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Dear Diary: It Seems I’ve Been a Bad Official Blogger

Dear Diary I've Been a Bad Official Blogger

Dear Diary I've Been a Bad Official Blogger

A recent post at The Genealogy Nitpicker entitled RootsTech 2013 – The Nitpicker’s Critique, Part 2 criticized the Official Blogger selection process for the recent RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City. Beyond being critical, it reviewed the activities of each and every Official Blogger.

We’ve Had This Discussion Before

Back in February 2012, I posed many of these same questions and issues in Does The Official Blogger Concept Need Updating? where I compared different product/service/event “social evangelism” efforts. The post reviewed the concepts of Official Blogger and Ambassador and solicited input from the genealogy bloggers to work towards a different concept that might better serve the genealogy industry and community.

Many readers know that I abhor elitism in genealogy (in most anything in fact) and have been fighting against it since I decided to become a genealogy professional almost five years ago. But over those five years I’ve evolved in my thinking and I can see the difference between a select group who perpetuate their continued role in that group (and its perceived benefits) merely through association with each other vs. a select group who work hard to achieve specific goals that not only bring them the rewards of success but also whose hard work helps to move a community and industry forward.

In a perfect world everyone would be an official blogger for an event or be selected as one of the best genealogy blogs by a national magazine. And everyone would get a trophy for just trying. Also in an equal world, canned cat food would be the same as pate de fois gras. On the last point, that kind of equality we don’t need or want. Trust me.

Official Blogger Programs: Requirements Should Be Outlined

I took some time to research how other industries are using the Official Blogger concept for events such as conferences. In a brief, a cursory review looking at some current conferences, I have found that many Official Blogger programs do set down parameters.  They let bloggers know where the bar is set in terms of what they must do in terms of placing an event graphic or logo on their blog, posting prior to and after the event, etc.  Some even go so far as to state specific social media analytic benchmarks a blogger must meet or surpass in order to be considered:

My thoughts: I think that any genealogy event that has a specific group of Official Bloggers (meaning that there is some selection process) should be transparent about the selection process and should make it clear to the bloggers and to the public if there are any requirements that come with accepting the title of Official Blogger.

In reviewing the email I received when selected as a RootsTech 2013 Official Blogger, I received several graphics that I could post on my site but I did not receive any directives as to number of posts or required duties during the actual event.

Scorecard: Thomas Where Were You?

What I didn’t appreciate from The Genealogy Nitpicker’s post, besides the overall negative tone, was the need to “track” the activities of each Official Blogger.  I felt almost like I was reading Mr. Blackwell’s annual posting “The 10 Worst Dressed List”:

Thomas MacEntee, head cat herder of the Geneabloggers, was naturally an official blogger. He only has two blog posts that mention RootsTech since the conference, and one is just mentioning a vendor. The other post mentions RootsTech but isn’t about the conference. I expected better from this one. Did I miss something?

As I said in my comment to the post, there was much more that I did “behind the scenes” as did my colleague DearMYRTLE and others. I worked to make sure that ALL bloggers attending (and there were over 80 members of GeneaBloggers) were able to enter the Exhibit Hall early and get a tour from conference organizers. Myrt spent quite a bit of time (and money) sponsoring beads for this years bloggers – all bloggers – to make sure others could recognize them.

I wish I had been contacted by the author prior to the post asking about all of the behind the scenes activities with which I was involved. I had a full dance card including presentations and doing what I do best: connecting people in the genealogy industry. It was not made clear to me that I needed to meet requirements laid down by RootsTech or by any other person attending the event.

Moving Forward

Here are some ideas I’d like to propose for genealogy events over the next few years:

  • Be Transparent. Indicate to prospective Official Bloggers and the public what requirements are involved to be selected.
  • Expectations and Obligations. Outline what is expected in terms of blog posts, logo or graphic placement, and activities during the event.
  • Differentiate between media and Official Bloggers.  As Cheri Daniels at Journeys Past pointed out in Pandora’s Box: Official Bloggers, some of us who blog do so not as a sole means of providing an income, but as a channel in our overall marketing efforts. I blog and write about the genealogy market and on the profession of genealogy. I’d be content with media credentials (and stated requirements as to why I qualify and what any obligations involved) instead.
  • Consider Self-Designation Options. If possible, allow any blogger meeting minimum requirements (must be a genealogy blog, must attend the event, etc.) to designate themselves as an Official Blogger. They can then step into the role of cheerleader and evangelist for the organization and the event using their blog, social media, video or any channels at which they excel.

Are there any other ideas you’d like to see implemented at genealogy events in terms of official bloggers or some variation on the “event evangelist” concept? Let me know in the comments section below.

Finally, the practicalities of having 50 or more Official Bloggers at RootsTech needs to be addressed.  Would there be room for them in one area? Would they all have access to high speed Internet? Or would this be reserved for those with just media credentials? Again, there is going to be some designation of an “elite” group based on their social media reach, even if we decide to call them “media.”

From Irritation Comes Beauty

Yes, Banai Feldstein’s post ticked me off. I guess more so in the method of message delivery, but being one who has done this as well, I understand that often to get results you have to be the burr on the donkey’s butt or the irritant in the oyster shell to produce a pearl. For that, I do want to thank Banai; as many readers know, what I love most about our community is that we are like family. We don’t always agree. We can have heated discussions. But I think that deep down, we are all very much the same and we have similar goals: to not only document the journey of finding our roots, but to also encourage others to do the same.

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

11 thoughts on “Dear Diary: It Seems I’ve Been a Bad Official Blogger

  1. OK, I’ll jump in here. I have to say I agreed with Banai to some extent. I think that’s the reason this stings so much for so many of the RootsTech official bloggers – there is definitely truth in what he wrote. I don’t follow all the official bloggers, but for those I do, I was extremely disappointed on how few blog posts they did on RootsTech. I was really looking forward to hearing more about the conference (and not just its social events), both during and after it. And, I’m sorry, but if the title is “Official Blogger,” I expect to be reading blog posts, not tweets or FB or G+ posts, or watching interviews or listening to podcasts. Change the title to something other than “official blogger” if that’s the case. Otherwise, I like your suggestions, Thomas.

  2. As someone who is unlikely to ever be able to attend Roots Tech in person, I was very appreciative of being able to watch some of the sessions online. I also used the descriptions of sessions to find the names of many bloggers to follow. After reading about the existence of official bloggers, I eagerly searched for their insights each day but was a bit surprised at what I found.

    I agree with Amanda in that I was disappointed that there was so much emphasis on the social aspects of meeting with ‘important’ people in the genealogy world and the social aspects of the conference (could easily be misconstrued as elitism!). I thought some of the ‘interviews’ were merely pleasant enough chats between the participants without any real substance to them. I had hoped erroneously it turned out to learn more about some of the new ideas and technology being introduced in the conference sessions.

    Overall I think that there is a disconnect between the title ‘official blogger’ and what the participants actually did. A bit of tweaking of roles/expectations/titles would probably help clear the air a bit and enable even better communication worldwide in future years.

  3. I was at the conference, and did write several blog posts about it. But given this criticism I am glad I was not an OFFICIAL blogger. I have blogged about events I have attended, discoveries I have made and books I have read when I have had time to do so. It is somewhat frightening to publish my opinions for the world to read, and if I feared that I would be criticized for what I did or did not write I woukd be reluctant to ever blog again. This would be a pity, as I have had relatives contact me about some of the posts I have made about my family – which was my hoped for result when I started my blog.

  4. Well. As a part of The In-Depth Genealogist team, which just so happens to be “Official Bloggers” for the 2013 NGS Family History Conference in Las Vegas in a little under three weeks, this whole issue has stirred me. The posts written on the Nitpicker site are too aggressive and negative for me, in general. I agree with many of your suggestions, Thomas, and we have been trying to ensure that we are “good” bloggers for NGS. Overall, I think the tone needs to change from “this didn’t work for me” to “what can I do to make this work for me?” It’s not a question of who did what, when or why, rather a how are we going to organize ourselves as a community to make change happen?
    As a family, we don’t always get along, but there seem to be more people interested in pointing fingers than actually doing something. I have been “transitioning” to professional for about 18 months. I keep seeing the same tone over and over: negative critique’s. Is it really that hard to have a constructive conversation in the world of “professional genealogy?”
    Over at IDG, we’ve asked our readers what they want us to write about during NGS. We’re looking to them for direction on content, reviews, notes from sessions; the entire experience. We’ve received some very good feedback, and I hope that others will participate. I never would have anticipated this approach to be “novel” or “new,” but those are the comments we are getting.
    Perhaps we all need to just be a little more creative, and yes, more positive in general. Can we support each other, now?
    Thanks for your thoughts on this,

  5. I agree with your suggestions, Thomas. However, I would like to point out that just because someone isn’t chosen to be an “official blogger” for an event doesn’t mean they can’t blog about it. I have never been an official blogger for anything, but I blogged about my experiences every day at FGS last year and the Family History Expos the 2 years before, and – surprisingly enough – my blog traffic was extremely heavy for those posts. I plan to do the same thing this year at IGHR and FGS. But I won’t be applying for official bloggership at either. Sure, I won’t be allowed to park myself in the official blogger media area or be on display in a fancy glass enclosure, but you know what? I also won’t have to abide by anyone else’s rules and I can call it like I saw it. I definitely think I’m getting the better part of that deal.

  6. Thomas – thank you for writing this post. I don’t know if it came about as a result of reading the back and forth posts on Google+ (starting with Lorine McGinnis Schulze’s link to Banai Feldstein’s two posts on the subject of RootsTech2013 and the many comments) or if you took a look at the posts in response to Banai’s posts and those who responded to her at her site, including you, and realized she was feeling, in her words “attacked”. I provided my thoughts in the thread on Google+ (which now shows up in the original blog as well – in this case Lorine’s blog – thanks Google) so I won’t rehash them here.

    Suffice it to say, we all need to be able to criticize something and not make it personal. We all need to be able to respond to someone’s criticism and not make it personal. And we all need to be able to take a look at things as they are (or appear to be to the writer), have an opinion, support it, and write about it without fear that those in the genealogy community are going to take swipes at the writer. And note I said the writer, not the content.

    I appreciated the fact that in this post you took a look at Banai’s critique in the cool light of day, addressed her comments and provided some insight (much like Randy Seaver did over at Google+) since you were there. Your suggestions and impressions were helpful as were Randy’s comments. And that is how a conversation moves forward.

    Thanks for being a “better person” and providing a thoughtful response today. Now in response to your suggestions:

    – if everyone is an official blogger, than no one is. I am not a big believer in giving every kid on the team a trophy because as my nephew would say, “a trophy should mean something”, or as his dad would say “heck if he gets a trophy just for being on the team it should go to me, I took him to every practice and game, and made sure he had all his gear.”

    – if everyone is an official blogger, how does any organizing group make enough room, service or resources available. the logistics of this would be overwhelming and self-defeating.

    – should any organizer who has official bloggers (or the like) have a system in place for choosing, should it be transparent, and should there be written expectations of those selected? Yes, Yes & Yes, both for the organization and the bloggers’ benefit. And just think how much easier it would be to know what you are covering and know that “social media” duties could be divided up and focused. Those selected would be able to devote time to their official blogger duties and go to various other activities. A news organization does not send 5 reporters out to cover the same story without giving them an area/aspect to cover – a little like divide and conquer.

    – have most of the designations continue to be decided upon by traffic (RootsTech is trying to get the biggest bang for their buck as they comp the registration) AND make a few official blogging positions “luck of the draw.” If you want to throw you hat in the ring and agree to abide by the expectations, perhaps 3 official bloggers could be selected by this method. RootsTech would have both tried and true and some wildcards in their official blogger bullpen.

    – for my part (having attended online AND realizing I only got a taste of RootsTech) I would like to see more coverage of the things we don’t see – unconferencing, and some of the developer and advanced sessions. I also think it would have been great for the roundtable discussion to have been with the 4 finalists for the developer’s challenge – give them time to introduce their submission, explain why and how they came up with it, and then ask them some questions about it. Then at the conclusion announce the winner of the challenge. RootsTech might also invite the previous challenge winner(s) back to check in on the status of their projects.

    – Include online attendees in some sort of exit survey. I am sure RootsTech could get some great feedback this way.

    There are so many aspects to a regional, national or international convention or seminar that most of us are not even aware of or ever consider. It is impossible for these events to come off without a hitch or seven. Constructive criticism helps us improve and grow, as individuals and communities. Treating each other with courtesy and pausing (to reread) before pushing the post or share button is always a good use of our time.

    Thomas – a really thoughtful post with some excellent suggestions and lots of food for thought.

  7. I kind of see both sides of the coin on this one but I think it can totally be prevented with a change in expectations.

    The term “Official Blogger” is probably not the best term – I like your idea of using “Media” or something for it instead. Not all of the “Official Bloggers” were super focused on blogging – and to me, that’s ok. There is still a lot of great work happening – whether in interviews or introducing people or reviewing products or whatever. There’s a lot of social media stuff going on too. And I love all of it. I think it’s important work.

    But with that said, I did notice that the blogosphere was a bit quiet this year on the RootsTech topic. I think some of that could be avoided if the organizers of the event had better communication with y’all so you could give readers a behind the scenes look or something. And I also think a lot of people are moving to use more social media during the conference rather than full on blogging – the social media is faster and easier. Besides, who has the time or energy to blog when you’re at a conference. I’m like the freaking energizer bunny at these sorts of things and I know I struggle to sit still long enough to write a coherent blog post – and then it takes me days to recover!

    I also think it can be hard for some new bloggers to break into the “Official Blogger” scene. Part of the reason is probably because they don’t have a huge following. Part of the reason is that, as a community, there are certain people who have been doing this for a while and have had time to build a reputation and of course, we want those people talking about the event.

    Does it mean it is impossible to break out into the “Official Blogging” scene? No – but I bet it is harder to do so than when I first started blogging and “Official Blogging” became a thing at genealogy conferences.

    Being a family has it’s growing pains and it’s arguments and it’s fights. But I wouldn’t trade being a part of this family for anything in the world.

  8. As an attendee I saw the activity of the “official bloggers” who were very active. In todays times I don’t think anyone can say “just blog” and not look at impact on all aspects of social media need to be included: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and printed media.The promoters want coverage and they did get it. Having all the Geneabloggers involved definitely increased the promotion of the event and that was beneficial for everyone. Thomas listed all Geneabloggers and their blogs and helped many of us find our feet. This increased the numbers of posts and activities.
    I don’t really understand the angst about not being an “Official Blogger” Anyone could blog, Tweet, FaceBook etc and I would have thought that if anyone was this upset they would have done what they thought “should have been done”
    As a newcomer in person to RootsTech the “Official Bloggers” were helpful and friendly.
    Do we want transparency etc? Yes it is always best if everyone knows how things are done but please let us remember the aim and all work together for the promotion of genealogy events and genealogy.

  9. Thomas, I will echo Tessa here and say thanks for addressing this one with the depth of thought after such a roller coaster of a day! You’ve already seen my treatise on this subject on my own blog, but I have to add one thing that I have also noticed over the years: Your generous gift of the blogger beads to all conference bloggers is such a fun treat! I remember the first set you gave me, which I believe was at one of the RootsTech conferences….despite any “official” status, or lack-there-of, that gesture always makes the blogger community feel like we are truly part of the family….which means a lot! As others have said – it is one great family!

  10. Hi Thomas. I responded to all of this too. Love your thoughts – as always! It impacts us all, doesn’t it. I hope you don’t mind me re-posting my comments to Banai here. I mainly reserved my response to her comments about the “outliers” – I know them well.

    To Banai: Listing the lifestyle bloggers as official RootsTech bloggers was a rather last minute courtesy to facilitate cooperation between Story@Home and RootsTech. The “outliers” more than did us proud in their blogging and social media efforts. In fact, it is my understanding this group’s collective efforts had much to do with more than doubling the attendance at RootsTech this year. They helped to expand the demographics to a much broader base of people interested in Family History.

    I am not in a position to speak on behalf of RootsTech or FamilySearch, but as a business owner, and as an event producer, I know when looking for someone to represent my organization or brand, I look for someone who is consistently professional and courteous, shows an ability to see the big picture, brings a unique perspective, and can represent more than their own narrow or niche interest. Someone interested in being “hired” by an organization (which in essence is what is happening when someone is extended an “official blogger” status; some form of compensation and perks are traded for representation and PR). My bloggers and social media experts don’t always need a big following, but at least a loyal one. It’s all about authenticity and the relationship – they are like the hostess inviting me to their party. Do they make appropriate introductions, tell specific things about me to their other “guests” or are they unpredictable and likely to talk bad about me behind my back? Any blogger looking to be given that status would have to ask themselves if they are someone a brand or organization could trust.

    One final observation. Given your expertise in the industry Banai, you know an interest in Family History does not exclusively belong to researchers and developers. There’s a movement, and you’ve no doubt felt the rumblings. In traditional researcher and developer circles, I’ve heard the question and challenge posed, “Will we be welcoming to include an expanded demographic and the next generation (aka “the children”)?” I guess I don’t think that’s the question – the real one: Will you come along?

    Carol Rice

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