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September 21, 2010

10 Things About BlogWorld Expo '10

Earlier this month we attended the BlogWorld Expo at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. It was our first time attending BlogWorld (and our first time in Vegas!) so we didn't really know what to expect. We were also curious about how it would compare to the other conferences that we attended this year, BlogHer and the Affiliate Summit. Here's our take on BlogWorld.

#1 - The Backstory

We've talked about going to BlogWorld before, but we were never able to make it happen because of scheduling conflicts and finances and other various reasons. This year, we skipped a conference that we usually go to because of a conflict, so we found ourselves with a little bit of extra money and time. Obviously just saving the money was not an option, so we decided that this was our year to check out BlogWorld. We had heard good things about the conference from a lot of people, including BlogWorld CEO Rick Calvert, who we met at the Affiliate Summit. And we'll be honest, having an excuse to take a trip to Vegas was a major factor in our decision making process.

#2 - The Hotel

As we mentioned, the conference took place at Mandalay Bay, and that's also where we decided to stay.

We really liked the hotel, and there's so much to see and do (and eat) there that we could have gone the entire trip without ever leaving and never been bored. Our hotel room had a TV in the bathroom and a phone next to the toilet. (We did a lot of speculating about why they felt like that phone was needed.) We also had a really nice view of the hotel pools...and a parking lot. Usually when we travel we just get the parking lot, so this was an upgrade.

There's a shopping center attached to the hotel, and then of course there's the casino, and every type of restaurant, bar, and lounge you could want. We justified eating and drinking at almost all of them because the place is fucking huge and we did about a million miles of walking each day. At one point a sales guy in the neighboring Luxor hotel offered us a tour of local time-shares, and by the end of the trip we were considering it.

#3 - The Keynotes

We really enjoyed the opening keynote from Scott Stratten of UnMarketing. A lot of what he said was common sense and he admitted at much. But it was common sense in a 'hey yeah, he's right, we should be doing that' sort of way and not a 'duh, we know this crap already' sort of way. He talked about not writing a lot of mediocre filler posts just to keep to some kind of blogging schedule, or writing something that's just okay and then worrying about how to get people to spread it around. "People spread awesome", so only write when you're passionate and you have something to say.

He also talked about how to deal with trolls and annoying commenters and various other haters. (To be clear, this doesn't include people who have constructive criticism or who just happen to disagree with you.) He said he's sometimes asked why he doesn't spend a lot of time engaging with people like this and trying to 'convert' them. His response? "I'm not the Jackass Whisperer...my job isn't to rehabilitate assholes online." Love it.

There was a keynote on Friday morning about social media and politics featuring Mark Penn, Karen Hughes, Hugh Hewitt, and Reid Wilson. We were planning on going, but it was early in the morning and we were jet lagged and we were in Vegas and it just didn't happen. But we did watch the video afterward and honestly we don't feel that we missed much. This conversation leaned more towards the 'duh' side of common sense, like Karen Hughes just listing a bunch of politicians who have Twitter accounts.

It also seemed that Hughes just couldn't help herself and kept derailing the conversation to make barely relevant comments bashing President Obama and praising George W. Bush and the tea party. And if you're not familiar with Hugh Hewitt, he's a conservative radio host who once said of a college football game that "it’s probably the last football game we’ll ever get to see before the United States gets blown up by the Islamists under Obama." How charming. Obviously we realize that BlogWorld isn't WAM or Netroots Nation so we didn't expect a whole panel full of people that we would agree with about everything. We just felt that overall we didn't take much away from this particular keynote.

#4 - The Sessions

Monetizing Your Blog (60 Tips in Sixty Minutes)

We were really disappointed in this session. First of all, it was misleading. There weren't even close to 60 tips... in fact, there weren't any actual tips at all. Instead of the so-called "rapid fire session" that the description promised, this was basically a question-and-answer session... so the quality of the 'tips' received relied heavily on the audience knowing the right questions to ask. We were surprised that it seemed like the panel hadn't actually come up with any of the tips ahead of time and was relying entirely on the audience to keep the session going with their questions.

To make matters worse, the answers weren't actually that great either. At one point someone asked "what are some ways to make money online other than advertising?" and the answer was basically "oh there's lots of things you can do..." and then a quick list of blah blah blah blah given without any actual tips about how to do any of those things. (That wasn't a huge problem for us, since we were familiar with most of the examples given that would've actually applied to us, but I can bet that the answer wasn't helpful to whoever asked that question.) The few tips that were actually helpful seemed a little hypocritical to us... For example, the advice that your site shouldn't be all ads and affiliate links. We agree that a website should be balanced and have enough quality content. This is good advice. But we thought it was a little ironic that this advice came from this particular panel. A brief survey of their sites shows that not all of them are following this advice (in fact, the website of one panelist - no names - crashes my browser every time I open it because it's so overloaded with ads and links and pop-ups).

Also, a lot of the topics were rushed over to 'save time' in an attempt to stick to the format, which meant that the few quality answers were cut off in the middle. But then time was wasted displaying useless supposed-to-be-funny 'tips' on a screen, such as "Buy John Chow's book". I don't know why they bothered to call it 60 tips in 60 minutes, when there was no way they could've possibly come close to 60 tips. I guess "25 sort-of answers to 25 questions in 60 minutes" wasn't catchy enough. At one point the moderator 'scolded' the audience for not laughing enough at their super-awesome jokes... Maybe if the jokes were actually funny we would've laughed. The panelists spent most of the time patting themselves on the back for how amazingly awesome they are and how much money they make on their blogs and how huge of an audience they have in India and how we should go buy their books. What more could we expect from self-proclaimed "blogging superstars"?

We were amused when we got home and had a chance to read Zac Johnson's take on the session, which was just a little different from ours:
We just finished our 60 Question in 60 Minutes Blog Monetization Panel at Blog World. It was a really fun and great panel… and not to toot my own horn, but it was definitely the best session at BlogWorld because we focused all of our efforts at the audience, and had so much audience participation. Go into any other session and you will get a few questions if you are lucky, our session had a ton of user submitted questions, which the panel then answered. I don’t think we ended up getting anywhere near 60 questions answered, but it was a great session full of quality content. [emphasis ours]
Clearly these guys are caught up in their own hype. We know that they are each extremely successful, but it just feels like many people have gotten caught up in this... cult of personality... to the point that everyone is afraid to question or criticize them. It's so well established that they are "blogging superstars" that they no longer have to actually say anything useful because people will automatically believe that what they're saying is golden just because they're the ones saying it... or will be too afraid to question it lest they look like they 'don't get it'. We don't want to bash them completely. It's obvious that they really do know what they're doing. We just wish they would've spent a little more time helping us learn to do it too and less time reminding everyone how awesome they are. In their defense, we will say that we felt like the '60 tips' format was a big part of the problem. We don't know if they came up with that or if it was suggested to them, but it seemed like it got in the way of letting the panelists give their best advice.

Mom Bloggers: Blog For Money, Not Swag!

After going to BlogHer all these times, we knew we wanted to check out this session. We weren't disappointed and we think that BlogHer needs more sessions like this one. The panelists had some great advice and concrete tips about how to put advertising on your blog, how to work with companies and brands in a way that really benefits you, how to get started in social media consulting and how to know what to charge for what you do. Our main criticism would be that while the panelists were all parenting bloggers, this session wasn't really about Mom Bloggers at all, so we think there were probably a lot of people at BlogWorld who didn't attend this session because they thought it 'wasn't for them'. (In case you haven't noticed... we aren't mom bloggers either.) It's unfortunate that the title was so limiting, because the tips and advice they gave would easily apply to anyone. It's a little disappointing that so many of the all-female panels were for 'female' topics like mommy blogging or women in sports media (more on that one later). One thing we will say about this conference was that unlike the Affiliate Summit, there were quite a few female presenters and panelists and not all of them were for female-centric topics.

32 Ways to Make Your Blog Suck Less

This was by far our favorite session. (This is what the 60 Tips in 60 Minutes should have been like.) A lot of times when there's only one panelist it can get a little bit boring, but Scott definitely kept us engaged and entertained. He had a slideshow to accompany what he was saying and it was actually funny (but not distracting). While not every single one of the tips applied to us, many of them were very helpful and we think that all 32 were valid and definitely useful to someone. And he timed it perfectly. The session was scheduled for 2:45-3:45 and he finished #32 at 3:44. Impeccable timing. He also provided a url where attendees could go to view the slideshow in case anyone missed anything or wanted to refer back to it later. It was clear that he put a lot of work into making his presentation really great, which provided even more of a contrast with the 'let's just wing it' style we had experienced earlier in the day.

From Blog to Book

It seems like every blogging conference has a 'blog to book' session, so you never know if you're going to get anything new by attending, but we're glad we checked this one out. It was a diverse panel so we were able to hear from a variety of perspectives, from someone who self-published to someone who works for a 'real' publisher that works with bloggers. The various methods of self-publishing and publishing on demand continue to grow in popularity, so it can be hard to figure out what the best route to take is for your book. One of the best pieces of advice from this panel was that you should really think about what your goal is in writing the book. Are you trying to establish yourself as an expert in a particular field, get more speaking engagements, get more paid writing work, or become a best-selling author and get into Oprah's Book Club? When you figure out what you're really trying to accomplish with your book, it will help you put your plan of action together.

Women in Sports Media Panel
Valli Hilaire, Kathleen Hessert, Patricia Hannigan
(We didn't catch the name of the moderator. The schedule incorrectly said it was Stephanie Agresta.)
This session was in the last time slot of the last day so it was pretty empty, which is a shame because it was a pretty cool discussion. We expected them to dive into issues related to sexism a little bit more, but overall it was a decent session. We had one major issue though. Of course, the Ines Sainz/New York Jets controversy came up and we were shocked by some of the comments... (we've bolded the parts that really stood out to us).

Patricia Hannigan: Yeah, you know I did a radio show on this, I have a call-in radio show. There were a lot of divergent opinions. But the way I looked at it was more that than anything else, it was - the case of the New York Jets and Ines Sainz - it was really new media bumping up against old media or vice versa. The fact that you had folks in that locker room all of a sudden who were writing features, kind of fluffy features and who did those without a problem and they were comfortable doing those features and then at the same time you had reporters who had a deadline and had to get that story done. And that's where the conflict was. Unfortunately it snowballed and it... There were a lot of factors at play and it took on an aspect of this gal from Mexico was complaining about how the Jets treated her and I don't think that was really the case. I think it was really the case that she was completely comfortable with what was happening in that locker room. It was the fact that she was with reporters that weren't comfortable. And it was more like the conflict between the new media and the old media... And I think it came down to the teams and the leagues and how they credential reporters and how they get them in there that's going to make that locker room journalism either succeed or fail or have issues like this. And then we need more people like Kathleen who can train the teams how to react in situations like that.
Um.... what? We were really shocked to hear this kind of victim blaming and dismissive response to what should've been a serious issue of sexism and harassment. So it was Ines Sainz's fault because she's not a real journalist? Because she's part of 'new media' or writes 'fluffy features' then she doesn't deserve to be credentialed... or respected? We do not understand at all what she was talking about - the fact that Ines Sainz isn't a 'serious journalist' has absolutely nothing to do with the way that the Jets should have treated her. We expected more from women in sports media, and coming from Patricia Hannigan of all people this was just comical. Let's take a look at Ms. Hannigan's website to see just how professional she is...

First of all, she doesn't even have a real url. She has a blogspot domain. Not that there's anything wrong with that (we were once evilslutopia.blogspot.com) but she's going to imply that Ines Sainz wasn't to be taken seriously because she writes fluffy features when she doesn't even own her own domain name? At least Sainz worked for an actual network. Also, the main photo on her blog is of her in a bikini, so there goes any arguments about whether the way Sainz dresses determines how professionally she should be treated. And to be clear, if anyone doesn't have a problem with bikini photos, it's the ESC, but we had to point out the blatant hypocrisy of Hannigan suggesting that Sainz wasn't to be taken seriously. Pot... Kettle.. Black...?

And just in case you think we're taking her words out of context, here is her original blog entry on the Ines Sainz 'situation' (as she called it) to show just how much of a hypocrite, slut-shamer, and victim-blamer that she is.


 Thank God Valli Hilaire was there to inject some sense to the conversation...
Valli Hillaire: Just to tack on to this, talking about the New York Jets thing... My whole position on the whole thing was that... it's a level of respect. I don't care if you're Drew Brees or Tom Brady or Mark Sanchez or whatever ... If you're this athlete who has earned such accolades, I'm sure they're.... the point is it's down to respect, this woman was there to do a job, she wasn't there to get hit on, she wasn't at a bar hanging out to look for dudes, she was there to do a job, especially if you... I just think there's obviously certain locker rooms have an atmosphere where that kinda behavior is ok I guess or something but I think it's down to respect and as long as she wasn't acting... she wasn't doing anything to elicit that and I don't think that was necessary... and even if he really really wanted to and he felt that he had to and she was gonna be his future wife... its just inappropriate and , it's not the time or or the place to do that kinda thing. It just comes down to a basic level of respect and maturity. Bottom line.
Thank you!

Unfortunately, Kathleen Hessert wasn't going to let that sense last for too long. She was quick to 'refute' Hillaire's points with some thinly-veiled racism insights of her own.
Kathleen Hessert: I think it has more to do with cultural differences than male or female or new media and old media. What is acceptable and in fact encouraged in one culture, in Mexico, is very different than what is encouraged and accepted in the United States. And again, I've been in the locker rooms - literal and figurative locker rooms - for different sports and any time an athlete has just finished a competition there is a level of anxiety and there is a level of emotion that is unmatched right before and right after a competition that makes them say and do things and listen and hear and view things in a different way. You just... as the outsider coming into their home, their locker room, you need to be sensitive to that. Professionalism is absolute, but I think that it was more a cultural difference than anything else. Women have... women are fans, women are journalists, women are executives in the sports world... and that's not going to change except to get even larger and deeper and better. So people just need to understand it's a different environment.
Wow. Where to start? First off, we're back to victim-blaming again because this "cultural differences" argument implies that this is just a case of a silly Mexican woman not knowing how behave properly in an American locker room when it actually was (some of) the Jets players who were acting inappropriately, not Sainz. Hessert never explained exactly what Sainz was supposedly doing that would be "acceptable and encouraged" in Mexico but not in the U.S., probably because there's nothing to explain. Sainz was there waiting to interview Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who is Mexican-American. Sanchez is a rising star in the NFL with a large Latino fanbase and is seen as someone who can help to market football to more Latino fans. By all accounts he's also proud of his heritage and very interested in reaching out to his Latino fans, even taking Spanish lessons so that he can better communicate with them and with the Spanish language media...which would include reporters like Ines Sainz. I guess if Sanchez had talked to Hessert about that she would have told him it was a waste of time due to "cultural differences".

The idea that the heightened emotional state of a post-game locker room was partly to blame is also silly, as well as wrong right from the jump since Sainz was in the Jets locker room after a practice, not a game. It shouldn't matter anyway, because members of the media are always in locker rooms after practices and games, so this wasn't some shocking new development, and because the players are all trained in how to handle the media, and because sexual harassment is wrong no matter when or where it occurs.

It's shocking that someone who is allegedly hired to train these football players in how to behave towards the press, would even remotely condone their behavior. (Maybe she's afraid of offending the very institution that often signs her checks?)

Now we're certainly not above walking out of workshops when the presenters say shit as offensive as that, but we stuck it out for Valli Hilaire's sake and we're glad we did because we really liked what she had to say. The other panelists did have some interesting things to say too, but their views on the Ines Sainz situation outweighed them in our minds so it was hard to take the rest of their comments as seriously after that.

#5 - The Expo Hall

We have to admit that attending BlogHer has totally warped our Expo Hall expectations. Yes, BlogHer has the swag, but there's also this crazy chaos that's really unique to BlogHer. So when we're at other conferences, we have this confusion. Where's the sandwich-making contest hosted by Padma Lakshmi? Why is nobody offering us special pH-balancing tampons or samples of cheese? (Not at the same booth.) If the Pillsbury Doughboy isn't there handing us a cupcake, we're just not impressed anymore.

Okay, just in case it's not totally obvious, the previous paragraph is tongue-in-cheek. (We do appreciate BlogHer for what it is, but we don't actually compare it seriously to other conferences.) BlogWorld's expo hall featured a lot of great blog, vlog, and podcast-related companies, like Blogger, Plixi, and YouTube. And thanks to the people from GourmetGiftBaskets.com, it also featured a world record-setting moment in the form of a ginormous cup of coffee. Oh yeah, and there was also scotch thanks to The Macallan. Something for everyone!

#6 - The Compliments

~There was a really wide variety of sessions to choose from - a food track (plus BlogWorld Kitchen in the expo hall with cooking demos), travel track, military blogging track, plus sessions on mom and dad blogging, humor writing, photography, monetization, podcasting, vlogging, SEO, sports, and more.

~Registration was quick and easy - there was a bar code in our confirmation email, so all we had to do was scan that and our badges printed out immediately. Nothing gets us crankier than waiting on a long registration line when we have a packed conference schedule, so this was great.

~There were official parties each night that were open to all attendees, so there weren't really any 'who got invited to which private event' issues that we noticed.

~For the second year in a row, BlogWorld partnered with some conference sponsors and raised a whole bunch of money for cancer-related charities by having attendees tweet with the hashtag #beatcancer.

#7 - The Criticisms

~We liked the official open-to-everyone parties each night, but they were all held outside of Mandalay Bay. It would have been much easier and more convenient if at least one of them could have been held on site.

~The first thing we saw when we were picking up our schedules and stuff after we registered was a flier for Sarah Palin's reality show and the blogs that they're going to launch to promote it. Ew. (We realize that this wouldn't be a complaint for all of the attendees, but for us it was.)

~As we mentioned above, we felt that the Blog For Money, Not Swag panel was pigeon-holed by being called a "mom blogger" panel, and it should have been marketed to a much larger audience. Also, the Women in Sports Media panel was practically empty, and some people mentioned that this was probably because it was in the last slot on the last day when a lot of people have already started leaving. We might not have thought much of this, but the same thing happened at the Affiliate Summit when we attended a panel on marketing to women that had a similar problem, so we had to wonder if this represents some kind of trend of sticking the 'woman panel' in a crappy time slot or slapping the 'women' or 'mom' labels on something that really deserves a broader audience.

To be fair, as we also mentioned there were a lot of women on panels and many of them were in sessions that weren't woman-specific. And according to this comment from BlogWorld Conference Director Deb Ng, they've made an effort to have a diverse group of speakers and almost 50% of this year's speakers were women. We think that's great, but one area where we'd say there might still be room for improvement is the keynotes. All of the keynotes this year were either all male or had ratios of three or four men to one woman.

#8 - The 'Only the ESC' Moments

Dude, we were in Vegas for the first time. There's way too much to fit in this one little section. Stay tuned for some separate 'ESC Does Vegas' posts coming soon.

#9 - BlogWorld vs. BlogHer vs. Affiliate Summit

BlogWorld fell somewhere in the middle as far as our conference experiences this year. There was more focus on monetization and the business side of blogging than there was at BlogHer, and more focus on content (you know, the actual blogging part of blogging) than at the Affiliate Summit. The same goes for the Expo Hall - there was no Dora the Explorer or Pillsbury Doughboy, but also no bars or bikini booth babes.

As for the attendees, this was the closest to an even mix - more men than BlogHer (obviously) and more women than the Affiliate Summit - but we felt like it leaned a little more towards the men. Maybe because of that, there was also a focus on some of the same 'blogging rock stars' that were popular at the Affiliate Summit, like the crew from the 60 Tips in 60 Seconds panel, who all happen to be men. And that's not really a criticism, it's just always interesting for us when we go to a new conference to see who the 'cool kids' are in the group. Overall, we're glad we attended all three conferences and we took something different from each of them.

#10 - Other Coverage of BlogWorld


Kat said...

Awesome to read a post from you guys! I've missed you :D

Tricia Meyer said...

Thanks so much for posting this recap! I have been unable to ever attend BlogWorld for the same reasons you mentioned--finances and time spent on other conferences. I might need to make it a priority to attend next year. I get plenty of the monetization stuff at Affiliate Summit but could really use some more content sessions.

I am also happy to report that my presentations at Affiliate Summit in Vegas will NOT be focused on women this time. :)

Kim Clune said...

This is a fabulous review. Having purchased video access for sessions I was unable to attend, I now know where to start spending the majority of my time... and where not to.

Overall, I was pleasantly overwhelmed and happy with my session experiences but, like you, found that they may have been pigeonholed by a description or two.

One I'm glad I attended, not knowing it was geared toward Real Estate, was WordPress 3.0: What’s New & How You Can Leverage It – Case Studies, Benefits, Examples by Nicole and Reggie Nicolay. There were so many ideas about customizing pages by topic (or, in the case of real estate, by neighborhood) that my pen was flying across the page and I ran home to buy the Genesis theme framework.

As a perpetual tinkerer, I also loved How to Mess Up Your Blog ... and then Fix It! by Kelley Koehler and Dave Smith. Sure, backing up your file was the main and obvious point, but the tools they offered to play with CSS and customize themes without knowing much code were invaluable.

Thanks for posting a link to my impressions at This One Wild Life. It was a fun surprise to see since I arrived here from Twitter and not through a trackback.

ValliCA said...

Thank you for the great comments on the my panel, Women in Sports Media. It was great meeting you both!

I really wish I had said more on that NY Jets topic. It didn't come out as eloquently as I had planned.


P.S. - I loved the TV in the bathroom of my hotel too, I was at THEhotel, genius!