What do CNN, Pepsi, and a U.S. Senator have in common? They all tried to reach out to the ever-growing, powerful and influential group known as women bloggers at this year’s BlogHer ’10 Conference. They all had slightly different approaches to turning online connections into real life results for their respective end games, all with differing results. And there are definitely lessons they can learn from the various experiences I had.
Don’t be afraid when I tell you that 2,400 attendees (almost all of whom were women) converged on the Big Apple this summer for the annual conference that is a mixture of networking, writing, branding and relationship-building. While I say this combination sets it apart from other blogging conferences, some have suggested that BlogHer isn’t really about blogging because there were no sessions about about building a brand, how to blog for a living, or tech demonstrations. I’m not sure what conference sessions they sat in on, but that’s just plain wrong. Sure, lots of people spend time putting the “social” into social media, but there was plenty of meaty advice on those topics and much more.
Maybe erroneous characterizations like that are one reason that women in social media don’t get much attention from corporate, political or media power brokers. If they think that women, especially the now notorious “mom bloggers,” are only interested in using their new-found power positions to get free cupcakes or detergent, it’s no wonder they pass us by. I hope the few who did take time out to meet with some of BlogHer’s attendees will spread the word to others — we’re here, we’re interested and we’re paying attention to substantially more than swag and giveaways.
I was interested that three high-level Pepsi executives, who happened to be women, wanted to reach out to a small group of women bloggers. The invited us to what they called a “Sofa Summit,” which sounded intriguing, but fell short of my expectations by missing the mark on the all-important “social” aspect of social media. Instead of choosing to have a conversation with us directly, Pepsi (one of the main BlogHer sponsors) hired former news person Campbell Brown to act as a buffer — for most of the time, she asked the questions and then moderated a few of our remarks, which left virtually no time in the hour-long session for those of us who wanted to hear about how a soft drink brand was going to reach out through the blogiverse the promote attempts to support women globally. These executives said they were bloggers just like us because they write for their official Pepsi blogs, but they still seemed at a loss about how a real conversation with women influencers should go. Having the “Sofa Summit” was a good first step, but it still ended up being more of a sales pitch than a give and take. And in the world of women and social media, that’s not such a good combination.
Politicians are also still feeling their way in what they view as the strange universe of women online, though a few are picking up on why it’s important. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s team does a good job of outreach generally, and so they convinced the Senator that it was important to make time in her schedule not only to hang out at the conference gala, but also to spend about 45 minutes with the women political bloggers in attendance. Yes, you skeptics (I’m talking to you Politico), there are actually women aside from Arianna Huffington and Jane Hamsher who write about politics, even though you like to look through us or past us! The downside to 45 minutes is you can’t have a real conversation, because we’re all jockeying to get our questions in – ones that will bring real answers, rather than talking points. I have to hand it to Senator Gillibrand and her team, though, because I didn’t see any other politicians making their way to engage with influential online women. Can you say ‘passed up a chance to earn some votes the easy way?’
And then there was CNN, which took an actual social approach to connecting with women at a social media conference. There was no official CNN event. There was no particular ‘get to know CNN’ agenda. There were no talking points and there was no “become a CNN evangelist” hard sell. A couple of producers who were familiar with some of our work wanted to get to know us, put faces with blog names and just have relaxed conversations. That’s called building relationships and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s what social media is all about. Who knows where connections lead when they’re made in an organic and real way? But one thing is indisputable – as with most people, if I feel that someone reaching out to me is really interested in what I’m doing, I’m more likely to be interested in their goals. If you’re trying to sell me something – whether it’s a product or talking points that you hope I will repeat — I’m more likely to listen to you if you’ve thought about how you can help me, as well.
Having said all that, I admit that those who are trying to find their way in what seems to some like a scary new social media world, are getting better at it each year. More are learning, in the wise words of David Wescott, that It’s Not a Lecture.
The funny thing is this — it just doesn’t seem that hard to understand that personal relationship building and mutual respect are going to get you further than those old Mad Men marketing theories. In parenting, our kids know when we’re just talking at them and not really hearing or understanding them. We get the best results with discipline if we make time to know and understand our kids as people. Sure there’s a power hierarchy and as parents, we have the last say. But as the mother of feisty ten-year-old daughter, I know full well that my edicts get listened to a whole lot faster if she feels like I’ve really listened to her and have her interests at heart, just as much as those of the family.
The same lessons apply with social media. It’s not a one-way street, so the sooner those who are lost find the next turn lane, the sooner they can be cruising along the social media highway with amazing benefits for everyone involved.