On Saturday, along with a large group of other bloggers I attended Blogfest. The Mumsnet Blogging conference. It was held in a sparkling venue in central London. In my blogging career I’ve attended smaller Tots 100 blogsummits workshops, blogging conferences/seminars hosted by charities, and larger conferences; Cybher, Britmums and CyberMummy. As well as conferences on various issues in my working life.
The Blogfest format was a familiar one. The day began with a panel of experts discussing “the new wild west: what kind of internet do we want?” My heart sank slightly when Richard Bacon made reference to his fear of the Mumsnetters and the Forums. This was not his audience. His audience was a group of bloggers, tech savvy, social media wise, creative bloggers.
The panel made fascinating points, clearly experts in their field with a range of experience and knowledge. The debated focussed on twitter and how best to deal with the dark and hideous aspect of trolls hiding behind false identities.
The expectation was that the audience listened passively and asked questions in a few short minutes assigned at the end.
In my view, this is an audience that had fewer questions, more comments. This was an audience familiar with both the positives of social media and the dark side. An audience many of whom used anonymous twitter handles to protect their families and their identities.
Blogfest offered other sessions, some of which I found very valuable and from which I learnt and others from which I learnt less.
I sat through a session at Britmums in which the speaker explained how to set ones self up on a particular social media platform, a platform that almost all of the room where already established and long term users of. She clearly did not know her audience and many people left the session.
With minimal information on the schedule sometimes it is hard to make the right choice. At Blogfest, I attended a session which explained basics of a subject that, I suspect, much of the audience already knew. While the speaker was clearly talented and knowledgable, he didn’t understand my question and couldn’t answer it. Significantly members of the audience did and where able to give me useful information and pointers.
My point is, increasingly, the experts are less the panel at the front and more the audience.
Which leads me on to the final session “Can you be a mummy blogger sand still be a feminist”. Marked in capitals on the programme “KEYNOTE PANEL – ALL ATTEND”. An announcement from a tannoy reminded us it was all time. Staff shepherded delegates into the hall. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that delegates were forced to attend sessions. The lack of places to sit down in the main hall and shepherding by staff suggested the organisers knew best and we should all be passive listeners to a group of experts.
I think the title of the session was mis-judged and it was poorly chaired. What soon became apparent was that some members of the panel did not know their audience. I don’t doubt the feminist credentials of members of the panel, but one member stated that they had spent the last week reading blogs. This does not, in my view, make them an experts on blogging.
Behind the speakers there was a twitter wall. A flow of tweets with the # blogfest, uploaded in 140 characters by an opinionated, intelligent and witty audience.
I needed to charge my phone and plugged it into the nearest electrical socket. I sat down to listen to the experts. However, I soon became dismayed by some of their comments and felt the urge to add my own. Grabbing my phone from the socket, I tweeted, joining the other voices of the audience, who felt the need to be heard.
A member of the panel made a disparaging comment about the blogs she had been reading, in the last week. Along the lines of them being full of reviews for soda stream and holidays.
That is one aspect of blogging, it is certainly not all. I’ve been reading blogs for 3 years. I read blogs on mental health, campaigning blogs, parenting children with special needs blogs, the challenges of motherhood, motherhood in the current political climate and many other subjects beyond. Blogging isn’t all jam making and high heals.
I will add credit to Charlotte Raven, she of the soda stream comment, that she listened and she voiced that she had changed her mind.
The following tweet fromappeared, which to me totally represented the creative and intelligent audience:
The audience as much interested in the panel, as the twitter wall and what their peers had to say, responded with laughter.
The debate heated up, as did the tweets. The organisers decided the twitter wall was a distraction from the experts and it was removed. The audience groaned and gasped. For me, that was a turning point in the atmosphere of the debate. The room twitched in irritation. The audience had an alternative view to the panel and their voice was deemed less important. I tweeted:
— Gemma (@helloitsgemma) November 9, 2013
26 re-tweets suggests I was not alone in my view.
My increasing issue with blog conferences is there is actually significant expertise in the audience. I started the session happy to listen to the panel and began tweeting when I realised some of them did not ‘get’ blogging. I am becoming less and less inclined to listen to an “expert panel” what I want to listen to is the bloggers in the room, they are the experts, a twitter wall gives me a voice and allows me to ‘hear’ the voices of others. To remove it suggestions the panel knows better. This is not always the case. Particularly, if the panel aren’t all bloggers or don’t read blogs.
With reference to panel member Sarah Ditum. I think Sarah Ditum was mis-understood, I think she mis-understood her challenger (I apologise if you weren’t there and this makes little sense).
My greater issue with Sarah Ditum was around her comment on the commercialisation of blogging and using our families as commodities. I think this is a particular area where the audience has more experience and knowledge. Women’s experiences aren’t simple, the commercial aspect of blogging is complex. It does offer an alternative marketing of products away from male dominated advertising ideals. From where I stand there are far more women are commercialising their content than are men. It is significantly bound up in women’s experience of access to the workplace and to affordable child care, which are feminist issues. Commercial content gives those bloggers, those women, greater economic freedom – a central pillar of feminism.
I am pleased feminism is being discussed, I have readfollowing that session. I am disappointed to be reading posts that use that session to illustrate why they are not a feminist.
For me Jo Brand represented feminism in a much better form, I felt no need to challenge her comments or add my own. She ‘got’ her audience, she understood the power of blogging to amplify women’s voices, to give voice to women and how much that matters. She was hugely inspiring. A true expert.
My experience of Blogfest has left me questioning the format of conferences; a panel of experts and the expectation of a passive audience. The expectation that they re-tweet the words of experts with the conference hashtag. When, actually, the audience have valid experience, contributions and alternative opinions. Less do they need to ask questions “at the end”, more they have valuable comments to add to the debate. Am I left wondering – what is the alternative?