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June 01, 2007

INSIDE BlogHer with Lisa Stone, President, Operations and Evangelism

Lisa_stone_2What is the sound of 1000 women blogging? We'll find out on July 27th on Chicago's Navy Pier. As one of BlogHer's three founders, Lisa Stone gave me an indication of what's set for the summer meeting. At the same time, she provides tips for companies now turning to bloggers for word of mouth advertising.

MARY: Companies are trying to understand the women's market as well as social media. As a mega blogger and also a moderator of the BlogHer Ad network; what key issues perk to the top of conversations over and over. What can companies learn from them if they want to be best friends with these outspoken women?

LISA: What do women online want from companies? I recommend that companies ask, don't tell. Companies who want to establish great relationships with women online will spend most of their time listening.

Effective companies will appreciate -- or be willing to learn -- that women who blog don't fit a single stereotype by subject or budget. The 9,000-plus blogs in BlogHer's growing blog directory are proof that women are writing about everything under the sun. Successful companies will also restrain themselves from SPAMing women online with commercial messages we didn't ask for. Instead, I recommend any enterprise -- from media initiatives to consumer products -- directly support bloggers and what interests us. Sponsor our blogs. Be respectful about the types of advertising you bring to blogs (hit the monkey? no thanks). Ask us to join your conversation on a blog too. Just be sure to tell online consumers:
Who you are
What you're doing
Why you're doing it

Transparency is the key to the social media queendom. And because women are the power users of Web 2.0, I use that term deliberately.

Mary, thanks but I don't deserve the compliment. BlogHer is now a full-fledged start-up and my work with Elisa Camahort, Jory Des Jardins and the entire community keeps me from writing as often as I'd like. These days I'm more of a mega-commenter! I look forward to writing more soon.

MARY: I have to commend BlogHer for having a code of conduct before anyone else. The code, loose that it is, helps new bloggers understand what's expected without denying them their free speech. Now that the Kathy Sierra story has had time to settle, do you think bloggers at large will become kinder or be more angry? Will there always be a need for a sanctuary, like BlogHer for women to gather and share ideas?

LISA: We launched our community hub on January 30, 2006 with the existing Community Guidelines in place. Our decision to do so was very deliberate: We wanted to create a place where women who blog could mix it up, but without having to deal with speech that is abusive, threatening or harassing. We felt we owed that to the community. We also ban plagiarism, libel and if anyone uses our site to violate some third party's privacy, that is unacceptable. The guidelines have served us well, and we believe that every blogger and every site has the right to set policies for their own site and community, and only that community can come up with the guidelines that are appropriate. That's why I don't think one-size-fits-all guidelines cannot be determined or enforced by an outside force.

I'd like to point out, though, that what happened to Kathy, while not an isolated incident online, reflects a microcosm of society -- not the blogosphere. Every medium has been used for hate speech and violence against women in particular.  Look at what happened when humans developed the printing press: First, we printed the bible. Next, we printed pornography. Bottom line: Blogs are a tool, and the media produced by bloggers will be as diverse as human conversation. Some of it is precious, some of it is garbage. I personally love the diversity available in free expression.

MARY: In that same theme - on your personal blog, you quote Gail Sheehy, "Women's liberation is not the end...it is the beginning of a lot of work. There is a whole world out there that needs to be totally transformed so that women and men can create, desire, build and play..." How do you see BlogHer transforming the world? Will BlogHer try to unify the voices say, on global warming? Or, in the self organizing nature of the blogosphere, would you ever survey all BlogHer members to get their psychographic profile? It crosses the line of letting individuals be individuals, but it also would show what their collective conscious looks like.

LISA: Absolutely. In fact, in time for BlogHer '07, we're working on a project to galvanize and support BlogHers who want to work together to transform the world. The combination of committed women and social media tools is pretty powerful, as many women in this community have proven! But we need a few more weeks before we can say anything else.

Indeed, we do survey our community, our conference attendees, our editors, our ad network members often, to try to get a pulse for where the community wants to lead us. That certainly doesn't mean we all agree...far from it, women who blog span the spectrum of ideologies on every subject...but we believe very strongly in "Don't tell, ask" as the way to get a clearer picture of what our community wants. We maintain this philosophy whether building conference programing or choosing public service announcements to run on the BlogHer Ad Network. And not every member wants all of those things, so we create a lot of different opportunities, and let the individual BlogHer choose which to pursue. BlogHer's Mission is to create opportunities for women bloggers to pursue education, exposure, community and economic empowerment.

MARY: While women bloggers have different interests, they all buy stuff. Do you think the women bloggers know how much power they  have in the market when they blog pro or con about a company? Do you do give an orientation to your BlogAd network when they join?

LISA: Women who blog are becoming much more aware of their power as influential consumers, mostly because they're being approached by companies on a regular basis. The primary guideline we give to our BlogHer Ad Network members is that they absolutely cannot accept money or merchandise in exchange for a blog post (whether positive or negative). Our commitment to our advertisers includes assuring them that their ad won't be appearing on what is, essentially, another ad. There are lot of advertorial opportunities available to bloggers right now, and we pride ourselves on making it quite clear where the lines are drawn between advertising and editorial on all of our member blogs.

MARY: BlogHer started as a way to connect like minded women and get their words posted on the Internet cave wall. Last year you had 4000 members, this year you're topping 9,000. How do you hope to keep the spirit of connectiveness alive? How do you envision BlogHer's direction (and maybe purpose) going forward? Any more formal women-helping-women things like what you offered for first time bloggers last year?

LISA: I think my partner Elisa Camahort said it best in 2005, when she described our first BlogHer conference as "the conference the community built." We work every day to embody that spirit. Our goal is to continue to be the best listeners we can be, so that we can use community feedback to shape BlogHer's priorities. We've been listening hard this spring, and that's why we're at work on a redesign of the BlogHer Community Hub and we're planning to re-open BlogHer's Ad Network to new subscribers this summer. We're also eager to dig into this activism initiative and continue to advocate for women, online and off. BlogHer started as a labor of love -- and now that we're two quarters into our third year, with three community-driven businesses designed to raise the profile of women who blog, we feel we're only just beginning.

MARY:  I'm looking forward to this July's meeting on Chicago's Navy Pier. How are you going to top last summer's gathering in San Jose?

LISA: That, Mary, will be up to BlogHer attendees! BlogHer's conferences are what the attendees make them -- and I anticipate great things from BlogHer '07. Here's a taster for Day One and Day Two. Every year our attendees make us smarter, giving us feedback that leads us to add more content and add nuance about how we present it. This year our technical track is going to be more gloriously geeky, featuring hands-on lab segments on Day Two such as Food Photography. We're also providing professional training that bloggers have asked for, such as media training for television and print interviews, and speaker training. And of course, with November 2008 less than 18 months away, our Politics track is going to focus on action...particularly on how to get more women voting, and how to get politicians and the media talking more about the issues women care about, regardless of their ideological stripe, such as the environment, healthcare and Iraq. We continue to bring new voices to BlogHer, and we have a lot left to announce, including some really exciting activities. It's summer by the lakeshore in Chicago; frankly, the better question might be: how will we top it next year!

MARY: I have no doubt you will top it next year for the very reason you gave earlier, you "ask, members what they want to do next, vs. telling them."

See you in a month!


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Thanks for the interest and the excellent questions Mary - it's a pleasure to talk with you. Look forward to seeing you in Chicago!

Great interview, Mary. It's always a privilege to share in Lisa's thoughts.

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