Last week I was invited as a guest of Coca-Cola to attend one of their regional blogging conferences, at their headquarters in Atlanta, GA. They cut us Western U.S. bloggers some slack by starting at 9:30 a.m. on the first day (time zone!). But after that, it was full steam ahead with a packed schedule over the next two days.
This is the first expenses-paid blogging event that I have been invited to, so other than a fun little mom getaway I wasn’t sure what I’d be taking away from the experience. It ended up being as beneficial as it was enjoyable, so I wanted to share with you the best of what I learned.
What I Learned – How You Get Invited to a Blogging Conference
When I received my email invite to attend the Conversations With Coca-Cola blogging conference, I already knew a good deal about the event. I’d caught wind of the #CCLP hashtag on Twitter during a previous conference, watched some of my attending friends tweets, and shook my head in awe, pondering, “How in the heck do they get invited to something like that?”
I’ve been blogging for just under one year, consider myself a small blog, and was shocked when I saw that invite from Coke in my inbox. So I asked the Coca-Cola contact, “How did you find me? Am I allowed to ask that?”
She told me that it was by using Sysomos, something used by many PR firms to identify bloggers. It’s a Social Media Monitoring Tool which gives them an indicator of your readership, engagement of your readers, social influence, etc. To my knowledge, there’s nothing in particular YOU can do to increase your Sysomos grade … which frankly, I almost found refreshing. (Am I the only one who tires of constantly trying to build Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest numbers?)
Coca-Cola has been hosting these conferences regionally. They were all held in Atlanta at their headquarters. But they limited the events to a small sized group, and then invited bloggers from a certain geographic area of the country to each conference. Incidentally, this appears to correspond to how their marketing is also structured (we had the Coca-Cola NW Region’s PR staff attending with us). And as for my odds, I think this worked in my favor… proportionately, there are simply fewer of us bloggers out here in the Wild West!
The World of Mom Blogging is still new, but is currently growing by leaps and bounds, and is truly changing the face of media. In 2006, it was estimated that there were approximately 8,000 mom blogs. By 2010, that estimate had grown to 4 million.
Mom blogs tell the real truth. They have the ability to resonate, by use of authentic story telling – more than any polished, sanitized parenting magazine ever could. Hence their power, and subsequent exploding success. (If you have doubts about this theory, just look at Disney purchasing Babble.com in 2010.) They are the wave of the future.
I guess my point is, if it’s what you want to do – I believe the opportunity for a blogger to be a part of that action is very real for each of us. Your voice is truly powerful, and it brings along with it a world of opportunities.
Most of the women attending had been blogging an average of 4-6 years. So if you are new, like myself, but enjoying it – don’t be discouraged by the lack of brand invites up to this point, and stick with it. I truly believe if it’s your passion, it is only a matter of time before it starts to pay off, maybe even in ways you didn’t envision or expect.
What I Learned About Coca-Cola
A lot. Again, I’m new to arrive at this party, but I’m pretty sure that was the point of the Conversations With Coca-Cola Blogging Conference.
Here are some highlights:
* Why is Coca-Cola interested in bloggers? “People look for opinions grounded in reality of how we live.”
* Coca-Cola CEO has spearheaded a program called “5 by 20“, for the purpose of economically empowering 5 million women entrepreneurs by the year 2020. I like it. I like it a lot.
* Target held a kitchen demo, featuring their signature brands of Market Pantry (their value priced option) and Archer Farms (their premium brand) – now found in all Target stores. They stressed the benefits of having kids cook with you in the kitchen, my favorite of which was teaching them to be self-sufficient… starting in that age range around 5-10 years old, kids should be able to fix themselves their own snack, and not always need mom to wait on them. Love that.
* Target also talked about how to create some layered food gift jars, either for soups or a dessert treat. Teach your kids to be thankful, and show gratitude to a teacher, neighbor, or friend with a food gift jar. Such a great idea!
* Coke owns Odwalla, the makers of some tasty and high quality juices, fruit smoothies, and bars. Although Odwalla’s Superfood juice looks disconcerting, with a mossy green color – it is delicious! And this from a non-juice drinker. Superfood fruit smoothie blend is their #1 seller (it gets its dark green pallor from high nutrient algae) and is best described: “Looks green. Tastes red.” It’s basically a fruit juice with an extra nutrient boost. My husband’s been a fan of Superfood for years, but I plan to start purchasing it now, too.
* According to the commentaries we heard from women on the Coke Executive Panel, Coca-Cola is an understanding and flexible company to work for, as a professional woman and mother. They focus on women because they understand the need to reflect what their consumer base is.
* Coke’s Live Positively campaign is wide ranging, and includes programs and giving back in the following areas: marketplace, community, workplace, and environment. I was probably most impressed with their environmental initiatives and concerns, specifically continued innovations and use of recycled packaging (30% of Dasani are PET, plant based bottles; 100% of Odwalla’s are PET), and water stewardship partnerships to try and return to communities and nature the same amount of water that they use.
* Perhaps I’m naive, but I bought into it. Coca-Cola has been around for many years for a reason, and I came away with a good feeling inside and a sense that they are a class act company.
What I Learned From Networking with Mom Bloggers
We all arrived to Atlanta on varying schedules throughout the day on Tuesday. Coke had made us aware of the other attendees, which was helpful. It was apparent by watching the Twitter #cclp hashtag that many of these girls knew each other already, which again, as a newbie I found a little daunting.
But between the fun agenda, great food (which makes everything better in life, under any circumstance), exciting anticipation in the air, warm and inviting details put in place by Coke, and a nicely sized group of 21 bloggers – it didn’t take long for these friendly, engaging moms to start connecting.
Here are some of the lessons I learned:
* First, in a really swanky, expensive, urban hotel – when you get in the elevator, you aren’t going anywhere until you figure out that you need to insert your room key, for security permission to go to your corresponding floor. And only your floor. Who knew? (To some of you, I may have just sounded like I fell off the turnip truck with that admission. But there it is. Actually, I do think I’ve seen this a few years ago, I just have a terrible memory.)
* (One more on the Hotel W…) If you are not accustomed to this style of accommodations, you may find the sterile, grey tiled entry to your room a bit cold and un-homey, and the see-through shower with no door, a bit unnerving. But by Day 2, while watching the Today Show from said glass shower (which is wedged between the bathroom and bedroom) you’ll get over it, and think to yourself, “Aaahh. So this is how the other side lives.”
* Even successful, established bloggers struggle with challenges like how to re-brand themselves once their circumstances begin to morph over time (ex: homeschooling blog with almost grown kids, close to leaving home). If you are just starting out, keep this concept in mind when naming your blog.
* Southern cooking at White Oak Kitchen is as tasty as the restaurant is beautiful. My first fried green tomato encounter, long awaited chance to try ratatouille, and the melted mushroom grits experience were all worth writing home (that’s you) about.
* You can look fabulous and still go on dates with your husband when you are a mom of 7 children. Unbelievable, but true, story. (Check out the lovely Christine at From Dates to Diapers).
* You may be writing along on Babble.com, and suddenly be invited (as in, hired) to start writing for Disney Baby. A thrilling prospect, and good to know – is it not? (Success story from my new writing mentor and hero Amy, at Using Our Words.)
* Writing a blog is just skimming the surface of what you can do in the social media world. I found that most of the moms I talked to had branched into other related activities: as speakers or radio hosts (Angie, Mom of Many Hats), writers, web and graphic designers, media consulting, running blog outreach programs for businesses (even corporations), and having their own social media businesses. Oh, the places you’ll go!
* At the risk of sounding cliche, there are some amazing, strong, outstandingly talented moms out there … running their households and managing their blogging world with skill and savvy. It was humbling and impressive to meet a cross section of them.
* And probably most important: You don’t have to feel ingratiated to write a cheesy, glowingly positive review of a product or brand just because they sent you a sample worth $29.99.
I was continually impressed with the intelligent, hard hitting questions these women lobbed out to the Coke Executives – and I’d have to say it has changed my perspective of what a mom blogger’s job truly is.
Yes, Coke had just shelled out thousands of dollars for us to come learn-and-play in style, in Atlanta. But these women wanted the straight scoop on specifics, before they would even consider passing a Coca-Cola endorsement on to their readers.
“You say aspartame is safe – why were none of those studies conducted in the US?”
“You say you want to be environmentally conscious and replenish the earth’s water supply – if it takes an average of 2.5 liters of water to make 1 liter of Coke…are you putting back the 2.5, or 1 liter of water?”
“In remote parts of Africa, there is no access to clean drinking water whatsoever, but I can purchase a Coke – do you feel any obligation to balance that situation?” (Excellent, thought provoking question, and my personal favorite – asked by Jamie, of I Am Not The Babysitter)
Wow. And THAT, is why mom blogger’s voices are so powerful!
(I should mention that Coke responded to all of the above questions, and wanted to send us further additional supporting information for each.)
Conversations With Coca-Cola
This has blossomed into a too-long post, but it was such a full and enriching experience that it’s hard to gloss over the details.
Oh, and our visit to World of Coke was disappointingly much too short, but exciting and really fun! I’ve covered that in a separate post – a fun photo tour, for any interested in this Atlanta attraction!
Thank you, Coca-Cola… it was a great trip, and a very worthwhile experience.
My trip to the Conversations with Coca-Cola conference was paid for by Coca-Cola, and included travel, accommodations, food, and expenses. I was not asked for anything in return for my participation, nor was I asked to blog about this event.
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I reviewed some great travel gear during this trip. Watch for my upcoming Travel Week Extravaganza next week, where I’ll cover some great travel topics, feature my favorite travel bloggers, and do daily travel gear reviews and giveaways!