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)