The Newbie Perspective
I have a confession to make- I’m a new pet blogger. At this moment while I’m writing my blog is 6 months old. By a twist of fate I joined the BlogPaws pet blog network, which is part of Pet360 Media; I attended my first pet blog conference in Myrtle Beach; and I came home with about a year’s worth of homework to do to improve my blog and social media influence.
So what did a new blogger like myself learn as a Newbie at the BlogPaws conference? Oh, so much.
Introduce Yourself and Your Blog Online
Social Media is a safe place for an ambivert like me to interact with others. But stepping into a pet blogging conference as a new blogger, new member, and knowing no one (in person) was a bit daunting.
As a voracious reader and someone keen to better myself in every aspect, I read as many other pet blogs as I can. I don’t limit myself to the BlogPaws posts, which are extremely helpful by the way. But I’ve “met” online many other bloggers organically and through the BlogPaws network’s Social Learning Community, Facebook group, and Twitter chats. In doing so, I’ve started to build relationships with these people of similar interests but also learn from them.
Do Your Research
The best thing I did for my own peace of mind was to join the Newbies Course on the BlogPaws SLC. It involved so much detail and suggestions for our first conference that reading it and completing it made me feel so much better prepared. Of course, the amazing blog posts by the ambassadors and other veterans continued to set my mind at ease. Prepare for a lot to learn while at the conference. I think I have homework for the next year……just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
I had seen one of the other conference newbies on the BlogPaws SLC and she seemed to really have an uncanny ability to navigate social media. So I reached out to Kia Chambers of Come Wag Along privately about setting up a private Facebook group for the 2017 Conference Newbies. I’m so glad that we did. The group allowed us to share and follow each other’s social media, blogs, and most importantly get to know each other a bit before the conference. And we are still using it after the conference.
Use Social Media
When you are a blogger, social media is priceless. Valentine’s furmom, Kerry, from Noir Kitty Mews and Beth Miller from Wagtown are two of the newbies that reached out to me privately on social media in advance of the conference. We conversed back and forth and arranged to meet while at the conference.
Don’t just arrive at a conference and let fate have its way. Take more initiative and reach out to other attendees. The BlogPaws conference is jam packed with amazing speakers, sponsors, bloggers, and sessions. You are going to be busy. Arrange a meeting place before the Happy Meowr or dinner. The benefit? You will not only connect in person but you will also have someone to sit with.
Connect with the BlogPaws Ambassadors
Every year ambassadors are chosen by BlogPaws. They are our liasons as conference members to the BlogPaws team and they are there to help. Our Newbie Ambassador, Elizabeth Tucker Keene from Chronicles of Cardigan, made a true effort to meet each of us, speak with us, and answer any questions we have. The ambassadors are a huge resource. Seek them out and speak with them.
The 2017 BlogPaws Conference Ambassadors are:
Paula Gregg of Sweet Purrfections
Cathy Armato of Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them
Jennifer Costello of My Brown Newfies
Elizabeth Tucker Keene of The Chronicles of Cardigan
Robin Mudge of Playful Kitty
Jodi Chick of Kol’s Notes
Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
I came mentally prepared to be an extrovert for a few days. Did I slip away from the crowd from time to time and recharge? Emphatically yes. But I didn’t need to as often as I thought because every single person there was welcoming and seemed just as interested in meeting me when I introduced myself.
What surprised me most was the recognition in the eyes of people with whom I was spoken who had actually heard of my blog. That to me, was success in itself.
Instead of bringing my dogs or flat pets, I brought my daughter’s Breyer horse. My trainer tells me I’m a psycho for that, but I thought it was funny and it seemed appropriate for the venue. I forgot him in my suitcase the first day so I made a point on the last day to bring him with me. As one of two equestrian bloggers in the crowd, my Breyer definitely pointed me out to the others! I spoke with vendors with equine product lines. But since I write about both horses and dogs, I wasn’t feeling left out anywhere, and spoke with a large number of dog brands as well. In a sea of dogs and cats, I stood out with my horse. With over 495 people in attendance, standing out is a good thing.
I realize that while I was prepared to be an extrovert, others were not necessarily as comfortable. So I made it the initiative to introduce bloggers that I thought would have a lot in common or that would work well together. When I sat for meals I would introduce myself to my table mates. As people would trickle in, I’d introduce them to the others. It didn’t cost me a lot to do it but I hope it made a difference for them. If I were super shy that is something I would have really appreciated.
Going into this conference I put away all insecurities and just focused on meeting people with the same passion for animals. After all, we all have so much in common. There is no reason that someone should sit alone unless it’s by choice.
It’s Not Just Bloggers
You will be sitting with bloggers, speakers, sponsors, charities, etc. Everyone is interested in making connections at the BlogPaws conference. I’m working on building my writing portfolio. My goal for the conference was to learn as much about the act of blogging that I could and to meet the other bloggers. I was happily surprised to make social connections with brands and charities as well, something I did not expect. Don’t sell yourself short.
The Social Aspect of BlogPaws
While we all have a job we are doing, and the conference is a way to better ourselves and our product, let’s not forget the social aspect. Our blogs are, or should be, an extension of ourselves. What makes Bridle & Bone unique is the view point I bring as an animal massage therapist. Everything I am, comes through in my writing and I find that my best received posts are the ones that I really reveal myself in like the Confessions of a Timid Rider series. While that is not easy for me, it is encouraging.
The BlogPaws conference is a way for us pet bloggers to meet and connect in person. I have run through the gauntlet and come out the other side successfully and better off for it, now no longer a newbie. I feel part of a community and was welcomed as such. We were given time to rest or walk pets between sessions, mingle over happy hour, or even *gasp* venture outside for a walk on the beach or lunch at a restaurant. These are key times to get to know each other outside of the business of blogging.
The Swag Is Real
This is something that was not overly hyped. I had heard rumors that the the swag bags were insanely generous. Not only was this true, but this doesn’t include all the free products and information the sponsors give away to bloggers and pets. I believe it was Jodi Chick of Kol’s Notes (who I was bummed I didn’t get to meet) that weighed her bag at the airport. Almost 50 pounds of products!
Many suggested bringing a duffle bag or empty suitcase in order to bring your swag home. The struggle is real. I brought an empty duffle for this reason but my father insisted that since he’s coming to visit in a week he will bring it with him in the car. Major score! The only problem is now I have to wait to go through, organize it, and start testing it on my dogs. Gonzo and Beau will go ballistic with glee.
I don’t want to lose my momentum. So much information overload has set me on fire and the day after returning I hopped on my computer and implemented as much as I could from my SEO session (and airport one-on-one) with Jill Caren of 2 Dogs Design. While going into the conference I had to prioritize my sessions, now I find myself prioritizing my homework. All this amazing information was basically thrown at me with glee. It would be a shame if I didn’t take it. After all, learning from others is the core of why I attended the 2017 BlogPaws Conference in Myrtle Beach. If I knew everything I would be Jay Baer or Kathleen Gage, the keynote speakers. But I’m guessing they always have something to learn too.
What Would I have Done Differently?
Are there things I would do differently next year? Certainly. I don’t believe in regrets, but I do believe in learning from my experiences. So what are the things I would change for my next BlogPaws conference?
The conference pre-event was Wednesday night and the conference began early Thursday morning. I had family and work considerations so I was not able to fly to Myrtle Beach until Thursday afternoon. Due to flight maintenance delays I not only missed Happy Hour where I was scheduled to meet some newbies out front and sit together, but missed the Opening Remarks and 90% of the Opening Reception. So basically I walked in, late, to a conference where I knew no one. Awesome first impression, Heather. Being late is my biggest pet peeve. It gives me serious anxiety.
But things have a way of working out. I’m an optimist. A women came up to me in the lobby and introduced herself as someone on my delayed flight. Not only was she a fellow Jersey girl, but she was a speaker whose session I wanted to attend the next day. Shout out to Jill Caren who stepped out of her comfort zone to speak to a stranger. Not only was she kind enough to stow my bag in her room but we went to the reception together. Phew. At least I made it in time for the Sip and Paint hosted by pet-friendly Red Roof Inn.
Stay at the Hotel
My parents live an hour away and I thought it would be nice to visit them in Wilmington while I was in the area. So to save money and see them, I stayed in Wilmington Thursday and Friday nights. Not only was I too tired to really spend time with them, but that was 2 hours round trip I added to those busy days. Luckily I spent the entire day with them on Sunday. Going forward I would definitely spend the evenings in the hotel. Not only for a place to rest in between sessions, but so that I can socialize with the other conference members. Thank you so much to Sheraton Myrtle Beach for hosting us!
Have a Time Turner
Speaking with other conference attendees we all agreed- we were interested in too many sessions. I was given advice in advance of the conference and that was to focus on my goal for the year. What were my priorities? I then choose my sessions based on those priorities. I’m so glad I did. But there were still so many sessions that would have fit my guidelines that I couldn’t attend due to overlap.
In our Facebook BlogPaws 2017 Newbies group we created a document where we are sharing our notes from different sessions. So even though we could not attend all the sessions, we are still learning a lot. These notes may be available for the right price…..kidding!
Bring my dog
I didn’t bring Gonzo or Beau on the long trip to Myrtle Beach. They are 80 lbs. each of energetic glee. For my first conference I wanted to scope the scene. It was important to me to see how the animals interacted with each other, and how close the sessions were before I even considered bringing my two mutts. *Note: I totally wished I had brought Gonzo, who is the epitome of dog friendly. But I doubt he would have relaxed at all during the conference!
Participate in the One-on-One Sessions
These one-on-one sessions are 10 minutes in length and a way for us to talk more in depth with speakers. I made a conscious decision to stay back and skip this year because I knew I would be so overwhelmed with information overload that when we were given a chance to schedule these, I hesitated.
Mistake on my part. I should have been more spontaneous. At the very least I could have connected with the speakers on a social level. But I second-guessed myself. I know I always have questions and should have trusted that. The nice thing is? There’s always next year. And there is no reason that I can’t follow up privately with this year’s speakers.
At the end of the day, this Newbie learned so much at her first BlogPaws conference. I could not have been happier with what I learned, the friends I met, and the connections I made. And the Newbies rocked the 2017 Nose-to-Nose Awards!