Reflections from BlogHer ’11 (Part 2)

In web development, one of the variables we often deal with when consulting with clients is bounce rate. Bounce rate is essentially the time people spend on a single page of your site before, well, bouncing. To lower the percentage, there are several approaches you can take. You can improve your back end code/SEO, you can simplify and clean up your site design, or you can re-tool your content in an attempt to keep people on your site longer.

These same strategies bear a striking resemblance to how you generally go about getting ready to meet new people. I think for most of us, we’d like to believe that people see us the way we see ourselves. If we are happy and confident, we believe that people will see that and want to be around us, maybe even to the point of wanting to be friends. However, in the hyperbole that is blogging, where social culture often resembles high school cheerleading squads, we sometimes try to boost our chances of being noticed and appreciated by the right people by projecting ourselves in the best possible light, or in this case, a light entirely different from what is true.

Despite being guilty of cleaning it up a little, I feel like we keep it pretty real here. Sure, we often cuss like a sailors and crack some pretty crude jokes, but for the most part, what you see is what you get.

With all this in mind, I think I naively went into BlogHer (my first real blogging conference) thinking that if I met people I “knew” in person, they’d like me. Maybe we’d even become better “friends” or friends. I didn’t think I had unreasonable expectations; I just figured that if I acted marginally sane, showered, smiled and cracked a few jokes, I couldn’t go wrong.

And while I managed to have some really good times (thanks in big part to Christa and Lissa, my roommates and the lovely ladies who came to our Missouri Wines party), I’d give the entire experience a 5 (out of 10). While I had a lot of fun and got to know a few people that I’m sure to adore for life, it felt like many of the people I met or tried to interact with bounced pretty quickly. They weren’t even subtle about the rejection. The biggest stings came from bloggers I kind of idolized, some of whom I’ve spent countless hours reading and responding to. Some I’ve even helped with design or web issues for free, when I had plenty of other things to do.

I can best describe the whole thing as high school on repeat. Unless you play it safe with people you know, you are constantly the tag-along or the last resort for people who are always on the lookout for someone better to talk to.

Feeling pretty crappy toward the end of the conference, I followed Lissa to Gwen Bell’s session, “Unplug, Unfriend, Unfollow, Unwind: Is That Sacrilege?” While most of BlogHer seemingly advocates committing more time, being more connected and doing more networking, Gwen’s advice was seemingly the opposite. Late last year she deleted Facebook, unplugged from the Internet entirely for months, and reclaimed her life and balance. She soon realized that few people even noticed she was “gone,” and she was much happier for having drawn the line. The message was perfectly timed because it was exactly how I was feeling.

The lack of balance and misdirection in my life when it comes to social media has been apparent for some time. While I enjoy freelancing and writing for our blog — and have no intention to stop any time soon — I spend countless unchecked hours on social media trying to “maintain.” I’m guilty of brown nosing for favor from larger bloggers. I’ve said yes to things I really don’t have the time for. I’ve helped people out for free and commented on other people’s blogs who never comment back and who as it turns out, might not even like me all that much or care if I didn’t. I’ve done it all at the expense of things I can and should be doing. All because I thought it would eventually come back around. But it hasn’t. And to avoid bigger heartbreak I realize I have to learn to say no.

BlogHer gave me some hard truths. It put who I am and want to be as a blogger against where my reality and priorities are; to focus on my real life, the people who bring me joy (both online and off) and the goals that move my life forward. It’s not about being mad and exacting some kind of equalizing justice toward people who hurt my feelings, it’s just about realizing that there are other people and things that deserve the best of me and I’m not currently giving it.

Will I attend BlogHer again? Probably not. It’s a HUGE conference and it’s difficult to make genuine connections with people and/or properly represent your sponsors. I think a lot of focus and effort goes toward the parties and swag, and to be honest it just isn’t my thing. Would I attend a smaller conference or one better targeted toward the information and opportunities I’m interested in? Definitely. Would I still like to connect with other bloggers? Of course, and I hope I get to soon!

To those of you I did have the opportunity to meet and actually spend real time with, thank you, thank you and thank you! You made the experience so much fun and I hope we meet again!

Addendum: Snapshots from BlogHer ’11 (Part 1)

Comments

  1. I’m pretty sure I will never attend a BlogHer conference, for all of the reasons you described. If I *had* been there, I would have had bells on to see you (not that I fit into any of the categories you described) but you would be on my list for sure.

    I may have to unplug for a bit- no Facebook, Twitter or message boards. I still gotta write.

    • Had you been there it definitely would have been a blast! I should clarify that it’s not the conference’s fault, it’s there to serve the majority and a lot of people swear by it. But it doesn’t serve my needs or what I hoped to get out of it.

      I think unplugging will be good for me. FB/Twitter constantly breeds an environment of never feeling good enough, never feeling like you’re doing enough, and being openly rebuffed by people was kind of the last ouch for me. I’ll still be on it, it’s impossible to avoid, but I’m definitely engaging less and unplugging more.

  2. I’m sorry some of your fave bloggers let you down. :-( It is such a huge conference that there are bound to be some hits and misses. I hope you at least had some fun memories and hey, when else would you have gotten to workout with Bob? It was a delight to meet you!

    -Monica

    • Exactly, it’s a huge conference and for me, I’m afraid it was too much and too fast to really enjoy other people. There were definitely some great times though, and working out with you and Bob was so awesome! My legs are STILL KILLING ME!

  3. I’m right there with you! Was my 1st BlogHer conference and wasn’t impressed. I think it was great from a networking with other bloggers stand point but for connecting with brands or any learning opportunities I personally found it non-existent. The truly disheartening thing was I flew in a day early for Pathfinder to sit in on my blog as a business. Pioneer Women kept stating Content is Queen. Uhm well yeah it is. Tell me something I don’t know. When asked by an attendee who was having difficulty building her community – both presenters looked at each other dumb founded and said, hmmm, that’s a good question. Then Pioneer Woman responded with…can you guess…yup…Content is Queen. They should have really provided more context and adequate descriptions to to let attendees know what sessions were for beginners (which from my viewpoint seemed to be all of them.)

    • The sessions I did attend were great, but they seemed secondary to all the parties and sponsor/expo stuff. I think people have this idea that there is a path of advancement in blogging and that success is guaranteed so long as you make the right decisions and do things a certain way. I really don’t find that to be the case. It’s totally random, if not almost accidental. Content is queen, but you have to hit the pulse right. To me the odds of being a famous/popular blogger are no different than being a professional athlete or the President of the United States.

  4. Jessica, thanks for commenting on my Blogher post. I am sorry you had much the same experience as I did. Wish I had gotten a chance to meet you!

    Ironically, the “People’s Party” was created as backlash against the private invite-only parties and clique-ishness that Blogher has become. Now that party is, alas, the same.

    This was #4 for me with Blogher, and probably my last, for the same reasons you outlined. If I want to feel like crap I can spend a whole lot less money at home.

    Take care!
    p.s. if we don’t already, follow me! @sendchocolate I WILL follow you back, and even *gasp interact with you. ;oD

    • Me too! and definitely followed! I think it’s cut out for some people, and there was always going to be a ‘first conference.’ Now I can find one that is a better fit and hopefully meet more awesome people that got lost at sea at BlogHer.

  5. Now I’m extra sorry that we didn’t get the chance to meet up! My experience was different — in part because I live here and “felt” different on my home turf. Another thing was that a friend and I went out to lunch each day. And while it wasn’t the most economical, it was the best way to avoid those feelings you’re talking about, that I know I would have felt otherwise. Thanks for your honesty!

    • I think I would have felt a lot better had I balanced conference time out with some sightseeing in San Diego, it’s such a beautiful city! It would have given me a break from the hustle and bustle and would have made me feel more in control of what was going on and less …in the way? I wish we would have gotten to meet up too, hopefully there will be more/other conferences in the future!

  6. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on BlogHer. I would love to go to a conference but so far I haven’t found one that really strikes me as fitting for me (BlogHer included). I really need a conference for 40 year old empty nesters who like to cook and craft. :) Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • I think that’s the hard part, finding a conference that fits your niche, which is then made harder if you have more than one niche lol. We should just have a craft night where we cook and sit around and make stuff. I don’t know what, but something…

  7. Jessica, I loved this post! I have totally felt the same way at several conferences, and thought I was the only one that felt that way.
    I think you would love a smaller conference, and I bet there is a conference for designers too. I have left several groups because of the non-connection, and quite honestly, it was hard to leave, but the best thing I have done for myself and my business.
    I think finding the balance you talked about is a struggle we all go through on a daily basis, I know I do.
    Hang in there sweetie! There will be the perfect conference for you, I promise!
    ~Liz

    • Thanks Liz, you’re the best! I think you find groups or niches that you ‘want’ to be a part of, and that makes it hard to cut the cord if things aren’t working out. For me, I think feeling a part of multiple niches both helps and hinders. I’ll find my way and in the mean time, I have awesome clients and good friends like you!

  8. Seriously? Lame lame lame. Sorry this was the experience you had. :( I know absolutely nothing about BlogHer, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s not all rainbows and lollipops. Thanks for sharing your true impression.

    • I think it depends on what kind of person you are. If you like non-stop action and lots of networking in order to move your business/brand/blog/life to the “next level” then it’s probably for you. If you like things a little slower, prefer smaller groups and more genuine interaction then it’s probably not for you. I have mixed feelings on the sessions. Some I found really useful, others not so much. All in all it just didn’t fit me as a person I think.

  9. i appreciate the honesty–a week ago i would’ve said ‘man i would love to go to BlogHer’, but reading your recap makes me think twice. i went to the foodbuzz festival last year and can ABSOLUTELY relate to some of what you experienced! like you, i’d be all for smaller conferences!

    • I think it comes down to how you like to interact or connect with other people. For me, I’d rather have a few genuine friendships than a lot of networked acquaintances. That’s not to say I didn’t meet some great people who I’ll know for a long time, but it was a lot harder and the design and sheer size of the conference really isn’t conducive to it. Most of the people I was able to connect to I met in smaller events or breakout sessions that were outside of the conference.

  10. I am really bummed for you that your favorite bloggers didn’t interact with you and in fact brushed you off. This year I only had one experience like that but that is mainly because I stuck to people I really knew. Like you I spent most of my time with friends IRL and that is what made my experience. I feel like I am just not one of those people who is able to make close relationships with just online friends. It made me feel left out of the crowd for a long time but it is what is . I can’t change my personality.

    Of course that meant I essentially spent the entire conference with Claire and it was more of a girls trip with her. I did make connections this year but came away with no clearer idea of what I am doing. I need a conference for that.

    Really bummed we didn’t get to spend more time together. I felt like we were ships in the night. You guys always seemed to be leaving or have left when I got there. Were you secretly avoiding me? ;)

  11. Jessica,

    I read this post, and then each comment following it. First time visitor/commenter!

    Thank you for the frank assessment of the conference from your perspective. This was my fourth BlogHer conference. The first year I attended was in Chicago, and though it was smaller, it was still overwhelming. I didn’t know you could make blogging a career at the time. I “live-tweeted” the event (this was 2007, back when live-tweeting wasn’t really a thing people did, and I had about two dozen followers…I’m not even sure they were called followers back then. It was the Dark Ages of Twitter. Live-tweeting was like scratching digital hieroglyphs on the wall).

    At that time, though I was a LiveJournaller (had been for years) I knew I wanted to be a real-live blogger. Not a big-time blogger, but a blogger who did the work of waking up in the morning and committing some words to the digital page. So, maybe more of a digital writer, but, it was called “being a blogger.” And I decided I would speak at the next BlogHer. It seemed a worthy goal. And, it became a reality. I spoke in 2008, then attended as an attendee in 2009, skipped 2010 because the thought of going overwhelmed me. Then, somehow from 2010 to 2011, while advocating healthy use of technology, became the “Woman Who Advocates for Unplugging.”

    I guess this happened because before I even came to the web I was a practitioner – a yoga student, and a practitioner of Buddhism (strictly Zen at the time, but I’ve softened around the labels through the years since). The base for me has always been practice, then post.

    Or sit, then write.

    Thank you for taking the time to come to the session on unplugging. I’m happy to hear it resonated and look forward to seeing the ways in which you incorporate into your life what we did in those 90 minutes.

    (Side note. You mentioned you’d like to practice saying no. I just ran across this gem of an idea: http://www.rejectiontherapy.com/)

    Gwen

    • Gwen, I’m so honored you stopped by! Your session really did resonate with me and the past couple of weeks have been so much more relaxed because of some of the changes I’ve made.

  12. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I went to a couple blog conferences last year, and while I met some amazing people, I shared a lot of your same sentiments. In general, I found the blog world very cliquy and cheerleader-esque. Ick. I’m not sure people did it on purpose though. It’s like, with the highs come the lows? Or people just get so wrapped up in their blog? {I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this before too.}

    I also don’t have the time or desire to invest in the amount of social media a lot of people put in because of work and school. I’m on the computer enough as it is! I also do not get Twitter. It’s too abstract and large for me.

    Bottom line, while I was glad that I went to the conferences, I wouldn’t do them again. I’d rather use the money towards a class or trip with friends/family.

    • I’m finding myself on social media less and less. You don’t need to check it that often or at all to stay involved and informed, I think I just needed to unplug and realize that. I feel a lot more positive too, and a lot less worried about what people think and how they react to the things I say. I feel less competitive. It’s hard not to find yourself competing with the blogosphere Jones’s when you are staring at them all day long.

  13. I attended BlogHer ’11 expecting to find that high-school mentality that you described. I haven’t even started blogging yet…am just reading blogs, getting used to social media for our new family business, and finding my way now that my children are all in their twenties. Instead I found myself in a wonderland of amazing women (and a few men) who were open, friendly, helpful and always interested in what others were doing. Honestly, I don’t think I have ever felt more “included” in an event where I knew no one and had no experience to share.

    I didn’t expect to be invited to the swag parties, wasn’t interested in promoting myself to brands. I merely wanted to find out what this BlogHer was about. I came away with new friends, new insights and new confidence that I do indeed have a place in the world of personal expression, potential business opportunity and continuing development as a woman who isn’t finished learning.

    I’m sorry that your experience wasn’t as positive. I wish we had met … such a huge conference and so many wonderful people to meet! I do plan to attend next year, even though it will mean traveling to NYC from San Diego. For me, it’s more about the people and the opportunity to learn from women of all ages, interests and especially from those whose lives are so different from mine.

    • I’m so glad you had a better experience than I did. I think had I went in under different circumstances or knowing more people better than I thought I did, I probably would have had a better time.

  14. People – both those I know “in real life” and those I’ve known on the internet for years (Hi Kate!) – tried to get me to go to BlogHer this year. I hemmed and I hawed and I came up with one excuse after another. They were all very real excuses, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t also very convenient. You see, I have absolutely no desire to attend BlogHer, ever. Living in the SF Bay Area – and because of my former career – I’ve attended more “social media events” than I care to recall and at some of those I’ve run into some folks pretty high up on the BlogHer food chain. They weren’t terrible human beings but it was very clear very quickly that they didn’t have time to talk to me because I wasn’t big time enough. I didn’t have brand name recognition so they moved on to find someone to talk to that did. Okay then. That was strike one. Strike two were the stories I’ve heard from friends that work for brands that attend conferences aimed at women, among them BlogHer. The behavior of some of these bloggers is abhorrent. I’ve had a friend’s job threatened because she couldn’t hook a high profile blogger up with more free swag for a blog giveaway. Drunk women crashed a small dinner for 10 demanding that they be included with statements of “do you know who I am?” Yes, we do. And now we really know who you are and it’s even less impressive. Finally, the behavior of what I saw from attendees of the SF event convinced me that I could never attend. At a restaurant midway between the event location and my office I heard a conversation between six or so women ripping other bloggers apart. It was the worst of what you see in high school and it made my skin crawl. No way would I willingly sign up for that. I think there’s got to be a better way for people to learn how to be better bloggers and more fully leverage social media for that growth, but I don’t think BlogHer is it. I used to work with a large IT conference and in the last couple of years there’ve been a lot of small, localized mini-conferences on the same subject popping up. Slowly but surely attendees have started migrating to the smaller un-conference because they get more out of it. I think something like that will eventually happen for women. I still don’t know though that you could pay me to go.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, i definitely feel less weird for not having had “a blast” and come away with “tons” of new friends. I definitely wish there was a way to connect the learning opportunities and social maturity of an all out work-ish type conference that would still be fun to go to. We are going to the FoodBuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco in November, but Neil is coming with and if we don’t like the conference we have friends and plenty of sights to see so it doesn’t feel like a wasted trip.

      I’m just not the type of blogger these larger conferences were designed for, and I’m okay with that knowing I’m not alone. I think the faux sense of celebrity and hierarchy is laughable and after being snubbed by a few “bigger” bloggers, I came home and deleted nearly all of them from my Reader.

      Thank you again so much for stopping by. I appreciate your thoughts!

  15. What a wonderfully honest refreshing post. This is exactly things that I imagine these conferences to be. I’ve wrote a few posts on technology and being so “into” technology…it’s kind of sickening to me actually…when do people just “be”? Like really – just be? Just walk or talk or stop and see a river, jump off a cliff (that’s safe!) ;) – without having to rush to technology – a cell, a computer, an ipad – to tell everyone. What would happen if they/you didn’t? What would happen if you just sat with those feelings and just “let it be”?…I don’t know – it seems social media – tweeting, etc. – sometimes is just really one big Rat Race with everyone trying to keep ahead of the other. And eventually – something (and someone’s gotta give). I mean -really…how long can people play that game?

    • Thank you so much! It’s true, I think we’ve become dependent on having an audience or a response to the things we do, we rarely do them just for ourselves or our own enrichment anymore. One of the big points Gwen made, that I so agree with is that our parents were tethered to work and the structure of jobs, bosses etc. Our generation, while we claim to be liberated and free with flexible jobs and the opportunity to avoid a lot of traditional jobs, have created an even shorter tether with social media and technology.

  16. Jessica, thanks for reading and commenting on my blog and for this wonderfully honest, refreshing, and candid post. I am going to email you.

    Thank you for having the courage to speak up about your experience and blog from the heart, honestly, truthfully. I wish more people were like you :)

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