Never underestimate the power of a woman, her laptop, and her blog: multiply that by 4,000, bring ‘em to Chicago, and hang on to your hat….

By Carolyn Gerin (Creator, The Anti-Bride series)

BlogHer13 Central redefines the word ‘event’ in the same way that ‘Redwood’ redefines the word ‘tree’ – experiencing is believing. Over cocktails, I asked my friend Cheryl Contee,  who ran the BlogHer13 International Activists Team, to shed some light on what makes BlogHer so buzz-worthy, especially for the uninitiated (such as moi). She laughed and stated, “just you wait”…What follows is a ‘Cliff-Notes-style’ compendium of my very first foray into the belly of BlogHer.

BlogHer Defined

Co-founder Elisa Camahort Page weighs in on what it is and how it works:

“BlogHer is a cross platform business as well as a conference focused on networking and education. Many of the 3,000 bloggers in our own BlogHer Economy use the money they earn to improve their blog, expand their network and influence, or for personal use. But just being an influencer doesn’t pay the bills. Blog her Social Tools and Influencer Program helps that to happen. Our network has paid $25m to women in our community. We make money with women not off women…and they are using it for everything from getting rid of debt to putting their kid through college and all the while, doing what they love. My co-founders Lisa StoneJory Des Jardins and I sought to create a conference where bloggers come together: sort of a tech event but not built around women’s issues —  BlogHer isn’t necessarily about women, it’s about being women (who happen to blog). Today BlogHer has the largest community of women who blog: 92 million across blogs and social tools, including 55 million blog readers alone (May 2013, Nielsen Site Census).”

The Power of She

Comparing BlogHer to a convention is like comparing a quaint country chapel to the Vatican. This year’s event was a femme-volution of 4,000 of the best and brightest women bloggers in the world (and the soon to be). Everyone’s tweeting, meeting, laughing, learning, connecting, reconnecting, getting deals done, and making it happen in large and small ways. The vibe was ‘atta-girl,’ riveting and intense. There were no spectators, everyone can dive in, with an overlay of deep passion (and a whole lot of hugging).

My new BlogHer friend Kelly Wallace, a CNN correspondent, says it best: “BlogHer: where everyone knows your Twitter handle.”

Charting Your Path

BlogHer13 kicked off with an immersive pre-conference event, Pathfinder Day, which answers a burning question many bloggers have: where do we go from here? BlogHer’s Shannon Carroll broke it down for me: “200 bloggers come together, split into small groups by discipline [called paths] of 40-50 and together spend an entire day exploring the milestones and fundamentals that will lead you further down your path as a blogger.” Paths included:

  • My Blog as a Book Proposal
  • My Blog as a Business
  • My Blog as a Change Agent
  • My Blog as a Media Company

I attended the inspiring My Blog as a Change Agent, presented by Cheryl Contee and Katherine Stone, which included how to use your blog for good, and staying grassroots vs. launching a social business. I met the BlogHer13 International Activist Scholars here and was excited by their courage, drive and passion. Katherine Stone created the first blog to address the thousands of women who suffer from postpartum depression, offering hope and resources.

Other equally exciting tracks included HealthMinder Day, focusing on trends and online resources and gadgets in the health space, and Viewfinder Day, focusing on photography and video in the digital space.

Panel-ize This

Friday and Saturday were jam packed with a panel to suit every interest, from monetizing your blog, to advanced tools and tech, to pitching and publishing. Blogs can change women’s livelihoods, social cachet and careers, but some blogs are saving lives. My very favorite panels were in the Politics and Activism section: Running for Office and the most riveting, the International Activist BlogHer Scholarship Roundtable. Power bloggers, political activists and game changers that were there include:

Killer Keynotes & Hosts

BlogHer13 had Queen Latifah, Guy Kawasaki, Sheryl Sandberg, Randi Zuckerberg and previously, Martha Stewart, and even Barack Obama (via live video address). When asked how BlogHer brings on such high profile thought leaders, Shannon Carroll, BlogHer Conference Programming Manager states, “It’s like the Superbowl, as soon as this is over, we will immediately start on the next one.” A BlogHer’s work is never done!

Brands Behaving Smartly

The female blogger is serious about the niche she inhabits in the Blogosphere and about what she’s saying to her audience and the 130 national brands that sponsor BlogHer are listening intently. Brands know that she (and her readers) run the family pocketbook and they got the memo: ignore women-run blogs at your peril.

Brand managers from Trojan, LazBoy, Serta, CVS, Mark Hill Hair, Blurb, Walgreens, Ulta, Yellow Tail, and Gallo Wines and more were there to pitch the bloggers (with the bloggers pitching back) in the big conference hall with more snacks, beverages and gifts. Some brands, like CVS and Trojan, handed out gift bags stuffed with pricey drugstore beauty, medical and lifestyle products.

Power Parties

The hosted, catered ‘Tribe Up’ mixers such as The People’s Party, Queerosphere, CheeseburgHer, Fly DIY, Multi-Culti, Come as You Are, the Ulta Fashion Show reception and the Voices of the Year reception were high energy opportunities to network, bond, eat and imbibe (all held in the hotel). Private sponsor mixers like the LazBoy soiree were a standout with mani-pedis, massage and Chanel makeup touchups. It was hosted by HGTV star (and new buddy) Kelly Edwards, who signed copies of her new Design Cookbook: Recipes for a Stylish Home.

Social Studies

Navigating the social scene is key to your enjoyment of the event, and to be fair, I had heard that BlogHer could be ‘cool girl clique-y.’ But let’s face it, you put 4,000 women, men or orangutans in a room and you’ll see social pecking order and tribes quickly established. I observed that many rock star bloggers and repeat BlogHer attendees have formed solid relationships built around their interests and calendar this event every year – so it’s a bit of a class reunion for some, which can be intimidating to newbies. Because groups form around interests (Mommies, Fashion, Wine, Activism, Gay Lifestyle) birds of a feather tend to flock together.

That said, the larger the sphere of influence and audience for a particular blogger, the higher the difficulty factor in cracking her code. My advice: walk right up and wait for a break in the conversation, introduce yourself and immediately follow with, “I love your XYZ blog” (make sure you’ve read her blog!). A glass of wine helps.

Note: BlogHer is all about what you want to do with your time there while leaving yourself open to possibilities, but a little social courage helps to get the most out of your BlogHer investment – so lean in!

A Few of My Favorite Things

Here are my personal BlogHer13 highlights:

  • Guy Kawasaki’s publishing tips panel
  • Meeting, and hanging out with the BlogHer13 International Activist Scholars the entire weekend
  • Meeting Sheryl Sandberg and having her pose for a picture with me (my least photogenic of all time, but still)….
  • Mulling over her question: “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”
  • So many great panels to choose from, but Running for Office and the International Activist panel were my favorites.
  • Meeting the crew of Mark Hill Hair after three hours of sleep and getting an industrial strength three-day updo for the festivities
  • Meeting the engaging gals at Boombox Network – some seriously sassy influencers in the prime of life!
  • Meeting the entire fun-loving, inspiring BlogHer crew, who puts on all this magic
  • The Voices of the Year presentation (best blog posts read aloud) hosted by Queen Latifah. Standouts include Ann Imig, who took lessons from Mexican wrestling and applied them to blogging creativity
  • The Ulta Fashion Show with runway rockstar Patrice Yursik of
  • The endless swag that caused me to check in a bag. Thank you amazing BlogHer sponsors!

This is a long blog post — it’s taken me a month to write — and honestly, I could write more, as I only recounted the high notes. For those who would like to dive deeper, BlogHer has a free app that outlines the banquet of offerings so download it and head to the site to get more insight into what it can offer you. BlogHer is a fantastic event: overwhelming, exhausting, inspiring. I’m still recovering, and I can’t wait for the next one. Good thing I have a year to rest up. Until then, BlogHers, see you in 2014….

0ab9163About the guest blogger: Carolyn Gerin is the creator and co-author of the bestselling Anti-Bride series published on Chronicle Books, the first voice in the alterna-bridal pop cultural space. She also serves as Sr. Editor for Destination I Do Magazine. She’s a serial entrepreneur, start-up addict and creative director. Follow her on Twitter at @antibride

Photo courtesy BlogHer.