Last week I was in Berlin for a few days to attend The Hive conference, a two-day full immersion into the world of blogging.
It wasn’t my first bloggers’ conference, having attended Food Blogger Connect in London twice. However this was my first conference that was not strictly focused on food and that was held outside of UK, hence I had the opportunity to interact with a very different crowd of bloggers than I usually do.
A week on, I want to share my thoughts about The Hive, what I learned from it, my highlights and what (in my opinion) could be improved to make this event grow further.
The Hive is organised almost entirely by one bubbly, driven, passionate, amazing woman called Yvonne Dewerne (with the help of a couple of volunteers). Two months before the conference began, Yvonne connected with me on Facebook and Twitter, started following my blog and left comments to my posts. I assume she would have done the same with everyone else, as a way of getting to know the attendees and gather information about: WHO is going to be there; WHAT are their interests; HOW can I tailor the event so that everyone has a great time. At the conference she came to me to say hello and a few days afterwards she sent me an email to ask what my feedback was.
It’s great to see that the organiser of such a big event is so involved and so passionate. There are so many workshops and conferences now which promise to teach you how to become a blogger, while their real motive is to make money. The Hive did not come across to me as a business trying to make money off a trend and off naive bloggers. Quite the opposite.
Yvonne also created a Facebook group for all the Hive attendees and one of the things I enjoyed the most was interacting on that platform in the weeks before the conference. She also suggested that we share 40 Facts About Me posts on our blogs, which was a great way to connect to some of the bloggers.
Although I didn’t get the chance to meet in person all the bloggers I interacted with online, I am happy to have discovered so many amazing bloggers – one way or the other.
Face to Face Interactions
When you are in a conference with dozens or hundreds of bloggers, most of which are there with friends, it’s hard to make direct contacts. We’ve all been there: you’re in a room full of people, you know most of them share some interests with you, but how do you approach them? Walk up to a group of women engrossed in conversation? Start a chat to the girl next to you in line for the coffee machine? Sit down next to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself? Look for free seats during lunch break and sit down with a group of friends? It’s NOT easy. You can do all of these things (as I did) but it’s hard to get past the “hello I’m Giulia nice to meet you” line.
That for me was the hardest part. I am not a terribly shy person, I am curious about people and I love socialising, so I shouldn’t find it so hard to speak to strangers at a conference, but the difficult part is getting beyond the first encounter and establish a real connection. And for me, that’s the main goal of attending a bloggers’ conference. Networking is the key to our growing your blog / brand / business and face-to-face encounters are great to establish connections made online.
I feel that The Hive could (and should) promote these encounters, because the conference is not just about learning from the lectures and workshops, but also it’s about building a community.
An idea could be to dedicate the evening before The Hive starts to team-building exercises. At Barista Camp in Greece last summer I took part to a games’ night, where all the attendees were divided into teams and participated in games against each-other (blind-folded latte art, comedy sketches, beach volley matches and coffee tasting challenges). These tasks helped us getting to know each other, feeling close to one another and as well as feeling part of a team. It made the following two days of lectures and classes so much easier, as I knew someone there, I didn’t feel alone.
Talks and lectures
The highlights of The Hive for me were the SEO workshop I attended on Saturday and the brand hour with Pinterest community manager Anna Sterntaler. They focused exactly on the two things I wanted to train myself on and improve: optimising my blog to increase traffic; making the most of Pinterest features and potentials (as a way to grow my audience). I had a clear idea of what I wanted to learn and I am satisfied with what I got back from The Hive.
I enjoyed the other lectures too, but I can’t say I have learnt as much from them. To me they were more about listening to a story, but it’s not less valuable. It’s always inspiring to hear other bloggers share their stories, even if you can’t always learn tricks to apply to your own blog.
Meeting with brands
One thing I like about bloggers’ conferences is the chance to get in touch directly with brands and PRs, so I thought The Hive’s “brand hour” was a fantastic idea. Brands can learn from us as much as we learn from them: how to work together and how to make the most of our collaborations. As a full-time blogger I have to continuously approach brands to present my brand, promote my photography and pitch stories and promotions. Bloggers generally work alone, we don’t get induction periods to learn about the job, or supervisors checking our progress, or end-of-the-year appraisals. We have all created our own blog from scratch, self-learning how to create content, how to use social media, how to grow a business, promote ourselves. It’s not easy, so any opportunity to interact directly with our readers and our clients – like we did at The Hive – is incredibly valuable.
The best thing about bloggers’ conferences is that you spent so many hours talking about the blogs’ world that you leave feeling excited and inspired. You go back home with a spring to your step, you blog the next day with your mind bursting of fresh ideas, the tips learnt still fresh in your mind. It’s hard to keep this fresh attitude after years of blogging and especially when this is your main source of income. Worries about money and about paying the rent get in front of everything else and can have an effect on how you blog. Collaborations with brands steer your blog in a certain direction which may be different from the one you would have chosen if you were just writing a personal online diary. Whilst that’s not always a bad thing (some of my favourite posts came from collaborations that pushed me to get out of my comfort zone) it’s also great to find a renewed enthusiasm about your job!
An exciting aspect of bloggers’ conferences are the goodies of course, because who doesn’t like cool stuff for free? Like the cute Lego Duplo heart or flip flops, Aussie product samples, notebooks, paint cans, ceramic markers, and lots of other crafty things, cookbooks and Nutella jars! And my new favourite Yuzu Citrus fruit juice by Froosh – it even matched my nails! :)
The Hive (as any other conference) was intense and hard work. We were inside the Scandic Hotel for two days from 9am to 5pm, walking in and out of lectures, taking notes, sharing photos and impressions on social media, and networking during the coffee and lunch breaks. I admit I escaped the conference for a few hours on Sunday because I really wanted to have brunch at Silo Coffee where a friend of mine works. I felt bad about missing out some of The Hive, but I would have felt equally bad missing out on the opportunity to have brunch in Berlin.
So how to deal with it? Of course you want to make the most of the event and be open to meet new people, but also do what you feel is right for you. If you already know some bloggers at the conference, it’s ok to hang out with them (it strengthens that relationship), but don’t miss out on meeting new people too. Interact with your followers online, but don’t forget that there are real people around you that you could also speak to! Listen to the speakers carefully: lessons can be learnt anytime, if only you want to.
Have fun and have a great time, keep you ears and mind open, smile, and always say hello to your neighbours!
PS: I started this post thinking I would write about what happened at The Hive, but as I started writing all my thoughts came out in a blurb in a way I am not even sure makes sense. I am just feeling really excited about writing and sharing my thoughts and I hope you will be able to get a sense – from my words – of what The Hive is about.
Where to Stay in Berlin
For luxury accommodation in Berlin, I highly recommend The Westin Grand Berlin. For something more on a budget, check out Meininger East Side Gallery, a top rated hostel located just off Ostbanhof station and minutes away from the Berlin Wall.