BlogHer Banks on Free Digital Summits to Keep Brand Audience Engaged During Quarantine

SHE Media's events-based brand finds value in drawing more attendees virtually

three women smiling in video call
Tika Sumpter, Reshma Gopaldas and Thai Randolph discussed creating community for moms of color at BlogHer's first digital summit. BlogHer
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Key insights:

For 16 years, BlogHer has built its core business on educational, in-person conferences meant to connect women bloggers, content creators and small business owners. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the SHE Media-owned brand, like all media brands in 2020, had to cancel its planned physical summits and completely revamp its event strategy for an audience stuck at home.

BlogHer is taking all of its planned physical summits virtual this year and adding additional virtual events to make up for lost revenue. The brand kicked off its new series with the #BlogHer Parenting Summit on April 24, a four-and-a-half-hour summit that tackled topics related to parenting during a pandemic.

The brand held its second digital summit Healthy at Home on May 20 and plans to host seven more digital events through November. After each summit, the brand posts select sessions on its YouTube channel.

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The brand tapped speakers like Laura Prepon after it took summit virtual.

After the brand hosted one physical summit in February before stay-at-home orders were enforced, SHE Media CEO Samantha Skey said her internal team immediately began focusing on a transition to virtual events once SXSW was canceled. The brand was in the middle of planning a physical parenting summit for April in Nashville, Tenn.

“Once we recognized there was no option to keep our offline events, we had to think about what frame our virtual events would take,” Skey said. “We had to ponder what BlogHer would look like as a 16-year-old platform that normally convenes [our community] in person.”

BlogHer’s new digital events model is similar to what career advice platform and business event series for women entrepreneurs Create & Cultivate is doing by offering virtual programming with high-profile speakers on topics relevant to life in quarantine, with post-event content living on after the event.

Carbon CMO Dara Treseder talks scheduling time for creativity at home during the second summit.

Unlike Create & Cultivate, which offers the summits to paying members or those who buy a ticket for a full day of programming, BlogHer is opting for shorter, more frequent summits that are free to anyone who registers. And so far the brand has found success with this new digital strategy.

The brand reported that 1,700 people registered for the first parenting summit and 850 tuned in, with participants actively engaged for an average of three hours during the four-and-a-half-hour summit. For Healthy at Home, 1,900 registered and 1,000 tuned in. The brand also reported that its social reach for the parenting summit matched its in-person events, with 118 million impressions.

“The number of attendees that show up during the time scheduled is an important metric for us. It’s beyond what I expected,” Skey said. “It was also important that people were engaging with and staying for the programming.”

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BlogHer brought on more high-profile speakers for its second summit Healthy at Home.

Skey said curating high-profile speakers wasn’t difficult for the two virtual summits since logistics became easier with everyone at home. The parenting summit was able to bring half of the talent set to speak in Nashville, including Jana Kramer and Jennifer Nettles, while speakers such as Laura Prepon were recruited after the virtual event was announced.

For Healthy at Home at Home, the brand tapped keynote speakers including Alicia Silverstone and La La Anthony for four hours of sessions on physical, mental and emotional health in quarantine.

BlogHer has been able to make the digital events free with sponsors, which the brand has also strategically integrated into event programming. For example, breast pump company Medela sponsored a parenting summit session, which included a product demo of the brand’s freestyle electric pump. And for Healthy at Home, Roni Frank, co-founder and head of clinical services at online therapy company Talkspace, chatted about managing mental well-being in lockdown.

The brand also isn’t letting virtual limitations hinder attendee swag bags. Following each event, the brand emails attendees a virtual tote, which offers attendees discounts on products and services from sponsors.

The brand integrated sponsors like breast pump company Medela through demos and keynotes.

BlogHer has chosen a virtual event platform called Perigon to produce the summits. Skey said the brand chose the platform because it “allows for more customization and design” and “maintains the magic of an event that doesn’t feel like a Zoom call.”

BlogHer created a branded background for speakers and a right sidebar with their names, social handles and an insight related to the topic. A left sidebar includes a chat bar for attendees to comment or ask questions during sessions and tweet directly along with the event using the hashtag #BlogHer20. Attendees can also use the bar for support regarding technical issues.

Skey said the chat function drew around 700 comments for the parenting summit, but that having three chat moderators was key for productive interaction.

“We had a very healthy message board and community comment space, and it allows for a real voice from our audience,” she said. “But we’re learning the moderation of those messages is a skill. With messages coming in fast [it can be easy] to miss a whole patch. We’re continuing to build our competency in that.”

As BlogHer plans out its virtual summits for the remainder of 2020, Skey acknowledged that the brand’s internal events team is continuing to learn how to shift their skills digitally.

“We have to turn our events team into a digital marketing team that’s also an editorial team,” she said. “We’re programming events and taking the content and producing capsule content to live far beyond the event. We intended to start [going more digital] years ago, but with the pressure comes more innovation and action.” Ian Zelaya is an Adweek reporter covering how brands engage with consumers in the modern world, ranging from experiential marketing and social media to email marketing and customer experience.