Should You Go to BlogWorld? An Interview with Rick Calvert

Rick-calvert3 Rich: Today I’m speaking with Rick Calvert who is one of the founders of BlogWorld & New Media Expo.

Rick, I know you’re not doing this all by yourself, although you are insanely talented. So who are some of the people working with you on BlogWorld?

Rick: There’s my partner, Dave Cynkin. On his card, it says 'Sleep Deprivationist' and it’s absolutely true. The guy never sleeps.

Jim Turner has been a tremendous help to us as our social media director and conference director. There's Patty Hosking, who folks who exhibit in the show would know.

Then we have a small team here in the office that works all year long on the show. And then during the show, when you count up all the subcontractors and all of that stuff, there are more than 100 people who work the event.

Rich: This is the third BlogWorld & New Media Expo. I know you went through a merger this year with another show. What’s staying the same and what’s going to be different?

Rick: The look and feel of the event remains the same. We like to think that we are the center of the social media universe for those three days. Anyone who is blogging, podcasting, using internet radio, internet television, etc. is there. Any business that’s interested in this space is there.

Our 'Monetization' track is always super popular. That will be back this year. Real Estate Blog World, which is for real estate bloggers, is back. The military bloggers are back. That’s a favorite of mine.

Some new things that we have this year are the medical blogging conference, which Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor of, Mind of Moms Summit, which Rockfish Interactive is a sponsor of and Eng@ge, which Collective Bias is a sponsor of.

Another thing that I really think is cool is called Blogs with Balls, which is a sports track. The company is called Hugging Harold Reynolds Media, which, like so many of us, started off a blog as kind of a joke. It took off. They did an event in New York a couple of months back and had 300 sports bloggers attend. So they’re going to do it again at BlogWorld here in October.

There was this name confusion for a little while between BlogWorld & New Media Expo, which was our name, and another event which originally was called Podcast Expo. But over several years, it morphed into, last year, being called New Media Expo. We merged with that event.

We always had podcasting at the show, but now it’s much more significant than it has been in years past. We have three dedicated tracks: audio, video and advanced podcasting for two full days with some of the total rock stars of the podcasting world giving those sessions. I’d say that’s a significant difference and we expect a whole lot more podcasters this year than we’ve had in years past.

Rich: If you buy a pass to the event, are these mini-conferences standalone things or can I go from one track to another track? If I want to Blog with Balls one moment and then go over to the Military Blogger the next, is that something that people can do or are you kind of locked into your own mini-conference?

Rick: You can do either/or.

Every one of those, we call them Partner Programs. These are basically communities that came to us and said, "We want to hold something at BlogWorld," so we helped them organize it. We kind of have our own little formula of how to do it and fit them into our schedule. Then we let them run with it; invite their speakers and reach out to their communities to get people to come.

If you just want to go to Blogs with Balls or you just want to go to the medical blogging track, you can do that as a standalone event. Those are only one-day events. Or if you want to go to all of the sessions at BlogWorld, you can do that with a Full Access pass. You can go anywhere you want, anytime you want with that.

Rich: Who is the audience for BlogWorld as you see it? Is this only for people who are pretty advanced in blogging and just want to learn the newest things or is it open to everybody?

Rick: That’s a great question and again another long-winded answer.

There are several different groups. It’s definitely meant to appeal to the newbie blogger because that was me and that’s how the event got started. I wanted to go to this to learn how to make my blog better and learn how to integrate audio and video into my blog, which I didn’t know how to do at the time. So there’s content for newbies.

There’s definitely content for more advanced folks as well to teach them how to monetize content and how to build community and new technology that they can use to create and distribute their content, etc.

Then you’ve got businesses. You know this well. So many businesses want to understand, "How do we interact with bloggers? How do we advertise in blogs? Should we send them press releases? Should we hire bloggers to post about us?" That is going to be a hot topic this year - paid conversations or sponsored conversations. We’ll be talking about that quite a bit.

And then with traditional media, we have people coming from The New York Times, from the L.A. Times, from Discovery Channel and from CNN. All of these traditional media outlets are integrating new media into what they do.

I think, by the way, the Iran elections that just happened and the subsequent protests and all of that stuff really opened traditional media’s eyes. They’d all been making token efforts into new media, but that really opened their eyes. When Twitter was the way that we were getting news out of Iran, that made traditional media understand, "Oh my goodness, this is a news gathering and news reporting tool." They didn’t get it. They thought it was just a gimmick and a toy before.

Rich: We talked a little bit about the fact that you have all these different types of mini-conferences. That’s one of the things that I noticed when I first went to BlogWorld the first year. The idea that there was even a military blog out there, kind of seemed strange.

How do these groups differ? In other words, what would I learn at a military blogging session that maybe is not going to be covered in the sports or the business one?

Rick: Again, that’s a good question and I guess it allows me to give another long-winded answer.

Rich: Those are the kind of questions you seem to like the best.

Rick: Yes, exactly.

The military blogging sessions are going to talk about military blogs. For example, the first session is "They Also Serve: Spouse Bloggers". These are spouses, husbands and wives who are at home while their husbands, boyfriends and significant others are deployed overseas, often in a war zone.

They’re talking about what happens in their lives, what they are doing on their blog to reach out to their friends, their family and their extended community to keep them in touch with what’s happening with their life. That’s a very unique thing to a military blog that you’re not going to see anywhere else.

This is versus a real estate blog which is very business-focused. There’s one called "Using Social Media for Real Estate". I guess that is a great microcosm of how businesses can use social media on a hyper local business. Real estate agents are masters of getting their name out to talk about both their own personal brand and then properties that they have listed, etc. So social media is that latest tool for them and may be one of the most powerful tools that real estate agents have had in their lifetimes.

But the overall purpose behind that, the reason that we encourage these vertical communities to come to the show, is for the same reason that BlogWorld opened my eyes. When I first had the idea for the show, I thought it was just going to be political bloggers. That was my blogging universe. I’d never heard of Robert Scoble or Dave Winer or Mike Arrington.

When I started doing research for the show to see if it was a good idea, I realized, "Oh my goodness, there are these techie bloggers." I’d never heard of a real estate blog or a medical blog or a mommy blog. I realized, "I’m actually a small part of something so much bigger. It’s not just about politics or political blogging. It’s about the social media revolution."

So by bringing them into the community, they get to meet their friends in real life and people that they’re familiar with. It also opens their eyes to everything else that’s going on around them and makes them all feel part of a much bigger community than that vertical community they’re already in.

Rich: You hinted about it a little bit with the podcasts and the new media, but specifically in social media, what are we going to learn if we go to the shows?

Rick: What are you going to learn? I don’t know. But I know the things that we’ll be talking about:

"How Social Media Outlets Impact Digital Terrorism and Hate" - Brian Cubin is going to talk about how hate groups are using social media outlets to get their message out and how do we prevent that and how do we counteract those types of things?

"Why Blogs Are Your #1 Search Marketing Tool" - we talk quite a bit about the impact of blogs on SEO and SEM: search engine optimization and search engine marketing. Blogs have turned search on its head, so we talk quite a bit about that.

Again, sponsored conversations - we will be talking about is it a good thing or is it a bad thing? If it’s a good thing, where does the line draw? Is it okay for Ford to give a free car to Mark Horvath and let him drive around the country to raise awareness for homeless people? Is it okay for Kmart to give Chris Brogan a couple of coupons for him then to blog about Kmart and say how great they are? Where do you cross that line between what’s acceptable and what’s not?

Steve Rubel is talking about lifestreaming.

Any issue you can really think about in social media like how to use Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn for your business, blogging and podcasting and all those sorts of things, we talk about all of that stuff.

Again, for bloggers, so many of us start because we’re passionate about something. For me it was politics. For other people it’s about their kids or whatever it may be.

If you’re good and lucky, you reach a certain critical mass where you say, "Oh my goodness, I’ve got a whole bunch of eyeballs here. Maybe I could make money doing this." That’s where we talk about monetization. If you want to do that, and if you’re at that level, how do you do it? Do you sell ads? Do you do affiliate marketing? Do you have premium content? What are the ways that you can use on your blog or your podcast etc. to monetize that content?

Rich: As you’re looking forward to this year, are there any things that stand out that you’re really looking forward to this year or moments in the past that you really think, "These have been great moments at BlogWorld"?

Rick: The first year with Mark Cuban, that was amazing. It was totally, I guess, luck and hard work that we pulled it off. Connecting with him on Facebook and having him agree to come and give a keynote at our first year, that was amazing.

Last year, Mike Shinoda, from Linkin Park and Tim Ferriss from 4-Hour Workweek, everybody was talking about what a great talk they gave and how much they learned from that.

The great part for me was that Mike in particular hung out all day and so many people told me, "He was sitting right next to me in another session later that day just as an attendee. He wasn’t just a rock star, he was a blogger."

Rich: He also linked to our flyte blog because I was doing live blogging during his session. He said, "If you want to read the whole transcript, here it is." And we saw this insane spike the next day. I thought, "Wow, where did all this traffic come from?" Yes, Mike had linked to us and that was pretty cool.

Rick: You’ve experienced it yourself, Rich. We have all of these celebrities, right? Some of them are just web-lebrities or blog celebrities or whatever.

But at our show, everybody is on an equal footing. You don’t have kind of the rock star dynamic where some people you can’t talk to. You can talk to everyone and there’s a good chance that if you’re a rock star, the person you’re talking to has no idea who you are. Really, that again puts people on an equal footing.

I love people having that realization moment, saying, "Oh my goodness, I never realized I could learn stuff about my blog from a mommy blogger or from a sports blogger or from a God blogger or whatever." I look forward to those things.

When people come up and tell me that they’re having a good time at the show or they’ve learned stuff at the show, as we talked about offline, all the hard hours of work that you put into it makes it 100% worthwhile.

Rich: If there are people out there and small business owners or just bloggers in general, people interested in getting involved in this, why should they go this year? What’s the argument for getting on a plane or getting into the car and driving out to Las Vegas, which is reason enough as far as I’m concerned, and going to BlogWorld this year?

Rick: There are so many reasons.

If you’re a blogger, this is your chance to meet your friends that you have built relationships with online in the past. If you’re a blogger, this is your chance to really learn, in three days, so much about how to create, monetize and distribute your content. You will come away overwhelmed by the amount of information that you get.

If you’re a business, you need to be there because social media is going to change your business. Either you’re going to use it or your competitor is going to use it or you both will use it. But I promise you, if you’re a business owner or a business executive, you will be using social media. It’s just a matter of when. At our event, that's how we talk about it.

The same thing goes for traditional media outlets. There’s no doubt that the conversion to new media is already happening and there are going to be traditional media outlets that don’t exist anymore if they fail to adapt. It’s kind of like companies that used to make buggy whips went away when they invented automobiles. They need to be there in order to survive and continue to be successful in their business.

Rich: Tell us a little bit about where we can learn about BlogWorld online.

Rick: BlogWorldExpo.com or you can go to @blogworld on Twitter. You can find us on LinkedIn and you can find us on Facebook. You can find us all over the net.

Rich: Excellent. I’ve gone for the last two years and I’ve learned an insane amount. There’s always this random session that I walk into and learn something new, something that I had never thought of.

Like you said, I had actually known a lot of these people only virtually until BlogWorld. I had never attended one of these big conferences. I went to the first BlogWorld and a lot of the people who I found to be really great writers and really great bloggers were just very cool personable people.

Even though all the social media makes it easy to get to know people virtually, there’s nothing like hanging out and throwing back a beer or a cup of coffee with somebody that you only knew online. I want to thank you for that.

Rick: It’s a different level in your relationship. It’s like internet dating. The goal is eventually to meet somebody in person.

It’s a different level of learning too. We can all learn online and these are powerful tools, but at the end of the day, the whole purpose of social media is to help us make real-life connections. Again, there’s no other place you’re going to make those connections than at our show.

Rich: Excellent. Rick, I want to thank you very much.

Rick: Thank you.

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