- Bloggers gather in Chicago for two-day conference for women in social media
- Annual conference provides networking and educational opportunities
- "I think there's just a misconception about what bloggers do," Dude Mom Amanda Rodriguez says
The introductions at BlogHer, the largest conference in the world for women in social media, tend to go something like this:
"WellConnectdMom, so great to meet you," I said to a blogger whom I knew only by her Twitter handle.
"KellyWallaceTV, great to meet you too," she replied, using my Twitter handle.
That type of exchange happens hundreds, maybe thousands, of times at this conference, which opened Friday in Chicago. The chance to meet online connections in person is part of the reason women from all over the world gather for the two-day event. They also come to network, build potential business partnerships and burnish their brands overall.
"Well Connected Mom" Lori Cunningham expects to meet at least 200 people this year, her third BlogHer conference. She'll contact many of them when she returns home to continue networking and building upon common interests.
"It just is an opportunity to open a door that you wouldn't have if you didn't come to a BlogHer conference," said Cunningham, a mother of two from Los Angeles whose blog focuses on simplifying technology for women.
For first-time BlogHer attendees like Chicagoan Jamie Jensen, the goal is to build her blog, For Love of Cupcakes, into a full-time job that she can run as a "work-at-home mom."
"I'm hoping to just keep growing to where it can be a part-time income or eventually a full-time income," said Jensen, the mother of a 2-year-old girl, who works outside the home as a day-care teacher.
BlogHer is more than a conference. It's also a major cross-platform business that hosts 3,000 blogs and helps many more expand their reach through education and networking opportunities. The BlogHer publishing network has generated $25 million for about 5,000 female writers over the past four years, said BlogHer co-founder Lisa Stone.
Most bloggers use this income to support their work and pay for business expenses; others use it to supplement their household income and support their families, she said.
Businesses understand the power of female bloggers, judging by the more than 130 brands -- from Coca-Cola to Samsung -- in attendance. And yet, mainstream media seem to marginalize what these women are doing.
Take a Wall Street Journal story this year that depicted blogger conferences as opportunities for women to party away from their husbands and kids.
"The sheer power of women on the Web is so clear statistically, and yet there is some ongoing prevailing effort to belittle that leadership," Stone said, citing stats showing women are 41% more likely to use social media than men.
"Good luck trying to put women who blog into a bell jar," Stone said. "They are going to ooze right out over the top and explode right in your face."
Still, among the public, there seems to be a lack of understanding of what a blogger is, says Amanda Rodriguez, a mom of three boys and host of Dude Mom.
Rodriguez, who is speaking on a panel this weekend, said she recently attended an event sponsored by the National Football League where no one seemed to understand what she did as a blogger. It's the same response she says she gets when she reveals her profession to people at airports or in the doctor's office.
"I think there's just a misconception about what bloggers do. They all think we're either like Perez Hilton or whatever random mommy blogger that they have read about on Oprah.com," the Frederick, Maryland, mom said.
"So I think it's up to us to sort of work really hard to change that perception," she said. "Hopefully other people will start to give the career a little more credence."
The BlogHer Conference, now in its ninth year and profiled recently in USA Today, aims to help by bringing attention to what female bloggers do.
Big-name speakers also help. Last year, President Obama gave a keynote via video conference. This year's closing keynote speaker is Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the much-talked-about book "Lean In."
Mainstream America may not understand the power and influence of bloggers. But parents who share tips about products or advice for getting kids to behave see the blog community as an extension of those support networks, said Cunningham.
There is another power that has nothing to do with educating the public. It has to do with women connecting with other women in ways they can't connect with their friends.
First-time conference attendee Sarah Evans hosts the blog It's a Vol, based on her love of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. She suffered from postpartum depression after her daughter was born. The women she met online, many of whom she is meeting for the first time at BlogHer, saved her, she says.
"When I had postpartum depression, there was nobody in my physical life at that point in time who could say 'I know what you went through,' " Evans said.
Through the BlogHer community, she met others who could relate to what she was going through and shared their experiences on their blogs.
"You can say, 'Look at this mother. She's fantastic. She made her way through this,' " she said. "I feel like that right now, and I can get through that. I can get to that point, too."
The value of such a connection? Priceless.