At BlogHer With Elisa Camahort - Interview Part One

01/24/2007

Last December I had the pleasure of leading a panel discussion at the first Healthcare Blogging Summit. Elisa Camahort, one of the founders of BlogHer, was a panelist and Sunday am we met for  a DBO .. Diva Breakfast Out.

Although I've been involved, as a speaker, editor and supporter, of BlogHer since the early days that be .. 2005, I was curious to lean how within, what seemed like seconds, BlogHer had morphed from one workshop - to an online community - to an ad network - to two niched conferences.  Elisa agreed to recreate our conversation about the back-story of BlogHer and the challenges and opportunities facing the  Blogher_2Diva Trio -  Elisa Camahort, Jory Des Jardins and Lisa Stone - as they build a social media company.

Part One - The Back-story of BlogHer and Why A Biz Blog Conference

Toby/Diva Marketing - Let’s give Diva Marketing’s readers some of the BlogHer back-story.  How did BlogHer come to be?

Elisa Camahort - Back in early 2005, Lisa Stone and I were introduced by a mutual friend, who insisted we needed to know one another (probably because we were the only two avid bloggers he knew.) We had lunch and talked about our frustration over a question roiling through the mainstream (political) blogosphere, namely “Where are the women bloggers?” We each were not only bloggers ourselves, but knew and read many many more of the same.
 
The assumption was all too often that women weren’t blogging about the topic being considered, whether technology, politics, business etc.  So when Internet and technology conference speaking rosters were skewed 80­90% toward male speakers, and when media reports on the burgeoning blogosphere quoted and cited nearly 100% male bloggers, the rationale was that the rosters merely reflected the gender ratio out in the real world. The only problem with this rationale was that neither casual observation, nor, more objectively, the statistics reported by the Pew Internet & American Life Project supported it.

So Lisa asked me about an idea she had: How about a conference for women bloggers – would I join her to make it happen? If we did, would women bloggers come? My emphatic answer to both questions was “yes” – and our partnership was born. We got right to work on it. We decided to see how many women bloggers we could gather at a conference by and about women bloggers. Men were invited and welcome, but the point was to feature the voices of women bloggers. We threw the idea out to the community in a series of blog posts and were met with an immediate and passionate response.

We also discovered almost immediately that while two heads are better than one, a triumvirate was what we really needed. I had met Jory Des Jardins at a conference…where we bonded over being the only two people taking notes on paper (not typing away in a laptop) during a session.  We started out asking her if she’d like to “help a little”, and ended up sucking her completely into the BlogHer way of life!

Toby/Diva Marketing - Who does what? How are responsibilities defined?

Elisa Camahort - Lisa, Jory and I are co-founders of this organization, and we’re organized to leverage our unique strengths and experiences.

Jory handles all of our sales, business development and partnership activities. This includes both conference sponsorships and advertising network customers.

Lisa is our editorial and community guru, and is really the chief user advocate. She manages the BlogHer.org web community, both technologically and editorially. She also handles blogger relations…making sure our editors and ad network partners are taken care of.

I manage our overall marketing and our events in particular. This means logistics, of course, but also programming. I’m constantly on the hunt for great, fresh voices to bring to our conferences.

We are each advocates for our particular area, and advisers to the other two areas. Most significant ideas in any of our three areas are shared amongst us, and it’s inevitable that three of us are way smarter than any one of us.

Toby/Diva Marketing - Let’s step back in time to 2005.  How in the world did you pull off the 2005 BlogHer Conference with no infrastructure, when you, Jory and Lisa were holding down full-time jobs and with minimum funding? 

Elisa Camahort - Because of the community. Don’t get me wrong, Lisa, Jory and I worked like madwomen…but at every step of the way when we asked for help, someone stepped up to deliver. The women’s blogging community didn’t respond to the idea of a BlogHer Conference with a passive “entertain me” attitude. On the contrary, they reacted with an active “What can I do?” spirit. Volunteerism contributed to every aspect of the conference. We like to call it “do-ocracy.” (More on that concept is here: http://blogher.org/about-blogher-conference-06)

Toby/Diva Marketing - What was the vision that you, Lisa and Jory had for the first BlogHer Conference?

Elisa Camahort - We wanted to answer that question “Where are the women bloggers” with an emphatic “Right here!” We wanted to make that question sound ridiculous if anyone asked it again. And we wanted to create an opportunity for women bloggers to meet one another and find common ground no matter what their blogging passion was.

Toby/Diva Marketing - Flash forward to 2007, BlogHer is now the premier online community for women bloggers, an ad network and not one but two conferences are planned for this year.  What is the difference between the two conferences?

Elisa Camahort - Thanks for the kind compliment Toby. The BlogHer ‘07 Conference this July in Chicago will be the next generation of the annual conference we’ve had in Silicon Valley in ’05 and ’06. It’s for all women who are interested in blogging, be they as bloggers, bloggers-to-be, or blog readers, regardless of topic or focus. We’ll continue to have the diverse schedule of sessions and events we’ve had, covering everything from the highly personal to the politically charged to the purely professional.

We’ll continue to promote do-ocracy, and look for ways to expand that empowered do-it-yourself approach beyond the Birds of a Feather sessions and Room of Your Own tracks. And we’ll continue to help all women to attend by heavily subsidizing the conference registration fee and feeding people!

BlogHer Business is our inaugural topic-focused event. Essentially we took the Business track from BlogHer and decided to expand it.  Lisa, Jory and I are were all heavily involved with business blogging and helping businesses to grok social media long before we formed BlogHer, so this was a natural first focus area for us. Lisa helped launch such blog networks as Law.com and Glam.com. Jory helped launch the ThirdAge blog network and consulted for such companies as Pluck and Rojo. I was an early business blogger, blogging for clients on topics as varied as healthcare, theatre and Internet trends. (I wrote for five client blogs at one time.)

We also had been to multiple business-related blogging conferences and felt we could add value in this arena. We consider BlogHer Business to be a “deeper dive” into a part of Blogher’s overall agenda. And in future we hope to expand the kind of deeper dives we make. BlogHer Tech? BlogHer Election ‘08? BlogHer Arts & Crafts? BlogHer Finance? We expect the community will point us in the directions we should go.

Toby/Diva Marketing  - Does a separate conference for business bloggers have anything to do with the buzz last summer about mommy bloggers and business bloggers having different interests?

Elisa Camahort - Actually, no. As I said, we’re not dropping business topics from the annual event at all. We’re just digging deeper. It’s an incredibly rich and deep topic area. The BlogHer annual event is about finding common ground and celebrating our differences. And promoting one another. And validating quality work and writing, no matter its subject matter. If anything, we’re figuring out how to address our greater community’s divergent interests head-on and see what we can learn from unexpected sources.

Toby/Diva Marketing - Why the steep price increase for the NYC conference?

Elisa Camahort -  It might be easier to explain how the annual event prices are kept low. And why we want to continue to do so. Lots of the people who attend the annual event aren’t blogging as part of any business or job. They can’t expense it to anyone or deduct the trip at tax time. It’s pure out-of-pocket expense…it is really a luxury for a lot of folks. So, if we keep the registration fee low, if we feed you all day, if we try to find hotel options that are affordable…or at least can easily support room-sharing, then we can make sure that we can accommodate, or rather be accommodated by more bloggers.

Sponsors make a lot of that possible. Their involvement means we can feed people. Their involvement means we can have more meeting rooms available. Their involvement helps us have subsidized childcare. Their involvement means we can help speakers with travel expenses…which means that we can feature a broader diversity of voices than just folks who can afford to travel to conferences all year long, All of which means that we don’t have to rely on registration fees to cover the expense of the conference. Which they don’t.

BlogHer Business, on the other hand, is targeting folks who are exploring social media as part of their business or job. In addition, it’s a targeted event with a much smaller planned size. Fewer attendees with a more niche interest, means a smaller pool of sponsors will be involved. And in order to serve these bloggers where many of them are (New York) rather than less expensive cities, the cost of doing this conference will be much greater.

Thursday Jan 25th - Part Two: Vision, Future Direction

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