The first BlogHer conference took place in 2005, and since then it’s become the largest conference specifically devoted to women in blogging. It spans three days and is known for its educational sessions, its swag-laden expo floor, and its brand-sponsored parties.
This year’s BlogHer took place in Chicago, both at McCormick Place and the Chicago Sheraton. Charter buses drove attendees back and forth between the two venues along the little-known traffic-free bus route that the Sun-Times wrote about last week. (It revealed that the Mayor calls the busway the “BatCave” and uses it as his own superhighway when driving downtown! But I digress.)
Having BlogHer take place in Chicago meant that I could come home at the edge of each jam-packed day to kiss my kids goodnight and sleep in my own bed. It meant I could save money by not having a hotel and commuting each day. I gave myself a $30/day budget and took the Metra each day ($6.75 each way during the week, and $7 total for a weekend pass.) From Union Station, I took a cab to the Sheraton, then jumped on the free BlogHer shuttle buses to go to McCormick – a few blocks in the wrong direction, but a few dollars cheaper than taking a cab from Union to McCormick. Plus, the fast bus route made it probably about the same time-wise!
The expo hall is the one of the largest draws of BlogHer, and you do take home a crazy amount of swag. In case you missed this photo on the blog yesterday, I’ll show you again:
Now, allow me to share some photos of some memorable booths and displays…
You could also use the Keurigs in the booth to make the beverage of your choice. I made a Green Mountain Lemonade, which, while good, is just lemonade. Would you pay to brew hot lemonade into ice to drink it cold? It tasted very similar to Country Time, which isn’t terribly difficult to make.
One thing you could not get in the Keurig booth was coffee. For that, you had to turn to the Folgers booth:
Chuck E. Cheese had a booth promoting its children’s birthday party packages, and they had their famous Ticket Blaster in the booth. Come on, you know you’ve seen kids in that Blaster and thought “I bet I could do a better job picking up tickets if only they’d let adults in there.” Well, this is BlogHer, and many women lined up for their chance, including me.
The KISS booth was also doing free makeup, hair styling, and manicures. They’d also apply false eyelashes for you right in the booth if you wanted to glam up for the BlogHer floor. There were a lot of women walking around with lovely long lashes, and when I saw this booth, I realized where they’d gotten them.
Now, here’s a booth that I was happy to see, as you know of my love for all things Coke:
Well, many of you know that I do not like Jell-O in the least, so this was easy! The Kozy Shack people cracked up at this answer, as they shared that they consider Jell-O their #1 competitor.
Sometimes you see strange things at the Expo. Here I saw Chuck E. Cheese leave his booth and go to the “Love With Food” booth to try to win something from their wheel of snacks!
After this photo, I pretended that I could not see him to thank him for the photo, because his camouflage allowed him to completely blend in with his surroundings. From his reaction, apparently I was not the only one who had made this lame joke during the conference.
A few other booths worth mentioning… Shark vacuum cleaners had a cool booth with salsa dancers. I forgot to photograph it, but I don’t think photos would have done it justice anyway, because the salsa dancers weren’t dancing with each other. They were dancing with the vacuum cleaners. Fun to watch!
Walgreens had a large booth – their first time at BlogHer. In talking to the representatives at the booth, I learned that Walgreens is finally starting to try to work with bloggers. They were giving out a variety of Walgreens-brand products and tote bags filled with Wags gear:
The BlogHer parties are another big draw of the conference. There are so many brand-sponsored parties at any given time that you will either need to carry notes on where you go when, or use the BlogHer app to manage them all. And, a lot of the parties happen at the same time in different locations, so you have to choose where you want to go and what to see. Conversations among my blogger friends went like this: “Are you going to CVS’ luncheon?” “No, we’re touring Groupon’s headquarters at the same time.” “Are you coming to Cottonelle’s party?” “No, I have Toy Book at the same time.” And so on.
I ended up going to two different parties that celebrated toilet paper. Really. (You may recall that at my last BlogHer, the only party I attended was for feminine hygiene products, so I don’t know what this says about me and the kinds of parties I’m being invited to.)
On Thursday night, I attended Cottonelle’s SocialLuxe party, which was fun. It certainly was decorated memorably:
I also attended parties for CVS/pharmacy, All You Magazine, and one of my ad affiliate networks, which is really why I go to BlogHer — to network with the brands that I blog. As much as I love blogging, blogging is my business too, and having so many of them in one place makes it a valuable three days of discussion for future partnerships and promotions. But there would be no way to attend every party. Hasbro had an enormous party, renting out the entire Hard Rock Cafe and sending bloggers home with bags of toys. During one of my bus rides, bloggers were buzzing about the previous night’s party on Navy Pier for Kuyam, a website devoted to lifestyle businesses. Kuyam reportedly had a raffle in which they gave two $12,000 cash prizes to two bloggers..! I didn’t attend anything quite that lavish, but I enjoyed the events I attended and came away with new knowledge and information. Like this infographic from CVS’ lunch – did you know that if you’re under 65, you’re twice as likely to skip taking medications? (What young punks we are!)
With all of this going on, it would almost be easy to forget that BlogHer is an educational conference too. Each day, there are numerous session tracks devoted to everything from photography to marketing to creative writing. The first time I attended BlogHer in 2011, I had a full conference pass to attend all of the sessions. And, honestly… I came away kind of disappointed. Each session I attended, whether it was on web marketing, design, or another topic, focused on very beginner-level information. In fact, I remember being surprised at how many people I met at BlogHer that year who weren’t yet blogging. This year, I saw a lot of the same. Brands would talk to people on the floor, asking “Do you have a blog?” “Well, no, but I am thinking of starting one.” People do come to BlogHer to learn how to start a blog, and certainly, there is plenty of information in the sessions to help you learn how to do just that.
But, when I looked at this year’s list of sessions, none of them were really grabbing me as must-dos, if that makes sense. There was only one session on Advanced Monetization (essentially, improving the amount of money your blog can make) that sounded interesting to me. As I wrote earlier, a full conference pass is $407, and the expo hall pass is $78. What would you have done?
I opted not to buy a full conference pass this year and went expo-only. It’s tough, because I go to BlogHer ultimately to improve my own blog. But the fact is that there doesn’t seem to be as much information in the educational sessions for people who already have established, successful blogs.
I had two friends who did attend the Advanced Monetization workshop, and when we had dinner that night, they shared their disappointment in it. One said “The workshop opened explaining what a clickthrough rate was. What views versus impressions were. And I thought, this is supposed to be advanced monetization? This is beginner stuff!” She walked out of the session shortly after it began. (And while those terms might not mean much if you’re not a blogger, if you are, they’re things you must figure out very early on if you want your blog to pay the bills.)
I thanked her for saving me $329. Now that the conference is over, you can also read transcripts online from the BlogHer sessions. And I’ve been doing some of that since I’ve been home, shaking my head at some of them. For example:
App Development – Build or Buy? This is something I’ve wrestled with when I’ve wanted to add functionality to my blog – do I write the code myself (which I usually do) or look at a pre-packaged option to save time? But the session opened with this statement: “This is not going to be a very technical panel so don’t get nervous. It’s not going to be about code or anything like that.”
Hmm. I guess we won’t be building then…
Good to Great: Sponsored Posts
Sponsored posts are part of the lifeblood of monetizing a blog, and I don’t do a lot of them unless they’re relevant to what you guys want to read. This session opened with: “I hope you’re here to hear us expound about good to great sponsored posts. I am the writer of an incredible defunct blog because I hardly have time to write on it any more.”
That said, I did enjoy my BlogHer experience thoroughly, but the majority of my time was spent interacting with brands – either in the expo hall or at private events. It was the best use of my time, and I hope that the networking I did benefits my blog over the months ahead.
What else? I was happy that BlogHer was in Chicago this year. Even though I traveled back and forth each night on the train with swag bags that weighed more than one of my sons, it was my least expensive BlogHer to date, for which I am grateful. (Hey, I am a frugality blogger!) I spent time with a lot of blogger friends walking the expo and at parties, and it’s especially good to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in a long time as we’re all scattered around the country.
And if you’ve ever wondered what goes on at BlogHer… now you know.