I'm heading to San Diego this week. The annual BlogHer conference is kicking off, but rather than attending the panel discussions etc I'll be at the I'm With the Brand party hosted by Clever Girls Collective. Fresh & Easy (a client) is a sponsor. I'm stepping up my involvement with this client, and I'm very happy about that.
But there's another reason why I'm excited to travel 3000 miles for a 3-hour party. I'm really looking forward to witnessing the success of Clever Girls Collective - and specifically one of its founders, Stefania Pomponi Butler - first-hand.
I'm very fortunate to be able to point to specific moments in my social media career where I built relationships with entrepreneurial bloggers, or learned an important lesson from the community of online moms. The first touchpoint, I'll readily acknowledge, was dumb luck - I was tasked with connecting bloggers to a new radio network that featured Gloria Steinem on its Board of Directors, and I thought it might be a good idea for Ms. Steinem to actually talk with some of those bloggers. But the year was 2006. Bloggers (and especially mom-bloggers) were still regarded by mainstream media as insignificant and DEFINITELY NOT journalists. Marketers were only beginning to realize the potential of the mom-o-sphere. The idea of someone with the fame and gravitas of Gloria Steinem talking with a dozen "regular people" was questionable at best. It took a lot of convincing. I had to write memos titled, "What is a blog?" because nobody really knew what I was doing. (Neither did I.) But of course, Gloria Steinem isn't afraid of anyone, and she agreed to do it without a fuss.
So Ms. Steinem talked with regular people like Liz Gumbinner. And Kristen Chase. And Catherine Connors. And Leah Peterson. And a bunch of other women. And they loved it. And then some bloggers met Ms. Steinem at the network's launch party. And they loved that too. The radio network wound up folding, but I became "the guy who did the Gloria Steinem thing" and rode that wave into the "State of the Mom-o-Sphere" panel at BlogHer 2007 in Chicago, and I really thought I was this amazing PR hot-shot and everyone would love me.
Yeah, not so much.
By July 2007, a lot of bloggers were getting slammed with emails from PR and marketing flacks basically asking them to write about how awesome their products were. It didn't matter what the product was, or if the mom actually wrote about anything relevant to the product. And the moms were sick of it. And they let me know it. Loudly. So even though I never really spammed anyone like that, I felt compelled to apologize on behalf of the industry and wrote a manifesto of sorts and I became "the PR guy who gets it."
But another very important thing happened at that panel discussion, and it was an idea led by Kelly Wickham and by Stefania. They noticed the moms getting all these pitches from PR flacks happened to be white, and that blogs written by people of color were being ignored - even though they had comparable levels of popularity - and they wanted to know why. So I tried to give an explanation - it's basically because, when it comes to diversity, often the PR industry just plain sucks. And I became "the PR guy who gets it" all over again.
Of course that answer didn't settle the matter for Stefania or Kelly, nor should it. They've led several panel discussions at subsequent BlogHer conferences and beyond on the issue of diversity in the blogosphere. And Stefania and her partners founded Clever Girls Collective. They started out by showing brands that they could reach out to online moms - and particularly moms of color - much more effectively than big PR firms. They've grown dramatically over the past couple of years because they take their job very seriously, they always work with integrity, and they deliver results.
I've learned a lot by watching and talking with Stefania and these other dynamic women. I've learned that you can achieve much greater success by engaging bloggers not as ersatz journalists or outreach targets, but as entrepreneurs or partners. I've learned how important a mom blogger's integrity and fidelity to the greater community of online moms is, and you should support that community without necessarily asking for anything in return. I've learned that in this community, bloggers support each other relentlessly and find true friendship and build amazingly strong bonds over great distances.
I've learned this and more and I'm very, very grateful.