricky). My card includes: a photo, my name, my commenting name (~j.), my blog url, email address, phone number, city & state (in case a company says, "I'd like to work with a Utah blogger for this project..."), twitter handle, and blog facebook page url. On the reverse side of my card, I have my blog header.

I'd say to order 200-500 cards. They're always good to have on hand (says me).

A word on passing out cards. Some people deal them out like playing cards. I find it better (much like acquiring the swag) to make a connection first. I even say, "May I give you my card?" which seems forward, but I like it better than, "May I have your card?" Not that there's anything wrong with asking for someone's card, and I've done that before, but it's a different question entirely, and I just like asking if I can give mine. (And get theirs, too. Of course.)
Is the point of attending one to promote your blog, or do you just go to have a good time?
Yes. (heh) If I'm being honest, the main reason I wanted to go to BlogHer last year, initially, was to be in New York City. Turns out, I was also at a great conference with awesome parties (in the best city in the world). You can go to promote your blog and you're likely to have a good time, and vice versa.
What do you learn there? What kind of classes are taught?
Many different kinds of classes are taught, like I mentioned above. Check the agenda to see if what the conference offers is your cup o' tea. As for what you learn . . . among other things you certainly learn a lot about people and the politics of blogging.
Do popular bloggers get offended when they introduce themselves and people have no idea who they are?
Did I ever tell you about the time I saw Ree Drummond? Yeah, The Pioneer Woman? (Man, you know what, this deserves its own post, so I'll just abbreviate the experience here.) It was at a party, she was standing in a circle with some of my friends, I entered the circle, and someone said, "Jenny, this is Ree." I looked at her face, looked at her name badge, looked back at her face and said, "Oh, yes. I've heard of you." *AHEM* Did I know she was the owner of her own empire? No, I did not. Her reaction? She smiled and went back to talking to my friends who, I am certain (now) were horrified and/or confused and/or embarrassed. She was classy. And doesn't even remember it, I Am So Sure.

I've also seen Not Classy, but for the most part, when bloggers throw fits because of not being recognized it's not because they're a Popular Blogger, but rather it's because they only think they are.

I hope that helps. If not, please clarify in the comments section. And, please join the conversation(s) on my blog's facebook page.


Chris Bird said...

Great post! I agree with your synopsis of how each conference is different, and you have to decide what you want to get out of it before deciding which one to go too. I would add, most of the swag you'll get at a conference isn't worth buying a conference ticket for, let alone air fare and hotel rooms... a lot of it you will throw away... so don't go just for that! Make sure it's because you either want to learn, or connect with other great bloggers, like I did with Formerly Phread! So glad we did. :)

La Yen said...

You know how I hate people? You know. But you make going to a conference sound really fun.

sue-donym said...

Great post! You've almost made me want to start up my blog again.
Which leads to my question...
Can Used To Be Crappy Now Non Bloggers attend?

Carina said...

I could testify in a court of law that Formerly Phread makes a great conference roommate, if you're in the market for one.

kacy faulconer said...

It does sound fun.