Monday, November 24, 2014

The 2014 Spark Sessions Blogging Conference

There’s definitely some truth to the saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” For last weekend’s Spark Sessions, the Toronto-based conference devoted to beauty and fashion blogging, that cloud was every toilet in the venue breaking by the end of day one, resulting in port-a-potties being brought in for day two. The silver lining is that next year’s event likely will take place in a different venue than District 28, and will be somewhere that’s hopefully warmer, has a better physical layout and isn’t located at the southern-most tip of Leslieville.

So yeah, I didn’t like this year’s venue but everything else about the second Spark Sessions conference was pretty good. Bigger than last year’s sold-out event (hence the new venue), Spark Sessions brought together some 250 beauty and fashion bloggers to meet, mingle and learn. A few of the topics we discussed were the nitty-gritty details of ad networks, how to attract and manager contributors and what you need to know to build a relationship with PR agencies.

The one good aspect of the new venue is that it has two rooms, which allowed for two sessions to run simultaneously. I, and pretty much everyone I spoke to, really liked having the option of two different sessions at the same time, even if sometimes it was hard to pick which one to go to.

The PR panel
One of those double sessions was called the Business of Blogging: How to Turn Blogging into a Full Time Job and was present by Lena Almedia of the very successful blog Listen to Lena. Her session was probably one of my favourite of the weekend as it was packed with real life stories of her blogging life. But it was also the one I found myself disagreeing with the most. During the Q and A session, someone asked Lena if she discloses that she is compensated for her brand-focused posts. She said that she used to but now no longer does as she believes that her readers realize what’s happening.

Click to see all of the sessions
While I’m sure that she’s mostly right about that, I don’t like this approach. I believe you should always disclose and so does the lawyer who presented the session called Laying Down the Law: Legal Issues Every Blogger Should Know (the session was so good that is should be run every year). True, disclosing isn’t required by law here in Canada, like it is the US, but like the legal session presenter said, it’s the ethical thing to do. Not everyone on your site is a regular reader and, if the internet has taught me anything, it’s that people aren’t that bright.

Oh, there I go being negative again, something that Lena and several other presenters at the conference view as a big no-no. Several times over the weekend we heard how negativity should really be minimised, or even better avoided, in our blogs. This means that if say, you try out a product and it sucks, you just don’t write about it. I really don’t like this approach. To me, that’s simply not being honest.

If you’re familiar with this blog, you know that I’m not afraid to be negative. This doesn’t mean that I bash a brand or product. No, I always make sure to explain why I have negative thoughts about something and if a product also has some good qualities, I point those out as well. But if something doesn’t deliver on its claims, well, it’s my duty as a good beauty blogger to point that out.

The whole issue of negative content in blogs is one that I think reveals how weak, and sometimes just plain shady, the world of beauty and, probably to a lesser extent, fashion blogging is. While we were given a number of reasons why negative posts should be avoided, no one came out and said what I truly believe the real reason is: Brands and PR agencies don’t want to work with someone who might do anything less than praise a product/experience (the closest we got was Lena saying how agencies don’t want to work with someone who could be a loose cannon so always watch what you say on the internet). I can’t blame the brands and PR agencies for this approach but, at the same time, it completely invalidates the trustworthiness of blogs. Why should I trust a blog that always and only has positive things to say? To my admittedly cynical self, that's not a natural thing to do.

The pretty Benefit display at the sponsor fair
Personally, and I admit that this could just be me, I find this whole topic quite interesting and perfect fodder for a future session.

Another session (or even sessions) that I would love to see next year is one that aimed to educate beauty bloggers on the science of cosmetics and beauty products. Too many bloggers out there are lacking a basic understanding of chemistry and biology, resulting in statements like, “I only use natural products, my skin’s too sensitive to be exposed to chemicals” and “I can’t use anything that contains an acid.” A science-focused session would aim to fight that ignorance and, while potentially controversial with certain sponsors, could be the hit of next year’s conference since it would be providing useful and new information.

At Benefit booth you could get an eye "uplift"
This year saw an expanded sponsor fair and I’m hoping that this aspect of the conference continues to grow. Being able to speak directly with brands, and in some cases even try them out, is a great experience for both bloggers and the brands. If you’re a brand, I really encourage you to look into being a conference sponsor; it’s a great way to not only raise your profile but to connect directly with bloggers.

I really hope this resulted in the organizers
getting a reduction on the rent
As with last year, the conference finished off with a keynote speaker (Cheryl Hickey) and the picking up of the swag bags. You can find a photo of this year’s bag over here. While it wasn’t quite as good as last year (no surprise since the conference is bigger this year), it was still bursting with samples. Now I just have to figure out a schedule in which to reviewing most of the products I received. While this year’s conference had its hiccups, the organizers handled them with grace and as a result, I think most attendees had a positive and educational conference experience. I know I did and that I’ll be back next year.

If you want to check out next year’s Spark Sessions, be sure to sign up for the conference’s mailing list and get the inside scoop on the conference as well as its single topic, one-day seminars.

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