This past weekend was the largest blogging conference in the world, BlogHer, where an estimated 3500 bloggers and brands descended into San Diego for an extended weekend of schmoozing, networking, pitching, parties, late nights and drinking (Hey, I have to be honest here). It’s a chance for many of those in the blogging community, from A-lister on down, to connect, teach and share what they’ve learned over the past several years of trying to make a go of it as a writer, a spokesperson, actress, publisher, advertiser, and just about everything in between. That being said, I’ve been involved in the blogging community for the better part of a decade and have had the pleasure of attending BlogHer last year and speaking at other blogging conferences, including the Type A Parent conference this year in Asheville, North Carolina. From a brand perspective, each conference yields hands-down winners and losers (disclosure: a then-client’s party was completely off the hook at BlogHer ’10 and still gets talked about) each year. With that, here are five insights for companies that may have or may plan to attend these conferences so it’s not a waste of your marketing budget.
1: Have a plan
It sounds insane to think that companies sponsor and attend blogging conferences would spend the time and money to travel and potentially set up a booth at a conference without having a plan, but it happens more often than naught. Think about why working with this community is worthwhile to your business, how it can impact your company’s reputation or bottom line, and know exactly what you want to get out of it. Also, most conferences are jam-packed with “official” and “unofficial” events/gatherings; this includes private dinners, parties and tours. Make sure you have your itinerary set long before the conference and network in advance.
2: Don’t send your PR agency’s staff
Yes, I understand that every company is short staffed (which is exactly why Large Media was born) and you have to have representation because of family vacations or other obligations, but that doesn’t excuse you from attending. You have a new life now, much like your social media team does, and it involves actually being there. Beyond that, you need to have these relationships as your PR company turns over staff more frequently than the Waffle House griddle guy.
3: Find the opportunity
Just about every company does the exact same thing: Set up a booth, give away samples. I was fortunate at Blissdom, or unfortunate, that my travel plans were completely botched due to
global warming snowmageddon unprecedented snows in the New York area. This lead to a horrific train ride, a 10 hour drive from DC to Nashville, and the second most talked about brand at the conference. I’m not suggesting that brands should plan on catastrophic events in order to get noticed, as I believe the brand I worked for was outstanding, but you have to find the opportunity within the community to get talked about. And that’s where GLMPS saw the opportunity. See, SXSW is “the” place to launch your technology, except for one problem — everyone else does the exact same thing. GLMPS launched in a unique way to a connected audience to get the word out. Smart.
Let’s recap: thirty five hundred (mostly) women, all uber-connected online, who can blog, Facebook, video, checkin and review your product. Sounds like an opportunity to me. Had this been done at SXSW they would’ve been competing with the hundreds of other brands there vying for attention (and probably lost). And next year they’re bringing BlogHer back to New York City.
4: Join the community
I’m not suggesting that brands have to set up a WordPress blog and start writing because they’re attending. What I am suggesting is that you understand who is writing about your space and break bread with them. Yes, you actually have to have a meal with a real life blogger.. Someone who may’ve dropped an f-bomb on their blog or complained about your company.
And it may come as a surprise, but being a real person with real people actually matters – not making false promises that “we’ll work together” or accepting their business cards and never connecting afterward. I’ll give you a secret: there are a lot of talented writers out there and opportunities for brands to work with them.
5: Think about what happens post-conference
It’s not a “one and done” deal for your company – and if it is, you’re not going to see any return for that investment. This should be a point in time where you’re connecting with amazing content creators or promoting something that is useful to the community (see GLMPS example above). And please — don’t be lazy and copy what someone else did. It’s an old PR trick to re-hash ideas or re-use another brand’s, and quite frankly you deserve better.
The biggest takeaway is for companies that are forgetting the basics — how to utilize the current social media tools we have at our disposal, how to integrate social media into marketing programs to maximize their reach and effectiveness, etc — to not place blame on the messengers. Think about your annual goals and how becoming a part of the community can benefit your brand beyond a few impressions or one-time shot. In case you’re wondering what bloggers think, you’ll see that we’re not that far apart.