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January 14, 2013

DadCentric Roundtable: Pre-Dad 2.0 Summit Edition

Welcome to the DadCentric Roundtable. Recently, we had an email discussion about the upcoming Dad 2.0 Summit; many of us went to last year's, a few of spoke on panels, and it was a good time. As the second rolls around, we thought we'd have a chat about what we're hoping to get out of Dad 2.0.2, and whether or not blog conferences have any value (outside of getting knee-walking drunk with your Internet pals).

Jason: C.C. Chapman recently posted a great piece on conferences, and how many of them fail to provide anything of substance to experienced folks. We're all graying, surly veterans of the dadblogging scene: apart from getting the chance to watch Andy display his karaoke talents and Whit threaten fellow attendees with that knife he keeps in his boot, is there any tangible value to attending Dad 2.0? In other words, can old dogs like us learn any new tricks?

Seth: Some of us aren't as long in the tooth as you guys.  (Ahem.)  I wish I were going.  I think I'd learn something about the business behind blogging, which I'm pretty ignorant about.  Then again, what I learn may only serve to bum me out. The biggest reason I wish I were attending this year is the drunken fellowship. And I can testify firsthand to the fact that Hinds does a pretty badass Johnny Cash. 


A group of Unidentified Dadbloggers at the 2011 Mom 2.0 Summit


Greg: I don't think anyone is going to teach me anything new about SEO or Typepad tricks.
I'd like to see more of how blogging is changing journalism...

Homemaker Man: I've never been to a blog conference of any kind, so for me, I think'd it be useful on some level, if just getting to meet everyone and so forth. 

TwoBusy: It all depends on what you mean by learning. If you mean technical tricks of the trade... I have no idea. Is that part of the Dad 2.0 agenda, the way it is at BlogHer? I'm such a technophobe I've never seriously considered that kind of learning as a serious option. That being said, I think there'll probably be plenty to be learned in the sense of meeting people, hearing great stories, and - as a result of all that drunken fellowship (as is often the case: Seth nailed it) - finding some new perspective or inspiration that pushes you & your writing in a different direction.

Or , alternately, you just go out drinking and karaoke-ing with Mr. Hinds and end up making pee angels on the sidewalk at 6am. (see under: cautionary tales/Andy Herald)

Kevin: For these kinds of general conferences, what you get out of it depends on the effort you put in. For example, you want to cozy up to brands to try to get ads, sponsorships and freebies? Bring your business cards, practice your elevator speech and work those self-marketing skills and sell, sell, sell. Want to learn how to do  XYZ better? Find a recognized expert and pick his brain. Want to take a ride at 3 am with four soused conference goers and end up in a seedy part of town looking at booty that's well past its prime? I have no idea what you're talking about, honey.

Still it  doesn't always work out. At the first Dad 2.0, I had a plan. I executed it. And I thought I really bowled over those Honda folks with my intimate knowledge and, yes, love of the Odyssey minivan. As a result, I got a three-and-a-half-second appearance in an online video and a blanket as a parting gift. No second date. No under-the-shirt, over-the-bra. Not even a breakup text. I still love Honda vehicles but now I feel a bit more like Charlie Brown and his unrequited love of The Little Red-Haired Girl.

I'm going to Dad 2.0 this year because somebody more talented obviously had a prior commitment. As a result, they asked me to stand at the lectern to fill a few minutes of time by entertaining the troops with my imitation of Albert Brooks' playing anchorman in "Broadcast News." It will be my honor and funeral. Please bring a casserole.

Jason Sperber (Yes, there are two Jasons now):  Dad 2.0 last year was my first parentblogging-centric conference. Before that, I was the token parentblogger on a panel about "niche" blogs (meaning about things other than being Asian American) at an Asian American blogging conference (which interestingly enough later partnered with the Asian American Journalists Association and has become much more about multiplatform digital journalism), and before that I organized a panel on mixed-race parentblogging at a mixed-race arts conference. Last year, I talked about race on the community panel, and this year I'm speaking again on the race/culture panel. So yeah, I think you can see where I'm coming from in terms of this.

For me, it's less about the nuts-and-bolts or brands/monetization things and more about issues. Who are we, what issues are we writing about/what's important to us, and why, and how is that reflected in what we do... I'm realizing that blog conferences are more about the former and less about the latter, but I guess part of me still comes because I want to keep pushing that part of the conversation. I'm sad that all the issue panels are at the same time this year so we basically have to choose which one is important to us over the others, but I get it, logistically.

The conversations that happen in between official events, if you want to call that networking or community building or just hanging out or whatever...those are where ideas and issues are delved into and hashed out.

Kevin: I fear Sperber is being typecast. Someone needs to sign him up to speak on a "Parental Toys (wink, wink, nudge nudge, know-wot-I-mean)" panel or something. 

Whit: There was a time when I went to blog conferences seeking practical "how to" knowledge, but after a series of disappointments (in that aspect, not that I didn't enjoy the overall conference experience) I have come to accept that these gatherings are more about networking than anything else. I'm okay with that. 

If we were all insurance salespeople rather than bloggers we would do this sort of thing in Cedar Rapids and pretend we weren't there for the thrill of it all, but we shouldn't hide the fact that we value bonding over panels—I believe that fun is all you need. Also, love. Connecting with other bloggers in their natural habitat (see, bar) and picking their minds on the creative process, life, and the pursuit of whatever they call happiness over three fingers of bourbon (or multiple thereof) is where the real takeaway content can be found (aka blackmail).

That isn't to say that the panels and organized experiences aren't worthwhile. I think there is real value in learning what other bloggers do and don't, but I also think such things tend to fall under labels like interesting and inspiring rather than tangible information—any of which can lead to personal improvement and frankly, the latter, in my experience, ranks least in terms of importance.

The Muskrat: Damned if Whit didn't take my answer.  My first year of BlogHer, I thought I'd learn some good stuff about writing and building / managing a Wordpress site. Instead I learned that a lot of my female readers aren't as hot in person as they are in my head, and that Sweetney is not as mean as I was afraid she'd be. Now when I go, it's because it's fun to travel and hang out with the people my wife calls my "real friends" (more true in 2008-2010 than now--back when people left comments and built relationships). 

It's like my annual trip to the Southern Trial Lawyers meeting each winter/spring in New Orleans. Do I expect to learn new trial techniques? Fuck no. Do I pursue beneficial networking? Well, given my behavior and attire each year at Mardi Gras, I actually work to NOT meet new people from the conference. Kids, it's all about the debauchery. 


Andy Hinds networking with Heather Armstrong, taken shortly before she got the restraining order.


Jason: For those who haven't gone, what keeps you from going? Price? Content? For me, price is always an issue; I've managed to crash with Craig at a couple of conferences, and not having to buy a badge because I'm speaking is also a big help. Hotel rates and airfare can drive up the cost of attendance up and over $1000, and that is a chunk of change - especially considering that most dadbloggers aren't making that kind of money from their sites, and aren't attracting sponsors like many of our momblogging counterparts. 

Homemaker Man: It's money for me, plain and simple. Content is only a concern if you know what the content is, which I don't, because I've never been. And Two Busy and Seth set the priorities, as far as I'm concerned. Getting to know all of you would be the number one reason for me to attend. Getting to know all of you while drunk would be number two.

Seth: One of these days, Homemaker, we're going to meet the man behind the paper plate face.

Unless you're actually Keyser Soze (just a theory). In which case, we'll leave you alone.

Greg: Money is the first thing that keeps me away. And then content.

Conferences just seem like a way to organizers to make some money and keep some opinion makers happy. When I was with All About Beer magazine last year, we talked about trying to do something involving beer and the magazine (like a room drop). I got the kibosh because anything that involved the guests leaving the hotel was frowned upon; so a pub crawl was out. A room drop would have been considered a media sponsor and therefore the magazine would have had to pay the fee for that (lots of $$$). In comparison, to put magazines in rooms at the Nation Beer Wholesalers Convention or Great American Beer Festival, we merely had to come up with the funds to print more copies and have them shipped there.

So there's my two sides: as a possible attendee and potential media sponsor.

Jason: We had a lot of fun with our panel on writing last year; there are some great writers who'll be presenting this year (Kevin and Whit and Distinguished Alumni BHJ representin') and for me, I like hanging out with guys whose focus is on that, rather than the brand stuff. 

Here's the schedule for this year's event. I'll go ahead and plug my panel; it's the one on turning your blogging/social media experience into a fulltime job. I'll be joined by Liz Gumbinner, Diane Lang, and Jessica Kirkwood; Craig will handle moderating duties. (Can I get you guys to show up in case the Blogger Father dude is there and tries to stab me?) These ladies are all incredibly smart and accomplished. Which begs the question: why are they associating themselves with me?

The content does really seem to skew towards monetizing one's blog and working with brands. For those of you who don't care about such things, is that offputting?

Homemaker Man: Actually, I'm Keyser Soze's plate. He likes ham sandwiches. As to Jason's question, if I could attend, a little advice on how to squeeze some money out of the blogging thing, though learnin' some stuff 'bout writin' from youse guys would be good.

Kevin: Thanks for the schedule link as no one told me when I speak. Hand it to Doug, he knows I tend to lose my voice and put me on early. Though to prep properly this means I will have to start drinking at 9 AM.

Jason: "6:30 AM - 7:30 AM: Morning Activity". For me, that will likely consist of leaning out of my bed and vomiting into a nearby trashcan/Craig's shoes.

Ron: I have no idea who those idiot dads were driving around in the seedy part of town but they sure give dad blogging a bad name. Oh wait... never mind.

For me it comes down to the social aspect (someone tell Doug to start selling social passes for $75 for Dad 2.0). I like seeing everyone and hanging out, & having a few Hangover moments in the seedy part of town, but honestly, the majority of the content isn't worth the $500 - $800 in travel, hotel, etc. Like Jason I've deferred costs by speaking but this year I'm not which really made me question whether I was coming or not. By coincidence I'm going to be in Houston that entire week for work so one way or the other I'm still going to hang out but I haven't committed to shelling out $250 for the actual event. In fact I owe Doug an answer by the 15th b/c he's holding a ticket for me. Bottom line, there's not much that's new that I'm going to learn in the sessions. And really, I actually learn more by talking to everyone than I do in the sessions. If I do "officially" go I plan on being at Jason's for sure because I respect everyone on that panel and what they have to say. Plus I've made that same transition from blog to biz and it does relate to my job now.  Also, getting into a bare-fisted brawl at a dad blogger conference is still on my bucket list so don't sweat getting shiv'd. 

On the flip side-- doing what I'm doing now as a content marketing strategist I'm going to be looking to possibly sign up some content creators and glad hand a few of the brands and PR types. But even so, that's more of an opportunity thing and not my main purpose in going. In the future I'll probably keep going if I'm speaking but at the same time, when it comes to panels I keep asking myself what is it that's worth saying that hasn't already been said before. In general I feel like dad blogs have reached a point of stagnation to some degree, but that's just me.

Whit: I think that's all blogs, Ron.

Jason: "Blog is dead." - Nietzsche

Whit: To clarify my thoughts on stagnation: I don't mean to imply that dad blogging isn't growing in number, continuing to showcase some of the best written work on the Internet, or making headway with brand relations (although I attribute that more to a late wakeup call among PR types than any change in what the collective we is doing), but rather what we continue to do is very much more of the same. What is the next level and where is the staircase?

Homemaker Man: Podcasts, tweeting, and live webcasts where we exploit our children by making them use products we're getting 200 bucks to promote and which we wouldn't use otherwise.

Jason: I feel the same way: Mick Jagger's whole "it's the singer, not the song" thing is what we're seeing, especially as so many of the newer dadbloggers are new dads. As a reader, I'm less interested in reading the diaper jokes and "being a new dad changed my entire way of life" essays - I lived through and wrote about that shit twice, and don't need to see that movie again. We've all talked about where we're at as writers these days; many of us have kids who are old enough know that we write about them online, and for me that's definitely changed what I put out there. I think the next level is what we've already started doing - ease back on writing about our kids, and move into writing about ourselves, with fatherhood being just one of the lenses through which we view the world. Does that jibe with how Dad 2.0 and "the community" defines a dadblogger? (My answer: don't know, don't particularly care.)

Seth: Looking back in this thread a bit, I find myself in the situation you described, Jason.  While I'm still writing about parenting and about my kid, the fact is my daughter is getting older, approaching adolescence; writing about her feels a bit more like an invasion of her privacy now.  That coupled with, well, my own ridiculous Life Change/Coming Out melodrama, I'm moving into a new mode of thinking and writing that's focused on myself, where I'm at, and how I'm trying to make sense of the world.  Fatherhood is still at the core of that, but as Riley grows up and I become a different kind of Dad for her, I'm doing a lot more reflecting inward.  How to be a dad to a tween.  How to be a single dad.  How to be a gay dad. Whether being gay should even affect what kind of dad I am (I know the answer should be that it shouldn't... but there are more issues to address in that new territory than I originally thought).

And there's the opportunity to just write about Guy Stuff.  (Not Gay Stuff.)  The stuff we all care about, the stuff we like to talk about for hours and hours, the stuff that gives our lives color and texture.  Writing about that stuff is what connects us as guy-type people. And if I were to go to Dad 2.0 this year, it would be to get together with you all, and the other dad bloggers we know, and shoot the shit about all of it, both in and out of panels.  Possibly while hammered.

I think that in itself is valuable.  Maybe next year.

Andy: Is there any tangible value?  There's quite a bit of value for me, or else I wouldn't bother going, but I don't think much of it is tangible.  Honestly though, I've almost always managed, through dumb luck, to have somebody else pay my way to these things.  If I had to make a case to my wife about why conferences are worth the expense, I might be less bullish about them.

This Dad 2.0 will be my fifth blogging conference.  Every conference has offered at least some little nugget that has helped me understand why I'm blogging, connected me to a paying gig, or somehow adjusted my focus.  The common denominator among these experiences that's the most valuable for me, though, is networking.  And by networking, I mean partying and bullshitting with other writers and social media types.  

As far as I can recall, I've never gained anything by schmoozing with brand reps, but I think that's just because it's not my bag.  To make something happen from those conversations requires follow-up, which I can never seem to get around to.  Somehow I always find something more important to do than to email the guy I met at the Clorox booth.  I'm sure that lots of people benefit from opportunities to connect with brands, but that's not why I go.

For me, attending talks about monetizing, cultivating relationships with brands, increasing traffic, and making your blog more marketable has been like going to church.  I walk out full of good intentions about how I'm going to improve myself, and by the time I get around the corner I'm like, "How did I end up back here already, shooting dice and drinking Old Crow?"

I go to conferences to socialize, honestly.  And since we're all involved in *social* media, that kind of makes sense.  The opportunities (financial and otherwise) that I've gotten from blogging have mostly been through personal relationships, and nothing has been better for establishing those than actually hanging out with the fleshly, so-called "real life" versions of my internet friends.

Sometimes the relationships you nurture at conferences don't lead to anything tangible, or even a consistent internet friendship.  I might never see any ROI on the hours I invested after-partying with the most powerful lesbian mom bloggers in the business at last year's BlogHer, for instance.  But those hours were still one of the best nuggets from that conference.

I'm going to Dad 2.0 this year without any expectations for finding new revenue streams or learning how to make people share my posts on facebook, although it would be cool if that happened.  I just want to hang out with my friends and talk, and meet people whose work I admire.  Last year I was concerned that I was going to be put off by the overabundance of males, but it turned out to be one of a handful of male bonding experiences I've enjoyed that didn't involve outdoor recreation or tools.  That's what happens when you're around a bunch of smart, thoughtful, funny, snarky guys who are comfortable talking about the kind of "guy stuff" that interests me.  This year, I'm looking forward to the sausagefest. 





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