March 28th began like any other day. I woke up at predawn hours and started getting ready but instead of getting ready for my day job, I was getting ready to head to SoFabU on the Road: Phoenix.
I was nervous and anxious.
The last 10 1/2 years of my life has been consumed by doctors appointments, therapy appointments, surgeries, neuro-rehab, special education, college and work. "Socializing" outside of those "circles" has been non-existent for me. Heading out to an event full of "strangers" is a huge deal for me. When I pulled into the parking lot of the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, I was shaking and ready to just drive away. I told myself that even if I didn't talk to a soul, I would leave with a wealth of information and that is priceless.
I took a deep breath and opened the door.
I left that day with so much more than I could have ever expected. I made connections with other bloggers, I learned that I still have some personality left (Don't laugh! Ha. I am serious!), I walked away with an arsenal of information that has inspired me to take my blog(s) to another level. I had been feeling lost with my blog and the conference really opened my eyes. Absolutely priceless.
I wanted to talk about the severe social anxiety first because it's an important part of attending conferences that may prevent other bloggers from attending and I want to share with you my experience. I've allowed my self consciousness and anxiety stop me from getting out and networking, making friends and just enjoying myself.
Part 1: Table Discussion/Networking
There were multiple tables set up and each had a sign with various topics: Social Media, SEO, Monetization, Storytelling, etc. The purpose of each table was to talk and share about what each blogger has learned, what they've found that works, what areas are of concern, etc. This was basically the table equivalent of water cooler chat and was absolutely brilliant.
Just think about it, bloggers are brilliant about finding out little tips, tricks, contacts, etc. and we love to share what we know with each other. This was bringing it face to face and also a way to break the ice.
I sat down at the first table I saw (hellooooo nervousness) without really considering where I was sitting. I sat down at Social Media. A few more bloggers sat down and we all just started chatting. We started getting to know each other a bit (I met Chrissy from A Lil Dash of Diva, Erin from Strawberry Mommycakes, Laura from Pink Cake Plate and several other lovely ladies at my table) and we started chatting about blogging in general, growth and such.
This was absolutely genius on SoFab's part. A perfect icebreaker!
Part 2: Aliza Sherman. “Harnessing Your Content with a Social Media Strategy & Editorial Calendar”
Funny story. I am sitting at my social media table and this really friendly lady comes up to us chatting about the power of storytelling (nobody was sitting at the storytelling). It was awesome. I was joking and said "Well, you have to learn to promote your storytelling hence visiting storytelling last!". We had a laugh and really had a great conversation about the power of being able to weave a good story. In reality, I sat Social Media because 1. I struggle with engaging on social media and 2. I was behaving like the new kid in class and sat at the table closest to the doors.
Turns out this really friendly lady was our keynote speaker, Aliza Sherman. If you don't know who she is, I suggest reading up on her and picking up her books on social media. In a nutshell, she's a web pioneer. She's absolutely brilliant, she's inspiring, an engaging and motivating speaker and there's a reason that she is very successful at what she does.
You need to learn to tell stories first and then learn SEO and how to monetize - Aliza #SoFabUOTR
— Fun On a Dime (@Funonadime) March 28, 2015
She is absolutely correct. There is power in storytelling and if you can't weave, compel and draw your readers in... then you won't keep your readers around. You definitely won't have anybody sharing your content either.
From @alizasherman content is sharable because you touch an emotion in readers. #SoFabUOTR
— JoAnn Marie (@whimsiclejoann) March 28, 2015
The hardest part of blogging is defining who you are and the purpose of your blog. Some bloggers just know. The rest of us struggle with this. There are several questions you need to be able to answer:
1. Who you are.
2. Where you want to go.
3. Who you want to reach.
4. What you want from them.
5. What you'll provide them.
6. When you can do this.
7. How you can do this.
Personally, I have been working on the answers to these so I can truly define my voice and purpose.
"Think of yourself as a brand." Not just a blogger, but "a blogger with a brand." - @AlizaSherman on social media pushes #SoFabUOTR
— Our Mini Family (@ourminifamily) March 28, 2015
This is the part that really opened my eyes to the lackadaisical approach I have had with my blog recently and I have been sitting with my notebook focusing on these answers. When I can answer these all in one sentence- my About Me page will be updated. Ha.
The key with blogging is creating connections, building community, and providing convenience, right? I think each of us would love to create the ultimate community with a strong, loyal readership (Thank you all for being here. I have some amazing readers and bloggy buddies!).
Creating a strategy is so important. Set goals, know your audience, have a plan and establish a rhythm.
CREATE AN EDITORIAL CALENDAR.
I have to say, between Content Brew and Aliza's presentation (along with the fan-freaking-tastic grid she provided us)- Mind. Blown. I am working on an editorial calendar so I won't have months like I have had since the first of the year (not really motivated to write, no real content to share on social media, and struggling to produce any content). I working on automating in a thoughtful way without too much automation because honestly, there's nothing worse than replying to somebody's tweet and them not responding because it was automated. Social media is meant to be SOCIAL.
Part 3: Afternoon Education Adventure: From Inspiring Ingredients to Incredible Images
We were treated to an incredible opportunity to not only see a professional chef prepare a four course meal but to see a professional food stylist and photographer in action.
Chef Fowler is a tenured and highly skilled chef working at the Scottsdale Plaza. He discussed his career and how he seeks out new and exciting food trends. I was honestly surprised to learn that the East coast is ahead of the west coast by several years with regards to food trends. Europe is pretty much a decade ahead of the US but they are in pretty much everything.
I know where to seek inspiration and ideas.
Kim Krejca shared her tricks of the trade (glycerin and water!) in regards to food styling and props.
It is absolutely mind blowing when you see how much a professional food stylist does when it comes to a commercial shoot. The attention to detail is so important and necessary. Her tricks of the trade are so amazing.
Put a scoop of mashed potatoes in a salad bowl and arrange a salad like a floral bouquet. It keeps your salad from looking flat.
Glycerin and water- spray it on your veggies for the gorgeous and mouthwatering freshly washed look.
I can go on and on and on. That's a post for another day. I will definitely putting some of the tricks into future posts.
Rick Gayle is a professional food and still life photographer and seeing him in action was awesome. The little tricks and tips with lighting was incredible.
I think the most important parts were tethering the camera to the computer (or laptop) directly into Photoshop Lightroom to see it straight out of camera (helps decrease needing to retake photos) and a tripod. Oh and I definitely need Lightroom.
What thing I think was really interesting was how food bloggers have molded the commercial food photography landscape. Rick Gayle stated that many restaurants and companies want the "organized mess" look and natural light food photographs that blogs made so popular.
Thumbs up, food bloggers!
Food photography and styling is an area that I struggle with. I tend to feel that my photography is boring and lackluster. After seeing the pros at work, I am finally setting up my tripod and picking up a tethering cable for my camera. Oh and Lightroom. Definitely need Lightroom.
Honestly, I am not sure how to condense everything I learned in the one day at SoFabUOTR into one blog post. I tried to be succinct as possible but it's impossible to fit it all into one blog post with all the information I took in. From the peer reviews, to the blogger and brand panel to excelling at sponsored posts, the wealth of knowledge that was shared was invaluable.
I have worked on many, many sponsored campaigns through Social Fabric since I joined in 2013 and everybody has been incredibly helpful in providing feedback and guidance. I have learned so much through SoFab University in how to monetize, storytelling, food photography and there's still so much more to learn.
If you haven't applied to be a Social Fabric blogger, do it. If you don't get in, ask for feedback! They will provide it and many times, it's simple fixes.
Even if you aren't a Social Fabric Blogger, definitely see if SoFabU on the Road will be in a city close to you and GO! GO! GO. I can't say it enough! If someone with social anxiety and extreme introversion can go and do so successfully, that's a GREAT sign. Amiright?
We had lunch provided by Johnny Rockets, breakfast sponsored by Muller and other great prizes and gifts from DriveSTI, Kraft, iBlog and of course, Collective Bias.