(Your sponsorship here)

I’m back from BlogHer 09 (which given my tweets of the past few days, I am surprised I did not automatically call #blogher09 here) and starting to process what went on.  I have a unique perspective, in that I attend BlogHer both as a blogger, and a female (dare I say “Mommy”?) blogger, but also as a marketer and social media enthusiast. There are so many things that I want to get out of the conference – I want great sessions, opportunities to meet writers I haven’t encountered before and to see the bloggers I read all the time, AND to make contacts to further my business.  I ask a lot of BlogHer, and in return, it takes me a while to think about it.

However, there is one area of BlogHer that I won’t have to think about much.  Right now, it’s  standing out, not just in my mind, but on the posts of many who attended the conference.

SPONSORSHIP – it’s the new dirty word in the Blogosphere.

Sponsorship essentially means a blogger has gotten conference, hotel and/or airfare or other travel expenses to BlogHer paid for.  In return, the expectations are mixed.  Maybe you wear a t-shirt from the sponsor.  You might be asked to hand out postcards directing you to a URL or a conference.  Perhaps you go to parties and act as a brand ambassador.  Whatever.  You’re there for someone else as well as yourself.

But should it be the “Scarlet S” if you will?  I can’t really judge.  I was lucky enough this year to have my work pay for all conference related expenses.  If I had to do this on my own, I’m not sure I would have paid the money in these economic times.  On the one hand, I congratulate these enterprising women who have found a way to get what they want.

Although, on the other hand, I must question some of them for their tactics.  Here at Wiley, I often give tutorials to colleagues on social media best practices.   I talk about how to listen to your customers first before you engage with them online.  I always say it’s just like a cocktail party with people you don’t know. Would you jump right into a circle of folks and exclaim, “HI!  I’M ELLEN!  I LIKE BASEBALL AND PUPPIES AND MARGARITAS!  LET ME TALK TO YOU ABOUT DUMMIES BOOKS!”  No, of course you wouldn’t.  People laugh at that example.  “As if!”

Yet that’s just what many of these sponsored women were doing at the conference!  Just as an example, I was sitting at a table during breakfast getting to know some of my fellow bloggers when a woman dropped onto the table and started shilling for some web site.  Didn’t say hi, didn’t listen to even think if we would be interested in the site, just barged right in.  In another case, I stopped a woman in the hallway because she was wearing a T-shirt from a PR agency down the block from me.  I asked if she worked for the agency (there isn’t that much business like PR and publishing in Hoboken and figured we might have friends in common.)  She said no, she didn’t work there, but the agency was sponsoring her, and wouldn’t I like to enter this contest where I could win….ahhh, not sure what I could have won, I just walked away shaking my head at that point.

What bothers me is these are the people who should know better.  Don’t break the most fundamental rules of social networking just because someone is paying your way.   If you want to make your sponsorship work, tone it down at the beginning.  Get to know a fellow blogger before you make your pitch.  She may or may not be interested, and if she isn’t, you’re going to most likely lose any chance to connect with her on any level.

A better example to share came from Friday afternoon.  I was talking to a charming woman outside one of the suites when she casually mentioned she had asked a major discount retailer to sponsor her.  I immediately mentioned that said discoutnted retailer was where I had bought my shirt, but the store has a different name in the UK, and I really like shopping there….and we went on and on.  We had a connection before, and it was actually enhanced when we talked further.  She didn’t push it on me, and as such, I opened the door to the conversation.

I certainly hope that anyone representing a company or product think careful about how they will be presenting themselves at BlogHer 10 and beyond.  There’s a lot riding on this if we are to be taken seriously as a demographic, by outsiders but also from within.

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12 Responses to (Your sponsorship here)

  1. True that. It was my first Blogher, and I didn’t know what to expect. I worked for the conference to defray the costs, and I did have a sponsor cover travel costs. But I was fortunate enough to have a sponsor who didn’t have any expectations of me marketing for them at the conference. They wanted a link on my conference page, and my back end input on some ideas over the next few months. I was more than happy to oblige, as it’s a service I believe in. I didn’t want to spend my first Blogher hard pimpin. But I also do understand the need for people to cover costs.

    I didn’t understand so much the need for people to act like linebackers over swag, and was saddened to see that aspect of human nature over things people probably ditched half of before flying home. But overall, I enjoyed my first Blogher greatly, and met a lot of really cool people, yourself included. I felt like we were the bad kids in the back of the room.:)

  2. Jennifer says:

    I wasn’t there, but I am curious if at least a small portion of the “bad blogger” behavior can be attributed to the way sponsors laid out expectations to their sponsees.

    I can certainly imagine a well-meaning blogger feeling pressured to do a hard sell to maintain her relationship with the brand.

    Perhaps we need to continue the dialogue on what continues a healthy sponsorship relationship?

  3. Ellen says:

    Hi RnRM. First off, I’m ALWAYS the bad kid in the back of the room. Second, I totally understand why people are sponsored and I applaud those who have the ingenuity to get sponsors and do it right. Most of what I experienced at BlogHer was positive, and I will be writing about that as well. It was great to meet you and I hope we can catch up in NY!

  4. Ellen says:

    Jennifer, great point. I do like the idea of continuing this dialog with the community. I’m interested in how other companies expect bloggers to support them, while also thinking about how I would want someone representing my company and brands. I’ve heard some companies not knowing how to relate to bloggers at all, and thinking by using them as marketing spaghetti, maybe some of that will stick. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Briana says:

    Great point! I felt I had a few too many “pitches” and didn’t leave me with a good impression of the brand/blogger. There really needs to be a connection.

    Then again, I think people may feel a responsibility to their sponsor to do the pitch to every single person. Not a good idea.

  6. Vicky says:

    I found you via Lattes and Life on Twitter and I have to say- job well done with this post. Being a veteran blogger and also mixed on sponsorship I think you were fair and balanced and taught a few things.

    thank you! Wish we could have met!

  7. This was my first BlogHer conference and I wasn’t sure what to expect. As much as I wanted to push for a sponsorship to help defray the costs, but my concern was that my attention would be too directed toward giving my sponsor due credit while cheating myself out of what the event had to offer.

    Instead, I did what I could to keep the costs down… (1) I sold a prize (a cell phone) that I won in a giveaway and used the money to pay for my registration. (2) I roomed with a friend who had won a free room in a contest. (3) My husband drove me to/from Chicago 3 hours each way (so his road time was 12 hours) but it was better than the atrocious cost of parking a vehicle on site. (4) I didn’t spend a dime on things like Starbucks and the only cash I spent was tipping the hotel staff.

    As a result, I was able to spend the entire trip focusing on me and what I wanted to get out of the trip. I spent time talking to bloggers as well as PR agents. It was all about me and I learned from the mistakes of others in the event I want a sponsor for next year.

    Thanks for the great post.

  8. Mocha says:

    So I’m looking at this site, right, and these women are actually asking for money with the PayPal button RIGHT THERE and then as I see their pictures I notice that the one on the bottom is standing in front of a sea of water (ocean, lake, whatever) and this SCREAMS “vacation” to me.

    So, you can take vacations. And take pictures there. And upload them on a computer. And then ask for money. Using that photo.

    My head has just split down the middle.

    But what YOU said was right on: if we’re to be taken seriously as a demographic then we have to behave accordingly. This is a professional development conference. If you’re not professional enough to have better class than to beg for money, then you shouldn’t go. Because then? Those are the women who walked right up to me and handed me their card while interrupting a conversation. (When they did that, I dropped their card into the nearest trash can. Because I don’t like to litter.)

    Again. With the head splitting. But anyway… thank you for helping us all get the lesson here that this is not ok.

  9. Great post. I saw your tweet a couple of days ago about needing time to process and this was worth the wait.
    “Get to know a fellow blogger before you make your pitch.”
    The same rules apply – if you’re a pr person, or a sponsored blogger. Common sense, but can’t be said enough!

    Retailer with two different names? Do tell!

  10. Pingback: SponsHer…Ouch « P i l l o w b o o k

  11. Mom101 says:

    Such a thoughtful and insightful post. I don’t think sponsors are the issue per se. It seems like a lot of people have forgotten the “social” in social networking.

    I keep trying to figure out if it has something to do with twitter and a new faster, wham bam thank you for your info kind of networking. I wonder if there is a difference between how the actual bloggers interact and those mostly committed to twitter.

    Eh, I’m thinking out loud. But great points, all of them.

  12. Ellen, Always appreciative of your perspective on such things. Very well said.

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