My #BlogHer14 Takeaways: Sessions, Sponsors, Reactions, Conclusions

Until this past weekend, my last BlogHer Conference was 2010’s, in New York City. There are various reasons why I hadn’t returned since then, but they boil down to the conference getting bigger as my connections within its various sub-spheres became fewer. While my interest was piqued by the announcement that ticket sales for 2014’s tenth-anniversary event would be capped at 2500 and that it would be held just 300 miles away in San Jose, I didn’t decide to go back one more time until the conference agenda was posted.

Deep Blogging session The Blogging Pivot BlogHer14 The 3 Rs Blog

Since I’m not much for the party scene, I’ve always felt that if I go to BlogHer, it’s for the sessions. But to my own surprise, I attended only one breakout from the agenda that drew me to the conference in the first place. The speakers in the “Blogging Pivot” session discussed their experiences with navigating their successful blogs away from established niches into new territory, and the instances when a blogger might explore doing the same:

  • When the blog has come to define the blogger, providing what the audience expects more what the blogger might want to talk about
  • When the reason for starting the blog was specific and/or related to another event (a book launch, for example): that goes away, but the blogger wants to keep going with other interests/content
  • When the blog focused on or served a particular community at first, but has transitioned or grown to the point of becoming unmanageable

They also shared some of the considerations and cautions surrounding making the pivot:

  • Don’t let the blog define you–do what feels right to you as the blogger
  • Don’t let negative feedback to change stop you from doing what’s best for you
  • Announce the coming change to your readers, and follow through on it despite any negativity
  • Realize that you may lose readers, but you’ll gain others because you’re writing with new passion and energy about what you’re really into

(If you’re interested in more detailed notes, contact me directly and I’ll be glad to email them to you, or check out the official live-blog transcript.)

My primary insight coming out of this session is that the way I blog, as my credo expresses, means that I don’t foresee bumping into this “pivot” very hard. I think it’s largely because my blogging is much more defined by interests than by identity or by association with a specific lifestyle or life stage. I built in the “randomness” from the very beginning, and I’ve never successfully (or seriously, to be honest) cultivated a “niche”–I think both of those factors free me up to mix it up.

Opening Breakfast Keynote BlogHer14 The 3 Rs Blog

Even more surprising to me than attending only one session was that, aside from the discomfort of opening night in the Expo Hall, I got genuine value from interactions with conference sponsors. I’m not much for networking and “connecting with brands,” but I arrived at BlogHer’14 with plans to do just a bit of that.

As a book blogger, I wanted to get better acquainted with Shebooks; their open house was on my personal agenda, and I hope to strengthen that connection going forward.

But even more, I wanted to do some data-gathering. I’ve been seriously contemplating moving this blog to self-hosted ever since coming back from BEA and joining the Litbreaker ad network, so I was hoping to get some on-site advice from sponsor WordPress. I spoke with a WordPress community volunteer about transitioning, hosting options, and WordCamp, and it was all very helpful and worthwhile. I’m edging ever closer–I really want to give the Ultimate Book Blogger Plug-In a test drive! But of course, the main hurdle right now is figuring out a good time to move it forward.

HELP ME! If you’ve moved a blog to WordPress self-hosted, PLEASE share your thoughts, tips, and advice in the comments. I’m especially interested if your experience was relatively recent (within the last year or two), and/or you made the move from the Blogger platform. If you have recommendations about hosting, suggestions to ease the process, or cautionary tales, I want to know!

I’m always interested in reading other people’s reactions to BlogHer, and seeing whether they echo mine at all. Some do, and some don’t; few of us have the exact same conference.

Being one of Amy’s “partners in crime for a few hours” on Friday was one of my social highlights at BlogHer, and I think our overall experience of the weekend was pretty similar:

“This year the conference did show its age a tiny bit, but really that is fitting given the 10 year anniversary that this years conference celebrated. BlogHer featured a series of talks before the keynotes, a roster of speakers chosen to highlight the history of blogging as filtered through the lens of BlogHer. An interesting corollary through most of the speakers is that the BlogHer conference served as an outlet and a springboard for them to move on. I think that is key – they have moved on…The combination between so much reflection on the past and so many speaker repeats, there wasn’t a ton of stuff that felt fresh. 

“…It was relaxing going without an agenda and tons of plans…The flipside to that is drifting through the conference like a ghost. “

Expo Hall Sponsor selfie with SoCalMom BlogHer14 The 3Rs Blog
A “sponsor selfie” with @SoCalMom

Donna Schwartz Mills was one of the few hundred bloggers at the very first BlogHer conference in 2005, and while this year’s wasn’t that small, the scale appealed to her:

“One thing I did not miss at this year’s BlogHer was the huge, overwhelming, circus-like energy I felt when the conference was in New York and San Diego. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed those conferences — a lot. But this year, back in the Bay Area, it was s smaller, quieter, more manageable event… 

“At any given time during the two or three days you’re (at BlogHer), you are faced with a multitude of offerings SIMULTANEOUSLY. I can’t be in two or three places at once, and frankly, I’m getting too old to handle the onslaught of information and people and products and noise without a little downtime. This year, I sorely missed the ‘serenity suite’ where you could escape to recharge (both your devices and yourself). Or maybe I just missed where it was? This year, whenever I was faced with a hard choice between attending a session or spending some quality time with friends, I picked the friends.”

Chloe Jeffreys summed up some of my own conclusions pretty well (although I suspect she’s more into the “party” side of things than I am):

“…(T)he parties that did happen this year were very different compared to previous years. It is obvious that things are seriously changing for BlogHer. What this means for bloggers and the future of BlogHer remains to be seen, but I suspect that the days of football field-sized vendor halls, and the ginormous bags of swag, are over. The once-legendary room drops this year consisted of two mirror stickers, and one tiny cupcake made out of lentils. Take from that what you will…

“It’s probably a bit premature to say this, but unless I have a real and present financial reason, I don’t think I’ll ever go to another BlogHer again…Don’t get me wrong. I am very grateful to the founders of BlogHer for putting on this party, year after year. And I hope and pray that my comments don’t make me seem ungrateful. It’s just that I think I’m over it.”

And long-time BlogHer attendee Neil Kramer (What? Yes, blogging men go to BlogHersensed other changes in the air:

“Does the name BlogHer make sense anymore? Maybe they should rename it FacebookHer. Or SocialMediaHer….Sure, there were SESSIONS on blogging, but I had very few personal conversations about blogging…I think we still use blogs as a tool, but are frankly bored about talking about it. 

“…There were whispers and rumors that this might be the last year of the big BlogHer conference, and that the organization would focus instead on the niche-conferences dedicated to food and business and politics… 

“(I)f the co-founders decide to change direction, I would understand. A conference that appeals to personal writers, political activists, businesswomen, and coupon moms ALL AT THE SAME TIME is hard to maintain forever. Splitting up by tribe and demographic might be the way of the future. 

“It might even be good for me. BlogHer has been extremely kind to be, taking me into their, uh, bosom, as one of their own. But it has never been my authentic ‘tribe.'”

I can relate to Neil’s last point. While I’ve made efforts to recruit my own tribe to BlogHer, I’ve come to accept that our gathering spot is, and is likely to remain, Book Expo America.

I went to BlogHer’14 with few expectations and a middling degree of curiosity.

San Jose Convention Center area collage BlogHer14 The 3Rs Blog

I was curious how BlogHer would feel in a less-bustling location and with an attendance limit. While I’m not sure the organizers were happy that they still had tickets to sell on the day the conference opened–I remember when it would sell out before the Early Bird discounts ended–I liked the more intimate feel. Being less crowded made it easier to find the people I knew and wanted to see there; since that’s a pretty small number to begin with, it helped that they weren’t lost in the throngs. (Also, I can’t see over people’s heads and am half-blind, so it’s hard for me to spot people even when it’s easy.)

While I was surprised by some of the ways in which my learning expectations were met, my admittedly modest social ones were fulfilled mostly as planned. I expected to avoid the anxiety-inducing big parties, and flew home Saturday evening so I wouldn’t be around for the closing-night hoopla at all. I expected to find varying amounts of satisfaction in the length and quality of my interactions with fellow bloggers–not enough time with some, pleasant surprises in getting to know others–and am pleased to reflect that the overall satisfaction level of those lands at the higher end of my scale.

All in all, I’m not sorry I went, but at this point, I really don’t think I’ll attend a BlogHer Conference again.

Red Stapler photo BlogHer14 by Suebob Davis
If this IS my last BlogHer, at least I have one of Suebob‘s famous Red Stapler photos as a souvenir.
all photos (except for the Red Stapler) edited with Pixlr Express

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